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Closer Than We Thought?

The Boston Celtics have had a nice start to the 2019-2020 season.  Most fans of the team were ecstatic to be rid of that cancer, Kyrie Irving, and didn’t even care how they came out of the gates this year.  If we all went back to the underdog teams that coach Brad Stevens seemed to have a great deal of success with (IT!!), but didn’t win anything, I think after last season most of us would have taken that.  Not forever, mind you.  But this season for sure.

The players publicly continue to deny that Kyrie was a problem.  Yeah, they were there and lived through the experience.  Perhaps we should believe them when they say they have no ill will towards Irving.

Based on what seemingly everyone not connected with the team sees, it’s hard to really take the players’ words at face value.

I mean, the play on the court seems improved, even while key players such as Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart miss chunks of games.

Even the guys at the far end of the bench seem involved this season.  Everyone seems invested.  And happy for others’ success.  Seems to be a lot of camaraderie.  Something one rarely saw last season.  I know, everyone rooting for Tacko Fall hasn’t hurt.

A better example?  Celtic rookie Grant Williams has apparently been encouraged by the coaching staff to shoot three-pointers.  Big surprise, as Brad wants everyone shooting threes in general.  Don’t get me started on this philosophy though.  In any event, Grant started the year by missing his first twenty-five threes.  And he supposedly got a new nickname with every miss.  Then he finally hit one and the bench went berserk.  For a guy that plays like 15 minutes a game and shoots about 26% overall.

I am not sure that happens at any point last season.  Hard to fathom.

I know Grant plays hard when he is in there.  Despite what seems to be many limitations in his game at the professional level after being the SEC Player of the Year his last two years at Tennessee.  So maybe this makes him easy to root for.

But maybe they all just get along better as a whole?

Once again, I will tell you that I haven’t watched every minute of every game.  But you already knew that.

But from the action I have seen, the team is just looser overall.  Looser on the court, in interviews and everything that goes along with it.

Listen, Kyrie wasn’t the only guy subtracted from last years’ team.  Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Al Horford and Aron Baynes were also notable departures.  Guerschon Yabusele too!!  The Dancing Bear!!

Ok, forget Yabusele.  But also, does anyone really think the other 4 guys were a problem?  Morris can be a handful we’ve heard over the years and Rozier already has carved his own bust for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  But I’m not sure we can pin a ton of blame on them.  Horford was supposedly a “team leader”…though it makes you wonder why he apparently couldn’t help with any locker room sh%tshows.  Baynes is irrelevant, in my eyes anyway.

Just a different feel to this years’ squad.  HAS to be Kyrie, right?

That’s what I am going with.  Despite the fact that everyone from Danny Ainge to Stevens, to any of the players this year or last year continue to deny it.  I’m simply not buying it.

Now, the record this season, is this a mirage?  Can the team actually be a TRUE contender for the NBA Championship?

Let’s hold off on that for a second.

The record is nice and puts them in second place in the Eastern Conference as I write this.  But they are a loss or two away from sixth….with two-thirds of the season still remaining.

Playoff team?  No doubt?

Champion?  Ummmmm…

Similar to what we wrote about the Boston Bruins after a two month writing gap, I feel the exact same about the Celtics’ chances this season as I did before the season started.  Wouldn’t shock me if they got to the Eastern Conference Finals.  But I’d be hard pressed to think they can win a championship.

I will say there have been a few developments during this season within the team that has surprised me a bit.  For one, Brad Wanamaker has actually been useful.  If you recall, I said I would have kept Max Strus over Wanamaker.  Who?  Oops.

I’m a little surprised that the quartet in the middle has seemingly held their own as well.  I guess it is only three since we really can’t count Vincent Poirier because he never plays.  Regardless, Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams have seemed to get the job done in the middle.  Though I’d honestly like to see Williams play more.

That being said, “big man” can certainly be upgraded if the C’s truly think they can compete for a title.  More on this later.

I’ve also been very surprised at Smarts’ shot selection.  Oh wait, that’s false…no need to rehash this over and over.  But we’ve said it all along.  In addition to many others.  Smart is a valuable part of this team.  But for the love of God, PLEASE stop firing up shots at will.

I’m also not surprised that Stevens still tries to force feed us Semi Ojeleye.  Every once in a while that guy plays a good game and everyone lauds him as if he has turned a corner and can contribute regularly.  Then he goes out the next time and plays 20 plus minutes and looks terrible.  Please Brad, enough already.

I thought Carsen Edwards would make more of an impact.  No, I didn’t expect him to average 15 points a game off the bench.  But I expected him to be able to hit a few shots here and there, especially the open ones.  He really hasn’t even done that.  And that is why we find him down in Maine at this juncture.

But all in all, the team is probably about where I expected them to be.  And my long term expectations remain the same.

What can they do to actually make a real bid?

I’m not sure that’s realistically in the cards.  Will an established “Big Man” guarantee a championship?  Not so sure about that.  Depends on who that guy is.  We obviously know they don’t grow on trees…the studs anyway.

If the Celtics determined that was the proverbial “last piece of the puzzle”, they would have to give up something to get something.

Meaning…Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown.

Are we ready to sign off on that?

I am not.

Kemba Walker isn’t going anywhere.  Smart and any of the kids (or current centers) do not have the value.  Picks?  Maybe.

Gordon Hayward?  Hmmmmmmm…methinks he would not be enough.  But an interesting conversation could take place here.

Gordo is once again hurt.  He honestly seems a little snakebitten with the whole injury thing while he wears a Celtic uniform.  Now he has some sort of foot issue that has been lingering for weeks.  And they don’t know what it is.

Now, Hayward has been very good this year when he has been on the floor.  Early on, it appeared he was back to what he was before that gruesome injury a couple of years ago.

But he is significantly older than Brown and Tatum.  Two players who ideally will be cornerstones of the Celtic franchise for years to come.  With Kemba also in tow for the next few years anyway.  AND Hayward has a player option for next season that he could decline in search of a multi-year commitment.

Does Gordo have value?  Would Brad Stevens consider dealing “his guy”?  I know, that’s Ainge’s department.  But you don’t think Stevens has any say?

I don’t think Hayward is going anywhere.  Nor Brown, nor Tatum, nor Kemba either of course.  None of the rest of the roster has enough value to deal for a big fish, even if combined with picks.  So I actually don’t think Ainge messes with the roster this season at all, to be honest.  Unless somehow something falls out of the sky.  I think they stay the course with who they have, hope the recent draft picks develop enough to be reliable bench options and then see what path they can take next summer to take the next step during the 2020-21 season.

It’s worth keeping an eye on, however.

If this Romeo Langford kid can stay healthy and shows he can play, then that may change some minds.  Those are big “ifs” from where we are now though.  He’s had about ten injuries this year himself.

But if we get to a point where everyone is healthy and the roster shakes out where they have Hayward, Brown, Tatum, Smart & Langford as reliable wing-type players along with Kemba playing main minutes at the point, there’s a chance one of the wings can be sacrificed to acquire a big.

If Hayward didn’t have such a tight connection to Stevens, wouldn’t he be the obvious choice to dangle here?  Along with other sweeteners?

Either way, enjoy the stress-free, non-Kyrie ride, along with the not so lofty playoff expectations that we all seem to have as we head into winter.  But stay tuned for sure.  It COULD get interesting as the trade deadline approaches sometime at the end of winter.

Don’t bet on it though.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Speaking of turkeys, one non-football note (about time?) before we dive into the New England Patriots and then the three Thanksgiving Day games.

Kyrie Irving is coming back to Boston tonight.  Oh wait, nevermind.  He’s out with a shoulder injury.  BIG surprise.

Kidding, of course.  Kyrie has actually missed several games, so it’s not like he is ducking Boston.  That would be hard to do over the course of a long NBA season.

When healthy, Kyrie is lighting up Brooklyn.  But who else do they have?  Kevin Durant?  Sure, but not this season.  Spencer Dinwiddie can apparently play.  But what else?  Joe Harris?

So, of course, he is going to have monster numbers.  I mean, he is truly a great player for sure, there has never been any debate on that.

But I think most people have noticed the turnaround (thus far) in Boston this season.  The Celtics are 12-4.  Yup, it’s early and there is a loooooong way to go.  It’s also worth noting that the Nets are 9-8…but something like 5-1 without Irving.  Nice.

Sure, Kyrie wasn’t the only player leaving Boston after last season.  But I find it hard to believe that Al Horford or Aron Baynes caused any locker room turmoil.  Marcus Morris?  Perhaps…he is kind of a hothead.  Terry Rozier too, but as a part-time player, we can’t really say he led the charge or anything.

It’s all about Kyrie.

The players seem different on the floor as well.  The whole thing is obvious.  Of course, it hasn’t hurt that Gordon Hayward seemed to get back to his previous self before missing some games with a different, and lesser, malady.  And the younger guys have taken a step up as well.

But the general feeling cannot be mistaken.

It’s just awesome to see the Nets winning without Kyrie, while the Celtics come off a West Coast trip, don’t have Kemba Walker, Hayward (and Daniel Theis, if you will), have to play dudes like Semi Ojeleye and Tremont Waters 20 minutes plus and still win their game.

We said it here at the time:  Good riddance.

And…the most laughable thing I have heard in recent days is “will Kyrie get a tribute video?”

SERIOUSLY??!  FOR WHAT??!  Two years of a bad attitude and “leading” an underachieving team?

Listen, Isaiah Thomas wasn’t here all that long either.  But he absolutely deserved a tribute video upon his return.  100 percent.

Kyrie?  Please.

Ok, back to football and the Patriots.

Though I am not sure I have anything to add on them.

I mean, it was certainly a nice win against Dallas on Sunday.  But what did we learn?

The game was played in a monsoon.  It was raining sideways.  Wind.  All that.

The defense sure played well.  The offense still needs some work.  But if this game is played in better conditions, do the Cowboys score many more points?  Wouldn’t surprise me.  That’s why I am not sure I can put much stock into this game.

What did we learn about the kid wide receivers?  Not sure there either.  Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry had their moments…both good and bad.  Isn’t that to be expected though?

I am glad that they played basically the whole game, however.  How can the experience hurt?

Nice win at home against a fairly decent team in less than ideal conditions.

But that’s all I’m taking from it.

Chicago (-2.5) at Detroit

The Bears probably think they have a shot at the playoffs still, while the Lions lost to Washington last week.  ‘Nuff said.

Chicago 20, Detroit 10.  

Buffalo at Dallas (-6.5)

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is pissed off.  About time!  He should have fired coach Jason Garrett years ago.  Not sure he picked the right time to sound off a little here, after those conditions last week, but better late than never I suppose.  That being said, I expect the ‘Boys to bounce back at home on Turkey Day.  The Bills are 8-3, but I am still not buying into any of that nonsense.

Dallas 27, Buffalo 13.  

New Orleans (-6.5) at Atlanta

The Saints should have lost to Carolina last week.  They amazingly got smoked by these same Falcons three weeks ago…at home.  New Orleans is 3-1 since Drew Brees’ return, but things have been seemingly a little uneven.  The Falcons seemed to be a little resurgent after that win at the Superdome, but then got hammered last week by an extremely average Tampa Bay team.  Combine that with my track record this season, well, who the hell knows?  But I am thinking that the Saints return the favor in Atlanta.

New Orleans 38, Atlanta 24.  

Week (against the spread):  7-7

Week (straight up):  8-6

Lock Of The Week (season, ATS):  5-7 

Season (against the spread):  87-89

Season (straight up):  114-62

Changing Of The Guard…

…”Guard”, get it??!!

I crack myself up sometimes!!

Oh wait, this doesn’t make any sense now, sorry.  But it will.

So now that Kemba Walker (a guard…changing from Kyrie Irving…ok, enough!) and Enes Kanter have officially been introduced by the Boston Celtics…along with all the other moves already announced…it’s time to take stock of the current roster.

9 of the 17 from last season have departed.  So over half of the team is new.  Ok, so Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris are the ones that really matter.  Aron Baynes and Terry Rozier I guess matter a little.  While Guerschon Yabusele, Jonathan Gibson, R.J. Hunter and PJ Dozier don’t matter at all.

That being said, 5 of the 9 rotation players are gone.  So the turnover is significant.

So what do we make of it?

Hard to say, to be honest.

Let’s face it, with the roster they had last season, they were supposed to roll into the NBA Finals.  And they really should have.  Or certainly put up a better fight.  Instead, they “rolled” to 49 victories and a second round exit.

Then they lost one of the better players in the league in Irving…I know, also a total jackwagon, but still…and then a solid, if unspectacular, presence in the middle in Horford.  And a very good back end starter or top guy off the bench in Morris.

And replaced them with…what?

Walker may be a very good player.  But probably in reality, not a max guy.  And a step down from Kyrie (when Kyrie has his head out of his arse of course).  Horford may not have been an All-Star and unstoppable force in the middle, but Kanter seems to be a HUGE downgrade from him.  Morris to…who?  Grant Williams?  I don’t know.

Even Baynes’ six fouls may be missed.  And Rozier, even though he thought he was a Hall of Famer, who replaces him now?

Seems like a bunch of question marks.

Is the locker room better?  I don’t know, maybe.  Reports had Jaylen Brown being kind of an arseclown last year.  He’s still here.

Jayson Tatum?  Still a little young and immature perhaps?  (Ok, I just explained a bunch of pro athletes, I know).

I think the Celtics are depending on the locker room being better.  And that having an effect above everything else.  Because the talent certainly doesn’t measure up.

I don’t think anyway.

The Celtics have got 14 players under contract and 2 players on 2-way deals with the G League (not including the “legendary” Tacko Fall…more on him later).

It would appear the starters are:

Walker, Brown, Tatum, Kanter and Gordon Hayward.

The rest of the rotation?  All I can think of is Marcus Smart as of now.  I suppose Daniel Theis and Robert Williams will get minutes at backup center.  I can’t tell you anything about the other center the team has signed, Vincent Poirier.  Not expecting much though.

The team is high on first round picks Romeo Langford and Grant Williams, but we will see.

Second rounder Carsen Edwards lit up the Summer League and that was fun to watch.  But…it’s the Summer League.  Fellow second rounder Tremont Waters had a great Summer League as well…and all that earned him was a two-way contract…for now anyway.

Who’s left?  Semi Ojeleye and Brad Wanamaker?  No thanks.  Semi will get minutes because Coach Brad Stevens loves him.  But he stinks, sorry.  Max Strus on the other two-way.  Who??!

So maybe the team goes 6 deep for now, until others establish themselves…IF they do, that is.  That in and of itself worries me.  Because if Stevens doesn’t have an 8 or 9 man rotation then he plays the first 6 and then gives the other 7 active guys some minutes seemingly every night.  That never seems to work.

And that isn’t even getting into the whole “will Hayward be the player he once was now that he is two years removed from his injury” thing.  I guess now Tatum and Brown will have plenty of minutes to play, so they won’t be bitching about Gordo getting his share either.

But that’s the other thing.  Not only does the team expect that the better locker room will lead to more success.  But I believe they think that Hayward is back.  In addition to the continued development of the two “kids” in Brown and Tatum.  So all of that will add up to a championship contender.  THEY think that anyway.  From what I can tell.  Not sure I am buying into all that logic.

Sssssssoooo…that leads us to everyone’s new fan favorite…Tacko Fall!

He’s a nice story.  Smart guy, fluent in English over a mere 8 months, cute name and…he’s 7’6″…did you know that?

But is he a real NBA player?  I say “no”.

I know, raining on everyone’s parade.  But seriously, at that height he didn’t even dominate in college…against less than elite competition in his conference.  I know, the conference has some teams with names:  UConn, Cincinnati, Temple, Memphis and perhaps Wichita State?  But how good are those teams NOW?

Now everyone expects him to go out and star in the NBA despite that?

Ok, executives, coaches and the like around the NBA don’t necessarily think that.  Since, you know, he wasn’t actually drafted.  But the FANS do.  Especially Celtic fans.

Listen, I would like to keep him on the roster, either the open 15th spot or signing Waters to that 15th spot and Tacko to a 2-way.  Can’t hurt to see if he can become a 10 minute a game player at that size, especially defensively.  Have him play in Maine all year in the G-League and see what happens.

But let’s all pump the brakes on him more than a little bit.

Going back, I’d like to see more of Edwards and Robert Williams…and see any of Langford.  But I’m not expecting much out of this outfit unless Hayward is truly back and Tatum and Brown take a huge leap up.

Makes you also wonder if Danny has anything else up his sleeve.  But realistically, what are his options?

I think this is the team we are looking at come October.  A stark contrast to what we were looking at last October…

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