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Thank You Celtics

What a season!  All the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.  Whoda thunk it??  Specifically, as the whole world knows, without their best two players?  Just a crazy ride…and a helluva fun one.

Sure, if anyone on the team could throw the ball in the ocean in Game 7 against the Cavs, we’d all be looking at a Finals matchup with the Warriors.  But who can really complain?  The future is bright, my friends.  Let’s enjoy this year for now, as the expectations will now soar for the future.  This year, I was not feeling anything going into Game 7, figuring even getting to that point was gravy.

Next year?  Us fans will be expecting more.  As we should.  And if they disappoint, we will sing a different tune for sure.

The Blowhard has a slew of thoughts about everything Celtics.  Truth be told, they were part of an e-mail response to friends two days ago.  So let’s make that a blog post!!  Nothing like repurposing some content.  But hey, it is what it is.  Of course, we have to tidy some things up.  And likely add some more.  But here’s my favorite bullet point format, in no particular order:

*Some may be disappointed that the C’s are not facing Golden State in the NBA Finals and that it would be interesting to see how they match up against the best of the best.  I am not sure I agree that it would have been great to see them keep playing…they would have gotten steamrolled/demolished/bludgeoned by the Warriors.  Game 7 was surely a disappointing loss, but I think a silver lining COULD be that these guys know they should have won this series.  This MAY light a little fire under the players this summer to work even harder than they already would have, knowing the missed opportunity that they had.

There is the possibility that if they won Game 7 and got to the Finals and then got smoked by Golden State maybe some players get their confidence shaken?  Or even worse, knew they wouldn’t beat the Warriors, mailed it in to some degree, happy to at least get to the Finals without Kyrie and Gordon, and all along telling themselves that if they did have those two, they would have won the whole enchilada.

I don’t know, maybe I’m reaching.  But I know for sure I would not have enjoyed them getting swept in the Finals, likely by large margins, at least in California.

*Many in the local area thought that if Houston was able to knock off Golden State, the Celtics would have a real chance to be NBA Champions if they got by the Cavs.  I think that is kind of a dubious assumption.  Even if the Rockets were to be without Chris Paul.  The series would have been closer.  But maybe 5 games instead of a sweep?  Perhaps I am wrong about all of the above.  But I feel like the train would have come to a screeching halt against either team.

*LeBron was LeBron in Game 7 and really, the whole series.  In all ways.  Punk move when he “blocked” (fouled) Rozier on the dunk attempt (dumb move by Rozier, by the way), then stood still and stared at what?  The guy is one of the best players ever, maybe the best.  But sorry, an absolute arseclown.  It’s antics like this that make me despise him.  Sure, all the greats have their “things”.  Although generally a homer, I did not care for whenever Paul Pierce did stuff like this…wheelchair, bandages and all that.  But LeBron takes these things to the next level with what he says, his mannerisms and everything all around.  And of course, I will never forgive him for that ridiculous circus called “The Decision”.

*There were too many unnecessary switches in this series by the Celtics defense.  And they all seemed to eventually end with Terry Rozier guarding LeBron.  There has to be a better way.

*We have to all agree that it was a nice playoff run for the C’s.  But we cannot discount the fact that the East was WEAK.  My opinion, and perhaps my opinion alone.  But…Cleveland WAS LeBron.  Toronto choked, per usual.  Philly fattened up their record at the end of the season against a slew of noncontenders.  Miami, Milwaukee, Washington, Indy?  Meh.  There are some good players spread out over all of those teams.  But any one of them could beat any one of them.  I wasn’t impressed anyway.

*I have no doubt Danny Ainge won’t sit still this offseason.  This team does still need some tweaks (and HAS to have some tweaks, kind of), even with the return of Irving and Hayward (and Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin, if you wish).  I’m not saying he needs to make MAJOR moves, but I’m not ruling that out either if the right deal crosses his plate.  I’m not talking just Anthony Davis or Karl Anthony Towns or any superstar along those lines.  I’m talking any “right deal”.  Of course, anyone would do the right deal, so this is not a big stretch.  But still.  Most people want Danny to just bring back the same team next year because they went so far this year without two horses.  And I’m thinking he still may have one more huge one up his sleeve.

*I’d personally start by dealing Rozier…selling high if he didn’t torpedo any value he built up during the playoffs during his putrid Game 7.  Or if teams look closer at his road splits.  He is no more than a third guard to me.  And I choose Marcus Smart as my third guard.  Though Brad Stevens has to absolutely rein Smart in from shooting as much next year if he returns.  This is a must.

I don’t hate Rozier.  I don’t love him either…although I do love the way he rebounds as a guard.  I am also not giving him away for nothing.  But I’m thinking you can’t keep both him and Smart next season.  Rozier did take a huge step up this year and I think they can package him with something else for something of value in return.

Now, I realize “Scary Terry” is a mere 3 million next year and also that Smart thinks he is worth more than 14 million.  But Smart is a restricted free agent this offseason and Rozier will be restricted next season.  With Irving and Hayward coming back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum deserving some more minutes next season as well, Marcus Morris and Al Horford also deserving of a decent amount of time…doesn’t something have to give?

Of course.  And I think Rozier may have the most value of the guys listed above, that would be available I would say.  And if somehow both he and Smart return next season, and Terry is only getting 18-20 minutes a game, that may not end up well either.

If someone pays Smart what he wants, then all of the above is moot I guess…he won’t be here.  But I’m thinking teams will not pay him and he will be back.  I’ve been wrong before though…

*I’m also not sure Morris a lock to return.  I was just told that he is kind of like a mentor and big brother to Brown and Tatum though (thanks Mike F.!).  I had not heard this before.  And quite frankly, this scares the bejesus out of me.  Morris is a good player and had a good year.  But he is a lunatic.  Certifiably insane.  Not sure he is the guy that I want mentoring my young studs.  But maybe he is a softie in the locker room, I don’t know.

*Aron Baynes is absolutely brutal.  Worst rebounding form I think I may have ever seen from a big man.  Horrible touch around the basket (what’s his percentage on tip-ins?  33%?).  Defense?  Mediocre as far as I am concerned.  I simply can’t watch him.  And whose great idea was it to have him start shooting threes?  Cuz he made a couple against Philly?  Ugh…maybe I am being harsh.  But I’m thinking you can find someone with his skill set for less than the 4.328 mil he made this year.

*I’m not trading Tatum, under any circumstances.  It would be hard for me to trade Brown at this point, despite his ups and downs.  But there is room on Players #5-#17 (#18?) to make some moves to help the team, however minor if “minor” is the way that Danny ends up going.  Although “Player #5” would be Al Horford and I suppose if they were working him into a deal, his max contract isn’t exactly “minor”.

*If they want to fill a back-end roster spot, I’d re-sign that Jonathan Gibson dude that shot the lights out the last couple of games of the regular season.  If all this team wants to do is shoot threes, that guys shooting ability has to mean more to the C’s than a lot of other things, no?

*I’m not sure why Greg Monroe got buried as the playoffs went on.  I know, he doesn’t play D.  But he scores and rebounds.  Could have used a few of each.  Couldn’t he have played decent D against someone like Tristan Thompson in this series to “hide” him in that regard?  Some may think he looked completely lost when he was out there.  But I think they could’ve thrown him in there for a few minutes at a time and he could have been all right.

That’s about it…for now, anyway.  Great run and yet again it will be another interesting offseason.  Does Danny bring everyone back?  Does he just make minor moves?  Or is one more big splash in the offing?  He could go in any direction and no one really knows.

But with rumors milling around already about Ainge trying to move up in the draft and get a big guy or some other top talent it seems we are off to a flying start to the offseason!

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Gordon Who??!

The Boston Celtics are 12-1 since Gordon Hayward went down on Opening Night.  They are currently riding an 12 game winning streak.  So who the hell needs Gordon Hayward?

Ok, that was waaaaay over the top.  Of course this team needs Hayward.  Over the long haul for sure.  14 games in doesn’t prove anything.  There is still 83% of the season left.

That all being said, how much fun has this season been thus far?  Friday night against Charlotte may have been the capper in this whole stretch.  Kyrie Irving went down in the first two minutes of the game.  Al Horford did not play.  And of course Hayward.  The C’s were down big.  I hate blaming the refs for anything, as it is a tough enough job as it is.  But there were some pretty bogus calls against the Celts in that game.  Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier were a combined 9 for 42 (21%) from the field.  The game was sloppy and honestly hard to watch (probably the only time one can say that about a Celtics game this season).  But somehow, the Celtics WON.

Listen, the Hornets are 5-7 and I’m certainly not saying they are any kind of world beaters.  But the Cs had absolutely no business winning that game.  None.

Marcus Morris and Shane Larkin (Shane Larkin???!) were huge in the win and the team collectively stepped up their defensive intensity late.  The Celts outrebounded the Hornets 49-47 as well.  Having Charlotte shoot a ghastly 58% from the line didn’t hurt either.  Of course, they have Dwight Howard, so a little “hack-a-Howard” helped push down that percentage.

Or maybe the win Sunday against alleged top Eastern rival Toronto is the high point of the streak.  Toronto is of course a better team than Charlotte.  And although Horford returned, the C’s were still missing Irving.

One benefit of Hayward being out is that 30-35 minutes a game going to other players and helping them develop.  Right now, it appears Jayson Tatum and Semi Ojeleye are the prime beneficiaries.  Tatum and “Shemi” are averaging about 30 and 15 minutes per game, respectively.  Probably about 10 minutes a game more apiece than they were anticipated to play.  Yes, I didn’t think they would throw Tatum out there with a ton of minutes to start his career.  Figured he would be treated like Brown last year, 15-20 minutes a game to get his feet wet in the NBA.  But he is getting the real minutes and certainly making the most of them as well.  Let’s see how it looks down the road, as Tatum should play over twice as many games this season as he did in college last year.  That may catch up to him at some point.

Terry Rozier is picking up a few more minutes as well.  His shot hasn’t been as consistent as it has seemed…what with him shooting only 36%.  But man, I love the way he rebounds as a guard.  And he’s full of energy for sure.

But let’s be real.  Even though we can be pretty giddy about the returns right out of the gate, let’s not be fooled into thinking that all of a sudden they are cruising to a championship this year, especially without Hayward.  It’s a long season, some of the kids may wear down as they are not used to the schedule.  Cleveland will improve and be there in the end.  Isaiah Thomas should return and help that team.  The Cavs will continue to gel and likely make trade deadline improvements when the time comes.  They could also be treating the regular season like the preseason, like they did last year.  And of course there are plenty of worthy squads out in the Western Conference as well.

Assuming the Celtics beat the Nets tonight, they will take a 13 game winning streak into a home date against the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night.  That will give us a better idea on where this team stands.  Then again, if Irving is still out, maybe it won’t.  He may well play, but also be somewhat limited if he wears a mask or something as well.

So maybe it won’t give us a better idea on where they stand.  But hopefully either way, the Cs will be competitive at least on Thursday night.  On the flipside, a blowout loss may put expectations back where they belong…to where they were at the start of the season…Eastern Conference Finals, then we take it from there…this year.

The lesson here:  Sit back, enjoy the ride, but let’s keep the emotions in check for a bit…maybe until at least March?

Whoa…Trader Danny Is Back!

Ok, so I guess he was technically “back” when he gambled and traded the #1 overall pick in this past summer’s NBA draft.  Yes, I know Ainge wanted Jayson Tatum all along and may very well have drafted him #1 if the Celtics had stayed in that position.  And I know Danny was able to snag another potential high lottery pick due in 2018 or 2019 from the Sixers (or Lakers or Kings technically).  But since Markelle Fultz was apparently the consensus #1 pick across the league, if Fultz turns out to be a stud and Tatum turns out to be something less than that, well, there is your gamble.  We may not care that Ainge got the extra pick if Fultz is All-NBA every year.  Especially if that future pick turns into a couple of second rounders even further into the future, because of protections.  But…I am already digressing…

By now, everyone has heard of the blockbuster deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers involving Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving.  It’s been about two days since the trade was consummated.  I have heard all the talking heads share their opinions.  But of course I have mine.  And at first blush…I like it a lot.

Now…I understand.  Isaiah had seemed to have found a home here in Boston.  Became a leader on the team.  Fans loved him.  Entire community loved him.  We know Danny has loved him for even longer than he has been here.  And of course put up ridiculous numbers on the court at the Gaaaaahhhden.  And on the road too, but you know what I mean.

I will always have fond memories of Isaiah in a Celtic uniform, especially from last season.  He was simply awesome.  And in my end of year column, I had decided (finally!) that I wanted him to stick around long-term and for the team to pay him, after much deliberation on what I would do when his contract expired after next season and he wanted max money.  I was always wary of giving him max dollars, but I felt had seen enough last year to convince myself he should get it.  I figured that they would add Gordon Hayward and other pieces, including whoever they drafted, continue to improve and eventually be true championship contenders once the Cleveland and Golden State “windows” passed.

But I didn’t see the Irving situation play out the way it did in Cleveland.  Of course no one did.

And then when that all went down, I figured that there was no way that Cleveland would trade Irving to its main rival in the East, despite all of the Celtics “assets” that presumably would be available.

Then it happened.  Probably more surprising than the deal itself was how quiet it went down.  Most of us heard about the potential deal around 6:00pm on Tuesday and before like 7:30pm it was all done.  How were the teams able to keep talks on the down low, especially in this day and age with social media and people always snooping around?  Threw me for a loop, I can tell you that much.

But now that I have “pre-rambled” on, let’s get to why I like this deal at the current time.  In my favorite bullet point fashion:

*Isaiah Thomas–Once again, I love IT.  But there are certain facts that you cannot dismiss.  In June, I was willing to overlook the facts to some degree, but partly because I didn’t see him getting fair value in any kind of trade.  I also felt Isaiah’s performance last season may have put the Celtics in a little bit of a bind.

The easiest facts to point at are age (29 in February), height (5’9″…or is it really 5’7″?) and injury (hip).  It’s probably not ideal to give a max contract to someone heading into their 30’s, with the beating that person takes on a nightly basis at that size…but the hip may scare me even more.  And the injury HAS to be taken into consideration here.

IT plays hard every play and certainly does take a beating every game, especially when he is firing through the lane regularly.  One would think that if there are any limitations whatsoever with that hip, it will limit Thomas’ effectiveness, perhaps severely.  Kind of obvious, I know.  But Isaiah is always jitterbugging around, stopping on a dime, contorting his body around and all that.  If the hip won’t allow him to do that, then well…and…he hasn’t had any surgery.  Maybe that is a good thing.  But maybe he is good for now and could quite possibly have to have surgery down the road anyway (a la David Price)?  We simply don’t know.

The way Thomas plays also is bound to wear him out quicker.  With Kyrie being 3 years younger and anywhere from 6-8 inches taller, there is more certainty there as well.  We don’t even have to comment on Thomas’ defense here.  Partly because I am not sure Kyrie plays much D either.  But just being that much taller is a step in the right direction anyway.

I don’t know Isaiah personally of course.  But from what I know about IT, he is most assuredly rehabbing fiercely and the hip won’t even be an issue…now or in the future.  But as I laid out a few months back, there are still a lot of questions and a lot of risk in giving Isaiah that max deal.  Now, the Celtics aren’t backed into that proverbial corner.  It’s Cleveland’s decision now.  Once LeBron takes off for the Lakers next offseason, does IT find himself on yet another team the following season?

That is another interesting angle…but one for Cavalier fans to worry about now.

*Jae Crowder–very good NBA player.  But not as great as everyone around here thinks he is.  More importantly, he is not as great as HE thinks he is.

Turned out to be a more than serviceable player after essentially being a throw-in in the Rajon Rondo to Dallas deal a few years back.  But what he really represented was kind of being a transition player in Boston.  Did anyone think he was going to be a starting small forward on a championship team in Boston down the road?  Well, I guess some people did.  I didn’t.

He would be a very useful 6th-9th man on a championship team.  But would he accept that here, after logging heavy minutes the last 2 years?  I’m not so sure.  Hayward plays his position, so there’s that.  Then there is also the fact that Jaylen Brown and Tatum also play his position.  Not enough minutes for everyone.  And the kids need to play at least a little bit to develop.

Some have said Jae could play the 4 and any of the other three could play the 2 (since Avery Bradley has also departed) at least some of the time to get everyone on the court.  Perhaps.  But to me the best course of action was to unload him.  Past playoff performances helped convince me of that as well.

Sure, Crowder has a very team-friendly contract.  But though Danny and other GMs may care about that for salary cap purposes, I don’t.  If other GM’s loved that contract as much as everyone says, when the C’s signed Hayward, why couldn’t they have gotten great value for trading Jae and maybe even hanging on to Bradley? No one seemed to be banging down the door for Crowder the player or Crowder the contract at any point…but…what do I know?

*Ante Zizic–I am not sure why they had to include Zizic in the deal.  I would think Thomas, Crowder and the Brooklyn pick should have sufficed.  That being said, I doubt he will be missed.  I have two friends, who really know their basketball, that swear Zizic is going to be something in the future.  And I heard some caller on talk radio yesterday laud him as well.  But those are the only 3 guys that are especially high on him from what I can tell.

Sure, I have seen the reports that if Ante went in the 2017 draft, he would have been a top-1o pick (he went 23rd in the 2016 draft).  But with every draft littered with top-10 busts, those reports mean nothing to me.

My take is that if he was THAT good, he would have been here last year over the likes of Tyler Zeller.  What would one more year in Europe (Turkey?!), dunking over guys at least 6 inches shorter, really accomplish?  Not sure how that would develop him more than playing some real NBA games, however limited his NBA action would have been.  Plus, if he was THAT good, shouldn’t they have taken him at #16 (where Guerschon Yabusele went) instead of waiting until #23?

We shall see…but now I will have to be rooting against him, instead of for him.

*2018 Brooklyn pick–Hated to give this up, but in an Irving deal, you probably couldn’t have avoided giving up one of the high picks.  Especially with Isaiah only having one year left on his deal and at least a little uncertainty with his hip, Crowder being really only a bench piece and the complete unknown of Zizic.  Had to give up something to get something.  I will say that there have been reports that executives around the league think Brooklyn won’t be as bad as people think and the pick won’t be as high as people think…but I am not buying into that at this juncture.  I expect the Nets to still be putrid, even if there are other teams in that mix as well.

In any event, hopefully the Lakers or Kings pick will still be a high one.  The team has Brown and Tatum developing as previous years’ #3 picks.  Irving and Hayward go forward as your two horses.  And Al Horford as the #3 for now anyway.  Maybe when his deal is done, there is an upgrade to be had there as well.  Or maybe by then, Tatum or Brown is that third dog.  There is no real reason for me to be, but I am convinced as of this second that Kyrie will sign a max deal in Boston when the time comes (ie:  when the timing is so he can make the most money).  Maybe I’m wrong.  But all that being said, I’m ok with losing the Nets pick here.

*Brad Stevens–The thing I like most about Stevens now is that I think he has the right rotation at this point.  Championship bound or not, he finally has a roster where he should pretty much only be playing 8-9 guys regular minutes…and not the 12-13 he always tries to do.

The way I see it, Horford, Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes should soak up the majority of minutes at the 4/5, Hayward, Brown, Smart and Tatum at the 2/3 and Irving and Rozier at the 1.  If you want to sprinkle in a little Daniel Theis at the 4/5 for a few minutes a night to see what that’s all about, have at it.  Yabusele can redshirt this year, along with Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye.  You can break the glass in case of emergency for Shane Larkin to be a ballhandler as well.  Then the 15th spot can be Andrew White, Daniel Dixon or whoever…perhaps “Veteran Buyout player X” at the trade deadline…if that rule is still in place.  Kadeem Allen and Jabari Bird, 2 of your 2nd rounders from the past draft, on two-way contracts in the G league at Maine…perfect.

Hopefully Stevens sees things in a similar manner.  No need to give guys like Gerald Green or Jonas Jerebko ANY minutes like he has in the past.  Shortening the rotation would be a great thing.  Now let’s see if he actually does it…

That about says it all.  Who predicted that of the 15 players on the roster at the end of a season where the Celtics had the #1 seed (however fraudulent that was) in the East and ended up in the Eastern Conference Finals would end up with 11 of them elsewhere a mere handful of months later?  Well, the Blowhard said anywhere from 7-9…and it was kind of obvious that at least half would go, but still…only 4 remain from last year?  Wow.  Only the fact that ANYONE gave Kelly Olynyk 4 years and 50 million may have surprised me more.

Can’t wait to get this thing rolling.  Was Kyrie only good because he played second fiddle to a legend in LeBron?  Was Isaiah only throwing in close to 30 a game because no one else was great around him?  Is Isaiah healthy?  Will the new Celtics gel quickly?  Did Danny take too big of a risk with both of his big trades?  Will Zizic be the next great Euro player?  Does Jaylen Brown take the next step?  Etc.  So many questions.  We will start to find out soon enough…

 

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