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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.

What Now?

Looks like the “fireworks” had already happened, well before the NBA draft last night.  The Boston Celtics made all their draft picks, so no wild trades occurred.  Well, they kind of made all of their draft picks.  They moved around a bit.  No big whoop…they still took 4 players.

Doesn’t mean “Trader Danny” won’t pull something a little more major off in the coming days, but it doesn’t guarantee he will either.

So what are we looking at?  Who the hell knows really?

The big news really happened over the last several days.  Kyrie Irving opted out of his contract, which we knew was coming.  Al Horford then opted out of his contract…which we didn’t necessarily see coming.  I mean, who is passing up 30 mil plus when they are a 33-year-old “big man” who had to be managed because of a bad knee (or two?).  Welp, apparently Big Al is.

There were rumors the C’s were trying to turn that 1 year, 30 mil deal for Al into something along the lines of 3 for, I don’t know, 15-20 per.  But apparently, it will turn out some other team will give him 4 years for 25ish per.  Seems surprising.  But I guess that’s what is happening.

Marcus Morris is also an unrestricted free agent, as are the 2 “G-League” guys if that matters.  Not to mention that there are 4 restricted free agents on the roster, led by backup point guard Terry Rozier.  If they all leave, that leaves 12 guys on the current roster, if you include the 4 draft picks from last evening.  Which I am not sure I want to be doing now.  But I will for the purposes of this exercise.

What is “this exercise”?  Well, since I have no idea who Danny Ainge may be targeting in free agency when that opens up within a couple of weeks, nor do I know who he may go after in trades, I think the best thing we can do here is take the 17 bodies from last years’ roster and the 4 draft picks and talk about what we think the plan is with each.  Plus perhaps what I would do, for whatever that’s worth.

I mean, Wyc Grousbeck, the “Lead Owner” of the Boston Celtics, said a couple of weeks ago on local talk radio something like “we are going to look at all the players on the roster and see who stays and who goes…”

So let’s do that right now…since…I’m just as smart as Wyc, right?  RIGHT??!!

Haha…let’s move on, starting with the bottom of the roster.  Why?  Because of the off chance someone will read about them.  If we start with the stars, will anyone read until the end?  Wait, is anyone reading anyway?

Nevermind…

Draft picks–Romeo Langford (#14), Grant Williams (#22), Carsen Edwards (#33), Tremont Waters (#51)–A shooting guard that shot a mere 27% from three-point land (going to a team that shoots too many threes already); a “small” power forward whose selection elicited a notable ‘wow’ type of response from one of the analysts (that probably wasn’t meant to be picked up by the microphones); a big-time scorer, but one that is undersized and a “small” point guard (“small” was emphasized three times right after the pick).  Consider me underwhelmed.

PJ Dozier/R.J. Hunter (Unrestricted Free Agents)– Here are your two G-League free agents.  Do you care?  Probably not.  I really don’t.  But you all should know that Hunter averaged 17 points a game for the Celtics last year.  Betcha didn’t know that!  Ok, he played one game that didn’t mean anything and scored that 17.  But still, “PPG” says “17.0” on the stat sheet.  No one can ever take that away from him.  So there’s that.

Jonathan Gibson (Restricted Free Agent)–This dude will be 32 in November.  And has played 21 career games in the NBA.  17 for the Dallas Mavericks in 2016-17 and 4 for the C’s in 2017-18.  Signed again with the Celts in mid-April 2019 and was on the roster for the playoffs, but didn’t play.  All of that is so you know who this guy is.  That being said, I’ve seen some of his garbage time minutes.  This cat can really shoot!  Could do worse for a 15th man.  But I’d be surprised to see him back…until April anyway.

Robert Williams–Yup, the Celtics first-round draft pick from last year was actually the 14th man on the roster and a regular inactive when everyone was healthy last season.  Seemed odd, when he had at least one skill (shot blocking) that would have been useful in certain game situations, whereas some other players that suited up seemingly had none.  Whatever.  Unless he gets traded this summer, hopefully, there will be some minutes available for him in 2019-20.  I’d like to see more.

Brad Wanamaker (Restricted Free Agent)–A third point guard is nice.  And the Cs will have one next year.  Will it be Brad?  I don’t know.  Maybe Shane Larkin will come back.  Or the second rounder from above.  Does it matter?

Guerschon Yabusele–The Dancing Bear!!  The 16th overall pick in the 2016 draft, Yabu has given the Cs 74 games at 6.6 minutes per game for 2.3 points per game in 2 years.  Seems solid for that draft slot…sigh…  Now he’s on the books for over 3 million next year, does he somehow earn more minutes this season?  Let’s hope not.  And also hope Danny can include his salary in a trade for something more useful.

Semi Ojeleye–I’ve never understood the “Shemi” infatuation.  Coach Brad Stevens always seems to shoehorn him in every night.  “Cuz he always guards Giannis well”, they will say.  Ok.  But what about everyone else?  I do see his minutes per game went down from 16 his rookie year to 11 in his second.  Didn’t realize that.  Only on the books for 1.6 next year, so I imagine he will be on the squad.  Let’s just hope his minutes don’t spike into the 20s based on the lack of other bodies available.

Daniel Theis (Restricted Free Agent)–I love this guy.  Is it rational?  Probably not.  He plays less than 15 minutes per game.  And probably is a 20 minute per guy max.  And shoots more threes than I like (although that’s what this team does…and he did actually hit 39% on them last year, surprisingly enough).  But he’s always flying around, rebounds well (which you know I love, or maybe you don’t know…but I love rebounders) and there is just something about him.  Hard to say what will happen to him.  He may get an offer sheet that the Celtics don’t match.  His rights may have to get renounced because the Cs go after a bigger fish.  No idea.  Would love to see him back, I think that goes without saying.

Aron Baynes–As opposed to Theis, I cannot stand this guy.  Is THIS rational?  Probably not.  Why do I hate him?  Loves to rebound with one arm for one.  Seems silly…along with that stupid hairdo.  He opted in last week, but now reports are they have shipped him to Phoenix.  For his well over 5 million dollar salary let’s hope that is accurate.  Along with many other reasons.  Williams should be able to do what he does for a fraction of the cost.  I just never understood this infatuation either.

Terry Rozier (Restricted Free Agent)–Since the starter at point guard appears to be gone (more on that later of course), many people think that the team should re-sign “Scary Terry” to a significant deal.  I am not sure I am one of those people.  Actually, I am not.  This guy is a borderline Hall of Famer, just ask him.  Rozier is a decent player, but nothing more.  I will ALWAYS maintain that.  Sure he has played well in some starts.  But he has also been putrid in some starts.  Then he goes off on the team after last season ended.  I say he should take his attitude elsewhere.  Let some other team overpay for this headache.  Even if that leaves the Celtics without their top 2 point guards next year.

Marcus Morris (Unrestricted Free Agent)–I give this guy a lot of credit.  He’s a notorious hothead.  With the complete dysfunction in the Celtics locker room last year, one would figure he would be right in the middle of it.  Amazingly enough, we rarely heard a peep from him.  Seems surprising.  And, for good measure, he may have been their best player in the first half of the season.  Second half…not so much.  I’d take him back actually.  But not at the dollars he will likely command.  I’m not talking a max contract guy, mind you.  But he will want to be paid.  I wouldn’t do that here.

Gordon Hayward–Time to sh&t or get off the pot Gordo.  In all fairness, yeah, a season lost to a gruesome injury then another season pretty much trying to work his way back.  Much to the chagrin of it would seem to all of his teammates, who did not like Coach Brad taking their minutes and force-feeding them to Hayward to try and get him back on course.  Nah, no selfishness there (Terry?).  In any event, he ain’t going anywhere, so let’s hope the second year back from that injury does the trick.

Marcus Smart–I like this guy.  His overall game anyway.  His defense.  His hustle.  He seems to care.  Do I love him at 13 million per?  Not particularly.  But that’s the price these days I guess.  He really, really, REALLY needs to stop shooting as much as he does.  Though sometimes those shots do drop in key moments.  Unless his salary needs to be included in a trade, it would seem he is here for the long haul.  That’s not entirely a bad thing.  But let’s hope he isn’t one of the top players on the roster come the onset of next season.

Al Horford (Unrestricted Free Agent)–As referenced earlier, really surprised that Al is going to be gone.  He was never a max contract player, though the Cs gave him one.  That being said, we think this helped attract players during the teams latest incarnation.  A very good, solid, if unspectacular, player and we should appreciate his contributions to the team over his tenure here.  That also being said, if those numbers on proposed contracts are accurate, let’s also make sure we wish him well at his next stop.

Jaylen Brown–Recent reports are out and are trying to make Brown out to be one of the huge problems in the Celtic locker room.  It’s entirely possible, as we know there was a problem between the young guys and the veterans.  Wouldn’t shock me anyway.  Brown is another one of the kids that thinks he’s better than he is.  But he’s way better than Rozier.  And he’s worth keeping around to see if he can take that next step while presumably getting more than 30 minutes per game.  The skills appear to be there.  He will be entering his 4th NBA season.  Let’s see if that huge jump comes next season.

Jayson Tatum–Seemed to me that Tatum didn’t make much of a step up this year for whatever reason.  But then I looked at his numbers and they were up all across the board…other than shooting percentage.  Must have been the ho-hum season of the team that made me think that there was no growth.  Tatum will be entering his 3rd NBA season and it seems at this point the best move is to build around him and Brown and maybe another third young guy…if they can actually attract one.  Ainge may alter that plan with some moves come July.  But that’s the way I’m leaning for sure.

Kyrie Irving (Unrestricted Free Agent)–I don’t even feel like talking about this guy.  A great, great, great player.  But undeniably not a leader.  It is assumed he is leaving, possibly (probably?) to Brooklyn, but don’t rule out a number of other teams.  There have even been whispers of him coming back to Boston.  I don’t believe that, but with this dude, you simply never know.  The Celtics may not be a better team on paper with him gone.  But could they be a better team on the court?  Perhaps.  People like to point to the previous season when Irving (and Hayward) were out and the team came within a hair of the NBA Finals.  I can’t say I expect that to happen next season while being led by Tatum and Brown.  But I can say I have no personal interest in bringing Kyrie back…under any circumstances.  That’s too bad because he’s a fantastic player.

This was a long one.  But hell, we haven’t written in a while so there was a lot to say.  My apologies.  In any event, long way to go to shape the 2019-2020 Boston Celtics.  This summer should be an interesting one.

Your Guess…

…is as good as mine.

After a disappointing season, to put it mildly, the Boston Celtics get ready to play the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs later today.

So what are they going to bring to the table?

No idea…just as we have been saying ALL SEASON LONG.

We know they won’t be bringing Marcus Smart to the table.  Smart tore his oblique toward the end of the regular season, so it looks like there is no chance he will be playing in this series.

Is that a good thing?

On one hand, yes, because it shortens the rotation even more.  Coach Brad Stevens won’t feel like he has to give minutes to like 12 guys.  And reduce playing time for a guy like Jaylen Brown, who performed well in last years’ playoffs.

That should leave them with 8 players to give minutes to, though Brad will likely continue to give Semi Ojeleye 5-10 minutes a game for no apparent reason.  I’d love Daniel Theis to get some minutes…something about that guy I love.  But he would seem be the 9th man because they seem to love Aaron Baynes and he will be playing.  Of course, Baynes missed 31 games this year, so let’s not rule out him getting hurt.  But it’s also “just” Danny Theis, a clear role player off the bench, so he’s not going to upset any rotation even if he gets in there for a few.

One of those guys getting more minutes would be Gordon Hayward.  Who seemed to start finding more of his game in the (very) late season, coincidentally when he got…more minutes.

Was that a mirage?  Or was he finally showing real glimpses of the player he once was?  Sample size may be too small to measure.  BUT, it’s worth finding out more on.

Then again though, losing Smart may not be a great thing.  He’s one of the few guys that showed fire every day during the regular season.  Sure, he still can’t shoot and takes waaaaaaaay too many shots.  BUT, there is something about him that makes me feel like we need him on the floor.

Intangibles…blah, blah, blah…

But do “intangibles” actually mean anything to this particular team?  Maybe not.  So whatever…

Anyway, enough about Smart.  Let’s talk about the series.

The Pacers haven’t had Victor Oladipo for about the last half of the year.  And that sure as hell is a good thing…for the Celtics.

The Celts were 3-1 against the Pacers this season…and really should have been 4-0.  Oladipo ruined that loss with a three pointer with a few seconds left.  Two of the Celtic wins were blowouts.

Now, per usual, I am not going to tell you that I watched a whole ton of Indiana Pacers basketball this season.  But I will tell you that, despite finishing a mere game behind the Celtics in the standings, I am not all that impressed with their roster…the names or the numbers…or the stats.

But what do I know?

Just by knowing (“thinking” what I know?) about what the Celtics have, I feel like the Cs should cruise through this series.  But they won’t.  Cuz they haven’t cruised through ANYTHING this year.

And that’s why this series is so hard to pick.

The Boston Celtics would not surprise me if they all of a sudden flipped a switch, found the proper rotations, started playing together…and all that…and then went on to a championship.  They really wouldn’t.

On the flip side, it would not shock the hell out of me if they lost in the first round.

What do I want?  Well, a championship of course.  BUT, part of me is thinking “this team was pretty unlikeable this season, led by Kyrie Irving.  Why do I want to start rooting for them now?”

Sad, but true.

Also, part of me wouldn’t mind them losing early so I don’t have to invest any time in them.

On top of all THAT, part of me wants them to lose early so that Kyrie can take his act out of town.  I mean, he may anyway.  But an early round loss may make it easier.  Kyrie is a great, great, great player.  But the thought of listening to him for the five or whatever years his extension will be for kind of makes my stomach churn a little.  Ok, a lot.

And I don’t believe that Anthony Davis is coming here to pair with Kyrie and Gordo and whoever else to lead the Celts to the Promised Land.

Well, AD may come here…for a year anyway.  Wouldn’t surprise me if Danny Ainge made the trade with the New Orleans Pelicans this summer regardless of what Davis (and his Dad) say publicly (or privately).  Ainge will most assuredly have the stones to think he can talk AD into staying here after next year.  And he may be able to pull it off.

But I still think Davis goes to the Lakers in the summer of 2020.

I guess who knows though.  The players in this league change their mind when the wind blows.  Hell, maybe Irving does re-sign and Kevin Durant comes over as well.

WHAT??!!

Well, we’ve all heard the rumors now that KD “doesn’t feel appreciated in Golden State” and “isn’t getting the credit he deserves” and is going somewhere else after the year.  New York with Kyrie or wherever.

Hey Kev, what did you think would happen when you joined the Warriors?  Those guys were already winners without you.  So they didn’t even NEED you.  The table was already set.  You think winning two more with them would make you that much more important?  Sorry, no…

So enough about the offseason.  We will cross that bridge when we get there.

I don’t really have any other insight into the series though.  You came here to hear about X’s and O’s?  And specific Pacer players?  Hmmmmmm, ok…in any event, how could anyone pretend that they have any insight, what with the completely inconsistent way the Celtics played the entire year?

So it’s prediction time.  And again, it could be anything.

But I will say…Celtics in six.  Because it SHOULD go no longer than that…

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