So, similar to the Boston Bruins season preview posted a long time ago, it’s not really a “season preview” if you write it after the regular season starts. Especially when they are 7 games into said season. But also similar to the Bruins, I did not watch a lick of the Celtics preseason games. Not because I tuned them out, like I did the Bruins. But because I didn’t feel like the preseason would tell me all that much. I mean, how many people were riveted on the battle for the 15th roster spot between R.J. Hunter and James Young? Maybe it would have given me a little bit of insight into what Jaylen Brown is or could be or on how Al Horford looked in a Boston uniform initially or something along those lines, who knows? But I’m pretty sure I watched the MLB playoffs instead.
Anyway, in hindsight, I wish I had watched some of the preseason action. Maybe it would have made me feel a little better about things long-term. The 7 regular season games sure haven’t helped me much on that matter.
There are much higher expectations for this Celtics team in 2016-17. Even though they essentially added only Horford and Brown…Gerald Green too, if you so desire. They also didn’t really lose a whole ton besides perhaps Evan Turner…and I suppose Jared Sullinger. As a result, people all of a sudden expect the C’s to march into the Eastern Conference Finals with 50-55 or so wins without much competition. Probably feeling like Horford alone would help them do that. Feel like that’s a little aggressive considering they haven’t won a playoff series under Brad Stevens yet.
Personally, the Horford acquisition didn’t really fire me up too much. Way too much money for him. I did accept it though, because the Celtics certainly had to spend money on someone. And maybe Al could help bring some other free agents to Boston to help the cause. Either way, the trajectory seemed to still be pointing up, so it is what it is. I think we have already been through all that though.
The fact is, Horford alone was not all of a sudden going to make this Celtics team a championship contender. MAYBE 2nd in the East behind Cleveland. But could we guarantee that? After all, other teams did things to improve themselves as well. I think people locally felt 2nd in the East was a foregone conclusion. Now we are seeing that this will clearly not be the case. That it will at least be a dogfight.
Why? A lot of reasons actually. Of course, it’s never really just one reason. But here is one man’s opinion of some of the reasons, in no particular order:
*Press clippings. Full disclosure: I haven’t seen every minute of every game. But I’ve seen enough to know that it appears the defensive intensity isn’t quite the same as last year. This team won fans over last year by giving max effort every game all year long. Doesn’t seem the same this year. Oh, it appears Avery Bradley has upped his offensive game. Defensively though? The team is giving up like 112 points per game. And that’s a silly amount in today’s game. Maybe the players have let last year’s praise go to their head?
*Injuries. Horford, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk have missed time already this year. Olynyk still stinks, but the Celts don’t think so. In any event, any time you take 4 of your rotation guys out, there is bound to be some struggles.
*Rebounding. Wow. This has been horrific. I really do not have to tell you that though. Bradley is averaging almost 8 boards a game and that is awesome. But what’s not so awesome is that he leads the team. All 6’2″ of him. Atrocious. Whoda thought they may miss Sullinger here, even a little bit? And why can’t we see more of Jordan Mickey here? I have no idea if Mickey can even play in the NBA. And I know he is listed at 6’8″. But he got boards in college. Let’s see if he can do it in the pros. Olynyk is 7 feet, but he isn’t going near the basket. Ditto Jonas Jerebko and his 6’10” Tyler Zeller is 7 feet and Amir Johnson is 6’9″, but rebounding machines they are not. Horford really isn’t either anymore either. Give the kid more minutes and just see, I beg of you Brad. And yes, I confirmed all those heights. Fact checking, gotta do it!
*Free throw shooting. Ok, somewhat minor. But have you caught a glimpse of some of the percentages being thrown up there? Frightening.
*Coaching. Yup. It’s the 4th year of the Brad Stevens regime. Time to start producing. I know it can be a slow build even back to respectability. Kids taken with all the draft picks can take time to grow. Blah blah blah. But then again, outside of Smart and a smidge of Terry Rozier, none of those picks are playing all that much. Too many of the mediocre veterans are. Johnson, Jerebko and Zeller in particular. Even Gerald Green. Outside of Amir burying 4 threes in one quarter earlier this season, I’m not sure he’s been very recognizable on the court. I have no idea what Jerebko does at all. Seems to be completely useless to me. Both of their options were exercised for this year (12 mil for Amir and 5 mil for Jonas). I would have taken that 17 mil and spent it elsewhere. Zeller’s 2 years, 16 mil is slightly more palatable, but I may have spent that elsewhere as well. Maybe instead of Zeller giving you some offense at backup center, how about a backup center who plays defense, blocks shots and gets rebounds? Seems more sensible to me. Green’s signing has never made sense to me at all. Less than a million, but…why? I have no idea if James Young can play in the NBA either. But he is 21 years old. I’d rather give him the minutes to see if he pans out.
I don’t love the way Stevens has seemed to yo-yo Brown around as well. The 2nd game of the year he’s playing key minutes down the stretch against Chicago and then in Game 6 and 7 against Denver and Washington he’s getting pretty much glued to the bench? Even with Crowder out? Sure, he’s a kid and will make mistakes. Huge mistake in the last minute against Chicago in that aforementioned game. But he’s the #3 pick in the draft. With all the injuries early on, I’d be throwing him out there a ton and see what he’s got. Except in their 2nd game against Chicago where he had 4 fouls in 8 minutes. Kind of tough for him to play a lot more in that one with that “production”.
There was the Opening Game against Brooklyn, where Brad pulled his starters too early and it almost cost them. Thought they would cruise against Brooklyn with the bench, they weren’t any good, everyone seemed to stop playing, etc. Brooklyn did hit some good shots, but still.
The C’s also take too many threes, many of them ill-advised. But that’s enough Stevens bashing. I actually like the guy. A lot of the above can actually be pointed in another direction. Brad can only go with the players he has. Ssssoooo…
*GM: …it’s time to pull the trigger Danny. Of course, I’ve been saying this for quite some time. And maybe 7 games into the current season isn’t actually the right time. Especially with some players hurt. But when everyone is healthy, Stevens is going to try to find minutes for like 12 guys. And that’s at least too many, maybe 4. Kind of reminds me of the 2006-7 season. When Doc Rivers was trying to play 12 guys. Playing a guy like Tony Allen 5 minutes one night, 30 the next, 13 the next, etc. Playing too many guys and jerking around their minutes at the same time. Trying to find good combinations sure, but really not developing any of the young guys and all that. Coincidentally, Gerald Green was also on that team. Anyway, Ainge helped Doc the next year by getting Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and getting rid of the excess.
No one is going to give Ainge those types of players on the cheap again. Especially when stories have been out that Danny tries to “win” every deal. But he needs to find a way to clear some guys to shorten the rotation. But more importantly, “clear” those guys and get something significant in return. It’ll be tough, because again, no one is going to be like old friend Kevin McHale and do Ainge a solid. And it’ll also be tough because it appears that the C’s young players aren’t as good as Danny may think they are. Young is playing himself off the team, as the C’s did not pick up his option for next year. Hunter is already gone…though it looks like he hasn’t even suited up for the Bulls yet. Ben Bentil was supposedly a steal at the end of the 2nd round, but he is gone as well. Then again, he also got waived by Indiana shortly after they claimed him. I actually would have kept him. Why not? He got some boards in college, maybe he could have helped there, who knows?
The point is that Ainge may have already missed the boat on dealing the younger guys. And there is a couple more 1st rounders stashed overseas that will be here eventually. More draft picks as well. Abdel Nader, a late second rounder this year, agreed to go to the D-League. And this is all after they traded 2 of their picks last year for a 2019 first rounder. One of those 2 picks taken by Memphis 31st overall, was used on Deyonta Davis. Who? Yeah, I don’t know if he can play either. But he was supposed to be a mid-first rounder. Supposedly can rebound and block shots at a minimum. Sounds like someone the Celts could use as a backup big man. Maybe he’s stinks too, though it’s probably too early to tell. Can’t wait for that 2019 first rounder though.
There are 75 games left, so there is probably no need to panic. This season just feels different from last year…so far. Maybe it’s the injuries. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above and the ship will get straightened out soon. I just feel like this is the year that the team needs to take a step up and I don’t see it. I’m not sure I see it with everyone healthy. Still waiting for moves to be made. I think everyone is. But I’m not sure anything will happen, certainly not any time soon. So I ask…how much longer can we wait?
Editor’s note: The majority of this was written before Friday night’s demolishing of the Knicks. I can unequivocally say that this game does not change my overall view. By my count, the Knicks have only 3 players (Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Derrick Rose) and maybe 3 other guys that can be useful (Courtney Lee, Joakim Noah and Brandon Jennings) and that’s about it. Rose is not the same guy as the superstar that came into the league like 8 years ago and ‘Melo got tossed in the 2nd quarter. They actually gave minutes to that white dude from Wichita State with the bad hair. Nice win, but I’m not getting worked up over it.
OK, so it’s only 4 games in. And most of the games have come against decent opposition. But still…it hasn’t exactly been pretty so far for the Boston Celtics. Tough start to the season for a team that had some had high expectations heading in. Well, from a lot of people anyway. I have the team pegged around .500 or so, maybe a little over. Conference doesn’t seem all that strong. Celtics have some players. They have a good coach. Blah, blah, blah. I figure if the roster remains the same, they should be a little better than last year. And really no more. Certainly not championship timber. Again, that is if the roster remains the same all the way through.
But therein lies the problem. The roster. The way I see it, the team has 15 players that seem to have something to add to any NBA team, to varying degrees of course. They may have even had 16 players, before waiving Perry Jones shortly before the season started to get to the 15 man roster limit. Yeah, that Jones note is of course irrelevant, but the point is this: The roster HAS to change. There are too many guys that are capable of contributing every night…but none of them are superstars or really even All-Stars. Every one of them has some sort of flaw, even if that “flaw” may be that they are too young and haven’t hit their stride yet…that is, IF they do.
The bottom line is that having this many capable guys affects the rotation on a daily basis. Brad Stevens has a few guys that he can guarantee minutes too…Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, I suppose Avery Bradley. But the rest he says “have to earn it”. Uh oh. Sounds like the coach of the 2006-2007 C’s…Doc Rivers. This is when he had a ton of young guys like Gerald Green, Bassy Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Tony Allen, Big Al Jefferson, etc. And he had trouble finding a consistent rotation then too. Played a guy like Green 30 minutes one night and 5 the next. “Had to earn it”, he said. That team won 24 games. And Doc had a superstar in Paul Pierce, albeit for only about a half a season due to injury.
2006-7 was Doc’s third year and he was trending downward. This is Stevens’ third year. He of course is trending upward, but how much further can he go with this group? I like Brad. I didn’t mind Doc, though I didn’t love him. Thought he was overrated. Didn’t win here until he had 3 Hall of Fame players and a 4th guy that was an All-Star. Then went to a Clippers team that had a bunch of studs and he is winning now too. But didn’t win much otherwise. He smiled and joked around and was friendly with the local writers, so it always seemed like this helped his rep more than it should have. In any event, I feel strongly that the coach is extremely overrated in the NBA…at least in this era. Doc didn’t win big until he had the players. Stevens is probably on that course too. Greg Popovich may be a great coach. But he certainly has had the players over the years. Guys like Erik Spoelstra and Dave Blatt…are they good coaches? Or did they win because they had/have LeBron James? My guess is the latter…and the list is endless.
Ultimately, GM Danny Ainge has to pull the trigger. I know, Captain Obvious here. But with all the players and upcoming draft picks, it’s long overdue. I thought it would have happened by now. Obviously no old buddies like Kevin McHale are around now to do Danny a favor by trading the C’s the 2015 version of Kevin Garnett. But shouldn’t there be a deal or two out there somewhere? These players have all said the right things from the start of camp as they knew the plan and even as they watch their minutes fluctuate already. But does that last if they start losing? Doesn’t usually in that scenario.
At the very least, Stevens needs to settle on his 8 guys or so and move forward with them instead of changing the lineup every other game. This may piss a select few off, but he can’t keep playing 11-13 guys every night. It never works. I admit, I haven’t watched every second of the first 4 games, but I have watched a great deal. Turnovers. Missed layups. Lack of rebounding. Awful shooting percentages (please Brad, do not encourage guys like Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson to shoot threes anymore…they just don’t belong out there beyond the arc). Etc. Guys sitting for long stretches and getting out of the flow of the game would seemingly effect some of the above, no?
What would I do until Danny can move some bodies? I knew you would ask! Happy to oblige. Let’s work backward:
I would lop 4 players off immediately by shipping them up to Maine and having them play 35-40 minutes a game up there, instead of 3 minutes every other game in Boston. Practice regularly. Work on fundamentals. All that. These are James Young, Jordan Mickey, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter. I have no idea if any of these guys will ultimately be any good. But I see some sort of talent in each of them. See if they can play some games against at least fringe NBA competition (hopefully that is what the Development League has…at least guys better than the average college opponent) and develop into something. Young and Mickey are already there. The other two should be too. Rozier looks just as out of control as I what I remember from him at Louisville. In the one game Hunter has played, it seems as if he just sits on the wing outside the three-point line and just stands there as the other 4 players move the ball around. Then he may get lucky and touch the rock every once in a while too, but not often. This can’t be ideal. These being young guys, they seemingly wouldn’t complain about being up there for a bit.
That leaves 11. Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller are 10-11. I’m not even sure why they re-signed Jonas…or even why he would want to come back with all the bodies in tow here. But he does nothing for me. If you wanted to give him 5 minutes a night for some sort of energy, well, ok. Zeller seems like a pretty decent backup center to me. But I’m not losing sleep if he is not playing. Kelly Olynyk is your 9th man. I personally have no use for Brad Lohaus 2.0. 7-footer that can’t play inside. Not a rebounder. Not a three-point shooter, though Brad lets him fire away too. Not a defensive guy. Not sure what exactly he does well. But he’s better than Jerebko and Zeller. And until there are some moves to make room for any of the 12th-15th guys to maybe show what they can do here, 9th man seems to be about right for Kelly.
The remaining 8 should be getting all the run basically. I would start Sullinger and Johnson at center and power forward (or vice versa) and have them stay within 10 feet (15 feet max) of the basket at all times. Yes, they are both listed at 6’9″ and will be undersized at those positions. But, as fat as Sully still looks, they are likely your best rebounders, so just deal with it. Evan Turner starts at small forward. The guy was arguably your best all around player last year and now you drop him down the depth chart this year and for what? Makes no sense. Bradley at shooting guard and Smart as point guard round out the starters. I’ve never been a Bradley guy, but what other choice do you have? Smart needs to play 35 minutes a game or so at the point as they need to find out if he is a (the?) cornerstone to build on. Or to ideally increase his trade value, if that’s what you want…
Isaiah is probably your best player, but he remains at the 6th man spot. Just seems like the best spot for him. David Lee and Jae Crowder are your 7-8 guys. Lee got buried last year in Golden State last year and I am not exactly sure why. He’s certainly on the back nine, but you could do worse on this team. Johnson and Thomas seem to have worked well together through the first 4 games, so if you wanted to swap Lee and Johnson, I suppose it wouldn’t matter. 6’9″ vet or 6’9″ vet that can both rebound a little…take your pick. The C’s seem to love Crowder…I don’t entirely get it. But he seems to be useful. Think he is more of a bench guy as well. But inexplicably got some decent dough in the offseason, so he will play a ton. Maybe it’s partially to justify the return for Rajon Rondo…who knows?
So that is that, for whatever that is worth. The team should continue to improve on their finish last season and generally should be more interesting to watch than in recent years. There is some promise. But the work is far from done…
…the Boston Celtics’ playoff trip, as you may have guessed.
On one hand, it was nice to see the C’s make a charge to the playoffs at the end of the regular season. Even though they beat some bad teams (and some teams that rested their stars) to get in at the end. And the fact that they finished 40-42…still under .500. But on the other hand, it cost them a higher draft pick and they of course had no chance to beat Cleveland. By the by, for those of you that wanted to play Atlanta because they would’ve had a chance to win, please stop. I know Atlanta cruised and ended up struggling down the stretch. I know Brooklyn won tonight and evened the series 2-2. But the C’s were not beating Atlanta either, sorry.
My opinion is that it is ok that they made the playoffs. How much better of a pick would they have gotten if they finished, say, 30-52? I suppose that would’ve put them in the top 10, but #10, #15…is it much of a difference really? Not to mention that they have a thousand draft picks anyway and really HAVE to deal some of them away. So who says they will even use this year’s pick?
I’d rather have the players gain some kind of playoff experience. Sure, not all of these guys will be back next year (they’d BETTER not be!). Sure, they got whitewashed. And all of that stuff. But every game of this magnitude counts. Also for Brad Stevens. Doesn’t hurt for him to have some playoff coaching experience. Also helps for the team to win a little bit, so he doesn’t bolt back to college, but that’s a different story…
Give the team this: They played hard. They hustled. They dove for loose balls. They played to the best of their abilities. But they just didn’t have the horses. Just looked up some of the stats. The C’s actually shot 42% from the floor. I can’t believe it was that high. It felt like they were regularly throwing up bricks. Maybe it was because they were 26% from three point land. Or that the three guys who took the most shots, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley & Evan Turner, shot 33%, 38% & 36%, respectively. Add in Brandon Bass’ 35% for good measure and that may just sum it all up.
But as I’ve said all year, the team is full of guys that can play in the NBA…but should be probably 5-8 on a good teams roster. At best. Their 5 starters were probably the worst unit in the playoffs. Case in point was a ranking done on the 4 letter network that put the 80 starters in the playoffs in order. The best Celtic? Marcus Smart at 57. Sounds about right. For the record, Tyler Zeller was 59, Bradley was 70, Bass was 73 and Turner tied for 77th (with Jeff Green, of all people). Also for the record, good to see Rajon Rondo was 75th…still delighted he is gone…but that’s another story for another day.
You can take the rankings for whatever they are worth, but in reality, they are probably not far from the truth. I suppose it’s a little hard to believe that Turner was tied for 3rd worst, when he was arguably the C’s best all-around player after the Rondo and Green trades…or that Zeller is somehow up at 59…but that’s probably splitting hairs. It is what it is. And they just couldn’t match up with the Cavs’ horses.
The size difference up front was astounding. I’ve never considered Timofey Mozgov much of anything, but he looked like he could do whatever he wanted against the C’s. Imagine if he was utilized offensively more than the 5th option he was? And stayed out of foul trouble? It would have looked worse. He made more of a difference on the defensive side as he altered numerous shots. And rebounded well along with just about every other Cav. Zeller was consistently thrown around like a rag doll. Olynyk is just this era’s Brad Lohaus (not a compliment). Bass was abysmal. Jared Sullinger has a big body (pun intended), but doesn’t necessarily match up well either. It was ugly overall.
The Celts lost 3 games by 8 and one by 13…but did any of them actually feel close? I don’t think the Cavs ever felt threatened. I can’t believe Mike Gorman thought they would win in 6…he must have been channeling his inner Tommy (Heinsohn). But I don’t believe Tommy even thought they had a shot. Doubt he admitted that publicly though. Speaking of Tommy, how old is Hubie Brown? 116? Wow. But he was actually ok in Game 4. Except for the fact no one told him how to pronounce “Olynyk” properly…but I digress…
As much as the C’s had no chance in this series, I actually expected more of the Cavs. They rolled through the last half of the season and have their version of “The Big Three” (God, I am sick of that phrase). But I have to say I wasn’t all that impressed. LeBron James is LeBron. I still kind of despise him from the whole “Decision” thing and his overall smugness on the court. But his talents are undeniable. Stevens threw about 10 different guys at him trying to figure out who can at least slow him down. But the answer was a resounding…NOBODY! Kyrie Irving is very skilled. But he seemed to disappear for stretches. Extremely underwhelming was Kevin Love. Is he just a great player on bad teams? Or is he truly a superstar? Not sure at this point. He hit some threes in Game 3. But otherwise did not do much…in my eyes anyway. Yeah, some will argue that he opened up the floor for The King and Kyrie. But whatever…my last vision of him running right off the floor almost crying leaves a lasting memory…and a poor one. Ok, maybe exaggerated on the “almost crying” part. But still…
JR Smith? Total punk. Loser. Hope his suspension costs the Cavs two games. Just a clown. Mozgov impressed me the most actually. The next guy on the Cavs to impress me? Iman Shumpert actually. I believe he has a decent defensive reputation. But his offense was more than I expected. The rest of the bench was nothing to write home about. Tristan Thompson is a nice rebounder. Perk? What a joke. How he didn’t get thrown out of Game 4 is beyond me. Laughable. The C’s fans didn’t like it. But they forget he was doing that type of “tough guy” crap when he was here too. Except now he is beyond washed up. Used to be able to play at least a little. Not as much as people around here think, but he had some skills. Thankfully, we weren’t subjected to that tool Anderson Varejao that often. Though I admit it was very heartwarming when the sideline reporter let us know that when Love went to the locker room, “Varejao was right by his side. And he is still in there with him…shows how tight knit the team is…”. Ummmmmm…she knew Varejao wasn’t in uniform and couldn’t play, right? That report was useless…as are most sideline reporters…but again, another topic for another day…
One last observation: The Celtics in no way lost this series because of the officials. But it sure seemed as if they were playing 5 on 8 quite often. I guess all the superstars get the calls. And Cleveland had all the superstars in this series. That tradition is as old as the NBA itself, despite how unfair it really is. But sometimes it was a little over the top. Add to that the fact that I don’t think any of the Cavs players STILL think they have committed a foul. Every single time they were whistled, they had a look of incredulity on their faces. (I think I may have used the word “incredulity” right…that may be a first!).
In any event, glad the C’s got some postseason experience and extended the season by a smidge. The team was fun to watch at times, I will admit. But there is a lot of work to be done still by Danny Ainge and the front office. Something to delve into in a future post…