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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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Celtics Breakup Party, Part 3

Moving on…not much more left to cover I don’t think.  Well, as I said, there is one big one left:

*And it’s Tyler Zeller!!  Ok, no it’s not.  But he’s the 2nd to last one on the current roster to go over.  8 million dollar non-guaranteed contract for next year.  To no one’s surprise, I’d rather spend that money on someone else.  Like…someone a lot better perhaps.  There’s really not much more to say.

*Isaiah Thomas.  Of course.  IT.  What do we do with Isaiah?

I can tell you I have gone back and forth on this one all year…and longer actually.  I know, he averaged almost 30 points a game this season, so how can there be any debate?

Well, when thinking about it during the regular season, the fact remained that IT hadn’t done much in the playoffs.  Yes, I also know that he hasn’t always had a lot of help.  But it was a concern.  Another concern was that at his size, how will he hold up over the years?  Legitimate question, especially if we are talking about giving him max dollars…or close to it.  And his negative value on defense.  Ultimately, is he the kind of player you really want to build around?

Lots of question marks.  I feel like he played better this playoff season.  Of course the Celtics played more games, but I felt better about his overall performance.  Especially considering the circumstances surrounding him with the death of his sister at the beginning of the playoffs.  And sure, he struggled some on the court.  But let’s face it, you are going to face better competition in the playoffs, so things are going to be tougher to come by.

Then…the hip.  Was this the reason he struggled in some games?  Who knows?  He supposedly had the injury for several weeks.  But then it got to a point where he couldn’t go anymore.  I don’t know Isaiah personally of course.  But I have to believe that if he was sitting playoff games out, it was pretty serious.  I’ve heard some question that and I don’t buy that argument.  I believe that if he could have played, he would have.

But the injury adds another layer to it all.  We still don’t know how serious the injury is.  Early indications were that if he had to have surgery, he’d be out 6-9 months or something like that.  But we don’t know if he needs the surgery yet.  So…another lingering concern.

Add it all up and what to do with Isaiah is a little tricky.  But I’ve made my decision.

I’m keeping him and giving him some dough.

Maybe that’s me just getting caught up in his regular season performance this year.  Loving how he keeps proving people wrong.  I don’t know.  But I do know he has been successful here.  He has one year left on his current contract at about six and a quarter million…another bargain year.  Sure, he will have to get his money after next season.  But the C’s will be able to give him more, based on his Bird rights or some sort of cap mumbo jumbo that no one really completely understands.  This will also give the Celtics more room to sign other guys too.  So giving IT max or close to max money won’t kill them.  From what I hear anyway.

I’ve discussed offering IT in trades before.  I wouldn’t totally rule that out either.  But the hip injury dampens his value a bit.  Plus, he fits this system and may have more value to the local team than any others.  Brad Stevens has been able to maneuver things where he can “hide” Isaiah on defense.  Maybe not always, but seemingly a lot.  Danny Ainge has always loved him and he usually hangs onto guys like that.

I think he stays, gets huge money after next season, but the team continues to build around him and he becomes just a piece and not necessarily the main guy.  Just one of the main guys.  Hope he will be ok with that…and I think he will be.

That does it for the end of season roster.  But we are not done.  Some more players/points to talk about:

*Geurschon Yabusele/Ante Zizic.  2016 first round draft picks.  These two will be here next year.  Not sure how much they play though.  Both averaged about 100 points a game overseas I believe.  But against Chinese and Turkish competition, I also believe.  Noted powerhouses they are not.  Zizic HAS to be better than Zeller and has some size, so hopefully he can add something.  I don’t really have much more to say really…

*Abdel Nader.  2016 2nd round pick.  He will be here I bet too…because they got him to stick around last year up in Maine instead of going elsewhere.  Likely made him a promise for 2017-18, since the 2016-17 team had a roster crunch.  But again, he has to be end of bench material.  I guess he played well for Maine, but that is the WNBA…er, I mean the NBA Development League.  I think James Young put up 40 every time they sent him there.  So I am not expecting much.

*The “other”Marcus Thornton/Ben Pepper.  2nd round picks, Thornton from 2015 and Pepper from 1997.  Ok, they won’t be here.  But the team still holds their rights.  That has to count for something.

*Lonzo Ball.  Please God, nnnnooooooo…

*Markelle Fultz.  I think the C’s keep the #1 pick and take Fultz.  Since I know nothing about college hoops, my analysis may really end here.  Fultz seems to be the consensus #1.  Maybe some other guys are good too, but it looks like Fultz is the guy.

And if he is, he needs to be the 3rd guard (presumably behind IT and Marcus Smart, with Terry Rozier the 4th guy, if he remains here…and Avery Bradley traded…as I see it anyway).  Fultz needs to play.  But not start…yet.  He definitely needs to come in and play meaningful minutes though.

*2018 Brooklyn first round pick.  Giddyup!!

*Three 2017 second round picks.  Yaaaaawn.

*Gordon Hayward.  And there’s this offseason’s Al Horford.  Maybe he likes Utah and will stay there.  I just don’t see it.  Sure, a lot of people are talking about this because of the Brad Stevens/Butler connection.  But I also hear that Boston can offer Hayward more money over the long haul.  I have no idea if this is true, but if so, that has to mean something too.  Boston over Utah, just in general?  Has to be a no brainer.  Ok, maybe another team makes a run at him too.  But it just feels like a done deal.  I’m probably wrong.

Is Hayward a top 10 player in the league?  Maybe not.  A pretty good player nonetheless.  And many believe he will actually come here.  No small feat when you consider the Celtics have problems attracting marquee free agents in their history, despite being the most decorated NBA franchise.  Then put him with IT, Horford, Fultz, Smart, Jaylen Brown, etc. and you may start to have something.

*Paul George.  Seems hell-bent on eventually landing in Lakerland.  At least that is the popular opinion.  I’m not sure I would trade for him if that is the case.

*Jimmy Butler.  Whatever.  Good player.  I just think the other options available to the Celtics are preferable.

*Big man X.  I don’t know who this is.  Hopefully someone who can bang around in the paint.  I know Brad likes his big guys to heave up threes and all.  But they should have a better presence inside somewhat next year.  I think anyway.  Ideally, they can dangle Bradley and/or Jae Crowder.  We’ll see.

Ok, so where does that leave us?  What it may look like:

Center:  Big Man X, Zizic

Power forward:  Horford, Yabusele, Jerebko

Small forward:  Hayward, Brown, Nader

“Shooting” guard:  Smart, Fultz

Point guard:  Isaiah, Rozier, Jackson

A cheap veteran and/or 2nd round picks fill out the roster.  Bradley is your trade chip, tough to keep Crowder if Hayward is here and Brown needs minutes, Jerebko could be cheap and Brad loves him, Kelly Olynyk is still an option, but he may get some dough…or get squeezed by the team needing his money for other guys.  Moving pieces here and I’m certainly not looking to give Crowder and Bradley away.  Hell, they could still end up being here under their reasonable contracts.  They probably will, to be quite honest.

Championship team?  Nope, but one with some promise.  Especially if “Big Man X” is a player.

BUT if Anthony Davis is available and can be had…well…I may have to rewrite these three posts in their entirety…

 

Celtics Breakup Party, Part 1

As we sit back and wait for months for the NBA Finals to begin…ok, an exaggeration of course.  But we can all admit the week-long gap between the end of the Conference Finals and the beginning of the NBA Finals is ridiculous.  As always, we can thank the television networks for that.

In any event, it’s time to put a cap on the Boston Celtics season.  The Celts lost to the Cavs in 5.  Exactly what I had predicted!  But regardless, a sweep or five games is what pretty much everyone thought.  So the Blowhard doesn’t deserve any extra props there, unfortunately.

Whimpering out of the playoffs certainly isn’t ideal.  However, their performance in the series certainly does not diminish the great season they had or the organizational progress they showed.

What the series does reveal is that there is still a great deal of work to be done.  No question there.  The 4 losses were by an average of 26 points…and it really was worse than that.  #1 seed in the East or not, the Celtics were just not in the same league as the Cavaliers.

So what do the Celtics do going forward?  Getting the #1 overall draft pick for the first time in franchise history certainly was a nice start to the offseason.  What else?  Here’s one man’s look at the current players on the 15-man roster, along with some added commentary on other random players.  Starting in alphabetical order, but maybe not finishing that way:

*Avery Bradley.  I know what I would do with Avery…I’d shop him.  I don’t hate the guy.  But the fact remains that Bradley, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart, Boston’s top 3 guards, are all free agents after next season.  Though Smart is actually restricted.  All are going to want sizable raises.  Not to mention that they also have Terry Rozier.  Jaylen Brown, though listed at small forward, stepped in for Bradley in several games when Avery was hurt.  The elite draft prospects are all guards, etc…

We will get into IT more later, but Smart may command less money than Bradley.  There are possible free agents coming.  Bradley signed a 4 year, 32 million dollar deal after the 2013-14 season, which many thought was a steep overpayment at the time.  Bradley got better, then pretty quickly became dissatisfied with the contract he signed.  You think he will “settle” this time?  Not likely.  Bradley also always seems to have plenty of nagging injuries that affect his availability.

Something has to give.  He’s a good player.  I’m guessing we have seen his ceiling however.  It just makes too much sense for him being the one to depart, based on all of the above.  This offseason.  Why let him walk after next year for nothing?  So I am moving him…we shall see what Danny does though.

*Jaylen Brown.  Easy here.  Keep him and play him more than the 17 minutes a game than you gave him this season.  20 years old, the third overall pick from last year had his moments this year, including the playoffs.  Sure, he looked like a rookie quite often, but what did you expect?  Hopefully, Year #2 will be another step up for the kid, with added responsibilities.  I have to say, he shot better than I expected this season.  That was the biggest knock on him coming out of college.  The physical tools appear to be there.  Take the training wheels off next year, and live with any bumps in the road.

*Jae Crowder.  See Bradley, Avery.  Move him.  Good player.  We’ve likely seen his ceiling.  Also see Brown, Jaylen.  They both technically play the same position and Brown needs more minutes.  There may be another impact small forward coming via free agency.  And all that.

Problem is, Crowder has an extremely team friendly contract.  He has 3 years left on a 5 year, 35 million dollar deal.  Great by today’s NBA standards.  I’d have no problem keeping him if he accepted a lesser role off the bench.  I don’t see that happening though.  Especially with Brown here and potential Free Agent Player X coming.  That’s one too many small forwards.  He also should have some good trade value, especially with the contract.  So in the end, I try to move him too.  I don’t know if Danny will though.

*Gerald Green.  I’m not really sure why he was here in the first place.  Sure he can shoot and get hot in a hurry.  But what else does he do?  And did you really need him?  I would’ve given his 11.4 minutes a game to James Young to see what you could salvage there in Young’s third year.  No need to bring Green back.  Brad Stevens may feel compelled to give him minutes again.

*Al Horford.  Welp, he’s going to be here for the next three years, whether we like it or not.  Would love to see him down in the paint more offensively and also grabbing more rebounds.  But he is what he is now.  And Brad loves his big guys to fire up threes.  So we have to deal with it.

That being said, he is a good piece to have.  Played pretty well in the playoffs.  Hopefully the C’s can find a true center next year and Big Al can play power forward.  Though I guess all of these “small forward, shooting guard, power forward” designations don’t necessarily mean as much as they did in the past, what with the current NBA style of play.  Either way, I’m ok with Al in my starting five next year.

*Demetrius Jackson.  Who?  Yup.  2nd round pick from last year, played in 5 games for a total of 17 minutes the entire year.  17 minutes.  On the roster the whole year.  Let that sink in for a bit.  That being said, if you have to fill the end of roster next year with cheap “talent”, it can’t hurt to have another ballhandler in tow.  Contract is non-guaranteed for next year, so your guess is as good as mine on what his situation will be.  Not sure it really matters anyway.

Next:  Wait, I can’t believe I wrote that many words about DEMETRIUS JACKSON!!  Because of that, I don’t even know what’s next…

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