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…
More like the 3/4 season report card, what with only 25 games left. But again, the All-Star Game was just Sunday, so this seems like the right time.
As with the Boston Bruins’ report card done a few weeks ago, the Blowhard has to admit that he hasn’t watched every minute of every game. For the B’s, it was about tolerating Jack Edwards. For the C’s, it’s listening to Tommy Heinsohn berate the officials all game that is difficult to do. Or listening to Scals flapping his gums about anything really. Ok, those aren’t the only reasons for not watching…but they don’t help.
Jumping right in:
Ownership: N/A. There’s no doubt that Wyc Grousbeck can be fairly visible. Steve Pagliuca is around from time to time. There seem to be some other part-owners…Wyc’s Dad, a couple of dudes named Epstein and I guess others involved with Boston Basketball Partners, LLC (yup, looked it all up!)…but Wyc and Steve are the most noticeable. To me though, it appears they let the basketball people run the basketball show. They will spend the money if they have to. And unlike Jeremy Jacobs of the Bruins, their actions over the years would seem to indicate that they want to win championships instead of just count their money. So I feel that the grading for management falls squarely on…
Danny Ainge: B. This may even be better graded as “Incomplete”…until this week’s trading deadline anyway. Yes, it’s been a long and slow rebuild. But, based on the circumstances, it really has been the only way to go. They didn’t get Kevin Durant last summer to speed up the process. But they tried. Ainge has been accumulating significant assets over the years (I know, we are ALL sick of the word “assets”!). He is looking at a potential #1 overall pick this upcoming offseason with Brooklyn being as atrocious as they are. Of course, the lottery never goes the C’s way, but that’s a story for another day.
Ainge has missed on some draft picks, but he has put together a bunch of talented players that are currently in the 2nd position in the East. Is it enough for Banner 18? Nope. But it’s been a consistent upward climb since the rebuild started. The team is in a good position as of right this second salary-cap wise. There is work to do still though. And with a few key contracts expiring after next season (Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart), combined with the inability thus far to land the “Big Fish”, is the window closing? I don’t think quite yet. But the clock is certainly ticking.
Brad Stevens: A-. I still don’t like how the team shoots way too many threes. I wish young guys like Jaylen Brown would play more consistent minutes. But there is not much else to argue with. Isaiah has obviously helped this grade. But Bradley has missed 21 games (and counting). And he is inexplicably their best rebounder, by the numbers anyway. Marcus Smart has seemed to have taken the “next step”. Brad gets at least something useful from guys like Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko and Gerald Green from time to time. James Young has actually finally shown a little bit in the last couple of weeks. 37-20 and only 3 games behind Cleveland. Really can’t complain.
Isaiah Thomas: A++++++++++. Almost 30 points a game. Sick 4th quarter stats. Over 90% from the line, where he gets to a lot. Almost 40% from three. 6.3 assists even. Sure, he may not be an A+ defender, or even a “C” one, but who cares? Hopefully he does not wear down as the season progresses. And yeah, he hasn’t proven a thing in the playoffs…yet. But how can you give him anything less of a grade for this season?
Avery Bradley: B+. Having his best season, but too many games missed. Something that has been all too common in his career. Costs him an “A” grade this year anyway. Love the rebounding numbers. Still steady on D. Team is not better without him, but to this point really hasn’t missed a beat with him on the shelf.
Al Horford: B-. Al doing what Al typically does, I would have to say. But for 26.5 mil, I guess I’d like to see more. That’s just me.
Jae Crowder: B. Numbers up pretty much all around from last year, especially three-point field goal percentage. Steady player. Leader. Maybe could have gone “B+” here, I don’t know. I always have the feeling though that this is about the ceiling with Jae. Not horrible. But not great either.
Marcus Smart: B. Still shoots too much for someone who can’t shoot. But at least it’s improved a smidge. I think you have to measure his impact in other ways however. He has been getting plenty of accolades for his defense and overall game. So we will go with that for now. Glad to see he seems to keep developing though. With any luck, he has stopped flopping too.
Kelly Olynyk: B-. Everyone knows my disdain for this guy. I want my 7-footers to be dirty under the boards, not hanging out by the three-point line. But this is the way the C’s play. This is what they ask him to do. And he has stepped up offensively it appears. So…whatever.
Terry Rozier: C+. 4th guard getting more time with the Bradley injury. Shows flashes, but inconsistent. I somehow expected more from him this year, based on the end of last year really.
Amir Johnson: B-. Doesn’t really hurt you, but doesn’t really help you either. Still in the starting lineup, so must be doing something right. If they could move Horford to power forward and start a real center though…
Jonas Jerebko: C. I don’t understand the infatuation and never will. Sure, he hustles all over the court. That doesn’t make him any good.
Jaylen Brown: C+. They are bringing the kid along slowly. But you can see glimpses. He’s barely 20 years old. He’s certainly shooting better than I think everyone expected. It may take some time, but he’s a keeper. Now watch him be traded in a package for an established superstar…
Gerald Green: C. I never understood this signing. Can provide instant offense, but doesn’t necessarily do it every game. Doesn’t even play in some. Should just be giving Brown his minutes.
Tyler Zeller: D. Does nothing for me.
James Young: C-. Hasn’t played a whole ton until recently. Not sure if they are “showcasing” him for the trading deadline to free up a roster spot or something. Maybe try to get something for him in return after using a mid-first round pick on him 3 years ago. Still only 21 years old. Something about Young intrigues me and I can’t figure it out.
Jordan Mickey: F. Not sure he has played enough to deserve an actual grade. But this one is based on expectations as well. I expected Mickey to really battle for minutes based on the fact that this team needs rebounders. Sure, at 6’8″ he is undersized. But people have talked about his rebounding ability, I thought he may take another step up this year. But no…he played some at the beginning, but barely does now. Disappointing.
Demetrius Jackson: Incomplete. Only played 4 games. Deep on the depth chart. Maybe someday, kid.
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.