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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 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…

Boston Celtics Mid-Season Report Card

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.

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