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Closer Than We Thought?

The Boston Celtics have had a nice start to the 2019-2020 season.  Most fans of the team were ecstatic to be rid of that cancer, Kyrie Irving, and didn’t even care how they came out of the gates this year.  If we all went back to the underdog teams that coach Brad Stevens seemed to have a great deal of success with (IT!!), but didn’t win anything, I think after last season most of us would have taken that.  Not forever, mind you.  But this season for sure.

The players publicly continue to deny that Kyrie was a problem.  Yeah, they were there and lived through the experience.  Perhaps we should believe them when they say they have no ill will towards Irving.

Based on what seemingly everyone not connected with the team sees, it’s hard to really take the players’ words at face value.

I mean, the play on the court seems improved, even while key players such as Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart miss chunks of games.

Even the guys at the far end of the bench seem involved this season.  Everyone seems invested.  And happy for others’ success.  Seems to be a lot of camaraderie.  Something one rarely saw last season.  I know, everyone rooting for Tacko Fall hasn’t hurt.

A better example?  Celtic rookie Grant Williams has apparently been encouraged by the coaching staff to shoot three-pointers.  Big surprise, as Brad wants everyone shooting threes in general.  Don’t get me started on this philosophy though.  In any event, Grant started the year by missing his first twenty-five threes.  And he supposedly got a new nickname with every miss.  Then he finally hit one and the bench went berserk.  For a guy that plays like 15 minutes a game and shoots about 26% overall.

I am not sure that happens at any point last season.  Hard to fathom.

I know Grant plays hard when he is in there.  Despite what seems to be many limitations in his game at the professional level after being the SEC Player of the Year his last two years at Tennessee.  So maybe this makes him easy to root for.

But maybe they all just get along better as a whole?

Once again, I will tell you that I haven’t watched every minute of every game.  But you already knew that.

But from the action I have seen, the team is just looser overall.  Looser on the court, in interviews and everything that goes along with it.

Listen, Kyrie wasn’t the only guy subtracted from last years’ team.  Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Al Horford and Aron Baynes were also notable departures.  Guerschon Yabusele too!!  The Dancing Bear!!

Ok, forget Yabusele.  But also, does anyone really think the other 4 guys were a problem?  Morris can be a handful we’ve heard over the years and Rozier already has carved his own bust for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  But I’m not sure we can pin a ton of blame on them.  Horford was supposedly a “team leader”…though it makes you wonder why he apparently couldn’t help with any locker room sh%tshows.  Baynes is irrelevant, in my eyes anyway.

Just a different feel to this years’ squad.  HAS to be Kyrie, right?

That’s what I am going with.  Despite the fact that everyone from Danny Ainge to Stevens, to any of the players this year or last year continue to deny it.  I’m simply not buying it.

Now, the record this season, is this a mirage?  Can the team actually be a TRUE contender for the NBA Championship?

Let’s hold off on that for a second.

The record is nice and puts them in second place in the Eastern Conference as I write this.  But they are a loss or two away from sixth….with two-thirds of the season still remaining.

Playoff team?  No doubt?

Champion?  Ummmmm…

Similar to what we wrote about the Boston Bruins after a two month writing gap, I feel the exact same about the Celtics’ chances this season as I did before the season started.  Wouldn’t shock me if they got to the Eastern Conference Finals.  But I’d be hard pressed to think they can win a championship.

I will say there have been a few developments during this season within the team that has surprised me a bit.  For one, Brad Wanamaker has actually been useful.  If you recall, I said I would have kept Max Strus over Wanamaker.  Who?  Oops.

I’m a little surprised that the quartet in the middle has seemingly held their own as well.  I guess it is only three since we really can’t count Vincent Poirier because he never plays.  Regardless, Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams have seemed to get the job done in the middle.  Though I’d honestly like to see Williams play more.

That being said, “big man” can certainly be upgraded if the C’s truly think they can compete for a title.  More on this later.

I’ve also been very surprised at Smarts’ shot selection.  Oh wait, that’s false…no need to rehash this over and over.  But we’ve said it all along.  In addition to many others.  Smart is a valuable part of this team.  But for the love of God, PLEASE stop firing up shots at will.

I’m also not surprised that Stevens still tries to force feed us Semi Ojeleye.  Every once in a while that guy plays a good game and everyone lauds him as if he has turned a corner and can contribute regularly.  Then he goes out the next time and plays 20 plus minutes and looks terrible.  Please Brad, enough already.

I thought Carsen Edwards would make more of an impact.  No, I didn’t expect him to average 15 points a game off the bench.  But I expected him to be able to hit a few shots here and there, especially the open ones.  He really hasn’t even done that.  And that is why we find him down in Maine at this juncture.

But all in all, the team is probably about where I expected them to be.  And my long term expectations remain the same.

What can they do to actually make a real bid?

I’m not sure that’s realistically in the cards.  Will an established “Big Man” guarantee a championship?  Not so sure about that.  Depends on who that guy is.  We obviously know they don’t grow on trees…the studs anyway.

If the Celtics determined that was the proverbial “last piece of the puzzle”, they would have to give up something to get something.

Meaning…Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown.

Are we ready to sign off on that?

I am not.

Kemba Walker isn’t going anywhere.  Smart and any of the kids (or current centers) do not have the value.  Picks?  Maybe.

Gordon Hayward?  Hmmmmmmm…methinks he would not be enough.  But an interesting conversation could take place here.

Gordo is once again hurt.  He honestly seems a little snakebitten with the whole injury thing while he wears a Celtic uniform.  Now he has some sort of foot issue that has been lingering for weeks.  And they don’t know what it is.

Now, Hayward has been very good this year when he has been on the floor.  Early on, it appeared he was back to what he was before that gruesome injury a couple of years ago.

But he is significantly older than Brown and Tatum.  Two players who ideally will be cornerstones of the Celtic franchise for years to come.  With Kemba also in tow for the next few years anyway.  AND Hayward has a player option for next season that he could decline in search of a multi-year commitment.

Does Gordo have value?  Would Brad Stevens consider dealing “his guy”?  I know, that’s Ainge’s department.  But you don’t think Stevens has any say?

I don’t think Hayward is going anywhere.  Nor Brown, nor Tatum, nor Kemba either of course.  None of the rest of the roster has enough value to deal for a big fish, even if combined with picks.  So I actually don’t think Ainge messes with the roster this season at all, to be honest.  Unless somehow something falls out of the sky.  I think they stay the course with who they have, hope the recent draft picks develop enough to be reliable bench options and then see what path they can take next summer to take the next step during the 2020-21 season.

It’s worth keeping an eye on, however.

If this Romeo Langford kid can stay healthy and shows he can play, then that may change some minds.  Those are big “ifs” from where we are now though.  He’s had about ten injuries this year himself.

But if we get to a point where everyone is healthy and the roster shakes out where they have Hayward, Brown, Tatum, Smart & Langford as reliable wing-type players along with Kemba playing main minutes at the point, there’s a chance one of the wings can be sacrificed to acquire a big.

If Hayward didn’t have such a tight connection to Stevens, wouldn’t he be the obvious choice to dangle here?  Along with other sweeteners?

Either way, enjoy the stress-free, non-Kyrie ride, along with the not so lofty playoff expectations that we all seem to have as we head into winter.  But stay tuned for sure.  It COULD get interesting as the trade deadline approaches sometime at the end of winter.

Don’t bet on it though.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Speaking of turkeys, one non-football note (about time?) before we dive into the New England Patriots and then the three Thanksgiving Day games.

Kyrie Irving is coming back to Boston tonight.  Oh wait, nevermind.  He’s out with a shoulder injury.  BIG surprise.

Kidding, of course.  Kyrie has actually missed several games, so it’s not like he is ducking Boston.  That would be hard to do over the course of a long NBA season.

When healthy, Kyrie is lighting up Brooklyn.  But who else do they have?  Kevin Durant?  Sure, but not this season.  Spencer Dinwiddie can apparently play.  But what else?  Joe Harris?

So, of course, he is going to have monster numbers.  I mean, he is truly a great player for sure, there has never been any debate on that.

But I think most people have noticed the turnaround (thus far) in Boston this season.  The Celtics are 12-4.  Yup, it’s early and there is a loooooong way to go.  It’s also worth noting that the Nets are 9-8…but something like 5-1 without Irving.  Nice.

Sure, Kyrie wasn’t the only player leaving Boston after last season.  But I find it hard to believe that Al Horford or Aron Baynes caused any locker room turmoil.  Marcus Morris?  Perhaps…he is kind of a hothead.  Terry Rozier too, but as a part-time player, we can’t really say he led the charge or anything.

It’s all about Kyrie.

The players seem different on the floor as well.  The whole thing is obvious.  Of course, it hasn’t hurt that Gordon Hayward seemed to get back to his previous self before missing some games with a different, and lesser, malady.  And the younger guys have taken a step up as well.

But the general feeling cannot be mistaken.

It’s just awesome to see the Nets winning without Kyrie, while the Celtics come off a West Coast trip, don’t have Kemba Walker, Hayward (and Daniel Theis, if you will), have to play dudes like Semi Ojeleye and Tremont Waters 20 minutes plus and still win their game.

We said it here at the time:  Good riddance.

And…the most laughable thing I have heard in recent days is “will Kyrie get a tribute video?”

SERIOUSLY??!  FOR WHAT??!  Two years of a bad attitude and “leading” an underachieving team?

Listen, Isaiah Thomas wasn’t here all that long either.  But he absolutely deserved a tribute video upon his return.  100 percent.

Kyrie?  Please.

Ok, back to football and the Patriots.

Though I am not sure I have anything to add on them.

I mean, it was certainly a nice win against Dallas on Sunday.  But what did we learn?

The game was played in a monsoon.  It was raining sideways.  Wind.  All that.

The defense sure played well.  The offense still needs some work.  But if this game is played in better conditions, do the Cowboys score many more points?  Wouldn’t surprise me.  That’s why I am not sure I can put much stock into this game.

What did we learn about the kid wide receivers?  Not sure there either.  Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry had their moments…both good and bad.  Isn’t that to be expected though?

I am glad that they played basically the whole game, however.  How can the experience hurt?

Nice win at home against a fairly decent team in less than ideal conditions.

But that’s all I’m taking from it.

Chicago (-2.5) at Detroit

The Bears probably think they have a shot at the playoffs still, while the Lions lost to Washington last week.  ‘Nuff said.

Chicago 20, Detroit 10.  

Buffalo at Dallas (-6.5)

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is pissed off.  About time!  He should have fired coach Jason Garrett years ago.  Not sure he picked the right time to sound off a little here, after those conditions last week, but better late than never I suppose.  That being said, I expect the ‘Boys to bounce back at home on Turkey Day.  The Bills are 8-3, but I am still not buying into any of that nonsense.

Dallas 27, Buffalo 13.  

New Orleans (-6.5) at Atlanta

The Saints should have lost to Carolina last week.  They amazingly got smoked by these same Falcons three weeks ago…at home.  New Orleans is 3-1 since Drew Brees’ return, but things have been seemingly a little uneven.  The Falcons seemed to be a little resurgent after that win at the Superdome, but then got hammered last week by an extremely average Tampa Bay team.  Combine that with my track record this season, well, who the hell knows?  But I am thinking that the Saints return the favor in Atlanta.

New Orleans 38, Atlanta 24.  

Week (against the spread):  7-7

Week (straight up):  8-6

Lock Of The Week (season, ATS):  5-7 

Season (against the spread):  87-89

Season (straight up):  114-62

Boston Celtics 2019-2020 Season Preview…Kind Of…

…so here we go.  The NBA season started last night.  The Boston Celtics season starts tonight.

As was the case with the NHL, I am simply not ready.

You know, the heart of football season, World Series going on (despite the absence of the local team). the last NBA season feeling like it just ended…and all that…

Plus…the NBA has lost my interest as a whole a great deal over the last decade or two.

Why?

Too many threes, lack of fundamentals, no one boxes out anymore, four on one fast breaks where one of the four pulls up for a three or a long jumper despite having an easy layup in front of them, too much of the game being about entertainment and showtime…blah, blah, blah…I’m sure we’ve been through all of this before.

But now the whole Celtics course has exhausted me as well.  Actually, it was Kyrie Irving that exhausted me really, so maybe the last statement was a little hyperbole.

In any event, last years’ team was supposed to be a championship contender…the culmination of several years of a rebuild, so to speak.  Good coach, great players, young and old…someone who was going to cruise through the Eastern Conference and give some serious competition to the likes of the Golden State Warriors to try to claim the NBA title.

And we know how that went.

Just a trying year…certainly for the team…but also for the fans…if the players even care about them.

The two most prominent players who left, Kyrie and Al Horford, said as much.  Although Kyrie was full of crap, per usual.  That press conference he gave when he reported to the Brooklyn Nets’ training camp was comical in so many ways.  But that was a while ago, so we won’t go there.  Besides, I chafe even thinking about him nowadays.

Horford was a little more sincere, but he stopped short of blaming anyone in particular (from what I’ve heard anyway).  He said something to the effect of “if Kyrie stayed, I am not sure we could have coexisted…”

Ssssssoooo…was he blaming Kyrie?  Or the young kids (primarily Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum), who had tremendous egos, likely because they were on the cusp of the NBA Finals the year before without max contract guys Irving and Gordon Hayward and as a result seemed to clash when those guys came back?  A little of both?

Not sure.  But he was right.  No way bringing back all of the same guys was going to work.  I don’t think there is any question about that.  Though also, let’s be real…Al left because he got PAID.  A lot more than what people thought he was going to get.

In any event, where does that leave this years’ team?

Amazingly enough, what we wrote in July (last time we wrote about the C’s) pretty much sticks.  Well, the composition of players anyway.  But also…what is the rotation?  I am not sure coach Brad Stevens has that nailed down yet.  And we don’t like that.

Historically, I feel like Brad has tried to play way too many guys and cannot settle with an 8-9 man rotation.  Didn’t like it when Doc Rivers did it either.  Best thing that happened to Doc was trading like 7 of those average guys for Kevin Garnett.  All of a sudden Doc had barely 6 guys to play.  And it worked out pretty good because, well, those 6 were pretty good themselves.

Stevens, of course, has Brown, Tatum, and two max contract guys in Hayward and Kemba Walker.  Decent start, as long as Brown and Tatum continue their upward trajectory and Gordo has fully recovered from his horrific injury two years ago to at least be close to the player he once was.  And the team sure as hell counting on Brown continuing to improve, what with the almost 30 mil per he just re-upped for.

What’s after that?  Hmmmmmm…

Marcus Smart of course.  Solid all around player, but no star for sure.

Question marks.

Let’s start with what appears to be some sort of “four-headed monster” in the middle.  I don’t think Stevens even knows how he is going to divide time up between Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, Robert Williams and Vincent Poirier.  Theis is undersized, but fits the offense better; Kanter is more of a traditional center and can rebound, but can’t play a lick of defense; Williams is young and still extremely raw and Poirier?  No idea what he’s all about.  He didn’t play much in the preseason either.  Maybe at some point we will see ourselves some Tacko Fall too, if he shows anything all in the G-League in Maine.

My guess is that they roll mostly with Theis and Kanter, maybe mix in Williams a bit, but basically close games with Smart as the 5th guy on the floor instead of a big man if the situation allows for it (e.g. there is no big man on the other team to be accounted for…which in today’s NBA is a real possibility).

Then you have the other “kids”.  The true rookies in Carsen Edwards. Grant Williams and Romeo Langford (maybe Tremont Waters from Maine as well).  Edwards lit up the preseason, but I’m saying that doesn’t mean much.  He is intriguing though.  Langford has been hurt all summer/fall.  Maybe he can contribute eventually.  But not off to a good start.  The team may like Grant.  But I don’t know where he fits…this season anyway.

Who’s left?  Ugh…right…Semi Ojeleye and Brad Wanamaker.  Brad LOVES Semi (I don’t, can’t you tell?).  So he will try and shoehorn him some minutes.  I have no idea why Wanamaker is here.  Third ball handler?  Sure.  But…whatever.  The team cut Max Strus to get to the roster limit.  And this was after Strus was the first undrafted dude they signed to a two-way contract…then made it a “real” contract and guaranteed him some dough…then he is gone.

Now, I really don’t know Max Strus from Levi Strauss, but I would have kept him over Wanamaker.  No doubt.

I guess if we are debating the 13th-15th spot the roster, who cares?  But still…

Oh, Javonte Green made the final 15 too…but since he will likely be #15 and he’s actually 26 years old…we will move on.

So while Brad actually figures out the rotation, this is what I think:

Starters:  Walker, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, Theis.

Second unit:  Smart, Edwards, Kanter, Ojeleye, Langford (when healthy).

11-13:  Both Williams’, Wanamaker.

Inactive:  Poirier, Green.

G-League:  Fall, Waters.

That’s all well and good.  But the real question is, can they compete?

I say absolutely.  In the East anyway.

Toronto lost Kawhi Leonard, so they will likely fall back.  Milwaukee still has Giannis, Khris Middleton and others…and looks like the favorite…but by no means do they look infallible.  Same with Philadelphia.  They still have Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and added Big Al.  But still beatable.  Indiana?  Maybe when Victor Oladipo comes back eventually.  Brooklyn with Kyrie?  Not this season without Kevin Durant.

Looks like the East is wide open.  Why can’t the Celtics make a run?

The locker room should be a whole lot more stable, we can definitively say that much.

And Brad seems to be a better coach when the expectations are lower (and talent is less).

I wouldn’t be shocked if the C’s were at least able to get to the Eastern Conference Finals.  The NBA Finals?  Won’t commit to that.  But I reserve the right to change my mind once I see how these guys all come together.

Winning the NBA Championship?  Ummmmm…nope.  Not as I see it anyway.

Anything less than a visit to the second round of the playoffs would seem to be a disappointment.

At worst, perhaps this team will be easier to root for than last years’ team?  We will see how they all mesh once it gets real.

I know, that’s not the goal.  I mean, we loved those Isaiah Thomas teams.  But what did that give us?

That being said, a team worth rooting for this season would be a breath of fresh air after the disaster that was last season.

Baby steps.

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