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Celtics Trade Deadline Review…

…a little late, but…so be it…

So the NBA trade deadline came and went last week with Boston Celtic GM “Trader Danny” Ainge making ZERO moves.  I was kind of shocked when I read it, but apparently, this is the fifth consecutive deadline that Ainge has not made a deal.  Perhaps it’s time to retire the “Trader Danny” nickname?

The Celtics have a true core of five players that really carry the load:  Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart (yes, he is a key piece of the team…live with it).  If you wanted to combine Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter into a sixth, then go right ahead.  Though not ideal, those two should not kill you playing the “5”.

But that’s all folks.  You can shove as much Grant Williams down my throat as you want.  But although I appreciate the hustle and drive he shows out there, I have no interest in seeing this guy on the court when the playoffs arrive.

Speaking of “shoving someone down our throat”, Head Coach Brad Stevens has been trying to do this with Semi Ojeleye for almost three years running now.  Maybe in the right situation, “Shemi” may actually be able to play in the NBA?  I don’t know.  But I do know that this dude is atrocious and does absolutely nothing for me.  And please spare me with “he guards Giannis well, so he should play a lot against Milwaukee if they end up playing them” bit.  Please.  I think Ojeleye’s defense against Giannis is a little overstated.  But that is me.  Furthermore, if he can actually guard Giannis, why can he not guard anyone else in the league?  I think the 6 fouls he has per game is the most valuable thing about him.  Moving on…

Robert Williams?  I would have LOVED to have seen more of him this season to see what his raw ability could have added to the team.  But a hip injury wiped that out.  He is supposedly due back in March.  Can he add value coming off the bench for a few minutes a game?  Perhaps.  But can he be counted on?  Nope.

Romeo Langford?  Not this year anyway.  The 14th pick overall has missed a great deal of the season with a variety of injuries.  Now seemingly past all that, Langford had kind of a breakout game last Friday against the Atlanta Hawks.  you know, the “bottom of the conference” Hawks that is.  Then Romeo turned that progress into an ugly 6 minute stint against the much better Oklahoma City Thunder 2 days later.  I am not sure if the kid can play in the NBA over the long haul as of yet.  But he certainly isn’t ready now.

We could keep going through the rest of the roster, but I will spare you.  No one else can be trusted.  And since I spared you by not going through the rest of the names on the roster individually, please spare me any Tacko Fall comments as well.  Thank you in advance.

The point is, the team could use some help off the bench.  A veteran or two.  A big man to share the load with Theis and Kanter…or even overtake them in the rotation.  Some help anyway.

And…nothing.  So what does that mean?

I suppose big men such as Clint Capela and Andre Drummond were not real options because they don’t shoot three pointers and therefore were not a fit for Stevens’ system.  Neither does Kanter…though maybe that’s why, in his case, despite him being a rebounding machine, he plays less than 20 minutes a game here.

But what about other wings and ball handlers?  There weren’t any available?  Are you really satisfied with Brad Wanamaker Danny?  I don’t see it.

Salary cap issues?  Perhaps.  But those things have a way of working themselves out if a deal needs to get done.  And I am not talking about “throwing” a core player in a deal to make the numbers work.

Draft pick hesitation?  The picks the Celtics have coming up are almost worthless now.  Mid to late first rounders.  Not worthless, that is hyperbole.  But it’s not like having a pick in the top three.  I think you get my point.

Not wanting to give up on younger players?  I mean, Langford MAY be a player someday.  Not guaranteed.  Robert Williams MAY be worth holding on to.  But not necessarily.  Grant Williams MAY be a decent bench player in this league going forward.  Carsen Edwards?  Disappointment.  I thought he would be able to come off the bench and hit some buckets.  Hasn’t happened this year.  Tremont Waters has some skill, but his height will always haunt him.  Besides, if he had that much promise, wouldn’t he have a real roster spot now, instead of a two-way deal?

You can have the whole lot of them, in my opinion.  Guys of that ilk will always be available.

Side note:  I guess one writer said the C’s may be hesitant to give up on players like Vincent Poirier because he has “flashed at times this season”.  Poirier has played 108 minutes the whole year, as of this writing.  How much “flashing” can that provide??!

In any event, so why did Danny not make a deal?

Glad you asked!

I believe some of the chatter that I’ve heard on talk radio this week.  I think Ainge thinks that this team is not good enough to win a championship and may be more than one or two “pieces” away.  That the West is loaded and that the East seems to be all Milwaukee.  I don’t believe that Danny wants to make deals for this year when he believes holding on to “assets” for the future is better for the team.

That being said, what did Ainge really have at his disposal to give up?  The younger bench guys ain’t getting him anything great.  The future draft picks either.  Theis and/or Kanter?  Maybe as a piece.  But not as a major part of any deal.

That means he would have been dipping into one of the five “core” players.  And what would be the sense of that when they are trying to add to that core and not take away from it?

One initial thought I had was…gasp…is there a chance Gordon Hayward may be available?  He has a huge player option next year.  Which means he will opt out of it.  Because that’s what professional athletes do.  Hayward has been pretty good when he’s been on the floor this season.  But he has missed some time.  And he has been a little snakebitten here over the years with injury.  Jaylen Brown’s cap hit goes from 6.5 mil to almost 24 mil next season.  Jayson Tatum still needs to get paid.

Could Gordo become a casualty, either at the deadline this season, or next summer?  Despite the obvious ties to Brad?  Well, the deadline has passed.  But was that possibly being bandied about as a potential move before the deadline?  And may be on the table over the summer?

Remember also that Hayward was the subject of some teammates’ dissatisfaction last season when Brad forced minutes on him when he wasn’t quite ready in his return from his major injury the season before.  Taking away minutes from the likes of Brown and Tatum, who felt like they earned them with their long playoff run from the previous season.

Maybe Langford grows into that “other guy” down the road.  Some of the other kids/picks develop.  Tatum gets his dough.  And he, Brown and Kemba are the three top dogs.

Hmmmmmmmm…

I didn’t think it was a real option for this season.  But a real option over the summer?  And that perhaps is when Ainge is ready to make his “next big move”, to take the step to legitimate championship contender?

Hard to say.  But can a team really have four max contracts…or close to max contracts?

Then I see something recently where the team wants Gordo still for the long haul.

So who knows what Danny is thinking?

If I am “Trader Danny” though, I try to make a deal for a couple of veteran bench guys last week.  You already have four scorers.  You just can’t play them 48 minutes a game in the playoffs.  And you sure as hell cannot trust most of the other guys on the roster other than Smart.  As long as he isn’t shooting a ton himself, that is.  Adding some reliable veterans to fill up the main bench minutes along with Theis and Kanter would have satisfied me at least.  And Danny didn’t get it done.

I’m still not sure that adding the vet depth pieces would make them a legit contender this season.  But it would have certainly put them in a better place.

Now?

A trip to the Eastern Conference may be the best Celtics fans can hope for.

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.

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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