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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 2

Picking up right where we left off…just remember, DEMETRIUS JACKSON.  Ok, I will stop yelling now that I have your attention.  On to the rest of the roster, still in alphabetical order…

*Jonas Jerebko/Amir Johnson.  I’m going to lump these two together.  Because I can.  And they are next to each other on the roster.  More importantly, it’s because I thought neither one of their options should have been picked up before the season.  To me, it was a colossal waste of 17 million for a combined 36 minutes a game for these stiffs.  They couldn’t have paid one player the whole 17 mil and received a better return?

Harsh assessment?  Most assuredly.  But it is what it is.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:  I have no idea what Johnson brings to the table.  None.  Doesn’t rebound.  Doesn’t block shots.  Doesn’t score.  Defense?  Perhaps.  But when I watched him, he didn’t make much of a difference.  Never comes up with a “50/50 ball”.  Etc.  Yet he started almost every game this year.  Oh, if you take away Jackson’s 1 for 1 on threes, then Amir led the team in three-point percentage.  Yup.  27 for 66, for 41%.  And yes, I just looked it up.  Actually, I was looking for something (anything?!) Johnson contributed and stumbled upon that nugget.  I know, only 66 threes attempted, so big deal.  But if you asked anyone if they thought Amir shot that many threes this season, they wouldn’t believe it either (10 for 43 for 23% last year, by the way…found that interesting as well).  So I guess I discovered something he did add to the mix.

You know what else I realized about Johnson?  That he was the second highest paid Celtic this year.  A distant second to Al Horford, but second highest nonetheless.  Yikes!!

I know, Johnny Kid…you will disagree with the above analysis.  But that’s how I saw it…

As for Jerebko, well, I didn’t have much love for him either.  He sure as hell hustles his arse off and can hit the occasional three himself.  But…seemingly takes up space for the most part.

I can’t even talk about these guys anymore.  I hope neither of them are back.  Although if Brad Stevens uses Jonas going forward like he did at the end of the playoffs, which is…barely…then if he wants to come back for a veteran minimum salary and there were open roster spots, I wouldn’t complain…too much.  Johnson?  I wish him well at his next stop.  If there is one…

*Jordan Mickey/James Young.  Uh oh.  There goes the alphabetical order!  But it made sense to lump these guys together.  Plus, “Y” does come after “M”, you know.

Before the season, I had high hopes for both of these guys.  I had no idea if either of these two could play in the NBA.  Unfortunately, I still don’t.  That’s what happens when these guys apparently drew straws for the 13th and final active roster spot on a nightly basis.

With the way this team was sure to have (and did have) problems rebounding, I was hoping Mickey would get some minutes to try to help that problem.  Young, being his third year but still only 21, I was hoping for him to get minutes to see if he would finally develop into something useful.  Neither one got those minutes because they went to Gerald Green, Jerebko, Johnson, etc.

We already know what the veteran bench guys can do.  We didn’t (don’t) know what Mickey or Young can do.  Maybe it’s nothing.  Maybe they just sucked really bad at practice and they didn’t ultimately “earn” their time.  But it would have been nice to find out about them in real games.

Based on the above, I don’t see either back next year.  Young is unrestricted anyway.  Mickey has non-guaranteed money, but doesn’t seem likely the Cs will guarantee it.

I have no idea why, but I bought into the Young hype from Day One.  Left school early, top 10 talent if he stayed in school (“they” say anyway), steal for where they took him in the draft (17th), etc.  I’ve always had this vision that he is like Jermaine O’Neal.  Not the style of play of course.  Not the “Boston Celtic years Jermaine O’Neal”.  But the O’Neal that came into the league at 18 years old, languished on the bench in Portland for 4 years, then blossomed into an All-Star as soon as he went to Indiana.

Yeah, Young probably doesn’t turn out to be anything.  But please note both he and Jermaine were taken at #17 in the first round of their respective drafts.  So if my hunch is right…somebody owes me something…

*Kelly Olynyk.  Who do I dislike more, Johnson or Olynyk?  It’s close.  If “Game 7 against the Wizards Kelly Olynyk” showed up more, it’s obviously a lot easier to trash on Amir.  Goes without saying.  But unfortunately, THAT guy shows up once every 40 games or so.  Or something like that.  It’s mostly the abundantly average KO that is around most of the time.  So it makes the decision tougher.

Listen, Olynyk will always be better than I will ever give him credit for.  It’s just that I like my 7-footers to be able to rebound and play down low.  And he can’t.  Which infuriates me a little as well because it looks like he may actually have some ability down inside, believe it or not.  I know, this is Brad’s system and that’s what he wants Kelly to do…blah, blah, blah.  I get it.  But I don’t have to like it.

As for next year, Olynyk is a restricted free agent coming off 3.1 mil this year.  If you ask me, I let him walk.  He will want a nice raise, for whatever reason.  But look closely at the numbers.  Four years in the league and no improvement really.  He has essentially been the same guy for those four years.  Is he all of a sudden take a step up in his age 26-27 season next year?  Or beyond?  Doubtful.  So why give this guy a fat raise for that?  He is what he is and there is some value to that.  Just not the value in dollars he likely will be looking for.  Let him go.

Honestly though, I think Danny makes a good effort to keep him, sad to say.  It probably depends on what they do with the guards and who they bring in and all that.  He may not fit financially when all the chips fall into place.  But Danny does try to keep him here.

*Terry Rozier/Marcus Smart.  Pairing these guys up based on position…and length of this post!  Smart played pretty much starters minutes and Rozier was essentially your 4th guard.  Rozier seems like he may be the better ballhandler and rebounder, Smart could possibly have the better all around game when you throw in his D.  Both are 23 years old with birthdays in March, so there’s that.  Even better, they were the only Celtics to shoot less than 40% from the field (about 36% apiece for both), so I suppose there are some similarities.

Despite the fact that he shoots entirely too much and no one bothers reining him in, and despite the fact that he can still be a knucklehead at times, Smart grew on me this past season.  If Avery Bradley is indeed moved as I think, I believe Smart moves into the starting lineup and takes another step up.  Just a gut feeling.

Rozier?  Don’t be shocked if he is moved either.  Yes, he could step up to be the primary backup guard.  I can’t say I would be opposed to that, as he showed some growth between his rookie and sophomore years in the NBA.  But I have other ideas for the #3 guard.  One could be Jaylen Brown, as discussed in the previous post.  Brown filled in there when Bradley missed time earlier in the year.  If Jae Crowder stays, Brown has to get more minutes somewhere.  And he no doubt has more upside than Rozier.

I have another player in mind for the #3 guard.  That’s a story for a different day however.

Next:  Still a big name missing…

Best of Three…

…and am I changing my mind on Washington four games to two?

Nope.

I assure you, this is not an overreaction to the C’s getting trounced in Games 3 and 4 in Washington.  But those games certainly don’t help.

In reality, the Wizards should be up 3 games to 1 right now.  They had 2 great looks to end Game 2 before it went to overtime and missed both.  People around New England I think are blinded by Isaiah Thomas’ magical(?) 53 point performance that they actually miss this simple fact.

Isaiah actually only has 32 total points since his Game 2 outburst.  Yeah, Game 3 was out of hand early.  And Game 4 got out of hand during the 26-0 run in the third quarter.  So his playing time was down a smidge.

But you know what else?  Washington finally had some answers for him.  That has been dissected over and over for some time now.  So I’m not bringing anything new to the table here.

The point to stress again is that…Isaiah can’t do it by himself.  Again, no secret.  Though Al Horford has stepped up his game for the most part in this series…in my eyes…who has been the C’s third best player?  Terry Rozier perhaps?  Yikes!!

Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart…all nice players.  But these guys simply aren’t going to beat the better teams.  Of course Rozier isn’t either.  So the Wiz double and triple IT and then…it’s over.

Guess what too?  Bradley is hurt again.  Surprise!!

We can talk about a max contract or not for Isaiah and player moves and all that when the offseason arrives.  As for this series though, will it change when the C’s get home tonight for Game 5?  I don’t see it.  Unless the team hits 19 threes again, including Crowder’s 6 for 8, as they did in Game 1.  Which I don’t see either.

Which brings me to coach Brad Stevens.  He has done what he’s could with matchups.  Trying to “hide” Isaiah on defense.  Trying to free up IT on offense.  Mixing in the regular bench guys in Smart, Kelly Olynyk and Rozier to try to maximize their time on the floor.  Even finding some use for Jonas Jerebko from time to time (but not for Amir Johnson though…oh well, can’t win them all!).

But the threes…oh God…the THREES!!  Roughly half the Celtics shots are threes.  When they go down, very nice.  But when they don’t…ugh.  During that 26 point run, the C’s kept firing up threes like they were going to get 10 points each time they would fall.  Of course they were kicking the ball all over the place too, but when they did take shots, they were ugly threes.

I know, I know, I KNOW…this is Brad’s system and it works…works a lot actually.  But when it doesn’t, someone needs to rein the team in.  Especially in the playoffs.  Didn’t seem to happen last game.

I think the Wizards bring their game plan in from DC and also their renewed confidence and win a tight one in Game 5.  Then once again blow the C’s out Friday night in Washington.  Am I happy about it?  No.  But it is what it is.

IT gets slowed down a bit, the Wiz grossly outrebound the C’s again, no other Celtics step up, the C’s don’t hit 19 threes…etc., etc., etc.  It all adds up.

Again, the progress shown by the Celtics this year has been great.  There is more work to do, as we have been saying in this space all year.  But it’s been a nice ride in the meantime.  And especially Isaiah has been fun to watch.

In the end, losing in this round shouldn’t be so depressing when you think about it.  The Celtics would get embarrassed and possibly swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals.  I don’t think that is going out on a limb either.

May as well let the Wizards be that sacrificial lamb though…

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