Ssssoooooo…one more day has passed. My ire from what the Boston Celtics did at the draft almost a week ago has continued to subside. Of course, it helps when the Red Sox are playing listless ball against one of the worst teams in baseball. It also helps when the Bruins’ front office seemingly is rolling along with the continued incompetence it has shown in recent years. But these are stories for some other day. And I promise that day will be soon. Because of course I would love to share my anger with you. Most of you anyway, since I know at least one person out there (Keo!!) who is sick and tired of all the negativity in this town, to steal a classic from Rick Pitino.
Getting back on track, we all know the “rebuild” of the Celtics has been slow and deliberate. Ok, so the Brad Stevens era has been only 3 years. Which is not really a long time, relatively speaking. Some teams have been “rebuilding” for decades. So it could be a lot worse. Doesn’t it seem longer though? I think that is simply because Danny Ainge has been gathering “assets” from the time he shipped away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets. And Doc Rivers to the Clippers too. Among all the other moves he has made to bring the roster to its current state. With that, ownership has promised “fireworks” and we are all ready for them to occur. Ready for them to take the next step.
This is why on draft night we were all pissed. Not even a single firecracker to be heard.
Upon reflection, I have accepted the inaction. Below are the majority of the reasons why, once again, in no particular order:
*The #3 pick simply did not have the value that we hoped it might have. We heard the rumors and got excited. But in reality, I’m not sure there was a ton of demand. Sure, Philly made a decent offer. But it wasn’t an earth-shattering one. Is Nerlens Noel a nice player? By all indications, yes he is. But is he truly a “game-changer?” That part may yet to be determined because he is young and certainly has time to evolve into one. But judging by the fact that Noel was deemed to be the one expendable by the Sixers with their glut of big men, they at least do not think he will be THAT type of guy. Worth noting.
*Kevin Durant is not coming to Boston. This year anyway, though probably never. As previously stated, I expect him to sign a one year deal to stay in OKC. This also seems to be the consensus opinion as well. Why? A few things. They have a legitimate championship contender there right now. They came close together this past year and based on the state of their roster, he may feel like they have one last run in them at the very least. Russell Westbrook has one year left on his deal. There’s probably a good chance he bolts at the end of his deal and KD may want to line his contract up to coincide with RW’s for that one last run in OKC.
There are probably a few other reasons, but for this purpose there is one more. It appears that if Durant signs for that one year, he can get over 100 mil more in next years’ free agent market. You read that right, 100 mil. Now, I don’t know all the particulars of the salary cap and all that nonsense. But that is what’s being reported out there. An extra 100 million is nothing to sneeze at. Obviously.
It’s great that Danny has a meeting with Durant soon. But perhaps its true purpose is to grease the skids for next year? Never know.
*The apparent cost for other “franchise” players was way too high. I referenced the proposed package for Jimmy Butler. Ridiculous. 4 draft picks and three of your best current players? No thanks. I’m guessing that if/when Ainge inquired about other studs, he received similar proposals. Too prohibitive.
*Unimpressive other available free agents. Sure, there are some decent players out there. But I’m not handing max contracts out to any of them. Al Horford, Mike Conley, Dwight Howard, Hassan Whiteside, Nicolas Batum, Chandler Parsons…you name it. The Celts have the ability to offer 2 max deals. If Durant isn’t taking one of those slots, is it worth it to offer one to two of the rest of the lot? I don’t think so.
*Cleveland Cavaliers. I’m going to assume that LeBron stays in Cleveland. Even if they trade Kevin Love and shuffle some of the other bodies on the roster, these guys are still going to be the team to beat. By far.
*The Western Conference. Still superior. Unless the C’s get Durant and another stud, not only are they still behind the Cavs, but they are still behind Golden State, San Antonio, OKC, the Clippers and perhaps others.
These are the reasons that lie in the forefront for me. It takes time to build a consistent winner, not to just try to assemble a great team, win once and then go back through a cold spell for several years. The timing…still…does not seem right to me to see those “fireworks”, based on all I have seen and heard. Perhaps we all should have taken it as a sign when Stevens and Ainge signed their extensions that this was the route the Celtics themselves were taking and that there is more patience needed from the fan base.
Gathering more assets never hurts. Trades will be available again at some point for sure. Maybe there will be a better free agent crop next year. Maybe Durant comes over then. The salary cap is supposed to explode as well. Maybe then the C’s have room for three max deals. Ultimately…what’s another year? As long as they continue going in the right direction of course.
There are still plenty of lesser moves to be made to improve the team at least incrementally. There are 23 players associated with the team at this point. I am counting unrestricted free agent Evan Turner, Marcus Thornton (the 2nd round pick in 2015 version) and Colton Iverson (2nd round pick in 2013) though. I like what Turner brings to the table, but I believe someone will wildly overspend for him on the open market. Probably not worth keeping him at crazy money for a back-end starter/top bench player. I don’t think anyone is counting Thornton or Iverson. But the team still holds their rights. So we can at least talk about them here and give them a little love. That’s about it though.
That leaves 20 guys. Ok, I doubt anyone is counting John Holland either. And perhaps Yabusele and Zizic are stashed overseas along with Iverson and Thornton. Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko have non-guaranteed deals. Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller will be restricted free agents, where the C’s will have the ability to match anything offered. Though with Sully getting buried in the playoffs, I am not sure I expect him back. Maybe the team gives up on James Young. Etc.
There will still be plenty of moves. And I expect these moves to improve the team. There are people who do love Jaylen Brown. Some of those people know a whole helluva lot more about basketball talent than I do. You have to at least give that some credence. Maybe just also adding another big guy that can rebound and “protect the rim” will add a few more wins. Regardless, the Celtics of 2016-17 SHOULD still be better than the 2015-16 version. Doesn’t that count for something?
I have no idea if this is the right or wrong path. But it seems reasonable after some thought. Last years’ team was entertaining. If that holds true this upcoming year, they win 50 games or so, hopefully win a round or two in the playoffs, then the fireworks occur NEXT offseason (another high Nets pick, Durant or someone similar, 2nd and possibly 3rd notable free agent, etc.), is that really a bad thing?
It may be if Brown ends up sucking. But let’s not even consider that for the time being…
OK, so it’s only 4 games in. And most of the games have come against decent opposition. But still…it hasn’t exactly been pretty so far for the Boston Celtics. Tough start to the season for a team that had some had high expectations heading in. Well, from a lot of people anyway. I have the team pegged around .500 or so, maybe a little over. Conference doesn’t seem all that strong. Celtics have some players. They have a good coach. Blah, blah, blah. I figure if the roster remains the same, they should be a little better than last year. And really no more. Certainly not championship timber. Again, that is if the roster remains the same all the way through.
But therein lies the problem. The roster. The way I see it, the team has 15 players that seem to have something to add to any NBA team, to varying degrees of course. They may have even had 16 players, before waiving Perry Jones shortly before the season started to get to the 15 man roster limit. Yeah, that Jones note is of course irrelevant, but the point is this: The roster HAS to change. There are too many guys that are capable of contributing every night…but none of them are superstars or really even All-Stars. Every one of them has some sort of flaw, even if that “flaw” may be that they are too young and haven’t hit their stride yet…that is, IF they do.
The bottom line is that having this many capable guys affects the rotation on a daily basis. Brad Stevens has a few guys that he can guarantee minutes too…Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, I suppose Avery Bradley. But the rest he says “have to earn it”. Uh oh. Sounds like the coach of the 2006-2007 C’s…Doc Rivers. This is when he had a ton of young guys like Gerald Green, Bassy Telfair, Ryan Gomes, Tony Allen, Big Al Jefferson, etc. And he had trouble finding a consistent rotation then too. Played a guy like Green 30 minutes one night and 5 the next. “Had to earn it”, he said. That team won 24 games. And Doc had a superstar in Paul Pierce, albeit for only about a half a season due to injury.
2006-7 was Doc’s third year and he was trending downward. This is Stevens’ third year. He of course is trending upward, but how much further can he go with this group? I like Brad. I didn’t mind Doc, though I didn’t love him. Thought he was overrated. Didn’t win here until he had 3 Hall of Fame players and a 4th guy that was an All-Star. Then went to a Clippers team that had a bunch of studs and he is winning now too. But didn’t win much otherwise. He smiled and joked around and was friendly with the local writers, so it always seemed like this helped his rep more than it should have. In any event, I feel strongly that the coach is extremely overrated in the NBA…at least in this era. Doc didn’t win big until he had the players. Stevens is probably on that course too. Greg Popovich may be a great coach. But he certainly has had the players over the years. Guys like Erik Spoelstra and Dave Blatt…are they good coaches? Or did they win because they had/have LeBron James? My guess is the latter…and the list is endless.
Ultimately, GM Danny Ainge has to pull the trigger. I know, Captain Obvious here. But with all the players and upcoming draft picks, it’s long overdue. I thought it would have happened by now. Obviously no old buddies like Kevin McHale are around now to do Danny a favor by trading the C’s the 2015 version of Kevin Garnett. But shouldn’t there be a deal or two out there somewhere? These players have all said the right things from the start of camp as they knew the plan and even as they watch their minutes fluctuate already. But does that last if they start losing? Doesn’t usually in that scenario.
At the very least, Stevens needs to settle on his 8 guys or so and move forward with them instead of changing the lineup every other game. This may piss a select few off, but he can’t keep playing 11-13 guys every night. It never works. I admit, I haven’t watched every second of the first 4 games, but I have watched a great deal. Turnovers. Missed layups. Lack of rebounding. Awful shooting percentages (please Brad, do not encourage guys like Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson to shoot threes anymore…they just don’t belong out there beyond the arc). Etc. Guys sitting for long stretches and getting out of the flow of the game would seemingly effect some of the above, no?
What would I do until Danny can move some bodies? I knew you would ask! Happy to oblige. Let’s work backward:
I would lop 4 players off immediately by shipping them up to Maine and having them play 35-40 minutes a game up there, instead of 3 minutes every other game in Boston. Practice regularly. Work on fundamentals. All that. These are James Young, Jordan Mickey, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter. I have no idea if any of these guys will ultimately be any good. But I see some sort of talent in each of them. See if they can play some games against at least fringe NBA competition (hopefully that is what the Development League has…at least guys better than the average college opponent) and develop into something. Young and Mickey are already there. The other two should be too. Rozier looks just as out of control as I what I remember from him at Louisville. In the one game Hunter has played, it seems as if he just sits on the wing outside the three-point line and just stands there as the other 4 players move the ball around. Then he may get lucky and touch the rock every once in a while too, but not often. This can’t be ideal. These being young guys, they seemingly wouldn’t complain about being up there for a bit.
That leaves 11. Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller are 10-11. I’m not even sure why they re-signed Jonas…or even why he would want to come back with all the bodies in tow here. But he does nothing for me. If you wanted to give him 5 minutes a night for some sort of energy, well, ok. Zeller seems like a pretty decent backup center to me. But I’m not losing sleep if he is not playing. Kelly Olynyk is your 9th man. I personally have no use for Brad Lohaus 2.0. 7-footer that can’t play inside. Not a rebounder. Not a three-point shooter, though Brad lets him fire away too. Not a defensive guy. Not sure what exactly he does well. But he’s better than Jerebko and Zeller. And until there are some moves to make room for any of the 12th-15th guys to maybe show what they can do here, 9th man seems to be about right for Kelly.
The remaining 8 should be getting all the run basically. I would start Sullinger and Johnson at center and power forward (or vice versa) and have them stay within 10 feet (15 feet max) of the basket at all times. Yes, they are both listed at 6’9″ and will be undersized at those positions. But, as fat as Sully still looks, they are likely your best rebounders, so just deal with it. Evan Turner starts at small forward. The guy was arguably your best all around player last year and now you drop him down the depth chart this year and for what? Makes no sense. Bradley at shooting guard and Smart as point guard round out the starters. I’ve never been a Bradley guy, but what other choice do you have? Smart needs to play 35 minutes a game or so at the point as they need to find out if he is a (the?) cornerstone to build on. Or to ideally increase his trade value, if that’s what you want…
Isaiah is probably your best player, but he remains at the 6th man spot. Just seems like the best spot for him. David Lee and Jae Crowder are your 7-8 guys. Lee got buried last year in Golden State last year and I am not exactly sure why. He’s certainly on the back nine, but you could do worse on this team. Johnson and Thomas seem to have worked well together through the first 4 games, so if you wanted to swap Lee and Johnson, I suppose it wouldn’t matter. 6’9″ vet or 6’9″ vet that can both rebound a little…take your pick. The C’s seem to love Crowder…I don’t entirely get it. But he seems to be useful. Think he is more of a bench guy as well. But inexplicably got some decent dough in the offseason, so he will play a ton. Maybe it’s partially to justify the return for Rajon Rondo…who knows?
So that is that, for whatever that is worth. The team should continue to improve on their finish last season and generally should be more interesting to watch than in recent years. There is some promise. But the work is far from done…
Part III…and we’ve had some clamoring from the masses for some Celtics talk. Well, at least one reader. Let’s do it:
*Wow, Jared Sullinger is suiting up tonight. This came out of nowhere. But let’s give the dude some credit. Shortly after they ruled him out for the year, reports came out that he was over 3 bills and not working hard at conditioning, to say the least. He was taking some hits…and not saying he didn’t deserve them. But now he will be back on the floor tonight. Give him his due for not folding up shop and getting fatter in preparation for next season.
*The C’s are enjoyable to watch again, yes. But let’s also please not fall in love with this team. I’ve been hearing some chatter on sports radio this week where people think that if they sneak into the playoffs, they have a decent chance of beating Atlanta. Hold your horses, folks. Atlanta historically has proven to be kind of a dog team. But maybe not this year. I’m not counting on it anyway. Just doesn’t seem realistic.
*But the real reason not to fall in love with this team is because they just don’t have the horses for the long-term. Sure, they have a bunch of good players…I would actually prefer the term “useful” than good. A lot of the guys on the team are certainly people to like and are absolutely worth rooting for. But are they championship level? Not a chance.
Let’s break down the roster:
Who are their best players? If you just took the best 5, regardless of position, you would probably choose Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas, right?
Not a superstar in the group. And a team absolutely need 1-2 superstars at a minimum in the NBA…just the way it is. Even if Sully gets and keeps in shape, he is not that guy. Maybe an ideal 4th option? Bradley may be in the “4th option” category as well. He has unbelievable nights, followed up by many average ones. There is something I like about Turner. He seems to have some good all-around game. But a top tier guy? Nope. Smart is young and if his offense improves, can he get there? Maybe. But I’m not counting on that. On this team, there always seems to be someone else on the floor with him who can handle the ball as well. Maybe that’s just taking some pressure off the rookie for now. Who knows? Let’s hope he continues to play fierce D though. After watching Rajon Rondo not care about D after he tore up the league early in his career and watching Bradley’s D also seemingly decline over the years, if Smart decides not to play D anymore a few years down the road it wouldn’t surprise me. Thomas was a nice sparkplug when he first got here. But he has bounced around a little, is shooting 38% from the field and Brad Stevens only plays him 26 minutes a game. If he was a stud, he’d be out there more. I’ll take him as my 6th man when the C’s get all the pieces though.
The 2nd tier is probably comprised of Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller & I suppose Jonas Jerebko if you were so inclined. I’d love to include James Young in this group. I think that even though they are fighting for a playoff spot, Young should’ve been playing big minutes. Let’s see what we’ve got! The fact that he is getting no time at all is a little concerning for me. Bass is a nice player. But more of a bench guy on a good team. You could say the same about Olynyk, Crowder and Zeller. Those guys have some good games. But from what I have seen, it looks to me like they are no more than bench guys for when the C’s finally are championship timber. I suppose it’s better than what I thought of Crowder when he came in the Rondo trade. I thought he was a throw in. Turns out he has some value. He does shoot way too much for my liking though. Jerebko? Maybe. Not really enough sample size. But he looks like a decent bench guy to me too.
The rest of the roster: Shavlik Randolph is mostly useless. Phil Pressey is a nice 13th man. If you have to play him more than 8 minutes a game, it’s probably not a good sign. Luigi Datome? Who the hell knows? Stevens says he loves him, but he never plays him. He may argue that there are too many bodies in front of him. But I would argue that maybe he can shoot but he can’t do anything else. Whatever. Gerald Wallace? Totally washed up. But if he inexplicably keeps his great attitude and supposed leadership qualities around this team and doesn’t really care about playing (but actually does ok when they throw him out there), I will take him. Of course it helps that he is pocketing over 10 mil a year to barely break a sweat. So, I guess I would probably do what he is doing too.
In summary, Danny Ainge needs to take some of these useful guys, package them with any of the abundance of picks he has, maybe a trade exception or two and get even better players. See if they can somehow woo a top tier free agent to town as well…as unlikely as that is to happen. Let them shoot for the playoffs this year, it’s too late to “tank”. But then do something like…
*…this team somewhat reminds me of the 2006-7 Celtics. But that team at least had Paul Pierce in place. This team does not have that kind of player. Doc Rivers was in his 3rd year as coach (record worse every year…amazing how you are all of a sudden a great coach when you have great players…oops, I digress). The rest of the roster had a bunch of useful guys as well, you can judge the varying degree of usefulness if you want. Big Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo, Gerald Green, Kendrick Perkins. Leon Powe, Delonte West…and you can add Wally Szczerbiak and Sebastian Telfair there if you want…plus Michael Olowoka…nope, nevermind him. Doc couldn’t figure out who to play, so he varied minutes wildly. The best thing that happened to Doc was the KG and Ray Allen trades. He had like 6-7 guys who could actually play, shortened his bench…and the rest is history. Danny has to make lightning strike twice…or else the Boston Celtics may be stuck in purgatory. Otherwise known as “middle of the pack” in the NBA.
*Couple of non-basketball thoughts:
*I used to love “homer” announcers growing up, like Johnny Most. He didn’t necessarily rip his own team, but he let you know when they were not playing to their level of expectation. But guys like him used to hammer opposing players. “McFilthy and McNasty” (Rick Mahorn and Jeff Ruland). Bill Laimbeer is a criminal and all that enjoyable stuff. Got you pretty fired up listening to the game.
Now? You either get Tommy Heinsohn blaming the referees for everything. Saying there is a foul on every play. Or you get guys like Jack Edwards. Someone said that Patrice Bergeron is overrated recently. He is a little overrated, though I love him as a player. Then one game he scores less than a minute after puck drop (in a game they eventually lost) and Jack goes nuts. “Overrate this!!” he says. Really? You are attacking a random person (reporter or something, don’t remember who said it…not sure I even knew who it was actually), for their opinion? Why, because you feel the need to back the guy up? Ridiculous…
Or you get the guys who don’t say anything critical of anybody at any time.
Problem is, they stations the announcers work for, radio and television, are all owned by the teams now. I get, to some degree, why they are what they are. But do they need to be over the top with praise instead, even when it is totally undeserving? Kissing everyone associated with the teams’ arse?
Just diminishes the whole experience, if you ask me.
*Scott Boras. What a total fraud. Here he is openly ripping the demotion of Kris Bryant by the Cubs to anyone who will listen. Why? Because if the Cubs ship him out for 12 days, they have seven years of control, as opposed to six. No brainer to me, even for a big money team like the Cubs. IT’S LESS THAN TWO WEEKS! Doubtful it will impact the season. And if I am running a business, I’m doing the same thing.
He must have forgotten that the players have agreed to that type of stuff in probably most previous Collective Bargaining Agreements. He also must have forgotten that guys like Mike Trout routinely come up a month or two into the season and then are there to stay…and no worse for the wear.
Most of all, he forgot that he ALWAYS tightens the screws on the teams, squeezing every extra penny he can get out of them on EVERY contract. But the teams can’t do something like that to him? Joke.
Maybe it is unfortunate for Bryant, as he should probably be on the Opening Day roster. But he will survive, I am sure. I guess as long as he doesn’t blow his knee out in the next two weeks…