Will THE REAL Gordon Hayward Please Stand Up?

Celtics fans were disappointed about a great many things last season. One of the major issues was Gordon Hayward not fulfilling the promise we believed he initially had returning from a devastating leg injury on opening night, 2017. So much has happened since that fateful night in Cleveland, Ohio. The Celtics and the NBA as a whole is different. What remains is Hayward is still in Boston and while there’s been little talk related to his rehab. Many assume he is an afterthought, a shell of his former self. Maybe that’s true. But there is hope. It’s been 737 days since Hayward’s injury, 512 since his second surgery. Unlike last season, Hayward could dedicate a whole summer to rehabilitating his basketball skills and rebuild the strength in his injured leg.

We compare his injury to what Paul George experienced in 2014. While both instances are traumatic and acted as huge setbacks for both individuals and their respective teams, George had the benefit for an off-season to rehab. His injury occurred in August, two months before the initial season began. Hayward falling two months later changed the trajectory and rendered the comparison a little murky.

The Celtics last season made the gamble that it was worth losing games early on to rebuild Hayward because at full strength nobody could beat them. The bet did not pay off. If Danny Ainge and Co. could do it over, they’d probably hold Hayward out until after the All-Star break. But hindsight is always 20/20. Hayward was noticeably a step slower than his teammates and competition and worse, he came off as incapable next to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. An awful lot is riding on the Celtics ability to play their three star forwards simultaneously. You can’t hinder yourself by secluding one of them to a reserve role. Brown played good soldier last year and performed well. But the Celtics are better when he starts and is empowered.

Brad Stevens will once again walk the tightrope he fell off of a year prior in trying to bring Hayward back to speed, while not discouraging or taking away from his younger stars. Outside of coaching divas like Kyrie Irving, the one aspect of Stevens’ coaching that needs tweaking is how he manages egos and maintains trust. It’s no secret Brown chaffed at seeing his minutes reduced. And it’s not unknown teammates behind the curtain didn’t understand why the limping Hayward was given such a long leash compared to them.

What does the future hold for Hayward? Hard to say. Only way we’ll find out is by watching the Celtics play every other day and decide for ourselves.

Water Rising and Maximum Strus-Drive

One feather Danny Ainge certainly can put under his cap throughout all the turmoil of these last twelve or so months, he’s excelled at finding diamonds in the rough. All through Summer League I watched cast-offs soar above expectations and make me wonder how they flew so below everyone else’s radar?

You may think I’m speaking from hyperbole, but I am not. Tremont Waters is a real steal for where the C’s snagged him late in the 2nd round. I know Carsen Edwards collected the most style points in Summer League, but Waters feel for the game is unmatched between the two. Excelling at scoring off the dribble, Waters made a living leading LSU to a 28-7 mark. Breaking the record for total assists for a freshman at LSU (198) previously held by Ben Simmons. Waters is extremely crafty and doesn’t let his diminutive 5’9 stature stop him. In fact, there’s an argument to be made he can cut the mustard on the defensive side to go along with his mechanics on offense. Waters alertness is goes fairly unsung. His uncanny ability to invade the passing lanes shouldn’t be ignored. Waters concluded his 2019 Summer League run leading the team in minutes per game as well as averaging 11.2 points, a team high 4.8 assists, and 2.0 steals

The Celtics next two-way contract player is DePaul product Max Strus. Where Waters exceeds at getting to the basket, Strus doesn’t possess a quick first step and relies on his jump shot for production. At times Strus looks prolific. Moving extremely well off the ball he can get to his spots on the floor. Strus is a relatively solid defender and above-average rebounder, nearing 6 per game at DePaul. What Strus will need to work on during his frequent stints in the G-League is his sometimes spotty shot selection, and his history of foot injuries leaves doubt he’ll hold his own on defense for very long.

I still think Strus can carve himself a niche role on this Celtics team running off screens set by Grant Williams on the third unit. Given mediocre teams during his collegiate career Strus earned the reputation as being somewhat of a bad team player. However, this potentially is overblown and means very little.

Strus’ name wasn’t called on draft night and the Celtics picked him up soon after in time for SL. He averaged 9.8 points per game and shot 45 percent from three for the Celtics.

Fall vs Green vs Gates

Boston has an unspectacular battle brewing for the final roster spot. With the only two-way contracts already occupied by LSU’s Tremont Waters and DePaul’s Max Strus, the likes of 7-7 Tacko Fall, Summer League standout Javonte Green, and Kaiser Gates, formerly of the Windy City Bulls are dueling for the final spot on the roster.

To start, Fall is the most impressive player the Celtics have under their umbrella. At times Fall comes off as a diamond in the ruff. Guards attempted to take him head on one-on-one during Summer League and Fall held his own. His 8’6 wingspan is hell for opposing ball-handlers. On paper his measurements are not only impressive, but eye-popping. Unlike most lengthy players, Fall isn’t slender. At 300 pounds he is anything but overweight. Credit needs to be given to Fall for putting himself in the best shape. However, Fall relies far too much on his height to propel him. Rebounds come too easy and Fall needs to learn to pass out instead of pogo-sticking the ball back up in the air. His awareness could use quite a bit of polish. At times he is liable to draw blocking fouls.  

Fall concluded his 2019 Summer League run participating in all five games with the Celtics and averaging 7.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, and shooting a team-high 77 percent from the field. The biggest red flag for Fall is his career 43 percentage from the free throw line his four-years at UCF. Fall attempted just 6 free throws in his five games during Summer League making 2. But you can bet on NBA teams purposely fouling him to stifle any offensive momentum the Celtics might have.

Fall is a fan favorite here in Boston before even playing an actual game. The Celtics can use him in situational spots such as guarding the inbounds pass. Stevens could really use an ace up his sleeve with this roster. Perhaps that said ace is Fall.

Fellow Summer League standout Javonte Green is on the older side, turning 26 this past July. Unlike Fall, you know what you’re getting with Green. He’s a dependable downhill runner able to soar above the rim at a moments notice. Green’s defense is in doubt, but his speed helps him compensate. Leading EuroCup in 2018-19 in total steals with 38. Green shot a respectable 36 percent from three-point land on 2.4 attempts per game. However, we only seen Green play his role as a dunker during Summer League. It’s questionable how his skills from EuroCup translates to the pro game.

During his five game Summer League season Green averaged  10.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.8 steals. He is the most dependable, safe option for Boston for the final roster spot. He’d inspire the least amount of joy, nor would he draw vitriol from the fan base. But Green can play and with a ton of questions surrounding the Celtics backcourt outside of Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart, Green fills a need unlike Fall.

The final candidate is Xavier’s Kaiser Gates. Gates went undrafted in 2018 and spent last season with Chicago’s G League affiliate, the  Windy City Bulls. He averaged 12.7 points and 6.4 rebounds, making 37.5 percent of his 3-pointers on 7.3 attempts. Gates is a potential three-and-D guy off the bench. He is rather unspectacular. His lone season in the G-League didn’t inspire much confidence from me. Shooting a lowly 40 percent from the field. He did, however, notch a great 37 percentage from deep attempting over 7 a game. Rallying up 12 points and 6 rebounds, Gates potentially is a more defensive Gerald Green.

Celtics training camp starts October 1st.

Jingoism Is Okay for Team USA

“You tried your best and you failed miserably” is a quote I’ve attributed to how this United States FIBA team’s been received. Superstars shunning to pledge allegiance this time around has left the U.S a roster mostly made up millennials — Jayson Tatum is the lone “Zoomer.” While you do want players with a lot to prove, you certainly wish they didn’t make up the majority of your team.

Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Kemba Walker are the most senior members of this incarnation of the U.S national squad. They are loaded on the perimeter. Jaylen Brown can’t even sniff the floor being blocked by his teammate Tatum, Middleton, and Barnes. It took Tatum rolling his ankle for Brown to play a substantial role in a meaningless game against Japan. Brown was stupendous, 20 points, 7 rebounds. Meanwhile, Lopez and Plumlee are too slow to stay on the court forcing the U.S to ride Myles Turner into the ground, unless Popovich turns to small-ball. Kemba Walker’s been electric for Team USA. However, he is the only scoring guard on the team. Donovan Mitchell was supposed to fill the void, but he’s been awful for the most part.

Poor Team USA. It’s likely they won’t escape this tourney with a gold medal. They were taken to the limit by 17th ranked Turkey. When they return to U.S soil they’ll face ridicule for underperforming. While those who didn’t want to step up face little pushback except from angry Boomers disgruntled solely because athletes aren’t doing their little dance for them.

How are we supposed to entice players to accept the honor of representing this lousy, cheap country if we won’t have their backs when things turn sour? This isn’t 2004. The NBA isn’t broken. The league hasn’t ever been healthier than it is today. Why not turn our attention to Popovich cutting Thaddeus Young, or pushing out Jonathan Isaac and Bam Adebayo for the slower Lopez and Plumlee? I said all of this before, but I cannot fathom those decisions. Every day I wonder why the Celtics face endless slander for playing above expectations for Team USA while shot chucker Donovan Mitchell escapes criticism for doing a Terry Rozier impression the entire tournament.

Instead of dunking on our own countrymen for grinding out a nail-bitter victory over Turkey we should be grateful we have players who’ll risk their well-being for us. “Tatum missed a free throw” he also drew the crucial foul at the end of the game to send it into overtime, grabbed a lengthy rebound pushed it into transition for the dish to Middleton for him to win it in overtime.

Fans suck. We suck. I suck. We can criticize. But let’s not throw them under the bus for arbitrary reasons.

This U.S Team Isn’t Good Enough

One of my controversial takes I only make in a futile attempt to gain attention is the USA FIBA team would be better off if Donovan Mitchell had no part in it whatsoever. When the U.S fails to win gold at the upcoming World Cup in September the fingers won’t be pointed at the shoot-first guard taking ill-advised shots. It’ll likely be pointed at the Shamrock faction of the red, white and blue squad. On Twitter they received the brunt of the blame for losing to a bunch of Australian Boomers even though the four Celtics players (Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown) combined to make 14 of their 28 shot attempts for 42 points, compiled 7 assists and 9 rebounds while the rest shot just 41 percent off of 39 attempts for 52 points, fewer assists and more turnovers.

But now is not the time to play victim. We need to have a serious conversation is Greg Popovich succumbing to dementia like Joe Biden. In what world does it make sense to start Mitchell, Smart, Khris Middleton, Harrison Barnes and Myles Turner together? Was Walker late to practice and Popovich wanted to punish him? USA Olympic basketball is usually a hodgepodge of accomplishment players tossed together regardless of fit with the assurance the talent will win out. It’s safe to assume this squad doesn’t enjoy the same luxury. There is no Kevin Durant or LeBron to turn to when nothing is working. Popovich will have to coach his butt off to ensure this team doesn’t suffer an early exit. We lost to a team of Boomers solely due to our inexperience.

The list of players who have made the team is jarring. Even with all the dropouts the litter of eligible players was still promising. Bam Adebayo, John Collins, Marvin Bagley, Thaddeus Young, Jonathon Isaac and Jarrett Allen all tried out and didn’t make it past the scrimmage stage were passed over for the likes of Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee? If you wanted a rebounder why didn’t you give that job to someone with more of a spring in their step? I can forgive Lopez making the team. On his best nights he can stretch the floor, play solid defense, and the Olympic game isn’t like the pro-style we see in the NBA. Bigs like Andrew Bogut and Enes Kanter feel more at home than they do in the States’. But what does Plumlee bring to the table besides me wanting to kill myself?

If it were up to me, I’d start Walker, play Middleton, Tatum and Brown together to have some length on the perimeter and raise my defensive ceiling, plus have a ton of spot-up threats, and Myles Turner as my center. I wouldn’t use Mitchell anymore than as a spark plug off the bench, give him no more than a couple of minutes. If I need a slasher I’m turning to Joe Harris. If I need some grit I’m giving Marcus Smart the longest leash of everyone on the team. Walker needs to be the straw that stirs the drink. Popovich needs to experiment with a lot of small-ball. I wish Young was still on this team because he’s more versatile than Barnes.

No Expectations, No Worries

Like the Celtics, I too do not respond well to pressure and when people are relying on me to come through. I too crumble and succumb to finger pointing when I fail to meet the expectations of those who mistakenly had faith in me. I go through brief periods when I believe everything is fine and then I revert and go back on my bullshit.

I will say, I am cautiously optimistic the bullshit aspects of this team are all gone and we’ll return to the scrappy, lovable underdog from the Isaiah Thomas-era. Kemba Walker has churned out seasons similar to Thomas at his peak for the majority of his career it’s just Walker’s never had someone as good as Horford to set high screens for him. Walker won’t have that luxury this season either, but he’ll have an assorted number of promising young perimeter players superior to what the Hornets have trotted out since Walker was first drafted there.

Walker looks to have embraced his Celtics teammates in ways Kyrie Irving never did. He’s laughing and jelling with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. “What is this?” I wonder. It’s players actually enjoying each other’s company. Grinding through adversities and learning curve periods without hot heads rearing their ugly heads. I had to say it, but Tatum and Brown — especially Tatum – came off as entitled last season. Brown less so because he accepted a lesser role for the good of the team. But Tatum complained endlessly for fouls that weren’t there. Hijacked possessions halting ball-movement to hoist up long-two points that clanked more often than not. Tatum has shown no signs of of jettisoning the latter flaw, but perhaps Greg Popovich can work his magic and convince him make quicker decisions with the ball and be less selfish.

It’s kind of liberating  to be free of the excessive burden of expectations. The steady rollercoaster ramping up its intensity yearly since the Celtics rebuild ended when they traded for Thomas finally came to its screeching halt. A lot has changed since then. Too much in fact. Luckily, 2019-20 appears to be a much needed cool down from the endless stress ridden previous years. At the end of 2019 I was tired. Tired of all the backstage politicking and diva mentality, and of my coach unable to effectively quell the situation. Seemingly throwing up his hands at the dysfunctional locker room.

ESPN RPM projected the Celtics to win a mere 47-games. However, the rest of the conference is viewed as collectively weak so that many wins could be enough for home-court advantage. 47-wins is one fewer than the 2015-16 mark. That team did not have Al Horford. It’s second best player was Jae Crowder. Is Brown and Tatum already a step up on Crowder? Well, yeah. But it depends whether they can cut down on the habits that make them inferior.

How Is “Plan J” Going?

The little time I’ve been able to watch USA basketball I’ve seen some encouraging things from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Both are using their speed more effectively than they did last season, knowing where and when to cut to the basket. Brown appears more in control off-ball in the half court than he does with the ball in the full court. Brown needs to tighten up his loose dribbling and learn how to control his explosive downhill speed. I compare Brown in the latter situation to a child on a sugar high running around the house banging his knees on various pieces of furniture. Tatum could use more than a bit of Brown’s recklessness as he is on the opposite end of the spectrum.

As a ball-handler, Tatum fails to take the initiative and effectively use his athleticism to go to the rim, settling for mid-range jump shots. Tatum in the two games he’s played for Greg Popovich looks a little better than he did his sophomore season. Trying to draw fouls, not be so averse to contact and focusing on making quicker decisions on-ball. Popovich likes to instill quick ball-movement in his offense frequently running what he calls “.5” which means if you have the ball you have half a second to decide what you want to do with it. If you pass, then your teammate passes just as quick you’re likelier to get a better shot attempt. This is something Tatum desperately needs to grasp entering his third season where he’ll have the ball more often than not.

It’s frustrating to watch Tatum at times because I know for a fact he is lethal off the dribble. His blatant disinterest in creating separation is what is holding him back. Stevens needs to figure out how he can coax Tatum to being more aggressive and to up his catch-and-shoot attempts. In his two professional seasons Tatum hasn’t taken nearly enough C&S.

Alternate NBA Finals

A couple of years ago while one of my daily mindless surfings of the intellectual dark webs I stumbled across an article that reverses the outcomes of all the Super Bowls. Real Alt-Right, Ben Shapiro stuff. This is where I got the idea to do the same for basketball. But I didn’t want to simply reverse the results of every NBA Finals. I wanted to be more esoteric. Reversing the outcomes of every conference finals to see what championship matchups we were robbed of and dive into the runner-ups of each conference of which history has forgotten.

(The winning teams are in CAPITAL letters)


The 1970’s:

1970: MILWAUKEE vs Atlanta
1971: Lakers vs NEW YORK

1972: BOSTONvs Milwaukee
1973: BOSTON vs Golden State
1974: New York vs CHICAGO
1975: BOSTON vs Chicago
1976: Cleveland vs GOLDEN STATE
1977: HOUSTON vs Lakers
1978: PHILADELPHIA s Denver
1979: San Antonio vs PHOENIX

Team Of The Decade: Boston

First, let me explain the alternate 1970 NBA Finals. No. These aren’t your Pete Maravich’s Atlanta Hawks. He’s still wasting away in New Orleans. Also, while the infant Milwaukee Bucks have the artist formerly known as Lew Alcindor on their team there is no Oscar Robertson. The Big O doesn’t find his way out of Cincinnati until the next season. In this era Atlanta was considered a western conference team, and Milwaukee hadn’t left the east as they would later in the decade.  

Atlanta featured All-NBA 2nd teamer small-forward Lou Hudson, who averaged 25.4 points a night in 1969-70. Defensively, the Hawks ranked 8th in points allowed thanks to All-Defensemen Bill Bridges and Joe Cardwell. Atlanta posted a respectable 48-34 record en route to a western division title before bowing out to the rival Los Angeles Lakers in four games.

For Milwaukee, the luck of the draft struck them harder than it ever did. Not only did they win the coin toss securing the number one choice to select UCLA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but they also found four time all-star Bob Dandridge with the 45th Pick. In off-season Milwaukee went from a 27-win expansion team to a 56-win squad with title aspirations. At point guard for Milwaukee was 28-year-old Flynn Robinson who went on to his one and only All-Star game in the 1970 season averaging 21.8 points to go along with 5.5 assists. Flynn spent stints in Cincinnati and Chicago before landing in Milwaukee in the middle of their inaugural season in a trade for future All-Star Bob Love and Bob Weiss.

In real-life the 1970 NBA Finals between Los Angeles and New York served as a watershed moment for the league after the latter team won the championship catapulting the league’s status in the mainstream. Safe to say, that doesn’t happen here with two small-markets butting heads. Kareem is possibly the greatest to ever step on the hardwood, but he lacked the flashy style of play and bubbly personality  Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson would have that rescue league from the doldrums it finds itself throughout the 1970’s after cocaine became a prominent substance of use of its players.

Milwaukee probably bags the championship in 5 or 6 games. No team had any clue how to stop Kareem. The Knicks benefited from being the better overall team with tons of playoff exposure, while the Bucks were a team that practically came out of nowhere a lot like the Milwaukee team of 2018-19.

How does this affect Milwaukee? Well, we get to tack on an extra championship to Kareem’s legacy matching him with M.J – which apparently matters a lot in GOAT discussions. Other than that, I guess the boom in interest the NBA enjoyed as a result of the Knicks winning it all just doesn’t happen (not for another year or two anyway). In the context of this list, maybe Milwaukee upgrading from Robinson to Robertson doesn’t happen and the Bucks fail to defend their title? The next season I have the Knicks in the finals, so maybe Milwaukee roles with Robinson for one more season, he declines in production and the trade is done a year later? I don’t know. The problem with alternate history is it creates different scenarios you need to make assumptions to justify its occurrence.

New York beats Los Angeles in the same exact way they did in real-life, only a year later.

In 1972, the Celtics return to the big dance after a three-season absence from the Bill Russell-era and I struggle to come up with a winner here because this is the same Celtics team that eventually would defeat this same Bucks team in ‘74 except the cast is younger. Robertson was on his last legs in ‘74 and that simply isn’t the case in ‘72. So perhaps a younger Big O separates the Bucks from Boston significantly enough capture their second title of the decade. Or, maybe since the Celtics have made the lives of scorers like Robertson a living hell since 1957 the lucky Irish squeak by. People forget Celtics head coach Tom Heinsohn didn’t double-team Kareem until the decisive Game 7. If he donated come to that revaluation more than one man is needed to contain the greatest center of all-time, or even three, then you can say confidently Milwaukee wins this one.

But, since I’m biased, let’s say Heinsohn triple-teams Kareem and the C’s win in seven. This is the first of what would be three titles of the decade for the Celtics adding to the already impressive legacies of Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White. Only way the ‘73 Celtics make it to the finals is of Havlicek doesn’t separate his shoulder in the Knicks series. If that doesn’t happen then they go on to face Rick Barry & Nate Thurmond of Golden State, a team they beat three of the four regular season games they played each other that year. A title for the ‘73 team cements the 68-14 squad as perhaps the best in franchise history since this list wiped away the ‘86 squad.

In 1975, I worry whether the Celtics could beat the Bulls led by Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier in the backcourt, and forwards Bob Love and Chet Walker, with Nate Thurmond rounding out the starting rotation. This Bulls team is one of my favorites. None of the characters names jump out at you. All are just collectively solid built to win in the particular generation they blossomed in. It wouldn’t be the 1970’s NBA if we didn’t have an irreplaceable talent or two missing games due to contract disputes. Van Lier missed 11. Love missed 20. It wasn’t until January the Bulls would reach above .500 status eventually finishing 47-35. Anchored by the league’s best defense the Bulls gave up just 95-points a game.

Still, for all the defensive prowess of Love, I can’t see how you corral the scoring of Honda, Jo-Jo at his apex and Paul Westphal coming off the bench.

Don’t feel too bad for the Bulls. I have them beating the aging Knicks the previous year.

With a third championship Boston solidifies themselves as the team of the 1970’s. The Warriors, Rockets, Sixers, and the Suns rounding out the rest of the decade. Rick Barry, Julius Erving, Moses Malone and the ferocious backcourt if Paul Westphal and Walter Davis add to their legacies in this reality. Only reason the ‘76 Warriors didn’t win it all was because Barry had a tantrum in the second-half of Game 7 and didn’t take a shot. For Erving, the Sixers built reliant individual talent and not team-play shake off the bad rap they received from the media. Malone out duels Kareem, and George Gervin finally makes it to the big dance but his Spurs squad simply cannot contend with the stronger Suns.

An NBA Championship series featuring Dr. J and David Thompson is just what the doctor ordered for the league to avoid catastrophe in the ratings. The ‘77 Rockets are a forgotten gem of the decade. Calvin Murphy and Rudy Tomjanovich lead the Rockets in scoring, while Malone posted 13 to go along with the same number of rebounds. It’s kind of insane to think how different the NBA looks without their popularity cratering, and without a Portland Trail Blazers championship David Halberstam doesn’t have a reason to write about them.

The 1980’s:

1980: BOSTON vs Seattle
1981: PHILADELPHIA vs Kansas City
1982: BOSTON vs San Antonio
1983: Milwaukee vs SAN ANTONIO
1984: Milwaukee vs PHOENIX
1985: PHILADELPHIA vs Denver
1986: Milwaukee vs LAKERS
1987: DETROIT vs Seattle
1988: BOSTON vs Dallas
1989: CHICAGO vs Phoenix

Team Of The Decade: Boston

Rookie Larry Bird leads the Celtics to a championship his very first year defeating the steady SuperSonics who upset the Los Angeles Lakers lead by the ever astonishing Kareem and rookie point guard Erving “Magic” Johnson. Future Hall of Famer Dave Cowens retires on top of the world reaching his fourth ring and while he never won as many titles as his predecessor Bill Russell, there was nobody Boston could’ve imagined to better fill out his shoes. “Pistol” Pete also exits stage left after the 1980 season achieving his career’s dream of winning a title. A perfect end for an imperfect career filled with missed and wasted opportunities.

Dr. J and he 76ers stop Kansas City’s Cinderella run in June securing their second title in four seasons. Putting all doubts aside that Erving somehow didn’t deserve his 1981 MVP.

The Celtics come back to claim their title over Gervin and the Spurs who still search for their first ring. In place of Cowens Red Auerbach snagged Robert Parish from Golden State. In 1982 Parish finished 4 in the MVP vote averaging 19 points to go along with 10 rebounds. This is Boston’s fifth title post-Russell, and their sixteenth overall.

San Antonio makes it back to the dance for a third time in five-years this time with twelve-time All-Star Artis Gilmore. The Spurs overcome Magic and the Lakers for the second consecutive year as questions rise whether the “Showtime” core players can get it done despite making it to the final four three-times in the last four seasons.

San Antonio finally reaches the promise land, defeating Milwaukee with Gilmore securing series MVP honors. Gervin is all too happy to retire not ring-less. The Bucks return for more heartbreak the follow season falling to the 41-41 Phoenix Suns lead by the veteran scoring guard Davis, 24-year-old high flyer Larry Nance, and the reliable big forward Maurice Lucas. The Suns upset Adrian Dantley and the Utah Jazz, and the Los Angeles Lakers before completing their Cinderella run by beating Milwaukee in six-games. Milwaukee goes into the offseason wondering what will it take to get over the hump.

The Sixers reach the finals one more time thanks to Moses Malone and a young Charles Barkley reaching their respective strides in hopes of getting Dr. J one last ring before retirement. They defeat the Denver Nuggets and Dr. J is given his third ring since 1978. Barkley wins his first world title. Malone adds to his already impressive legacy as the best player on two championship teams.

The Lakers FINALLY get over the hump after years of heartbreak and win their only championship of the decade over the always so short Bucks. The next year the Lakers are upset by the 39-43 Seattle SuperSonics led by Tom Chambers and Xavier McDaniels, ending the partnership between Magic and Kareem for good. The Sonics would go on to lose to the Pistons. Detroit would fail to defend their title, falling to the Celtics next year and subsequently the Dallas Mavericks to secure their rightful place as the team of the decade. Bird wins his third and last title tying him with Dr. J and placing himself so far ahead of Magic people forget to even compare the two.

The decade closes with the new blood crashing the NBA Finals. Michael Jordan of Chicago getting the best of Kevin Johnson and the Suns. Jordan puts the league on notice that he has arrived.

The 1990’s:

1990: CHICAGO vs Phoenix
1991: Detroit vs PORTLAND
1992: Cleveland vs UTAH
1993: New York vs SEATTLE
1994: Indiana vs UTAH
1995: Indiana vs SAN ANTONIO

1996: ORLANDO vs Utah
1997: Miami vs HOUSTON
1998: Indiana vs LAKERS
1999: Indiana vs PORTLAND

Team Of The Decade: Portland/Utah

The Bulls open up the decade the same way they ended the last one, by beating back the Phoenix Suns. It would be their last world title as Jordan proves too much of a divisive figure in the locker room for Chicago to build a contender around for the rest of his career. The aging Pistons battle back to the finals and lose to Portland lead by the younger, fresher Clyde Drexler, Jerome Kersey and Terry Porter. The next year, Utah gets the best of Cleveland, their first of two titles of the decade. The Seattle SuperSonics secure their first championship in 1993 upsetting the heavily favored New York Knicks in six-games. Indiana reaches four NBA Finals only to come up short every time. First to Karl Malone and the Jazz. Then to David Robinson and the Spurs. Then to Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers. Before finally, to Arvydas Sabonis and the Trail Blazers.

Perhaps the greatest team of the decade, the 1996-97 Houston Rockets lead by Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler nearing the end of their respective primes capture one last title before winding down their careers defeating Alonzo Mourning and the Miami Heat in the process.

Since Portland and Utah each brought home the same number of championships I have them splitting the Team Of The Decade honors.

The 2000’s:
2000: New York vs PORTLAND

2001: Milwaukee vs SAN ANTONIO

2002: Boston vs SACRAMENTO

2003: Detroit vs DALLAS
2004: Indiana vs MINNESOTA
2005 MIAMI vs Dallas
2006 DETROIT vs Phoenix
2007: DETROIT vs Utah
2008: DETROIT vs San Antonio
2009: Cleveland vs DENVER

Scottie Pippen may have lost three-rings in this alternate universe, but he proves he doesn’t need M.J to win by himself. Something tells me Pip would rather have it that way. Meanwhile, the Pistons complete the league’s first three-peat since Russell’s Celtics did it in the sixties. Indiana reaches the finals one more time for Reggie Miller only to achieve more heartbreak and pave the way for Kevin Garnett to cap off a memorable MVP season with the Timberwolves. Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash get the job done in Dallas in 2003. But it is Rasheed Wallace standing by himself against his peers with four championships under his belt to Garnett, Dirk, and Chris Webber’s lone title.

The Celtics make it back to the dance after a 14-year absence falling short of banner 18 to the Sacramento Kings. The Celtics in a couple of years would build a super team unable to take down Detroit and wouldn’t reach the finals until 2012. By then, the core of Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen are in their late-30’s

LeBron and Carmelo Anthony duel to close out the decade, with ‘Melo’s Nuggets getting the better of King James. LeBron never again reaches the finals and meanders after 2009. Carmelo is considered a one-hit wonder who plateaued all too soon.

Team Of The Decade: Detroit

The 2010’s:

2010: ORLANDO vs Phoenix
2011: CHICAGO vs Oklahoma City
2012: Boston vs SAN ANTONIO

2013: INDIANA vs Memphis
2014: Indiana vs OKLAHOMA CITY

2015: Atlanta vs HOUSTON
2016: Toronto vs OKLAHOMA CITY
2017: Boston vs SAN ANTONIO
2018: Boston vs HOUSTON
2019: MILWAUKEE vs Portland

Speaking of one-hit wonders, how differently are we viewing Dwight Howard now that he’s a world champion? Or D-Rose for that matter? The Celtics come up short against San Antonio and a year later blow up the Big 3 ending one of the most disappointing teams of the era. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook snag two rings even after losing James Harden to a trade. The west dominates the 2010s with the Spurs, Rockets and Thunder winning two titles apiece.

The Celtics of 2018 shock the world defeating Giannis and the Bucks, Embiid and the Sixers, and LeBron and the Cavaliers without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward. Ultimately, their Cinderella run ends at the hands of Houston who even without Chris Paul manage to win a hard fought series against the scrappy Celtics. Things fall apart the year after and Irving is in Brooklyn by the summer of 2019. Indiana, meanwhile, builds a contender around Paul George and wins their first world championship over the Memphis Grizzlies in a battle of the rigid and rough. Milwaukee finally returns to the promise land and wins the championship over Portland thanks to MVP Giannis

Team Of The Decade: San Antonio/Houston/OKC

So why write all of this? Because I’m bored. It’s the middle of August and I’m starting to question whether I like basketball or not. I think last year’s Celtics murdered my love for the game.

But I also love the history of the NBA and frequently would deep dive into the teams who came oh so short becoming the forgotten gems of their respective eras.

Introducing The U.S FIBA Team

The FIBA tournament isn’t for another month. But it’s been a while since I’ve talked about basketball. My fix only being met by writing lackadaisical wrestling stories, and other meaningless activities: like tending to my marriage.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen my friends, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and my new bestie Kemba Walker. This year the roster is quite underwhelming. The established talent no longer deem playing for the United States as the high honor they once did solely because they’ve been there and done it already. There’s no reason to blame them. In fact, I’m happy the U.S isn’t fielding Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. This’ll ensure larger roles for the young players in need of the exposure and experience. Brown and Tatum will likely be in the driver’s seat, especially if pass-first guard Kyle Lowry is given the starters nod over Walker. Donovan Mitchell, also known as: Gilbert Arenas 2.0, gets to experience playing with a center that doesn’t ruin the offense’s spacing.

What the United States is guilty of is relying too much on the talent of their roster to carry them to yet another gold medal. Of course, this strategy never failed. So why am I complaining? Because I’m bored by winning by a thousand every year. The world gets it. We are the best at the game we invented. Since 1992 the United States effectively carpet bombed countries dropping the best the NBA has to offer. There’s been some hiccups here and there, but only one time has the U.S failed to bring home the gold since incorporating professional players.

It’s time we do something different, to benefit the younger guys. No, I’m not advocating for returning to the days where only amateur athletes could represent their country. That is entirely unfair. How can you expect an 18-year-old to battle a more developed 29-year-old in his physical prime? How the Olympics classify “amateur” is laughable.

Despite the lackluster star power on the U.S side this is a very fun roster. P.J Tucker can guard all five positions and do almost everything Draymond Green does. He’ll likely see a lot of floor time since nobody is blocking him. I mean, how are you going to play Kyle Kuzma over Tucker???

At forward the team is the most stacked. The aforementioned Brown and Tatum are the ones with the highest upside. Tucker is the most accomplished and most reliable. Kuzma is the most overrated. Khris Middleton is a sharpshooter if you tell him the team he’s playing isn’t the Czech Republic, but the Boston Celtics. Julius Randle and Montrezl Harrell are high energy guys to come off the bench and galvanize the squad. Thaddeus Young is an underrated defender that can occasionally knock down an open jumper.

At guard you have a less promising crop. Lowry is a steady prescience. He won’t try to do too much and will play within the system. Perhaps he is the best candidate to start solely because he’ll rev up the engines of everyone else. Walker, on the other hand, I worry will make the game about himself and go the unnecessary extra mile. You can file Smart in the same category of Randle and Harrell. Except Smart isn’t the spark plug in the way they are. Smart is the heart and soul of any team you plop him on. He’ll dive for loose balls, get up in the opposing team’s best player’s mug and make his country proud while doing it.

At center, it’s obvious Myles Turner needs to start. He’s a future All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He’s more athletic than Andre Drummond, and can score from beyond just around the basket. Brook Lopez possibly has a higher upside than Drummond also. Though he can’t defend worth a lick, he’s more agile and a better passer than Drummond. Lastly, there is Mason Plumlee. I don’t know why he is on this team.

Celtics Summer League Game 5 Notes

The dreams of hanging up a Summer League champions banner will have to wait another year. The Celtics fall to the Memphis Grizzlies 94-88, due to their inability to box out and to take care of the ball. Let’s also note the usually hot handed Celtics squad went unusually cold shooting a poultry 36.7 percent from the field, below 30 percent from three-point.

The lone bright spot was Carsen Edwards running off pin-downs and pick-and-rolls courtesy of Grant Williams, scored 26 off the bench carrying the bulk of the workload. Almost single-handedly leading the Celtics to a comeback. Very late in the fourth off a screen from Williams Edwards hit a three that initially gave team a 90-89 lead only the referees waived it off. Tremont Waters was fouled off ball and went one-of-two from the line failing to tie the score and the Celtics were never as close after that.

It was curious to not see Robert Williams on the bench in crunch time. Williams lead the team in rebounds, 12, and potentially could have stopped the bleeding on the interior. Morrison likely wanted to go small to counter Memphis going large and close with a lineup primarily made up of shooters. The 6-7 Grant Williams didn’t fare too well playing center often misses his rebounding assignment, failing to box out and show needed aggression. When the regular season rolls around Grant will see the floor during competitive portions of the game and he’ll need to leave his caution at the door.

Waters shot a miserable one-for-ten from 3 and despite a scoring output of 16 he frequently turned the ball over and looked overmatched. You have to admire the 5-10 LSU product’s hustle for never backing down. Morrison trusted the struggling Waters in crunch time and he and Edwards worked beautifully together as always despite the struggles.  

Tacko Fall was a non-factor. Playing just seven-minutes as the Celtics trailed most of the way Morrison didn’t believe Fall could be relied on. I heartily disagree, as Fall posted a respectable 12 points, 8 rebounds, 4 block performance against this same Memphis squad two-days ago. But I digress.

Summer League is over for the Celtics. This intriguing crop of young guys, be it Edwards, Waters, both Williams’, Fall or Max Strus the front office did a fine job finding diamonds in the rough this off-season and we’ll likely see this cast again someday. Either as actual members of the Celtics organization or for their G-League affiliate in Maine, or perhaps in one of the various Euroleagues.