Why Gordon Hayward Will Never, Ever Succeed In Boston

This preseason inspired a feeling Celtics fans have not had in a very long time, a belief better, happier days are here. There is no looming sense of dread if any obstacle happens to land in their road back to decency. This assembled cast of characters are even-keeled, cool, selfless personalities who mesh extremely well considering they don’t know one another all that well. 

For all the bright spots, there is one murky figure that still resides. A reminder of what the franchise ultimately lost since his signing. The once rising star of Gordon Hayward undoubted cratered through no fault of his own (the fault lies with Kyrie Irving). Five-minutes into his Celtics tenure, his apprehended was supposed to usher in an era where Boston graduated a step above from scrappy contender status, to title favorites. Quite possibly, the 2017-18 Celtics are the greatest squad you’ll never have gotten to see full strength considering all they’ve accomplished losing Hayward – and later Irving to season ending injuries. I’ll go to my grave believing that was a championship team.

While the good vibes have seemed to also effect Hayward looking to recapture what made him an All-Star in Utah, his remaining in Boston reminds me of what should have been, but never will be. His contract is a hefty sum with two-years, a player-option for 2020-21. If he does return to his pre-injury form the Celtics likely will lose him to free agency this upcoming summer. Jaylen Brown‘s rookie contract will expire at the end of the season and Jayson Tatum is due for an extension at the same time. These pressing issues lingering on the horizon is why Ainge carefully constructed his title window for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Unforeseeable circumstances destroyed any chances of lasting success and Ainge is in a position many GMs are of running on the treadmill of not mediocrity, but constantly reshuffling the decks to sustain a good, but not great team. While the Toronto Raptors were in a similar position prior to trading for Kawhi Leonard, Masai Ujiri had to wait a long time for the superstar to become available on the market and had to endure multiple seasons of the Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan duo getting emasculated annually in the playoffs. 

The Raptors have just extended Lowry for another season and are probably looking to maximize their chances in a wide open conference despite lacking the caliber of star Leonard was that put them over the top. If Hayward resembles his old self, it’s smart to consider a simple swap of Hayward for Marc Gasol. The Celtics cannot reasonably hope to contend for a title against the likes of Joel Embiid with Daniel Theis, Robert Williams and Enes Kanter. The Raptors are deathly shallow at the wing and Hayward can become rejuvenated in a new city clearly still high off the fumes of their title. 

The loss of Al Horford could be blamed solely on Irving’s antics. His grandstanding, preaching empty sentiments of leadership and promises to flip the switch in the postseason drove the reliable Horford into the arms of dreaded rival Philadelphia. It is likely that if Horford learned not only Irving was destined for Brooklyn, but he was being replaced by Kemba Walker that he’d return to the Celtics on a new contract. But timing is everything and that factor has rarely played in the favor of Ainge. 

Gasol is sitting on the last year of his max contract worth $25 million. A straight up swap leaves just $606,000 to be filled in salary to make the numbers work. He’s slowed down a step and it showed during his half season in Toronto, averaging a unspectacular 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists line. But in the final 23 games after the All-Star Break, Gasol sported an offensive rating of 119.6 and a positive net rating of 17. It isn’t hyperbole to suggest Toronto doesn’t win the title without Gasol’s subtle contributions. 

The in-house solutions aren’t very much solutions. Theis is limited athletically, Williams cannot so much beyond just block, and Kanter is, sadly, unplayable in most scenarios. It’s amazing Terry Stotts managed to coach around Kanter’s limitations on defense as well as he did. 

Unless Hayward is a top-15 player by the All-Star Break, this is the trade every Boston fan should be praying to become reality. 

Rajon Rondo: The Kyrie Irving Backup Plan

It’s the nightmare we fear to wake up to. The pit in our stomach that grows with each tweet from Brian Windhorst or Chris Hayes. You get the feeling those in the media kinda want it to happen. They subtly cheer for your favorite team to crash violently in the dirt. The negative media environment makes me hesitant to even check in on my favorite Celtics podcasts, such as “The Rainin’ J’s”, “Celtics Beat” and “Celtics Stuff Live” for fear of them validating my fears.

They all speak of one man and where he will play basketball next fall.

Will Kyrie Irving leave the Boston Celtics? A team that, by all accounts, has done nothing wrong by him or have given any indication they are unable or unwilling to build a title contending team, all because one season went awry? Possibly. We are in the era of “Player Empowerment.” Despite the air quotes, this is the appropriate label for the period the NBA is currently in. Kevin Durant is about ready to leave the Golden State Warriors after two championships and three straight Finals appearances. Why? Simply because he feels like it. Winning doesn’t matter to players anymore. And let’s be honest, it probably never did. Last summer we seen LeBron bolt a seemingly weak conference where he could coast for an entire season and still make it out of the East to go to Los Angeles simply to make movies. If winning doesn’t matter to LeBron then it’s safe to assume it matters to no one.

If Irving departs Boston for New York, he’s insane. If it’s for the Lakers, he’s doubly insane and it’ll be a heel turn for the ages. Irving and Durant are weird, sensitive and reclusive individuals. Nobody can get a feel for what they are capable of doing. They could form a super-team one day and rapidly decide to change their minds before the ink is set to paper. The Celtics franchise is at the mercy of a cosmetic hippy who told a packed TD Garden he intended to re-sign in Boston seven-months ago. Now he wants us to ask him on July 1st.

It’s Irving’s life. I don’t have any control over it, nor should I and neither should you. But we’re fans. We at least deserve the right to bitch and moan when a rich man makes a decision we don’t agree with.

The options to fill in the gigantic shoes of Irving are slim and to make matters worse the Celtics are over the cap and have limited resources this summer. Armed only with rights to their own free agents (Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier), minimum contracts (Guerschon Yabusele, Semi Ojeleye, Robert Williams and Brad Wanamaker) and a sizable war chest to make trades if they want to risk the future for a quick-fix.

As far as free agency goes the Celtics only big fish they can conceivably sign is the player they already house in Irving. If he leaves, look out for possible reunions with journeymen guards such as Darren Collison and former friends Rajon Rondo and Isaiah Thomas. The last two are likelier to not be priced out of Boston’s modestly sized Mid-Level-Exception, worth about $5.4 million. I’d prefer Ricky Rubio, but I think we’re getting Rondo

I’d rather have Rubio. He’s younger an better on both ends of the floor. But he will likely be out of Boston’s price range. Rondo is damaged goods, so his value is at an all-time nadir. Their last two seasons aren’t all that different. Rondo looks better if you apply context to his last two years jumping to Los Angeles and the clown show the enviably follows LeBron at every stop.

Ricky Rubio last 2 seasons
41.2 fg%, 33.2 3p%, 12.9 pts, 5.7 ast, 4.1 trb, 1.5 stl, 14.7 per .104 ws/48

Rajon Rondo
43.8 fg%, 34.6 3p%, 8.7 pts, 8.1 ast, 4.6 trb, 1.1 stl, 13.8 per, .077 ws/48

I might as well preemptively start the hype-up process for Rondo…

Dude can still play. While guilty of phoning it in on defense, a players engagement level usually hinders on how the team is playing as a whole. Irving’s defense these last two seasons in Boston, under the team-first culture banner, has been his best outings on the opposite end of the floor in terms of effort level. Rondo can gamble for steals and potentially can take charges if he’s engaged.

Rondo is very much someone who’ll thrive in an environment that isn’t toxic. Los Angeles was toxic. Same with Sacramento. After his stops in Dallas and aforementioned Sacramento everyone wrote off Rondo as a has-been. Since then, he’s signed with New Orleans in the one year the team got its act together and made a respectable playoff run.

Rondo is definitely guilty of playing the role of “Bizzarro-Kobe,” to be more specific and raunchy an assist-whore. Given the circumstances the Celts are facing in their first year without a superstar and where they have to start building around The Jays, it’s best to give them a guard who’ll not hesitate to give them the ball.

A Brief Conference Finals Preview

If this season is to mark a watershed moment for anything it is the resurgence of the importance of wing players. Three of the four remaining teams best players are classified as forwards, the lone exception being Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum of Portland.

Despite Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s heroics in the final five-quarters of their second round matchup against the Houston Rockets, the greatest backcourt the NBA’s ever seen would be nowhere near where they are now without Kevin Durant shouldering over 42-minutes a night shooting the lights out while Curry struggled to find his groove.

For the past few years, the rise of Curry ushered in an era where the most important position in the league was in the backcourt. He concurrent rise of “Morey-Ball” and the death of the midrange turned basketball into a game we configure into a computer as opposed to the old fashioned eye test. But it’s the midrange which brought Portland to the dance and Houston’s inability to utilize a wide swath of the floor why they are no longer playing.

Milwaukee and Toronto are mostly mirror images of one another. The shakiness of the backcourt is well known for both teams. All Toronto needs to cruise to the championship round is four baskets from Kyle Lowry. You shouldn’t go into a playoff series feeling more confidence in a fossil like George Hill. But Boston is miles away a inferior defensive squad than Toronto for the simple fact Nick Nurse can execute a trapping scheme. It’ll be easy to double team anyone on Milwaukee anyone not named Giannis Antetokounmpo because of the simple luxury of having Kawhi Leonard on your team.

I want to pick Toronto because as a whole they are the better team. For all his failures on the biggest of sports, I trust Lowry more than Eric Bledsoe, and Khris Middleton is not going to play like 1996 Michael Jordan against a non-Celtics opponent. These two teams haven’t experienced any forceful fitting of square pegs into round holes. Milwaukee is basically LeBron’s wet dream surrounding Giannis around spot-up shooters and rim attackers.

I love Al Horford, but Serge Ibaka has more bounce in his legs and doesn’t have to be the lone person aware of his role. Ibaka is better equipped to takeaway a key cog in Budenholzer’s offensive strategy.

These teams are relatively evenly matched. Except Milwaukee is far and beyond ahead in point differential (+138) of Toronto. The track record for teams with a simply awesome statistic is this ends with Milwaukee on top of the basketball world.

Milwaukee over Toronto, 4 games to 1.

In the world of video games if your friend continuously picks the Golden State Warriors on NBA 2k, as you question your relationship with this cheater, you search for a team that’ll at least match them in firepower. If not Houston, then you’d pick the Portland Trailblazers. But Dame and C.J cannot hang with the unstoppable machine of Golden State alone and they are expected to do that under these circumstances.

If Kevin Durant cannot suit up for action perhaps Portland has a chance. But Houston had numerous chances to take advantage of a short handed Warriors only to let Steph get loose and wrestle the series away from their rivals again.

If Enes Kanter can’t hang against Andrew Bogut he’ll never see the floor. This is the only matchup for Kanter to sign. If he’s playable this series complexion looks completely different believe it or not.

The Warriors are vulnerable. There’s no spark plug in DeMarcus Cousins anymore. They are older, slower and have a few screws loose. But they’ll get exposed likely in the NBA Finals. Not the Blazers. Not a team they’ve routinely beaten up on for multiple years.

Warriors over Trailblazers, 4 games to 1.

OKC Season Preview

Someday the stars will align and the Warriors will finally (finally) face off against the disgruntled ex of Kevin Durant. Oklahoma City wants to stick it to Durant one-on-one more than they want to win a title. At least that’s how I’d feel. I’m quite vindictive and rational. Under no circumstance are the Thunder title contenders. How can I be so sure? Last season was the referendum was not just on Russell Westbrook – but Paul George as well. You cannot blame all of the Thunder’s woes on Carmelo Anthony.

The “What the fuck” stat for OKC regarding Carmelo is his on/off, per CleaningTheGlass.com. The Thunder improved offensively when he’s on the floor, and regressed when Anthony is off the floor. This is despite Anthony’s field goal percentage falling to 40.4% and taking under 200 free throw attempts. Ask me what Anthony did well on offense last season and I would not be able to tell you.

So where was George in all this? Why didn’t he have the effect we all believed he’d have? For many reasons: 1. His legs aren’t the same after his injury in 2014. No where near the athletic freak he once was and the clock is ticking on him as an above-average player. 2. He’s the worst combination of somebody who isn’t as good as he thinks he is when it comes to being clutch; and simultaneously is way to passive. How in the world does anyone with the credentials of George allow Russ to jack up 43 shots in a do-or-die Game 6 in Utah. 43. George didn’t even complain.

The Thunder’s best player is a ball-hog who is too obsessed with sending fashion statements than winning. The only reason he plays balls to the wall is to pad his stats for vanity purposes. Their third best player is a passive, physically declining forward who’s drifting further and further from the basket. Who’s their second best player? I don’t know. It certainly isn’t George. Probably is, because there isn’t any realistic options.

To make matters worse: Andre Roberson is likely not to be the same player after rupturing his patellar tendon in January, needed a second surgery in May and JUST started running on a treadmill again. What’s insane is the 34-games he began the season, before getting injured, returning for a couple more games before finally getting hurt for the season, is the Thunder defensively were on track to becoming a top-5 team. Fourth in defensive rating (101.9) and 2nd in offensive rebounding percentage (27.5). After that, OKC fell to 13th (106.8) in DRtg. Middle of the pack. Shuffling around Roberson replacements, finding little success.

An awful lot of OKC hopes are reliant on the unknown qualities of. Dennis Schroeder is a cancerous personality to have in a locker room. But he’s a talented player that can manage the floor and is still incredibly young. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be the second coming of Theo Ratlif, then fell promptly lost his mind this last season in Dallas. It goes beyond just raging a hot dog in the media room. His general moodiness, disconnection to the game drove his stock down. From a stroke of the pen away from receiving $70 million over four-years, now is the backup on a minimum deal with a player-option for the second-year.

Can Noel provide what Adams does in short spurts? I hope so, but I am doubtful.

And that’s exactly my feelings towards the Thunder this season. I remain hopeful in their ability to bounce back… but I have my reservations. I am out on Westbrook. I am out on George. I am out on OKC. Congratulations landing on your feet after Durant ditched you. But that’s all you’ll get from me.

46-36… first-round exit… again.

Get Excited Bulls Fans

If it weren’t for the horrendous contract of shooting guard Zach LaVine, 23, for $78 million for the next four-seasons I’d be inclined to grade the Bulls off-season an A-Plus for what they were able to accomplish. While not a certified playoff team, the Bulls did not fall for any quick fixes that so many teams in their position usually look for. They drafted responsibly, passing on Michael Porter Jr. for Duke big forward Wendell Carter, who killed it in Summer League. Later they choose fourth-year sharpshooting Boise State guard Chandler Hutchinson.

If the Bulls did not sign LaVine, their starting lineup would be a defensive monster. Kris Dunn at the point, Hutch as your versatile two-guard who can play the three, Jabari Parker, who won’t be as much of a liability at small forward as so many believe, Lauri Markkanen and either their version of Al Horford or the reliable, smart Robin Lopez to play center:

Now I expect Lopez to be traded. He absolutely should be. After an overlooked solid season, where Lopez shot 53% off 10.1 shots per game, nearly averaging 12 points. He’s on the last year of four-year, $55 million deal he signed with the Knicks back in 2015, he could help teams trying to make it to the postseason (Detroit, Philly, Washington). Given the situation I’d start WCJ at center on Opening Night, though I’d understanding shifting the rookie to the bench to begin his career as a way to showcase Lopez for future trades. Lopez may not be as skilled as Clint Capela, but he knows what to do and can occasionally stretch the floor. He also beats the opposing teams mascot to a bloody pulp on a nightly basis. So that’s a plus.

WCJ and Hutchinson impressed many in SL. Carter showed off his defensive prowess, able to leap tall bounds off just one foot, and can nail a short pull-up and get the ball inside. Every facet of his game (besides passing) screams AL HORFORD whenever I watch him. The Bulls found themselves a keeper.

Hutchinson can defend and shoot. A gross generalization on my part, glossing over the complexities of his game which spent four full years cooking in college. But at the end of the day, those were things LaVine could not do last year. Hutchinson can drive wherever he wants in the paint, is a fairly crafty ball-handler and there is no reason why fans of Chicago shouldn’t be excited about him as well… which is why the LaVine contract continues to make NO SENSE.

As for Markkanen, set a franchise record in threes made by a Bulls rookie (145), and looks to be the legit real deal on offense. On defense, well, not so much. But it isn’t for a lack of effort. Like Lopez he tries, and has shown brief flashes of being able to guard smaller players off of switches. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see Lauri needs to bulk up a bit if he doesn’t want to continuously get bullied inside. If not for having Lopez by his side, Markkanen would probably have not lead the league in rebounds per game amongst rookies… (Ben Simmons grabbed 8.1 boards versus Markkanen’s 7.5, but as you know: he’s not a rookie).

Critics poo-pooed the signing of disgruntled forward Jabari Parker on a very team-friendly 2-year, $40 million contract; team-option for 2019-20. Much of the shine must’ve fallen from Parker after suffering his second ACL tear in 2016-17, prior to that he was posting 20 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. The blossoming of the Giannis Antetkounmpo pushed the second overall pick down in relevance. Of course, Parker didn’t make life easier for himself in Milwaukee. Showing blatant disinterest in playing defense and not willing to accept his minimized role, his noticeable pouting cost him many suitors.

But Parker is just 23. While the Bulls aren’t the first organization I’d entrust with his rehabilitation, a Dunn/Parker Pick-and-roll could be deadly. And considering their are just two teams in the East that have dynamic scoring small forwards, it isn’t a stretch to believe Parker will survive playing the three for the majority of the season.

I like this Bulls team. They’re inability to defend has possibly been overstated. Chicago will probably rank in the middle of the pack in both offense and defense. I still don’t know about Fred Hoiberg, whether he’s a dead man walking. Outside of that glaring question, the Bulls rebuild is off to a fine start. Dunn can perhaps grow into an above-average starter, showing great strides last season in his jump shot.

One more time: that LaVine contract is the turd in the punch bowl. He’s a year-and-a-half removed from an ACL tear, someone who can only score because of his freakish athleticism. He has no jump shot or on-ball skills, I don’t think people are talking about just how bad this contract will look this time next season.

But, the Bulls elected to put themselves in this position. The duo of GarPax made too many good moves consecutively, a horrendous one was coming down the pike no matter what.

Time For Casey To Unlease Blake Griffin

I’ve done a near 180 flip on the Detroit Pistons. I’ve chastised them for trading for the often-injured star Blake Griffin, a feature of having a coach/general manager on thin ice trying to save his job. Combine this with the rich contracts of Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, the Pistons have $74.5 tied up in three players that don’t move the needle very much… or perhaps, I am wrong. There are still shades of the old Blake Griffin inside him, it’s a question whether his body can hold up and if reigning Coach of the Year Dwane Casey can extract out of the 5-time All-Star that Doc Rivers and Stan Van Gundy failed to.

Previous head coaches allowed themselves to be hamstrung by the constraints of playing their ridiculously out-of-date centers, in this case the Pistons are arguably held back thanks to Andre Drummond. They’ve performed better with Drummond on the bench, their net rating as a team goes from 3.0 with Drummond on the floor, and Blake Griffin simultaneously on to 4.4 with Drummond off. But what of his defensive presence, you ask? 102.8 defensive rating with Drummond on, 102.7 off. It’s time for Detroit to make their hardest decision: to pull the plug on the Drummond-era before he inadvertently sinks another season. This is crucial given it’s the team’s second-year in their new pizza sponsored arena and the first full season with a superstar in uniform.

Casey needs to not only run the offense through Griffin, but he’ll need to start him at center. Griffin attempted 322 three-pointers last season, converting on 34.5% of them. This will truly be an asset in a league getting considerably smaller, Casey can squeeze value out of the ever hobbled Griffin even with the leaper playing further from the basket. He’ll need to cut down on his attempts of long twos, letting loose 355 shots outside of the paint, inside the arc, making just 33.8%. Griffin’s 32.2 AST% in the 25-games logged in Detroit, ranked 8th in the NBA from his debut to when he was shut down on the 26th of March, better than guards Kemba Walker, Jrue Holiday, and 2018 All-Star Goran Dragic.

When healthy, and when the floor isn’t clogged, Griffin can still turn back the clock to his more agile days with his superior post moves and utilizing his body to bully his defender.

Celtics fans love to ridicule Casey as someone who merely applied Occam’s Razor to the Raptors; the Pistons ranked 26th in three-point attempts, Toronto was third. Casey will likely reshape the stagnant Pistons offense to fit the modern NBA, there are too many weaknesses to expect the same turnaround, but Casey is the perfect man to helm this makeshift rebuild. He already has a star, a superstar. Someone who at his best is better than prime Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan. If there was ever a more perfect situation for Griffin to recoup his value, it’s this year.

Kawhi Leonard: A Long Armed T-Rex

It didn’t matter LeBron James now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was long fed up with this core of players that time and time again proved ineffective when the chips were down. As his competitors reload on talent, the Raptors could not afford to stand idle. The trade for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard pushes all the chips in the middle of the table; if it doesn’t work out then they’ll just rebuild. All this season costs them is a contract many perceived as immovable.

For who on the Raptors is to guard Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, or the non-shooting threat “Point-Forward” Ben Simmons of Philadelphia? Not only does Kawhi Leonard answer that question, the acquisition of fellow Spur shooting guard Danny Green helps. Even though the last three-seasons the 6-6 versatile SG shot just 38.4% from the field, his defense has never wavered when healthy. A lanky 6-10 wingspan gives Green the ability to guard a variety of guards and small-forwards. This is a luxury Toronto’s never had prior.

There are of course many uncertainties that lay in this collection of talented athletes. Can Kyle Lowry, will turn 33 next March, prolong his decline that’s already taken place? His field goal percentage dropped from 46.4 in 2015-16 to 42.7; in the last 39 games of last season Lowry conceivably turned a corner but only raised his shooting percentage 0.1. Points per game down from 22.4 to 16.2, Toronto didn’t have to worry much about that because of dynamic scorer DeMar DeRozan carrying the workload on that end of the floor. New head coach Nick Nurse will have to come to grips that Lowry is not the same player as he was before and that 24-year-old Fred VanVleet is the starting point guard of the future. The sooner he realizes this the better.

Center Serge Ibaka is set to turn 29 in September. Already we’ve seen his decline in block-rate, but I’m more confident in him scrapping together one more quality season than I am in Lowry.

DeMar DeRozan is now a Spur. The most beloved Raptor is gone, thus closing the book on the strongest era of Raptors-basketball to date. This new era isn’t likely to last past this season, but it can be the most fruitful. Toronto’s sights are lower than Boston or Philly’s. All their modest fans want is an NBA Finals game in Canada, doesn’t matter if they are swept by the Warriors in the process. And it’s possible Kawhi gets them there.

The Cavaliers Can Win Without Kevin Love

After a virtuosos performance from Boston in Game 5 how could have we possibly believed the momentum would carry over to Cleveland when the Celtics, quite possibly, are the worst road team to get within one game of the NBA Finals. The home/road disparity between both teams is jaw dropping. Both the Celtics and the Cavaliers aren’t powerhouses you’d expect to meet in the eastern conference final. They’re flawed teams coached by men still learning the game, while the Celtics are young and relatively inexperienced, the Cavaliers are older, but lack the explosiveness they once did to string together two straight quality games.

The George Hill vs Terry Rozier matchup I thought was Boston’s biggest advantage in the series besides coaching. Hill’s been through a lot in his career and isn’t the same fringe All-NBA defender like his days in Indianapolis. In Boston he’s an empty shell who makes Bron pine for the days of whack-job Delonte West:
(3 Games) George Hill at home (per game):
15.3 points, 2.6 assists
(3 games) Away:
5 points, 1 assist
Conversely, the home version of Hill makes LeBron wish he’s given his nutsack in either 2010 or 2014 to have such a quality player in his corner.
It’s no secret Cleveland’s defense is atrocious. Their near-fatal issues are masked when able to rain threes without mercy on their opponent. Made shots means the other team cannot get into a fast break in transition, it also has a correlation to good overall defense… at least for Cleveland. Boston averages a poor 99.6 points in the six-games played, but average 103.6 at home where the Cavaliers splits are 41.2/25.2/78 percent. To hammer the point home Boston points per game drops to 95.6 on the road, where the Cavaliers splits are an amazing 48.7/42.5/79.Since LeBron’s return to Cleveland their best defense has been their offense and that is on full display in this Jekyll and Hyde act this series.
Of course, the Cavaliers will be without Kevin Love the only player on the team averaging double-digits in scoring for the series. For all the doom and gloom of the Cavs being without who’s supposed to be their second best player, this forces the usually inflexible Ty Lue to dig deep into his bench for younglings like Larry Nance, and gives more opportunity to someone like George Hill the Cavs are a drastically different team when Hill is competent, which is why I’ve been so disappointed in Rozier’s efforts to defend him.
The Cavs don’t run a democratic offense, it’s no secret. Everything runs through LeBron and when he’s on the bench it’s generally an unorganized mess. There’s a hidden wrinkle in Cleveland’s wonky structure and that’s they’re better (for whatever reason) with Love off the floor. Currently the Cavaliers are minus-20 with Love on the floor (lowest on team) and plus-18 with Love on the bench (highest on team). The teams offensive rating bounces skyward from 98 to 109.8 in this series.
When Lue inserted Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup for Game 2 it forced Marcus Morris on T.T and Jaylen Brown on LeBron, perhaps that’ll be the matchup for Game 7 as neither Baynes or Horford have proven able to contain the bouncy career-underachiever.
We’ve all convinced ourselves that magical pixie dust will descend from the heavens and make Hill, J.R Smith and Kyle Korver the players they are at home for the final game in Boston. We know LeBron is going to be an unstoppable nightmare, while he too has experienced his worst outings in the Garden, the larger sample size of Bron’s dominance edges out two horrible games. Regardless, the lights have never shined brighter on either Tatum, Brown or Rozier a chance to take on a visibly worn down Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors team hangs in the balance. And while the Celtics have already won a Game 7 with this core of players all playing at a high-level, you can’t help but worry if the specter of LeBron will be just enough to have them quivering by the forth quarter.
If Larry Nance, George Hill and Jeff Green (of all people) get going (and it’ll be simultaneously) then it’s a long night for us Celtics fans as another season comes to a close in a heartbreaking manner. But if all LeBron is left with his himself and a bunch of goofs, like in Game 2, then perhaps we’ll see our young boys on top of the basketball world before the clock strikes twelve on this unprecedented Cinderella story.

Giannis Will Soar Over The Battered Celtics

Boston’s 102-108 defeat on April 3rd, at the hands of Milwaukee was eyeopening. The Bucks took on a battered, shorthanded Celtics squad and couldn’t put them away, despite being in control for the entirety of the second half. Horford, Monroe, Brown, Tatum and Baynes were money from all over the court, combining for 80-points, what lost them the contest was Kadeem Allen and Semi Ojeleye scoring four-points apiece. At the time I believed if Terry Rozier was ready to go, the Celtics would’ve won the game going away. Rozier didn’t play because of an ankle, he came back the next night for Toronto and went 1-for-9 and outside of the Atlanta game, hasn’t looked right. As a starter, Rozier’s been wonderful, averaging almost 17 points a game as a starter.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can carry the offense, they’re going to be the main source for points. If Giannis holds either of them to below twenty-points, Milwaukee will win this running away. It’s almost the wrong time for substitute coach Joe Prunty to play Giannis at center given how lethal he can be guarding Boston’s two forwards. As shooters, Tatum and Brown are awesome. If you are asking either of them to make a critical pass, find the open man, they cannot do that. Passing isn’t their strong suit and we seen Stevens experiment with playing playing Tatum at point guard, to little success. Rozier is a playmaker, but not a point guard in the traditional sense. The straw that’ll stir the drink is Al Horford, he’s done it before and knows how to do it. In the four-games against Milwaukee, Big Al posts 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists and an astronomical 139 offensive rating. If Boston miraculously wins this season it’s because Al Horford is awesome.
Sneaky fringe All-Star Khris Middleton averaged 20 points this season on 46/35/88 splits, a modest statistical achievement, including 51.7% on twos. Despite that, Giannis and Middleton are only marginally better as a frontcourt tandem than Brown and Tatum.
Giannis/Middleton: 110.7 ORtg, 5.2 Net, 58.5 TS%
Brown/Tatum: 108.5 ORtg, 8.4 Net, 56.8 TS%
The problem is, Giannis is the best player out of those four. On the other hand, this Bucks team, while talented, has the dirtiest basement of any of this teams captained by a super-duper star. Through 71 games Eric Bledsoe’s been solid, but hardly the game-changer we all hoped he’d become for Milwaukee. Last year’s rookie guard Malcolm Brogdon’s offensive rating was higher (112) than Bledsoe’s (109) and despite his ability to play off-ball, hasn’t risen his game playing next to Giannis.
Milwaukee is a team consisting of solid spot-up shooters; 21.4% of their total points this season came from that playtype, which they run more than twenty-three other teams at 21.5 frequency rate. On “Cuts” the Bucks rank seventh worst in in the 17.2 percentile. But in isolation the Bucks are at an elite (or near-elite) 79.3 percentile. Middleton, Snell, Bledsoe are the silent killers of this deeply flawed Bucks team. And while they remain defensively challenged, Boston doesn’t have the tools to make them pay.
If Kyrie were healthy I’d take Boston over Milwaukee in a heartbeat – and it wouldn’t even be close. Prunty isn’t a good coach, falling into the same failures as predecessor Jason Kidd committed during his time there. But Giannis is a year older, wiser and Boston does not have a body on the floor that can defend him in any capacity.
My Prediction: Bucks in 5.

LaMarcus Aldridge Yawns His Way Back To An All-NBA Team

Quick question: name the second and third best players on the San Antonio Spurs. No. Don’t say, “Kawhi Leonard” because he’s only been available for nine games this season. And it doesn’t look like he’s coming back anytime soon. Is it Patty Mills? A decent point guard, averaging below 10 points a game this season? Or how about Tony Parker, currently averaging his lowest assists per game in his seventeen-year career. From top to bottom the Spurs roster is made out of… ok NBA players, largely ineffectual and wouldn’t move the needle for most franchises. After striking out in last summer, signing extension contracts to both aging big men Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, many were perplexed as to why the Spurs tied themselves to this current core who clearly maxed out their potential the year prior.

It felt as if the sun set on the Spurs Empire. Twenty-years of excellence wasn’t enough to woo Chris Paul into coming. Aldridge made his displeasures towards the organization known, asking to be traded. Humbled by this, Popovich did what most coaches would never even consider: he apologized to Aldridge, taking full responsibility for his down-year in 2016-17, where Aldridge fell from a 3rd Team All-NBA player, to looking like a complete has-been. Yet, it hasn’t been fun to watch as the Spurs have been even more uninteresting then they’ve been stereotyped to be in the past. An unfamiliarity with the players on the court, the ability of Popovich to get just enough out of these no-names to squeak by is nothing short of magnificent.

Instead of going in the tank (like I advocated, earlier in the season) they stayed the course and are 43-31. Aldridge carries a team of net zeroes, he’s fifth in two-point field goals made (588), 12th in points per game (23.2), 18th in usage% (29.2), 7th in win shares (9.8) and a 6.2 net rating. Enjoying a career-high in effective field-goal percentage (51.9), offensive rating (117), P.E.R (24.8), this is Aldridge most productive season as the vocal point of the entire offense since his last season in Portland. The year he made All-NBA Second Team. The moment Aldridge got on my radar was the dynamic performance against Utah – the best defensive in the NBA. Raining mid-range jumpers over Rudy Gobert without any regard for him as a human being. Twenty-eight of his forty-five points coming at Gobert’s expense. Playing mostly an old school style, using his elbows to back down his defender, letting loose a beautiful tear drop finger roll, or a mean step back.

Since the All-Star break, Aldridge’s been cranking out 26 points, off of 53.3% shooting, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and an ORtg Of 122 in thirteen-games.

Yet, the Spurs are still not remotely interesting. This season is very reminiscent of the 2006 Patriots, when the best days of the initial run of dominance is coming to a close and a revamping of the roster should be imminent. Just like Brady, Aldridge is given nothing to work with, the infrastructure of Popovich leading to many victories that shouldn’t be. Outside of San Antonio, this season won’t be fondly remembered. The drama off the court surrounding Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs team doctors garners the most attention of the media, me, and fans.