Pull Up Shoot… Jaylen Brown

Throughout the entirety of the Celtics season they’ve played similar to a person with a personality disorder. One minute everything is fine. The ball is finding the bottom of the net, passes are extremely crisp and seems like everyone has their dribbling down to a science. The literal next minute the offense becomes subject to multiple hijackings, bad shot selection and ball movement. Heading into the first round series versus the scrappy Indiana Pacers missing their superstar and lone offensive spark Victor Oladipo. I believed their chases to upset the more talented Celtics because Indiana, for their lack of individual athleticism, at least they played like a team. A tired old cliche for sure, but right nonetheless.

So why have they failed to even win a game thus far? Simple. They don’t have any answer for the likes of Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum, and eventually Jaylen Brown when he got going in Game 3. Are the Celtics dramatically better coached than they were in the regular season? No. The minutes distribution is better spread out. Upping Gordon Hayward and Brown’s minutes to 30 per game for the series after playing bit roles coming off the bench for the bulk of the regular season. But the same complaints I’ve had towards Stevens remain prominent. Brown absolutely had a ball in Game 3. Scoring a game-high 23 points on only nine shot attempts. In contrast, Morris attempted eight shots coming off the bench.

Why is this happening? How come Stevens cannot figure out how to simply feed the hot hand and cease turning to the frigid hand? It’s difficult to control every possession and to have players break out of bad habits they’ve developed over the years they spent in the professional ranks. Maybe coaching isn’t exactly to blame for why Brown isn’t more aggressive and willing to shoot, maybe it is Brown himself. Like Tatum the third-year forward from California State is mature, reserved and wise. A calming presence no doubt. In my three years of watching Brown play for Boston I’ve never thought to myself “Okay, you need to stop shooting now.” He knows when he doesn’t have his fastball on a particular night.

In contrast, Morris doesn’t know the meaning of the word “slump” a 2 for 11 game is all the same as a 8 for 10 outing. Both sides of the spectrum can be admired by the fans. Both equally hurtful to a teams high aspirations. I’ve been critical of Brown’s shot the first two games of this series, but that’s because I’m a pessimistic, miserable prick unable to listen to reason while I am in the middle of one of my freak outs. If you ever wondered what Boston sees in a potential future if they choose to build around The Jays, look at that game. We have issues with Tatum taking long-twos, but it’s not like they weren’t open shots. Indiana could not succeed in double-teaming because it was a given one of the other Celtics would leak out and nail the outside shot or sneak under the basket for the easy lay-in.

When he is going Jaylen Brown’s stroke is unbelievably smooth. Given a head of steam coming down full court he is a terror to guard. You can try to foul him but he may just pass you before you can.

We saw a semi-aggressive Brown in Game 3. He’s been so all series, only in different ways. Hustling on defense, gunning for loose balls and battling for rebounds against the likes of Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and Thaddeus Young. Game 3 was the first time his fingertips let loose some fire. If this is the Brown we are going to see in future games this playoffs then just book the Celtics ticket to the finals now because this team is dangerous when they can get that crucial third player involved. If only Brown would take the initiative.

Pick Your Poison

As the playoff picture unfolds there are still some twists and turns left to be taken before anything is set in stone. However, the Celtics possible opponents come spring are more condensed than others. Despite a 10-10 start which acts as a crutch for the entire season in terms of their own seeding, the Celtics have rebounded and won 33 of their last 50. As of late the team found their collective mojo. Jaylen Brown is making a strong for him being reinserted into the starting lineup; and before suffering a neck strain Gordon Hayward seemed to have found a groove.

Boston can hope to advance no further than the third seed in the playoff standings. It’s likely the first round matchup will be either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Indiana Pacers. It is not a given Boston will have home-court advantage. The green team sits two games behind both Indy and Philly. This is crucial since the Celtics currently are 17-17 on the road versus 26-10 at home.

The Pacers have shown great strength in not cratering since losing Victor Oladipo for the season. Currently sporting the best defense in the N.B.A. Anchored by two young bigs Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner, the former leads the team in rebounding (9.2) and the latter in blocks (2.8). The health of Boston’s bigs are immensely crucial to this series. Without either Al Horford or Aron Baynes the Celtics will lose this series on the boards. The loss of Oladipo dropped Indiana’s offense in to the bottom-tier of the league. Someone whose supposed to carry the torch, Tyreke Evans, hasn’t cut the mustard and picked a helluva time to have the worst season of his career. That all being said, the Pacers are still scary to a team that can’t get out of their own way like Boston.

Turning to the Sixers, the old cliche “there’s no loved loss” rings true. Amongst the fans that is. Philly’s gone under an extreme makeover since the season began. Gone is the faltering number one pick Markell Fultz. Defensive stalwart on the perimeter Robert Covington and power forward Dario Saric, who was an underrated thorn in Boston’s side last playoffs. In are Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and Jonathon Simmons. This is Philly’s best collection of talent in almost two-decades and its all because they whiffed on the number one pick…

For the constant reshuffling of the deck Brett Brown is able to still field a top-10 team in offensive and defensive rating. No matter how you slice it Butler is not a good fit next to Simmons or Embiid. Yet, they are able to overcome the growing pains and remain a force in the east. No team or player can even remotely hope to contain the fearsome twosome that radically altered the floundering franchise to fringe title contender status.

Well… except for Al Horford. Whatever the reasoning Old, Steady Al (as I am trying to nickname him) constantly gets the best of Embiid. J.B can do it all, yet against Horford a bullet in the chamber is unloaded and Embiid is forced out of the paint and turned into a spot-up shooter. It’s magnificent to witness as it still doesn’t make any sense. It’s like I am watching Paul Pierce versus LeBron James before his Miami-days. The future of the N.B.A getting constantly bested by who many deem irrelevant and “overpaid” and “average”.

If Mike Budenholzer is guilty of annually fizzling in the playoffs, but getting the best of Brad Stevens. Stevens deserves the label of someone who owns Brett Brown.

I am going to regret saying this, but I think Boston can win on the road in Philly and can’t do it anywhere else. Because I’ve seen them steal one before down there and they have yet to have lost a game to Philly this season.

GTB: Worst Free Agent Signings

This is admittedly a difficult column to write. Teams are hamstrung by their erratic spending in the summers of 2015 and 2016, working with very little cap space this summer so the overpays are a little less egregious than in the past. Where the comical bad contracts were large sums of cash thrown to below-league average players in 2016; 2018 is defined by poor fits for the player and our team, and a lack of clarity as to why they were signed.

Players still on the market like Marcus Smart and Clint Capela are engaged in an extremely awkward standoff between their respective teams, as their market has dried up considerably since July 1 leaving them with little leverage at the negotiating table. We’ll see how the market fairs for them, but this column is about those who’ve already signed since free agency began.

Let’s start off light: the Phoenix Suns, small-forward Trevor Ariza, one-year $15,000,000, and is set to be the highest paid player on the team for the 2018/19 season.

Love the contract. Love the player. Absolutely hate the team. Ariza is one of the few forwards that can conceivably guard Kevin Durant – and did so adequately in the famous West-Finals duel. It hurts the Houston Rockets to lose him and Luc Mbah a Moute.

Teams that could’ve used Ariza’s assistance more than the lowly Suns: Indiana, Golden State, Utah, Milwaukee… Since the Suns already have veteran forward Jared Dudley and 3-and-D prospect Josh Jackson, who’s shown flashes of a dynamic offensive game his rookie year, I just don’t see why (or where) Ariza fits on this Suns team. Unless the Suns can gain some value for Ariza on the trade market, I don’t see this as anything but a loss for Phoenix.

Doug McDermott, Indiana, three-years, $22,000,000; average salary $7,333,333

Oh, this is real bad. For one, who are the Pacers bidding against for McDermott? A fairly underwhelming offensive threat who’s primarily skills don’t fit what Nate McMillan has in mind for his team. I guess since LeBron is gone, the only other team that imposes a serious threat at the small-forward spot is Boston so the east teams can getaway with playing someone like McDermott for large stretches. But Indiana needed creators and athleticism, bypassing Shabazz Napier (still not signed) and sacrificing cap space that could’ve been used for Orlando Magic 24-year-old power forward/center Aaron Gordon.

The Pacers are a lot closer to the Raptors, Sixers tier than many expect. Them willingly bowing out on Smart and re-signing backup shooting guard Glenn Robinson (now of the Pistons) makes little sense to me. The only actual point guard on the roster is Darren Collison, Oladipo cannot play the role of floor general for long stretches.

To add to this, the Pacers recently signed New York Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn, a underachieving stretch big who’s primary motivation is to just score when given the ball. Seeing as the Pacers are better off playing Domantas Sabonis at center, O’Quinn only muddies the waters as he’s incapable of guarding power forwards and can play only one position like Sabonis.

I don’t see the fit and think the Pacers have squandered an opportunity to take full advantage of a LeBron-less conference.

Aron Baynes, Boston, two-years, $10,646,880; cap breakdown: first-year: $5,193,600, second-year: $5,543,280

Let me be clear: I love Aron Baynes. Arguably the best acquisition of Danny Ainge’s last summer whirlwind of remolding the team we have now. His defending of Sixers superstar Joel Embiid shifted the tides of the series, in which the Celtics were heavy underdogs. Re-signing Baynes was an absolute must for Ainge. But the stipulations aren’t ideal for a Boston team that lacks proper salary filler if they want to be active in trade talks.

In addition to a no-trade clause, Baynes was given a player-option for 2019/20 season. Okay. Why? I understand the Celtics are currently locked in an unsettling, murky dispute with Marcus Smart and can not afford to add Baynes to the mix given their lack of depth at center, but who else was going to offer a traditional, defensive-minded center more than one-year; Clint Capela is still on the market for Christs’ sake.

Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee, three-years, $21,000,000; average salary: $7,000,000

Quite possibly, the most jarring signing, Ilyasova enjoyed some success in his brief stint in Philadelphia. His zenith was the Miami series, shooting 51.1%, averaging nine-shot attempts in the five-game series. The subsequent nadir was the Boston series, his shooting percentage fell to 33.3%.

Not that much of a defender, Ilyasova can’t provide much for Milwaukee on other end. It’s perplexing they prioritized signing a 31-year-old power forward over their own prospect Jabari Parker.

Since the Bucks recently signed Brook Lopez, this negates the Ilyasova contract even more. Lopez is a better floor spacer and scoring option. The two acquisitions basically finish Milwaukee’s off-season, they hope to be a cap space team next summer – though re-signing Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe will put a damper on that.

The Los Angeles Lakers:
JaVale McGee: 1-year, $2,393,887
Lance Stephenson: 1-year, $4,500,000
Rajon Rondo: 1-year, $9,000,000
Kentavious Cardwell-Pope: 1-year, $12,000,000
Total money spent: $27,893,887

In the two days since signing LeBron the Lakers spent nearly $28 million on players that likely wouldn’t be signed today if L.A didn’t. KCP is basically a good faith deal, his representation having strong connections to Lebron.

The saving grace here is the Lakers only willfully shot themselves in the foot for this season, the cap space will likely roll over to next summer where they’ll hope to be in on Klay Thompson or even Kevin Durant – unless Kawhi Leonard is traded to Los Angeles before the season starts.

This team lacks any real spacing, I mean for Gods sake, rookie Moe Wagner will probably be starting center by December because the shooting is nonexistent. Even if Brandon Ingram takes the leap, it’ll only moderately help. LeBron is set for the most difficult season of his career, a good chance we’ll see a drop in points per game and then mistake it for his decline.

Bottom line: I see a mass exodus of these clowns come January. The Lakers will miss the playoffs if otherwise.