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.
Remember when the Miami Heat repeated as champions in 2013 and the rest of the NBA cowered under their boots? Seems so long ago. Little did we know how gentile Miami’s foundation was. Behind the Herculean efforts of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, Miami laid waste to a league unable to contain either of them. So what eventually brought these titans down? Age… specifically, D-Wade’s. And Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Chris Anderson and various other role players who provided key assistance in championship runs in the past fossilized over the course of a summer.
Coming off their second straight championship, their third in four seasons, the Golden State Warriors possess the same hubris and internal flaws that’ll surely bring them down… one of these days. Perhaps it’ll be this year their eagerly awaited demise arrives and the NBA will ceased to be “ruined” and return to a nirvana that never really existed.
Forget the noise surrounding the DeMarcus Cousins signing. The reason no one offered anything significant, which lead to this apparently earth shattering deal is because historically Cousins is a moody player and relies heavily on athleticism to get his points. Coming off an achilles injury he’ll be rehabbing until February and there’s no telling what he’ll look like once he returns to the hardwood. At best, Cousins is a complete zero on defense. Will Steve Kerr be able to inspire constant effort on the defensive end when previously there was never any? He’s more likely than to squeeze that out of the similarity egotistical, aging star Carmelo Anthony than Cousins.
The departures of veteran centers David West and ZaZa Pachuila hurt this team more than we’re letting on. Even Pachuila was still setting quality screens and effective in the pick-and-roll (1.32 points per possession)in a noticeably down year. West, though pushing 37, is the superior passing big and a clear-cut professional. West was also an alternative to Draymond Green as the Swiss-army knife in a small-ball lineup when Kerr wanted to rest Green. With that option gone, you’ll see an awful lot of Kevin Durant at center. Which isn’t bad, but there’s a reason the Al Horford’s and Anthony Davis’s of the world don’t like playing the position – it’s awfully taxing on the body to have people Cousins’s size jump on your back every thirty-seconds. With K.D pushing thirty, a history of injuries to his lower body, is it wise for Kerr to put his star through the ringer in such a manner?
The other free agent signing of former Utah Jazz Jonas Jerebko performs better as a stopgap center than Cousins. Yes. That is something I just said. You want to know why? Because it’s true. I’ve watched Jerebko play during his time in Boston and let me tell you, he’s a great hustler. Surely able to guard the likes of backup power forwards and centers such as Montrezl Harrell, Trey Lyles, Patrick Patterson and maybe even slow footed starters like Tobias Harris.
A frequent spot-up shooter, his 49.1 freq% rate last season was higher than Danny Green. Jerebko posted a solid 1.12 PPP in spot-up situations, and 41.4% from three-point land on 2.1 attempts per game. His lone season was Jerebko’s finest, I expect nothing less from him in Golden State.
To discuss the situation in the backcourt, I can in no way explain how fucked the Warriors are if Stephen Curry misses 30-games again. The price never dipped far enough for Wayne Ellington for the Warriors to offer the $5.3 million they have to Cousins; Ellington later signed a $6.3 million deal to stay in Miami. And they drafted Cincinnati forward Jacob Evans, someone who acts more as a specialist 3-and-D personnel rather than a playmaker like Villanova guard Jalen Brunson would’ve acted as if selected. Evans did maintain a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in Cincinnati.
Curry doesn’t just shoot threes. He passes, creates constant movement in the offense and raises havoc in opposing defenses. With him on the bench it’s easier quell the likes of Durant or spot-up shooter Klay Thompson. It’s astonishing they didn’t just offer a pick to Boston for Terry Rozier just to see if Danny Ainge bit.
There is no playmaker besides Curry on this Warriors team that can conceivably play point guard. As great as Shaun Livingston is, he’s pushing 33 and his assist total last season was just 2. He’s a fine placeholder for Curry – for now. Will he be this year? An awful lot depends on it.
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.
“It’s true. All of it.” Stern words said by the late galactic hero Han Solo when Rey realizes all the legends she was told was in fact true as day. She reacts amazed, astonished. Such begins the whimsical, but treacherous ride into a bold new world. This is what life is currently like for Boston fans. Going into the playoffs the team looked ready to waive the white flag. Injuries waste potentially the last year of Marcus Smart and robs us of two prime All-Star seasons from Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. It’s as if the Basketball Gods don’t want us to get this far.
For the San Antonio Spurs, the 1970’s was all about coming in dreadful second year after year. Lead by the prolific scorer George Gervin, the Spurs won 191 of the 328 games they’ve played from 1976-77 and 1980-81, failing to make the finals every one of those years. The closest they came was in 1979, losing a hotly contested conference finals (back when they were in the East) to the Washington Bullets, after going up 3 games to 1, the Spurs dropped three straight to the Bullets and seemingly missed their window.
The NBA of 1980 was different than in 1978. There were two big dawgs roaming the junkyard, ready to push out the old dawgs. Moses Malone, Erving “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird gunned for the likes of Gervin and Julius Erving. If the Spurs were going to change content in this new era of fast-paced, two-way basketball, they had to get clever with how they molded their roster, and general manager Bob Bass was up for that challenge. After a pedestrian 41-41 record in 1979-80, Bass needed to overhaul the defense, which gave up a league worst 119.7 points per game, ranking 22nd. He fired Doug Moe and installed Stan Albeck as head coach. Bass didn’t want to score 120 a game and hope to God the opponent didn’t get to 121. Electing not to re-sign twenty-seven year-old Larry Kennon, Bass received two draft picks in return for the five-time All-Star as compensation, one from the Bulls themselves, the other from the league. In the 1980 draft, prior, Bass selected University of Tennessee power forward Reggie Johnson to help the defensive woes in the front court. Later, he would trade for Washington Bullets center Dave Corzine and Portland Trail Blazer two-guard Ron Brewer to help shore up the bench.
The ‘Bruise Brothers’ consisted of hard nosed big men like the aforementioned Corzine, Mark Olberding, George and Reggie Johnson, they ranked first in the league in blocks per game (7.8), and helped the Spurs defense to a more respectable seventeenth in the league. Behind Gervin’s ever reliable scoring, the Spurs finished 52-30, earning a first-round bye in the 1981 postseason. A hard-fought seven game series against Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets, the Spurs ended their Cinderella run, survive small point guard Calvin Murphy’s offensive explosion for 42-points. Behind George Gervin and his selfish backcourt mate James Silas, the Spurs survived and advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time in their heartbreaking lost to the Bullets in ‘79.
The “Iceman” was eager to carve his name into the long list of champions, years spent paying his dues have lead to this moment under the bright lights of the Boston Garden. The Spurs faced the Celtics twice in the 1980-81 season, losing both times, one of those games ended in a unlikely Gervin – Robert Parish duel, Iceman finished with 40 points, the center rallied up 49 in the close Celtics win.
There wasn’t a more star studded cast of players in the East outside of the Celtics. Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Cedric Maxwell, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, the ‘81 Celtics could kill you in a variety of ways. The Spurs, on the other hand, in a defensive oriented league, had to hold together their core with duck tape. How were they ever going to stop the leaner, meaner Celtics? Why, George Gervin, of course. Twenty-nine points to open up the series, followed by thirty-six, then forty-one in Game 3 at San Antonio. Finally, Bill Fitch decided to double-team the electric two-guard. Fitch should thank his lucky stars the series was only 2-1 in favor of San Antonio.
Stan Albeck raised eyebrows around San Antonio shorting the playing time of point guard James Silas, a unselfish veteran that perfectly fit the shoot-first guard Gervin. Silas was benched in favor of 22-year-old Johnny Moore, who shot a respectable 47.9% from the field off of 6.3 attempts per game; Silas shoots 47.7% on 13.3 attempts per game. Still, Moore was a skilled passer and better fit the defensive identity Albeck was going for, Moore averaging 1.5 steals a game, to Silas’s 0.7.
For Boston, Bird struggles forced the veteran forward Cedric Maxwell to pick up the slack on offense. The task with guarding Gervin on one end of the floor drained the second-year pro from Indiana State of his energy. “Just when you think you’ve got him where you want him, he rises above you and drains a jump shot without breaking a sweat.” Bird said after Game 2. Fitch adjusted, placing Bird on the offensively challenged Olberding, and placing twenty-five-year-old Gerald Henderson on Gervin, after veteran guard Chris Ford fell to injury. The change proved unsuccessful, Gervin still thrived as the finesse of the San Antonio Spurs backcourt proved too much for the grisly Celtics to overcome. The series ended in six, a rowdy Spurs crowd charges the court, mobbing hero George Gervin after a 51-point performance to close the series out.
“I told you Ice had them on the run!” George howls to reporters on the way to the locker room to get a the traditional championship champagne shower. “They didn’t want any part of Ice!” Gervin waited a long time for the chance to redeem himself for his past failures, he relished pointing out which reporter doubted him and his abilities to take a team to the next level. Gervin’s line was what you’d expect out of a All-NBA First Team player, 28.5 points on a cool 49% shooting, while the rebound and assists were low, the Spurs didn’t need Gervin to do anymore than he was comfortable with.
Bob Bass graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, credited as the man who “Saved the Spurs”, a moniker that bothered Gervin as it did others on the Spurs. But Bass was a courteous fellow, throwing water on the smoke before it became a fire. “It all starts with Gervin” he said proudly. “A GM is only so lucky to walk into a situation with a cornerstone like George already in house. Corzine, the Johnson Boys anchored our defense and helped us get passed the Malone’s of the world. That’s no easy feat.”
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.
By Vinny @sailboatstudios
Visit the @goodtimebball Twitter account.
From constantly working the Trade Machine we now shift to fruitless attempts to getting into the psyche of one Joe Johnson. The Cavaliers dominated the Trade Deadline. Wheeling and dealing everything that wasn’t nailed to the table (LeBron, Love, BKN pick). It was a “Everything Must Go” sale that required collateral. George Hill, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance, Jr. and Rodney Hood are now in Cleveland and expectations have been risen from the dirt by Koby Altman. The Cavaliers tossed out Iman Shumpert, Channing Frye, Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas, basically punting on all of what they’ve received from the Kyrie Irving trade – besides the Brooklyn pick.
It’s a tough sell to fans saying the aforementioned names are going to save the Cavaliers season… well, they need to. Course, they have LeBron who’ll be reenergized, reengaged and whatnot. Perhaps they’re now in prime position to win enough games not to drop further than the third seed and then LeBron takes over come playoff time. Certainly that has to be the plan, it happened last year.
Rodney Hood is the wonderful player I’m still shocked Utah traded him for Jae Crowder and the corpse of Derrick Rose. Hood is enjoying career highs in FG (42.4), 3P (38.9), FT (87.6) percentage and points per game (16.8). A starter in Utah and considered a valued prospect until Donovan Mitchell’s ascension ruined his life. In 2015-16 Hood stared 79 games; out of the fifty-nine he was able to suit up for the following year, 55 he started, and this year the number has dwindled to 12 starts. There’s also the issue of his ability to stay on the court, missing thirty-two games his rookie season and twenty-three this season. Course the injuries that sidelined him weren’t ever serious. Just bumps and bruises, but there’s a point to be made that the Cavaliers will need to handle Hood carefully. In Boston Stevens mandates that a player of Irving’s importance is only allowed to play 32 minutes a night and no more. This helps avoid anything cataclysmic *knock on wood*. Cleveland doesn’t have the infrastructure to do this. But, maybe they’ll turn over a new leaf?
On the floor, Hood is a fine shooter and can elevate off the dribble. Unfortunately, consistency isn’t one of his strong suites. For every 12 of 24 or 10 of 18 shooting night, there’s a 1 of 10 and 4 of 17 stinker.
Last year’s Jazz team will never be recognized as anything more than just a forgettable solid team, in part because the core players were never healthy at the same time. But you look at that roster and see the quality of players, none of them outstanding, just solid, helpful guys who’d help you win, that’s what the Cavaliers did to their roster from top to bottom by snagging Hood. They have hope again. And it starts with Rodney Hood.
I find it hilarious during Dan Gilbert/Koby Altman’s wheeling and dealings they inadvertently created the necessary cap space L.A pined for to sign to max contract free agents in the upcoming summer. Props to Jeanie Buss or Rob Pelinka… or dare I say… Magic Johnson(?) for managing to get rid of Jordan Clarkson’s contract, due $37.5 million for the next three seasons, and getting a first round pick. Though it did cost them a young, rookie scale contract player in Larry Nance, Jr., the move to take on Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye’s expiring give the Lakers $46.9 million in cap space next summer, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks. The cap space will increase to a whopping $69 million if the Lakers let fourth-year forward Julius Randle walk in RFA and stretch the $37 million owed to Luol Deng over 5 years, according to Bobby Marks of ESPN.
As for Clarkson the player, arguably negated by the George Hill acquisition… but he’s young, the Cavaliers have no way whatsoever to create cap space; the payroll can exceed $150 million with a luxury tax bill of $100 million if LeBron returns to Cleveland, per Marks. The risk is worth it. Clarkson can play both guards spot, averages 14.5 points on a decent 44% shooting, a good 22.9 AST% for someone who splits time between on and off ball. The biggest asset for Clarkson is his ability to finish strong at the rack, 61% in the restricted area. Compare that to where they were before with an angry Isaiah Thomas and the corpse (I know I said that before) of former MVP Derrick Rose, Clarkson will come across as a godsend to Cavalier fans. His shortcomings on defense are prominent and hard to ignore. Will he even be an option during a Golden State series? Probably not. The majority of these moves help Cleveland escape the East.
Another name trading the glitz and glamour of L.A for the cloudy depression of Cleveland, Ohio, 25-year-old Larry Nance, Jr. Since Tristan Thompson up and died, the frontcourt in Cleveland was going to be the main reason they lost in the first round to either Sabonis or Greg Monroe. Nance’s knees aren’t shot. He can jump, 59 dunks this year; to Thompson’s 27 (its kinda crazy the year before Thompson dunked the ball a total of 122 times).
With Nance the Cavs are getting a strong presence offensively in the frontcourt, Nance converts 60.1% (69.9% in the RA) of his attempts, averages a respectable 8.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 stocks (blocks + steals). Thompson 6.2 points, 6 rebounds, 0.6 stocks. Cleveland won’t have to cross their fingers the old Thompson returns before the end of the regular season. Expect some “Hack-a“ as Nance shoots 63.2% from the free throw line. But, like the Clarkson move it was just something the Cavaliers had to do.
The Cavaliers go from one of the oldest teams in the league to a more younger, bouncier roster. They’re the favorites in the East again, and as a Celtics fan… it sucks.