|02.20.15 at 10:58 am ET|
With the Celtics starting the second half of their season Friday night in Sacramento, the Green Street bloggers, Julian Edlow @julianedlow, Ben Rohrbach @brohrbach and Sam Packard @SPacShakur answer some key questions to preview the rest of the season.
SHOULD THE CELTICS TRY TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS — AND CAN THEY?
Edlow: “As of Thursday morning the short answer was yes, in the lowly Eastern Conference the Celtics have a chance. Then mayhem broke loose at the trade deadline. Isaiah Thomas is a nice add for the C’s with his skill set and contract for the long term. But factoring in Miami adding Goran Dragic, Detriot adding Reggie Jackson, and news that Jared Sullinger is going to be sidelined with a stress reaction in his left foot, things have changed. It’s going to be another lottery season.”
Rohrbach: “I’ve been bouncing back and forth on this one, just as the Celtics front office likely has in recent weeks, but I’m coming around on the idea of making a playoff push. Danny Ainge was more of a buyer than a seller at the deadline, and Brad Stevens will continue working with whatever pieces are at his disposal to win enough games that their odds of receiving a top-three pick in the lottery would be miniscule. The confidence that Stevens — and whichever players remain next season and beyond — would gain in knowing how his system works is just as valuable as the difference between the No. 12 and 17 picks.
“As for whether the C’s can make the playoffs, after writing them off two weeks ago, I’m on board, so long as Jared Sullinger’s toe injury doesn’t keep him out too long. Their recent string of four wins in five games — including a stunning upset of the first-place Hawks — combined with the mess that has become of the Nets and the injury to Hornets point guard Kemba Walker leaves the C’s and Pistons with the best chance of finishing eighth behind the Heat. The Celtics have a lighter schedule and two fewer losses than the Pacers and somewhat control their own destiny with the most head-to-head meetings against the five aforementioned teams.”
Packard: “There are already 10 teams with worse records than the Celtics, and with the addition of Isaiah Thomas the roster is too talented to lose the requisite number of games for a top-five pick. Tanking is not a realistic option, so why not try something new and fun like winning as many games as possible?
“The Heat locked up the seventh seed by adding Dragic, but I do think the Celtics have a puncher’s chance at the eight. Their fate rests entirely on the health of Sullinger, who has been the team’s best player in the first half of the season. If he is out for an extended period of time, the Celtics will not have enough muscle on the front line to beat good teams late in games. Also, their biggest competition for the final playoff spot in the east, the Pistons, just got better by adding Reggie Jackson to replace the injured Brandon Jennings.”
WHICH PLAYER NEEDS TO PLAY BETTER?
Edlow: “Avery Bradley is the easy answer. He is in the first year of a contract that is due to pay him $32 million over four seasons and Boston isn’t seeing near the production it should be for the price it paid. For comparison, the newly acquired Thomas just signed a cheaper contract (four years for $28 million), however, Thomas’ 19.7 player efficiency rating nearly doubles Bradley’s (10.8).”
Rohrbach: “When motivated, Jared Sullinger is undoubtedly the best player on the Celtics, but he’s not always motivated, as evidenced by his two recent benchings and the fact he’s never really gotten himself into proper shape. Yet he outplayed Paul Millsap in the C’s recent victory against the Hawks. While his conditioning may not make great strides over the final two months, particularly with the toe injury keeping him sidelined for the foreseeable future, he can begin his improvement by stepping inside the 3-point line, where he owns one of the league’s worst percentages among players who attempt three per game, and planting his considerable backside in the post, where he’s shooting close to 60 percent and grabbing 10 percent of available offensive rebounds.”
Packard: “Kelly Olynyk. This is probably an unfair answer, because Olynyk has done a very good job coming off the bench; but with Sullinger on the sidelines for the foreseeable future, Olynyk is going to get meaningful minutes. He needs to improve drastically on defense, where he has been a liability. On offense, Olynyk should continue to be aggressive by attacking the basket and taking the open 3 when its available.”
|02.20.15 at 12:20 am ET|
In the words of Ron Burgundy: “Boy, that really escalated quickly.”
Just when we appeared to be headed for a quiet trade deadline, seemingly half the league began swapping players and picks around as if there wouldn’t be another opportunity for years. When the smoke cleared, a record 37 players were moved by the deadline, and that doesn’t even include the future draft picks that changed hands.
So in wake of everything that happened today, here’s five things we learned about the Celtics at the deadline.
Thomas’ name came up in trade talks when Boston was rumored to send Rajon Rondo to the Kings last season, then again when Danny Ainge was the first person to reach out to Thomas as free agency began last summer, and now, obviously, the third time was a charm for Ainge. This is not a coincidence, the Celtics have been after Thomas for a while.
The 5-foot-9 Washington product was the last pick in 2011’s NBA draft but has far exceeded expectations during his time in the league. Last year with the Kings, Thomas produced averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists. So far this season Thomas has averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 helpers, but in limited minutes off the bench while helping his Suns team hold down a playoff spot in the West.
If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the Celtics front office see Thomas as its point guard of the future. But if I’m wrong– and this is one of the best parts of Thomas’ contract — his deal always remains a tradeable asset. Due just $27 million over four years, there’s really no risk to brining Thomas on board.
MARCUS SMART NOW IS A SHOOTING GUARD
With Thomas in Boston, Smart now likely becomes the starting shooting guard, otherwise a backup combo guard for the time being. Smart had briefly been in control of the starting point guard role before the All-Star break, and did a good job with it. Smart still may backup Thomas at point guard while seeing a majority of his minutes off the ball, but it would be nice to see Smart get assigned a position and stick to it. With that said, Smart has adjusted very well no matter what role has been asked of him. I expect that trend to continue and Smart to have a strong finish to his rookie campaign — including small ball lineups with Thomas and Avery Bradley. The bottom line is that if he continues improving his shot and his relentless defense, Smart is going to be a very good pro. If he has one area he needs to improve upon, it’s in getting to the rim.
AINGE IS BEGINNING TO CASH IN HIS CHIPS
You might not be able to call the Celtics buyers at the deadline, but just think back on each of Ainge’s trades over the summer and throughout the season. They all accomplished one of two goals — the first being to add future draft picks and the second being to move unwanted long-term contracts for expiring deals.
This trade — although Thomas is a nice long-term asset — accomplished neither. Ainge actually finally shipped out one of his future assets (a 2016 first-round pick from the Cavs) in order to add a piece of the puzzle. The Celtics will gladly use their two first-round picks in June’s upcoming draft, but things are starting to get to the point where Ainge is ready to pull the trigger on moving picks for players when the right deal presents itself as it did with Phoenix.
|02.19.15 at 11:22 pm ET|
Celtics forward Jared Sullinger has been diagnosed with a stress reaction in his left foot and is returning to Boston for further evaluation, the team announced on Thursday. There is no timetable for his return.
“He’s not going to play on this trip, and I don’t anticipate him playing anytime soon,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Sacramento. “Jared will be out awhile. That’s not good news on the Jared front.”
“It sucks, honestly, especially with the type of push we’re trying to make,” Sullinger told the media on the C’s final day of the All-Star break. “We have these goals, and for me to not be a part of it on the court is hard. But I’m trying to help the team from different angles.”
No doubt Sullinger’s extended absence would be a massive blow to the C’s playoff chances.
|02.19.15 at 7:47 pm ET|
The Celtics shipped Prince to the Pistons for Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome, who all have one thing in common: expiring contracts. Unless Danny Ainge sees either player as a long-term piece in Boston (which is very unlikely), the deal was simply a money saving move.
Jerebko is owed $4.5 million this season while Datome will earn $1.7 million, which will cost the Celtics less than paying the remainder of Prince’s $7.7 million contract. No word yet on whether either of the C’s new additions will be bought out of their contracts.
Although the trade doesn’t bring back an exciting return like the Isaiah Thomas deal, there is more potential upside than just saving a few bucks. With both Marcus Thornton and Prince now gone, a path has likely been carved out for rookies Marcus Smart and James Young to see serious playing time as the season winds down — something fans should enjoy watching.
|02.19.15 at 3:25 pm ET|
The Celtics did in fact make a trade at the NBA’s trade deadline Thursday.
The team acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas from the Suns. The Celtics will send Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick via Cleveland to Phoenix. Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the deal.
“Isaiah is a dynamic offensive player whose scoring and playmaking abilities add to an already well-rounded backcourt with Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley,” C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said in a press release. ‘We are excited to welcome Isaiah to the Celtics family.’
Thomas has averaged 15.2 points per game in 46 games this season. He was a 2011 second-round pick by the Kings.
For more Celtics news, visit weei.com/celtics.
For Isaiah Thomas, Boston will send Marcus Thornton and a 2016 first-round pick via Cleveland to Phoenix, league source tells Yahoo Sports.
‘ Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 19, 2015
|02.18.15 at 10:14 am ET|
Surprise, surprise: The Celtics have entered the Goran Dragic sweepstakes.
According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has placed a call to his former assistant general manager, Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough, about the NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player.
ESPN sources say Celtics emerging as contender on the outside for Goran Dragic in trade with Phoenix
‘ Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 18, 2015
Dragic, who is expected to decline his $7.5 million player option for the 2015-16 season, has alerted the Suns he will not re-sign in Phoneix come July, per USA TODAY’s Sam Amick. Given the team’s wealth of point guards after signing Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe for a combined $97 million this past summer, McDonough is reportedly seeking to trade Dragic by Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Enter Ainge, who has enough draft picks, expiring contracts and affordable young talent to join any trade discussion. But how much are the Celtics willing to pay for a 28-year-old point guard who can walk in June? (See: Rondo, Rajon.)
Granted, Dragic is coming off a Third Team All-NBA season and has 9,118 fewer NBA minutes on his legs than the 28-year-old point guard they traded two months ago — not to mention an entirely different skill-set than Rondo — but Ainge will have to compete with a host of other teams for the Slovenian’s services, including reported suitors in the Heat, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Pacers and Rockets. Ainge’s familiarity with McDonough, which led to the exchange of Brandan Wright for draft picks last month, can’t hurt in that regard.
Would Brandon Bass‘ $6.9 million expiring contract and pick(s) be enough to land Dragic? Or would the C’s have to include Kelly Olynyk or another burgeoning young talent? The Suns, who currently lead the Thunder by a half-game for the Western Conference’s eighth playoff seed, could use another floor-spacing big man after losing veteran locker room favorite Channing Frye to the Magic in free agency.
Additionally, the Celtics must determine whether the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Dragic — a willing defender and brilliant playmaker who submitted a remarkable statistical season in 2013-14 (20.3 points, 5.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 35.1 minutes per game while producing a 60.4 true shooting percentage and 21.4 player efficiency rating) — could coexist with Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley in the backcourt. (Unless, of course, either Smart or Bradley is shipped back to Phoenix in exchange for Dragic). The feeling here is that Dragic and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Smart could wreak the same kind of havoc Dragic and Bledsoe did during the Suns’ 48-win campaign last season.
According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Dragic has included the Los Angeles Lakers, New York and Miami among his list of preferred landing spots, demonstrating a willingness to re-sign with a team currently out of championship contention, but it’s unclear whether he’d be open to staying in Boston. Dragic’s agent, Bill Duffy, also represents Rondo, whose desire to test free agency led to his trade. Just as with Rondo, though, the C’s — or any organization acquiring Dragic — could offer an additional year and roughly $25 million more on the open market. With the NBA’s new television deal expected to increase the salary cap in 2016, Dragic could command a max contract this summer.
For more on the impending trade deadline decisions Ainge faces, click here.
|02.13.15 at 12:33 pm ET|
A major theme of the rebuilding Celtics has been that no player is safe from being traded for the betterment of the team — something Danny Ainge has shown the willingness to do throughout his career (and now once again by trading Rajon Rondo). Here are some trades that make sense for the mess that is the Boston Celtics. Again, these specific trades are not rumors, simply ideas. This is Part 7.
With Rondo and Jeff Green shipped out, trade ideas are running thin as the Feb 19 deadline approaches.
No doubt Ainge would love to shed an expiring contract or two in the form of Brandon Bass, Tayshaun Prince or Marcus Thornton. However, contenders have yet to come calling for the services of Boston’s veteran pieces. But maybe Ainge can use one of those contracts — along with one of his accumulated draft picks — to add a young talent that’s potentially now available.
CELTICS GET: Enes Kanter
Bass is in this deal simply to make the money match, but it achieves Ainge’s goal of moving an expiring veteran. The important part of the deal, however, is Kanter’s contract. He too is expiring at season’s end and there is no chance the Celtics would risk sending a first-rounder to Utah without assurance that Kanter has interest in remaining in Boston. For the sake of making the trade idea work, let’s say Kanter approves of being a Celtic past 2015.
Tyler Zeller (9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds) has had a solid season, but he is certainly not the starting center of the future. Kanter, who recently told reporters that he hopes to be traded, has the potential to be a valuable piece long-term. The former No. 3 overall pick is averaging 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds while playing 27.1 minutes per game so far this season — those numbers would be an immediate upgrade at the center spot.
Kanter is still just 22-years old, though. Ainge’s hope in making the deal would be that his new young big would make a smooth transition to Boston and continue to grow his numbers in upcoming seasons. There’s a risk involved for the Celtics in giving up a first-round pick, but the risk could prove worth the reward if Kanter develops into Boston’s future center. After all, Ainge didn’t accumulate all these picks to use each of them. At some point some of them have to be moved for talent that can provide an instant impact.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
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