Archive for December, 2011

NBA Offseason Review: Southwest Division

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Given the drama (and comedy) that was the NBA lockout, the ensuing free agency frenzy and the vetoed trade by a commissioner of a group of owners who was acting as the general manager of an individual team that is owned by that same group of owners, it’s easy to get confused about who landed where. This is the third of six daily division-by-division reviews leading up to opening day.

NBA Offseason Review: Pacific Division
NBA Offseason Review: Northwest Division

HOUSTON ROCKETS

2010-11 record: 43-39
2010-11 standing: 5th in Southwest Division
NBA draft picks: 14. Marcus Morris; 20. Donatas Motiejunas; 38. Chandler Parsons
Key additions: Samuel Dalembert (free agent); Jonny Flynn (trade); Jeremy Lin (FA)
Key substractions: Yao Ming (retired); Chuck Hayes (free agent); Brad Miller (trade)
2011-12 starters: PG Kyle Lowry; SG Kevin Martin; SF Chase Budinger; PF Luis Scola; C Dalembert
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 34.5
2011-12 prediction: 35-31

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

2010-11 record: 46-36
2010-11 standing: 4th in Southwest Division; lost Western Conference semifinals to Thunder, 4-3
NBA draft picks: 49. Josh Selby
Key additions: Brian Skinner (free agent); Jeremy Pargo (FA)
Key substractions: Shane Battier (free agent); Leon Powe (FA)
2011-12 starters: PG Mike Conley; SG O.J. Mayo; SF Rudy Gay; PF Zach Randolph; C Marc Gasol
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 36.5
2011-12 prediction: 38-28

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Celtics owners Steve Pagliuca, Wyc Grousbeck on D&C: ‘We’re going for it’

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Celtics owners Steve Pagliuca and Wyc Grousbeck stopped by to chat with D&C guest hosts Dale Arnold and Bob Ryan Wednesday morning and discussed the upcoming season, Rajon Rondo‘s mindset, and why this could be the best Celtics team Danny Ainge has put together.

After the Celtics’ disappointing loss at the hands of LeBron James and the Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the owners expressed optimism about the C’s fortunes for the shortened 2011-12 season.

“It’s going to be a frenetic season, obviously packed in, a lot of games,” Pagliuca said. “The good news for us is that we have a veteran core, but we’ve got a lot of young legs on the team. Danny’s done another great job of building this squad. It’s a very deep team, and that deep team will pay service. Also, with a short training camp, we have four veterans coming back. They know the offense; we have veterans coming in. Doc [Rivers] will have them in very good shape to play.”

Added Pagliuca: “The positive side early is that the team has a lot of depth. One through 15 we’re about as good as we’ve been. If you look at the players Danny’s added here, they can all play basketball. We’re going to get some offensive rebounding this year with [Chris] Wilcox and [Brandon] Bass on the boards, so we’re optimistic. It’s really early in the season, but so far they’ve looked really good.”

Grousbeck said the decision was made to stick with the Big Three and build around them for another shot at the title, holding off any rebuilding plans.

“We do think about the future every day. We really, really do,” Grousbeck said. “But this does look like another year when this core has a chance. And if we supplement them to the max, everything we can possibly do under the new rules, it looks like to us, and more importantly to the basketball staff, that these guys have one more chance at least. So, you make that decision and you put the throttle fully that way. We’re not halfway. … It wasn’t a bad team last year. This year it looks like we can have a chance. Shortened season, almost anything can happen. So, we’re going for it.”

Added Grousbeck: “It has been a shortened preseason. There hasn’t been a lot of chance to really settle in with this team yet, this roster, and see it, and get a sense of other rosters as well. Having said that, every time I see [Kevin] Garnett, [Paul] Pierce, [Ray] Allen, and Rondo walk out on the court and Rivers coaching them, I get goose bumps, actually. So, I’m hopeful, and we’ll see.”

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Last-minute Celtics roster options

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

WALTHAM — As training camp winds down, the Celtics have 13 players on guaranteed contracts and coach Doc Rivers hinted that decision time is coming soon. Rivers said the team was likely to make a decision before or shortly after their final preseason game on Wednesday against Toronto.

As has been discussed throughout camp, Danny Ainge has acquired several players who will play multiple positions. Keyon Dooling could line up alongside Rajon Rondo in the backcourt. Marquis Daniels can play the off guard spot and Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox will mix and match at both frontcourt positions.

With that in mind, here’s what they have:

Point guards: Rajon, Rondo, Keyon Dooling

Off guards: Ray Allen, E’Twuan Moore, Avery Bradley

Small forwards: Paul Pierce, Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic

Power forwards: Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, JaJuan Johnson

Centers: Jermaine O’Neal, Chris Wilcox

Also in camp: Greg Stiemsma, Gilbert Brown, Michael Sweetney

OPTION I: Stay in house

The 6-foot-11, 260-pound Stiemsma has impressed the coaching staff with his ability to block shots and Rivers likes his shooting touch from the elbows. It wouldn’t be a shock if he made the final roster and provided another big body up front. The list of free agent centers is thin and Stiemsma has more upside than the likes of Francisco Elson.

Brown could be another candidate to stick. He hasn’t had many opportunities in camp, but he’s long and athletic. Unfortunately for Brown, the Celtics already have two young guard prospects in Moore and Bradley and a third could be overkill.

Option II: Keep a roster spot, or two, open

ESPN reported that Kenyon Martin‘s Chinese team might release the veteran forward, allowing him to return to the NBA earlier than expected. It’s a tricky proposition and may take weeks, if not months, to untangle, but Martin would be in demand if he becomes available.

J.R. Smith, Aaron Brooks and Wilson Chandler are also playing in China and they knew when they signed their deals that they would have to finish out the season that ends in March. Chandler would be a perfect fit, but the Celtics can’t offer him more than the minimum unless they work out a sign-and-trade. The Nuggets are loaded with wing players after acquiring Rudy Fernandez and Corey Brewer from Dallas and re-signing Arron Aflalo so Chandler’s situation is one to watch.

Option 3: Pick through the free agency remains

Again, the Celtics can’t offer more than the minimum.

James Posey has been in decline since he left Boston and the 35-year-old is coming off the worst season of his career. His True Shooting Percentage has dropped from .587 with the Celtics to .568, .525 and an abysmal .485 last season with the Pacers. Posey remains a popular choice among fans who have memories of his versatility and toughness with the championship squad, but his best days are clearly behind him.

Al Thornton is younger at 28 years old, but he’s an inefficient scorer offensive player and defense has never been his forte.

DeShawn Stevenson can shoot, and play defense. At least he did last season with the Mavericks, knocking down 38 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Speaking of defensive-minded 3-point specialists, Keith Bogans was cut by Chicago to make room for Rip Hamilton and while his defense isn’t as good as his reputation, he was solid for Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls. Of the remaining available players, Bogans could be the best fit for a team that lacks a veteran guard behind Allen.

Keyon Dooling accepts the challenge

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Keyon Dooling will play an important role for the Celtics this season. (AP)

WALTHAM — During Tuesday’s practice, backup point guard Keyon Dooling pulled Celtics coach Doc Rivers aside to talk about the second unit’s identity. Among the things Dooling noticed was that the reserves were trying too hard to emulate the first team’s offensive approach, a difficult task considering the relative talents of each unit. Rivers agreed.

The conversation illustrated Dooling’s assertive attitude and keen insight, both of which have impressed Rivers throughout training camp. “I knew [Dooling] is an energy player,” Rivers said.  “But energy players don’t usually mean high IQ [players. Where Keyon has surprised me is he really thinks the game."

Rivers said Dooling has made for a seamless transition to his new team and that he understands the offense as well as some of the players who have been here for years. His high basketball acumen gives Rivers the luxury of versatility. In Sunday's preseason game in Toronto, the coach experimented playing Dooling at shooting guard, despite not having practiced at the position.

Dooling is confident he can make the transition between guard spots when necessary. "Right now everything is on the fly," he said. "I learn fast. I know the [shooting guard] position and where to be even though I haven’t gotten the reps [in practice]. Wherever the opportunity presents itself, I’ll be ready.”

The well-traveled guard is an integral part of the Celtics new-look rotation and Rivers is looking for major improvement from his bench players this season.

“Last year we failed miserably,” Rivers said. “Me [included]. We didn’t do the bench [well] and the bench didn’t save us ever. It lost some games for us, but it didn’t save us in a lot. This bench, the one thing I do like, they’re not going to back up. That doesn’t mean they’re going to play well, but I like they’re a tough group. They respect the starters but that’s about it. That’s all they’re getting.”

Rivers loves the fact that Dooling will challenge Rajon Rondo every day in practice.

“Rondo has laughed about it several times, this guy doesn’t back up at all and it’s been great,” Rivers said. “They go at each other in a positive way. I think it’s the first time Rondo’s had that and it’s been great for him.”

Dooling hasn’t appeared in the playoffs since 2008 with the Magic and he feels rejuvenated about playing for a team with high expectations. “This is my best opportunity to compete for a [championship],” he said.  “I’m very aware of that. I’ve been out of the playoffs the last few seasons, so my window has suddenly opened up.”

If the Celtics window is going to stay open they’ll need strong performances from players like Dooling.

NBA Offseason Review: Northwest Division

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Given the drama (and comedy) that was the NBA lockout, the ensuing free agency frenzy and the vetoed trade by a commissioner of a group of owners who was acting as the general manager of an individual team that is owned by that same group of owners, it’s easy to get confused about who landed where. This is the second of six daily division-by-division reviews leading up to opening day.

NBA Offseason Review: Pacific Division

MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES

2010-11 record: 17-65
2010-11 standing: 5th in Northwest Division
NBA draft picks: 2. Derrick Williams; 43. Malcolm Lee
Key additions: Ricky Rubio (Spain); J.J. Barea (free agent); Brad Miller (trade)
Key substractions: Jonny Flynn (trade); Lazar Hayward (trade)
2011-12 starters: PG Ricky Rubio; SG Wesley Johnson; SF Michael Beasley; PF Kevin Love; C Darko Milicic
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 15.5
2011-12 prediction: 21-45

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

2010-11 record: 48-34
2010-11 standing: 3rd in Northwest Division; lost Western Conference first round, 4-2
NBA draft picks: 21. Nolan Smith; 51. Jon Diebler; 57. Tanguy Ngombo
Key additions: Jamal Crawford (free agent) Raymond Felton (trade); Kurt Thomas (free agent)
Key substractions: Andre Miller (trade); Brandon Roy (retired); Patrick Mills (free agent)
2011-12 starters: PG Felton; SG Wesley Matthews; SF Gerald Wallace; PF LaMarcus Aldridge; C Marcus Camby
2011-12 wins over/under (sportsbook.com): 41.5
2011-12 prediction: 39-27

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Camp notes: Paul Pierce may not be ready for opening day

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Paul Pierce's sore right heel is a concern for the Celtics (AP).

WALTHAM — Paul Pierce has participated in just one practice during training camp because of a right heel bruise and with opening day quickly approaching, Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledged that Pierce may not be ready to play when the regular season opens on Christmas Day against the Knicks.

“I’m concerned not long-term, but I’m concerned short-term,” Rivers said. “We have those two games right off the bat and he’s gone one practice and that’s basically it. So, yeah I’m concerned about it.”

Pierce worked out on Monday while the rest of the team had the day off. Rivers said that his heel was “extremely sore” on Tuesday.

“We just want him to rest,” Rivers said. “The problem with that is, it will be a lot of rest and then he may be ready but with no [practice time], that’s scary and if he’s not, he’s not.”

Pierce won’t play in Wednesday’s final exhibition game against the Raptors and the plan right now is for him to try and test it again on Friday.

The good news for the Celtics is that Sasha Pavlovic (left wrist) did practice on Tuesday and if he’s able to play, Rivers will have two veteran small forwards with Marquis Daniels and Pavlovic.

JAJUAN JOHNSON PASSES THE TEST

Kevin Garnett has a well-deserved reputation for being hard on young players, but the flip side of that is if the player responds positively to Garnett then there’s nothing he won’t do for him. Rookie big man JaJuan Johnson has apparently received that message.

“Kevin has clearly taken JaJuan under his wing,” Rivers said. “You guys have been around here with Kevin, he gives you the one shot and if he feels you’re paying attention he spends the year with him. JaJuan has obviously passed the test, which is good for everyone because it makes it a bad year for that guy.”

Johnson played just seven minutes on Sunday against Toronto, an indication that he has a long way to go to crack the big man rotation that features Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Chris Wilcox and Brandon Bass. But Johnson has still impressed with his shooting ability and maturity.

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Irish Coffee: Celtics sour grapes over David West

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Celtics president Danny Ainge lost out to former teammate Larry Bird in the David West sweepstakes, and that left a bitter taste in the mouths of Ray Allen and head coach Doc Rivers.

Ainge reportedly offered a sign-and-trade package of Jermaine O’Neal and a younger player to the Hornets for West, who would then be signed to a three-year, $29 million deal, according to ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan.

Instead, Bird signed the free agent to a two-year, $20 million contract, offering a higher annual value and a shorter window until West’s next free agency period, when he likely wouldn’t be coming off reconstructive knee surgery.

“Once it got down to the end, I think his ego kicked back in,” Allen told MacMullan. “He wanted the dollars. I guess it comes down to ‘What is a championship worth to you?’ Think of all the guys who have made $20 million and could be considered one of the best ever, but they get chided because they never won. We [the Big Three] all had to do less when we won. We’re still taking less to make it work. But it’s worth it. No one can ever say to KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce] or me, ‘You guys never got your ring.’”

“I’m very disappointed,” Rivers told Jackie Mac, “but we’re moving on with the guys we have.”

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