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Trade Rumor: Six to eight teams pursuing Dwight Howard 03.06.12 at 9:22 am ET
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With less than 10 days to go until the March 15 trade deadline, the future of Magic center Dwight Howard is still cloudy.

It’s been known for some time that there are three teams on his list of preferred trade destinations: New Jersey, Dallas and the Lakers. It has also been known that Golden State would be willing to trade for Howard without assurances that he would sign an extension with them.

Magic GM told Otis Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that “six to eight” teams were still calling. Orlando is still hoping to convince Howard to stay long-term.

In other Howard-related news, the Nets announced that center Brook Lopez will be out three weeks with a sprained right ankle. Lopez has been mentioned prominently in trade talks.

Read More: Brook Lopez, Dwight Howard, NBA Trade Deadline,
Trade Rumor: Clippers interested in Ray Allen 03.05.12 at 10:03 am ET
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The Clippers have been looking for backcourt help ever since Chauncey Billups went down with a season-ending Achilles injury, and they have their eye on Celtics‘ guard Ray Allen, according to Sports Illustrated’s Sam Amick. However, as Amick points out:

“The price is likely too high, as Boston wants a package that includes a young talent and a draft pick.”

The best young player the Clippers have — besides Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, let’s be serious, folks — is second-year guard Eric Bledsoe, and he’s out with a knee injury. The Clips also don’t have a draft pick to offer because it already belongs to the Celtics, who acquired it in the Kendrick Perkins trade.

There doesn’t appear to be a match here, but expect more chatter to follow Allen who is in the final year of a deal that pays him $10 million. His overall game has fallen off a bit, but Allen remains one of the best shooters in the league.

Read More: NBA Trade Deadline, Ray Allen,
Trade Rumor: Celtics eye Josh Smith, possibly for Kevin Garnett 03.02.12 at 3:31 pm ET
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The New York Daily News threw out the suggestion that the Celtics would be interested in Atlanta’s Josh Smith “and other young studs,” while using the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce as bait.

Here’s the rumor:

“With the Big Three’€™s window now shut, Ainge is trying to land Atlanta’€™s Josh Smith and other young studs, while offering up Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen can also be had, for young players and draft picks. Rajon Rondo might be leaving, too, with the Lakers and Utah seen as possible destinations.”

The interesting part of this rumor is the suggestion of Garnett, which is the first time his name has been linked in any trade rumor since he’s come to Boston. Garnett is in the last year of a contract that pays him $21 million and Smith has another year left after this one at $13 million, so that wouldn’t work straight-up. The Hawks have other short contracts like Kirk Hinrich, who is in the last year of a deal that pays him $8 million.

Smith was high school teammates with Rajon Rondo at Oak Hill Academy and the two have remained close. He’s still just 26 years old and many felt that he deserved a spot on the All-Star team. He’d be the kind of player the Celtics would be looking to acquire if they move forward with Rondo.

Read More: Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett, NBA Trade Deadline, Paul Pierce
NBA Power Rankings: Post All-Star Break 02.27.12 at 11:33 pm ET
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Now that we’ve reached the midway point, the NBA season is still a nebulous blob of strange. Who could have foreseen that the biggest story of the first half would have involved an undrafted free agent from Harvard who was cut twice and possibly on his way out for a third time? We have seen the rise of the Clippers and the fall of the Celtics, as well as the emergence — and disappearance — of the Nuggets and Blazers. The East remains status quo, with everyone chasing the Bulls and Heat. The West is a tangled mess of very good teams with no clear front-runner.

1. Miami (27-7): Here’s the deal for the Heat and LeBron James. When you have the best player in the league on the best team in the league, you have to win the championship. It doesn’t matter if LeBron winds up passing to Eddy Curry for the winning shot in the final minutes — if he and Miami wins, he’ll be exonerated. Not beloved, not even liked, but the only way LeBron will finally be set free is if he wins a championship.

2. Chicago (27-8): Pity the Bulls. They are as merciless in their approach as star guard Derrick Rose is apparently mirthless in his. They take you apart on defense and have more than enough offense and depth to run roughshod over teams in the regular season. But do they have enough firepower for the Heat? LeBron and Dwyane Wade will no doubt take turns smothering Rose. What then?

3. Oklahoma City (27-7): Windows are strange things in the NBA and while the Thunder’s is in no way closing, it is wide open right now. The West is a jumble; any of five other teams could legitimately make a claim on winning the conference crown this season. But in that confusion lies Oklahoma City’s opportunity. The pieces are in place. Kevin Durant is in his prime. Russell Westbrook is a star and James Harden isn’t far behind. A Heat-Thunder finals would capture the nation’s imagination and re-write the rules on big/small markets.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: power rankings,
Fast Break: Another Celtics comeback falls short 02.22.12 at 9:45 pm ET
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The most disturbing thing about the Celtics road trip was that they didn’t hit rock bottom until the very end. One might have thought it came against Detroit when the Celtics lost by double digits to one of the worst teams in the league and Rajon Rondo was ejected and ultimately suspended for two games. Nope.

One might have though it would have happened against the Mavericks in a game where they struggled to score 73 points and were never seriously competitive from the opening tip. Not even close.

Rock bottom appeared in the first half on Wednesday when their vaunted defense was shredded to the tune of 72 points in a 119-104 loss to Oklahoma City. It was the first time in 29 games that an opponent had scored over 100 points against the Celtics. Not only did the Thunder shoot 57 percent in the first half. They also made 8-of-12 3-pointers and the Celtics didn’t record a single steal or block.

Making it worse they actually got within six points late in the fourth quarter after being down by 27 points. Like most Celtics’ comebacks this season, it wasn’t enough. They have now lost five games in a row and seven of eight.

The only consolation is that the All-Star break is mercifully here. They’ll need those five days off to recover and try to get healthy. Brandon Bass, Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox all missed the game with injuries in addition to Rondo, who was serving the second game of his suspension.

WHAT WENT WRONG

— The Celtics actually led 22-12, but OKC came back with a 25-3 run and that was basically that. The Thunder actually scored 21 straight points, slicing through the Celtics’ depleted second unit. OKC outscored the Celtics 27-4 in bench points in the first half, and the immortal Royal Ivey actually doubled their total.

— The bench has been a problem all season, but with Bass, Wilcox, Rondo and O’Neal things got ugly. Keyon Dooling, in particular, had a miserable night. It’s worth asking halfway through the season if he has a role anymore. He’s not a backup point guard and Mickael Pietrus has taken his minutes behind Ray Allen.

— Free throws and rebounding were again their undoing in a first quarter that should have seen them build a lead. At one point in the first quarter, the Celtics were shooting 69 percent while holding OKC to 39 percent and they had a one-point lead. How? The Thunder had four offensive rebounds and 11 free throws.

— Every time the Celtics crept within single digits, Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant made a play. They combined for 59 points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Celtics jumped out to a 13-4 lead and the energy was palatable right from the opening tip when Paul Pierce scored a layup off the opening tip. They were in attack mode, aggressively challenging the Thunder defense. That’s when things fell apart.

Avery Bradley had one of his best offensive games as a starter, with 12 points and five assists. He not only made a couple of mid-range jump shots, he also throw down an electrifying dunk on Durant and successfully ran a pick and pop with Kevin Garnett. The last part may not sound like much, but that’s a major improvement from where he was last season.

— Garnett was solid in his return after missing two games because of a family issue. He scored 23 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 38 minutes of work. All five starters scored in double figures.

What if the Celtics don’t make a move? 02.22.12 at 2:16 am ET
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Let’€™s say for the sake of argument that the NBA trade deadline passes on March 15 without the Celtics making a major move. Under that very plausible scenario, they would move forward with their aging core for presumably one last playoff stand. Who knows? Maybe they channel both the 1999 lockout Knicks and their own not-so-distant history by blazing an unexpected path to redemption through the postseason.

That last part may be unlikely, but the chances of team president Danny Ainge standing pat at the deadline rank at least even with pulling off a major move. What then?

As everyone knows, the Celtics will have enough salary cap space to pursue a max free agent with money left over. As everyone also knows, the chances of landing Dwight Howard fall somewhere between slim and none, which leaves Ainge in a quandary.

Does he use that new-found space to pursue lesser free agents or trades and try to stay competitive, or does he hold tight and wait for bigger names to become available down the line? The answer lies somewhere in between. In both his public comments and his actions, Ainge understands that the fastest way to irrelevancy is blowing through cap space on middling free agents. That doesn’€™t mean, however, that he will just wait for a savior to become available.

The Celtics’€™ rebuilding process is likely to take several years and will require patience and planning. Here is a highly speculative look at how it would look:

WHAT WOULD BE LEFT

The Celtics have four players under contract for next season: Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Avery Bradley and JaJuan Johnson. Brandon Bass has a player option for $4.25 million, which is a bargain for a player of his caliber, meaning he’€™ll likely opt out.

They also have an option on E’€™Twaun Moore and can make a qualifying offer for Greg Stiemsma, who have both flashed NBA ability and have the advantage of being extremely affordable. Assuming they retain both players, their cap situation looks like this:

Committed salaries with Bass: $35.52 million

Without Bass: $31.27 million

Expected salary cap for 2012-13 season: $58 million (Note: The cap is set after the season, but for the purposes of this exercise, the $58 million figure will do.)

It’€™s important to remember that the Celtics’€™ cap space is theoretical. The eight free agents, plus assorted other blasts from the past represent over $95 million in “cap holds.” (See Sham Sports salary page for details).

In order to use that space one of two things have to happen. Either the free agent player signs with another team, or the player’€™s rights are renounced.

It’€™s possible that say, Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen could be re-signed for significantly less money. It’€™s also likely that some players such as Mickael Pietrus or Chris Wilcox may be re-signed. Either way, it would be a surprise if all eight pending free agents had different addresses next season.

(The others: Jermaine O’€™Neal, Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and Keyon Dooling).

THE DRAFT

Barring a complete collapse from the Clippers, the Celtics will have two first round draft picks: Their own and one from the Clips via the Kendrick Perkins trade. While that Clippers pick may not carry the promise of a lottery windfall like it once did, having two picks in what should be a loaded draft is a definite help in the rebuilding process.

The Celtics would have the 15th and 23rd picks in the draft at the moment. Per Draft Express, the 15th-rated prospect is none other than Duke freshman guard Austin Rivers and the 23rd rated prospect is North Carolina freshman forward James McAdoo. Obviously a lot will change between now and the draft, but even picking in the middle and latter part of the first round should yield quality options.

WHAT THE ROSTER MIGHT LOOK LIKE

PG: Rondo, Bradley, Moore
SG: Pietrus*
SF: Pierce, Jeff Green*
PF: Wilcox/Bass*, Johnson
C: Stiemsma

* Anticipated signing

We’€™ve gone ahead and slotted Pietrus, a returning Jeff Green and either Wilcox or Bass with the two first rounders on a theoretical roster, giving the Celtics 11 players for about $45 million. (Again, that’€™s very rough estimate).

That’€™s not enough for a max player, but if Howard goes elsewhere, as expected, there’s no one else besides Nets guard Deron Williams who is worth that kind of money. That’€™s still plenty of space to add players who can be part of the rebuilding project. The key is not breaking the bank and keeping their options open beyond next summer.

THE FREE AGENT MARKET

The obvious needs are at center and the shooting guard position. The free agent market may be thin in unrestricted free agents but there will be a larger-than normal influx of restricted free agents and they offer some intriguing possibilities.

Centers: Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, Omer Asik
Forwards: Ryan Anderson, Nic Batum, Mareese Speights, Michael Beasley, J.J. Hickson, Jason Thompson
Guards: O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, George Hill, Rudy Fernandez

SIGN-AND-TRADES

Garnett and Allen are the key figures here. It’€™s not out of the question that one or both could return at a reduced salary, but if they decide to go elsewhere, the Celtics could use them in sign-and-trade scenarios that could yield either players or trade exceptions for future use.

Remember, they used the sign-and-trade route to acquire Bass and turned a trade exception for Daniels into Dooling. Everything is an asset in the NBA, including expiring contracts.

TRADES

One of the benefits to having cap space is it allows you to absorb contracts without having to match salary in return. That opens the door to limitless possibilities for Ainge to wheel and deal. Teams below the luxury tax line can also take back 150 percent of player contracts in trades as opposed to 125 for taxpaying teams.

Additionally, Bradley, Johnson and Moore are getting important playing time. All three were unknowns before the season started, and while none of them may be cornerstone players that have more value now than they did when the season began. Add in two more first rounders and Ainge is in a position to begin stockpiling assets for a future move.

LUXURY TAX ADVANTAGES

It’s also worth pointing out that teams below the luxury tax threshold (about $70 million in salaries) have certain advantages, such as access to the bi-annual free agent exception (worth just under $2 million) and either the room exception ($2.5 million) or the non-taxpayer mid-level exception worth $5 million. In December, the Celtics could only offer the taxpayer mid-level worth $3 million.

It gets complicated in a hurry, but the larger point is that the Celtics would go from a tax-strapped, over-the-cap team to one with several new options and possibilities virtually overnight. All of that is why retaining flexibility is so important for the Celtics as they look to rebuild and why Ainge won’t trade his core players just to make a move.

Read More: NBA Trade Deadline,
Fast Break: Depleted Celtics no match for Mavs 02.20.12 at 10:34 pm ET
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The Celtics came into Monday’s game with the Mavericks having lost three straight and five of six. It was also the second night of a back-to-back on the road and the next one of those they win will be the first.

Brandon Bass is out with knee problems. Kevin Garnett is away from the team and dealing with a family issue, and to top off the impending disaster, Rajon Rondo was suspended two games by the NBA after he threw the ball at referee Sean Wright in Sunday’s game.

In an utterly unsurprising result, they got blasted, 89-73. Give the Celtics who did play some credit. It could have been much worse.

WHAT WENT WRONG

— Without Garnett in the lineup, the Celtics had no one who could guard Dirk Nowitzki. Not surprisingly, the Mavericks took full advantage, not only running their offense through Nowitzki, but also getting Chris Wilcox into quick foul trouble, forcing the Celtics to use Mickael Pietrus on the All-Star.

— Rondo’s going to take some criticism for his suspension and all of it is justified. With his team falling apart, he simply can’t afford to let his emotions get away from him like they did on Sunday. It wasn’t the first time he’s whipped a ball at an official after a call he didn’t like and the NBA came down hard with a two-game suspension. Rondo is 25 years old. He’s a six-year pro and a two-time All-Star. This isn’t about growing up or maturity. It’s about keeping your composure when your team needs you and Rondo messed up. Simple as that.

— Just for kicks, Jermaine O’Neal sprained his wrist and didn’t return to the game. Ditto for Wilcox who strained an abductor muscle. At one point, the Celtics had Marquis Daniels and Pietrus at forward with Keyon Dooling and Ray Allen in the backcourt and Greg Stiemsma at center. That was one of the more conventional lineups the Celtics used in the second half.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Avery Bradley played 33 minutes and scored 12 points on 6-for-11 shooting with four rebounds, two assists and just one turnover. He played about as well as could be expected.

— Thanks to a late barrage of 3-pointers from the small-ball lineup, the Celtics were able to avoid a season-low in points. The Phoenix game lives on for another night.

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