|Double ’07: Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love and Celtics restoration||04.15.14 at 7:56 pm ET|
This is the second in a series on the parallels between Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge‘s last team to miss the NBA playoffs and this year’s lottery-bound squad. A deeper look at the C’s player personnel, potential trade packages and financial flexibility should offer insight into whether or not Ainge can recreate the 2007 magic of acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen seven years later in 2014. (Hence, Double ’07.)
In order to justify holding Pierce on ice as a keeper, Ainge needed to land a big fish who could restore a winning culture to the Bay State’s once proud basketball franchise. Garnett did that and then some. Now, seven years later, the C’s president must reel in another catch, and the solution may reside in the Land of 10,000 Lakes once again.
For all the bellyaching about whether or not Kevin McHale helped steer Garnett to his former team, the Celtics offered the best package at the time. In the end, the deal centered around a double-double machine in Al Jefferson, and it’s not Ainge’s fault the Timberwolves drafted Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry.
Come to think of it, Minnesota’s failure to capitalize on that Garnett trade may ultimately force the T-Wolves to deal Kevin Love. If David Kahn had played his cards right in the draft since 2007, he could have revealed a starting lineup of Curry, Love, Jefferson, Paul George and DeMar DeRozan within three years.
But, alas, the Timberwolves aren’t an uber-exciting All-Star squadron. They’re a .500 team. In the Western Conference, that gets you a lottery pick, and it doesn’t sit well with a perennial NBA All-Star. Just ask Garnett. Like KG in 2007, Love is nearing the end of his contract (Garnett had two years left, Love has one) and would require some convincing to sign an extension in Boston beyond his current deal.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, Ainge must ask himself two questions: 1) Is Kevin Love the kind of franchise-altering player who can help return the Celtics to their former glory, and 2) Do they have enough to get him?
|Back to their losing ways: Celtics fall to 76ers||04.14.14 at 10:28 pm ET|
The Celtics dropped their second-to-last game of the 2013-14 season, falling to the lowly 76ers in Philadelphia by a 113-108 count. Though Chris Johnson appeared to hit a game-tying 3-pointer near the end of regulation, the forward was ruled to have stepped out of bounds for a turnover. The 76ers added a pair of free throws to create the game’s final margin.
Kelly Olynyk continued his scoring surge in defeat, with the center dropping in a career-high 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting. Jeff Green added 27, Avery Bradley scored 23 (though he shot just 9-of-22) and Rajon Rondo fell a bucket shy of a triple-double, scoring eight points, claiming 11 boards and distributing 14 assists.
The Celtics wrapped up the year with a 9-32 road record. All that remains between the Celtics and the end of the season is a home contest against Washington on Wednesday. The Celtics currently possess the fifth-worst record in the NBA; with one game remaining, they could finish with as “low” as the fourth-worst record and as “high” as the sixth-worst record.
For a full game recap, click here.
|Celtics end road losing streak, but losing ground in draft lottery||04.12.14 at 10:56 pm ET|
The Celtics didn’t have Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Jerryd Bayless or Kris Humpries, yet their undermanned roster still managed to claim a comfortable 111-99 victory over the Cavs in Cleveland. The win snapped the Celtics‘ 13-game road losing streak.
Kelly Olynyk matched a career-high with 25 points and set a new career standard with 12 boards, while Avery Bradley likewise poured in 25 and Phil Pressey distributed 13 assists. For a complete recap of the game, click here.
Of course, the victory — the Celtics’ second straight — wasn’t necessarily the ideal outcome for a franchise in a pitched battle for ping-pong balls in the NBA draft lottery. The Celtics are now 25-55, the fifth-worst record in the NBA, with their victory having pushed them behind Utah (24-55 as of the end of the game in Cleveland) and neck-and-neck with the Lakers (25-54). A team that looked earlier in the week like it might be spiraling towards the third-highest number of ping-pong balls in the lottery for the top three picks is instead now in danger of falling to sixth, with an outside chance (if the Celtics win out and Kings lose out) of matching the Kings for the sixth-worst record (rather than claiming it outright).
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo-less Celtics fend off Bobcats||04.11.14 at 9:46 pm ET|
The Celtics coughed up a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, but an inspired Rajon Rondo-less effort fended off the Bobcats in a 106-103 victory that snapped a nine-game losing streak. Meanwhile, Orland’s loss to the Wizards gave the Magic sole possession of the NBA’s third-worst record.
Avery Bradley led the Celtics (24-55) with 22 points. Jared Sullinger scored 20 while Jeff Green, and Brandon Bass each added 18. Kelly Olynyk (12 points) and Phil Pressey (10 points, 13 assists) also reached double figures. Pressey’s rebound tap to Bass in the closing seconds sealed the victory.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Avery good night: The real shame in Rondo’s absence was another missed opportunity for the Rondo-Bradley backcourt. While the two provided the few highlights (43 points, 14 assists, 8 rebounds, 6 steals) against Atlanta in their first game together in almost two weeks, Rondo was not in uniform to play Batman to Bradley’s Robin against the Bobcats. Not that it mattered, as the soon-to-be restricted free agent led the Celtics with 14 points by halftime.
Triple take: Almost everybody got in on the C’s 3-point shooting effort, but Bradley again led the way, draining his first three attempts. Pressey and Olynyk also buried a pair each during their 9-of-13 start from distance.
Fighter’s mentality: Led by the consistent effort of Bass and a surprising spark from Green, the Celtics closed the third quarter on a 12-0 run, snagging an 84-75 lead entering the fourth quarter. Pressey’s dive for a loose ball and pass from his behind to a breaking Olynyk drew a playoff-like response from the Garden crowd. While the C’s would have been better served with the loss, the fight they showed may also pay dividends down the road.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Rondo no go: While Rondo’s absence should have benefited the Ping Pong count, his late scratch surprised the Garden crowd. When Brad Stevens addressed the media two hours before the game, Rondo was slated to start the first night of the team’s final back-to-back, but he returned from warmups with a bruised left shin. His status for Saturday’s game in Cleveland — originally a scheduled day off — remains uncertain. With Kemba Walker (groin) also sidelined, fans instead watched a starting point guard matchup between Phil Pressey and Luke Ridnour.
Big Al: As the Celtics have all season, they struggled against a talented offensive big man. This time it happened to be old friend Al Jefferson (32 points, 10 rebounds), who torched Sullinger & Co. with a variety of post moves for 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting in Charlotte’s 29-point first quarter. He signed a three-year, $41 million deal with the Bobcats over the summer, and while pundits criticized his move to a franchise in perennial peril, his 21.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists for a team surprisingly ranked among the top defensive units in the league. Suddenly, that $41 million doesn’t seem so bad, especially when you consider the C’s are paying Gerald Wallace $30.3 over that same span.
Bumps and bruises: Jerryd Bayless suffered a right knee sprain in the fourth quarter and did not return. Additionally Sullinger rolled his left ankle and left for the locker room in the third, but returned after getting some tape on it. The last the Celtics want to see is injuries pile up in the last few games.
|Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics’ late skid puts them in solid position||04.10.14 at 2:19 pm ET|
I have been saying for about a month now that the bottom three teams in the NBA are etched in stone: Bucks, 76ers and Magic. However, thanks to a nine-game Celtics losing streak, combined with an unlikely two-game Magic winning streak, I was wrong. Both teams enter Thursday with records of 23-55, sharing the third spot in the lottery.
This is exactly what Danny Ainge had in mind at the start of the season, and now his plan is coming to fruition. But with only four games remaining for both Orlando and Boston, losing has become as important as ever this season. The Magic still have the inside track, as they play the Wizards, Nets (looking for revenge for Orlando’s win Wednesday), Bulls and Pacers.
The Celtics, on the other hand, have some very winnable games, so this is going to require some dedication to losing. The C’s face the Bobcats, Cavaliers, 76ers and Wizards in their final four outings. Yes, that’s right, the Celtics and 76ers will face off in another dreadful battle like the one we saw last Friday night at the Garden. Boston’s other three opponents are either trying to fight their way into the postseason or are jostling for position, so they arguably have something to play for.
This is all speculation at the moment, but if we are going by what the numbers tell us, Orlando will lose out. Meanwhile, the C’s should lose three of those games, leaving us with the 76ers contest. Look, the Celtics roster is clearly better than Philly’s, but Brad Stevens and company are going to have to understand the importance of sacrificing this game. This single game could hold the value of moving up one spot in the lottery — or not falling back a spot, depending on which way you want to look at it.
On top of that, unless the 14-win Bucks finish on a hot streak, the 76ers have nothing to lose by winning games now. They are six wins behind the Magic and Celtics, so even if they win out they still hold the second spot in the lottery. Essentially, I am saying the 76ers can stop tanking and it will not affect their lottery odds. Monday night in Philadelphia is the Celtics’ biggest game of the season.
This is all premature, as we have no clue what will happen in these games. The Magic are hot, maybe they can win another one and the C’s finish with sole possession of the third lottery spot. Maybe Orlando’s schedule is too much and Boston slips back to the fourth spot. Then there is the event of a tie, which actually is more likely at this point — both teams could easily go winless the rest of the season. If Boston and Orlando share the third-worst record in the NBA, they would split the lottery odds of third and fourth down the middle — a 42.4 percent chance at a top-three pick and an 89.4 percent chance at a top-five pick each.
|Celtics tie franchise record with 13th straight road loss||04.09.14 at 10:15 pm ET|
The Celtics continued their losing ways, dropping their ninth straight game, losing to the Hawks, 105-97, Wednesday night in Atlanta.
The defeat was also the Celts’ 13th straight road loss, tying a franchise record originally set in 1979. The C’s only two road wins over their last 15 games away from TD Garden came against the NBA’s two worst teams, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.
The Celtics are now tied with Orlando for the third-worst record in the NBA, standing at 23-55. They have four games remaining, playing the Bobcats and Wizards at home, with road games against Cleveland and the Sixers.
Milwaukee owns the NBA’s worst mark at 14-63, while Philly stands at 17-61. Utah (24-54) and the Lakers (25-53) are right behind Boston and Orlando.
Doing in the Celtics against the Hawks — who are clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference — was a fourth quarter in which the C’s were outscored 35-20.
|Jeff Goodman on D&C: Celtics could go with Noah Vonleh||04.09.14 at 12:17 pm ET|
ESPN college basketball insider Jeff Goodman joined Dennis & Callahan on Wednesday to talk about the Celtics and who they could draft, Duke star Jabari Parker, and the rumors about John Calipari going to the Laker. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
With the Celtics out of playoff contention and the season almost over, Celtics observers are looking at the upcoming NBA draft. Goodman sees a variety of players who could fit the Celtics, depending on where they are picking.
“If they go six, I would say a guy like Noah Vonleh,” Goodman said. “Local kid, from the North shore. Played in Indiana this past season. He’s about a [6-foot-9 1/2] 4 man and can kind of be a little bit of a 3. Played 5 this year at Indiana. A great, great high-character kid. He’s only going to get better. I think he’d be in the mix if they pick somewhere around that six range.”
Added Goodman: “They really need to get in the top three, and then if they’re drafting four or five, you’re probably talking about picking from a group of Julius Randle, who we saw really struggle the other night in Kentucky. Dante Exum, that combo guard from Australia who’s really athletic, got size, about 6-5. But a lot of people don’t whether he’s a 1 or a 2. Many people haven’t seen him against high-quality competition.”
Parker and Andrew Wiggins are considered two of the top prospects, with many analysts going back and forth on who is better. Goodman prefers Parker, comparing him to Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony.
“He’s as much of a given in this draft that you can’t miss,” Goodman said. “I know people are going to say, well, you shoot for the stars and Andrew Wiggins could be — I don’t know, who do they say, Tracy McGrady I guess. Jabari Parker could be Carmelo without some of the issues. That’s how good he is offensively. That’s how good he’s going to be. You’re not missing on Jabari Parker. But the bottom end of Jabari Parker, this is the worst-case scenario to me, is he’s a 13[-point] and six[-assist] guy. The top end is he’s Carmelo and he’s averaging 22 [points] and eight [assists].”