|Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Free agents to watch in ’15||05.14.14 at 11:02 am ET|
In my last column, I wrote about some free agents who potentially could catch Danny Ainge‘s eye this summer. However, if you expect a 2007-ish rebuild to happen overnight again, I’m afraid your expectations are too high. The Celtics are going to take a couple of years to build back up, making 2015 an equally important offseason.
A lot can happen between now and next summer, but a strong free agent class is anticipated. Much like the last column, not all of the names may look like fits now, but under the right circumstances could be in the future. Following is a handful of names that should be on Ainge’s radar for 2015.
Brook Lopez – First and foremost, Lopez needs to prove he can stay healthy. He’s had serious foot issues so far in the NBA, but he also is one of the best scoring centers in the league when healthy. Lopez is a legit 7-footer, something Ainge is looking for in his next big man.
Lopez signed a four-year extension in 2012, but 2015-16 is a player option, so he could choose to opt out if the Nets begin to fade from contention. The Nets have the potential to implode over the next couple of seasons due to age and bad contracts. Even as players begin to come off the books, Brooklyn still should be over the cap for years to come, making the team’s future a delicate situation.
This signing would be a risk, but if the price is right, Lopez could be the perfect fit next to Jared Sullinger … on offense, that is. Defensively Ainge still would need to find a solution. That said, a frontcourt that features and healthy Lopez and Sullinger is scary for any team to face.
Robin Lopez – For twin brothers, Robin and Brook sure have different games. Robin is much more of a low-post defender and shot-blocker than his brother, but he is nowhere near as developed on offense.
With the scoring ability of Sullinger, Robin would be just as good a fit as his brother in Boston. Robin would not be leaned upon to score, allowing him to do what he does best — defend and rebound. He has had a ton of success in Portland this season playing alongside scorers, including in the playoffs. The more I think about it, despite Brook’s All-Star appearance; Robin is the Lopez brother to watch in 2015.
|Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Free agent possibilities for Celtics this offseason||05.01.14 at 12:33 pm ET|
After a flurry of draft-related news, we finally have reached a standstill. The date for underclassmen to declare has passed, and as expected all the big names are in. So what do we have to look forward to?
The draft combine will take place in Chicago from May 14-18, and it’s something Celtics fans will want to keep an eye on. Many of the top prospects will attend, a great way to gauge how each player looks on the exact same measuring stick. Much of the Celtics‘ destiny relies on May 20, when the lottery reveals what pick Boston will hold. Of course, June 26 is the actual draft date, when everything will come to a head.
But the draft is not the only way to acquire talent this summer. Whether Danny Ainge decides to use or trade his draft picks, there is a solid free agent pool that Ainge will not be able to ignore. Trading for Kevin Love is the sexy solution to Boston’s problems at the moment, and it’s not all that unrealistic. Other stars are bound to be available come draft day as well.
Draft picks and trades rely on different variables, however. You can’t make a GM trade you a player, nor can you make a player fall to you in the draft. Free agents, on the other hand, come with far less complications. Of course they can choose their destination (or be matched by their current team if they are restricted), but there is nothing standing in Ainge’s way of pursuing free agents this summer.
With that said, following is a look at some free agents who have a realistic chance of at least being on Boston’s radar.
Lance Stephenson – Stephenson has had a breakout season for the recently struggling Pacers. At one point, this looked like a team destined to stay together. But Indy is self-destructing in the first-round against eighth-seeded Atlanta. Something will need to change next season.
|Danny Ainge on all things Celtics, including trades||04.16.14 at 9:13 pm ET|
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge addressed the media before the final game of the regular season. Here’s a transcript of his press conference (with a few notes sprinkled in between).
On the season: “It was a long season — I guess not that long — but it was a tough, tough year, and I saw a lot of positive things from individuals. I thought our team gave good effort most nights. I think consistency was our biggest challenge, and I don’t think the team was a great fit, great mix, but individually I like what I saw in almost every player. I just feel like we didn’t have the size inside to protect the rim. I thought that was a big factor that cost us a lot of games. And we didn’t finish a lot of games down the stretch.”
(Notice Ainge liked what he saw from “almost every player.” One comes to mind. His name rhymes with Ref Mean.)
On the personnel: “I think we started the season out very concerned with the personnel. I thought Vitor [Faverani] gave us some size at times; his injury hurt us some there. He was a rookie and playing inconsistent, but showing signs of being a presence inside. I think all the way up the trade deadline we looked at opportunities to make our team better, but we wouldn’t sacrifice draft picks to make us better for just this year. But we look for opportunities to make our team better in the longterm.”
(Take note that Ainge offered the caveat of “just this year” in regard to trading draft picks.)
On Brad Stevens: “I think Brad did a great job this year. He’s a special person and a great coach, and the players see it. The players see his work ethic, they see his integrity, and they see his intelligence, so I think he’s earned the respect of the team in a really difficult situation this year. And I know he’s going to get better. He’ll be better next year, and he’ll be better the next year. He’s a sponge, and he’s very intelligent with a great work ethic, and I couldn’t be happier. … I have no worries about Brad. Brad is maybe the only thing in this whole organization I’m not concerned about.”
(As for those “rumblings” that were reported recently, it doesn’t sound like the coach is going anywhere.)
On the future: “I don’t know. How does anybody know that? What do you want me to like make a prediction or something? I don’t know anything about what we can do. I’m hopeful. I’ll work my tail off to duplicate what we’ve done in the past, but there are no guarantees.”
(That “I don’t know anything about what we can do” is a little reality check, huh?)
|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.
|Double ’07: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Celtics captaincy||03.26.14 at 10:47 am ET|
This is the first 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.)
Zero score and seven years ago, Ainge faced a decision that would influence the next decade of his once great franchise: a) Trade a perennial All-Star in his prime to rebuild around a young core and a top-10 draft pick, or b) Trade that young core and the top-10 draft pick to reconstruct around his Celtics captain. Sound familiar?
As the 2014 NBA draft approaches, Ainge will be faced with the same choice he made in 2007. Therefore, the Celtics must first answer a pair of questions: 1) Do they value Rajon Rondo at age 28 the same way they did Paul Pierce at 29? and 2) Who is available at what price? Here, like Ainge, we’ll examine the former first, as it will influence every other decision made this summer (as well as the ensuing posts in this series).
|Weekly NBA Draft Watch: March Madness could reveal sleeper pick for Celtics||03.20.14 at 9:23 am ET|
The C’s had an exciting win against the LeBron James-less Heat on Wednesday night. Sure, it was fun to see Rajon Rondo lead the charge against a quality team, but what does it really mean? This season is already lost, so what it means is a five-game losing streak has been halted, dropping Boston two spots to the sixth lottery spot. The win lowered the C’s current chance at a top-three pick by 16 percent. You never know how the season is going to end, but all signs point to a tight lottery race. Was the thrill of Wednesday worth it if the Celtics finish one win ahead of the Lakers?
Enter the beginning of March Madness, the greatest four-day stretch in sports.
We know that there will be ample buzzer-beaters and upsets, there always are. Brackets will be ripped to shreds (as mine always is), others will turn into lottery tickets (just not the kind Danny Ainge is chasing). No bets are safe come March Madness, but feel free to learn the hard way if you must. Nobody needs any extra incentive to enjoy the most entertaining tournament we have as sports fans. However, this year Celtics fans will have one extra reason to pay attention — draft picks.
Don’t forget that outside of Boston’s hyped first-rounder, Ainge also will own Brooklyn or Atlanta’s pick, which could end up being a player who breaks out in the tournament. We already know the talent players like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and even Marcus Smart posses. A bad tournament will not lower their draft stock, but a breakout tournament could boost their NBA stock even higher. There is no clear cut No. 1 overall pick, but Celtics fans obviously would love to see any top-tier talent arrive in Boston.
The immediate franchise changers will be determined by the ping-pong balls, the hunt for the rest of the stars begins with the later picks. Once the premier talent is off the board, a lot of the next prospects to be taken in the draft are players that raised their stock in March. I didn’t even know who Kenneth Faried was until Morehead State upset Louisville in 2011. After watching him play one game, I had no doubt he was a lottery talent in that year’s draft. Kind of an extreme example, but March matters.
Who is 2014’s Faried? Can Ainge get his hands on him? And most importantly, can he develop a better nickname than ‘The Manamal’ in the NBA? Time will tell.
|Danny Ainge: Rajon Rondo was asked not to skip flight but did anyhow||03.05.14 at 2:57 pm ET|
While saying that he wanted to move past the Rajon Rondo controversy regarding the point guard skipping a team flight to Sacramento, Celtics president of Danny Ainge revealed Wednesday morning that the team knew of Rondo’s plans in advance and requested that he remain with the team.
Rondo stayed in Los Angeles to celebrate his 28th birthday with his family rather than accompany the team to a game he was not going to play in order to rest his legs.
“He let Brad [Stevens] know and he let me know that he was going to stay in L.A. an extra day, and we didn’t think that he should,” Ainge told Boston’s CBS Sports radio station. “But it was his choice and [we told him] there may be consequences if you stay. It was that simple.”
Added Ainge: “In the end, him and I had a long talk about it. He planned it before and he had reason to believe it would be OK. I understand his reason because of what he’s grown up with and what he’s witnessed. You won’t see it happen again, and we’ve just moved on from it.
“I think that now Rondo understands more clearly what we want out of him as a captain. That we want him on the road with the team, and his leadership on the bench is important whether he plays or doesn’t.”
Ainge insisted he had “nothing major to hide” regarding the controversy, and that it’s something that’s been ironed out.
“I talked with Rondo about why he did what he did,” Ainge said “I didn’t agree with it, but we had a good talk and we’re over it.”
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