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NBA Celtics Marcus Morris and Wizards Markieff Morris

Morris Twins Assault Trial Starts Monday

The Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics may not have long to wait to find out if and when they may have the services of Markieff and Marcus Morris this season. Jury selection is complete and their assault trial stemming from an incident a couple of years ago in Phoenix is set to start on Monday as described by Terell Wilkins and Adrian Marsh on azcentral.com.

Opening statements are scheduled to begin Monday in the aggravated assault trial of NBA players and identical twins Markieff and Marcus Morris, along with another man charged with them.

Two other defendants, Julius Kane and Christopher Melendez, chose to avoid trial and instead pleaded guilty on Wednesday to two counts of aggravated assault

The twins were playing for the Phoenix Suns at the time of the incident and the team quickly got out from under the potential issue by trading both players, so the ramifications basketball-wise now fall squarely on the two Eastern Conference teams vying for a top four seed in their conference.

Police say Erik Hood (the victim) identified the Morris twins as being part of the group that attacked him to the point of unconsciousness after hearing rumors that Hood had been sending “inappropriate” texts to their mother, Thomasine Morris.

While the facts of the case are yet to be determined in court and the Morris twins insist they were not part of the group that attacked Hood, the repercussions of a guilty verdict are serious. Nik DeCosta-Klipa on Boston.com provides a very detailed outline of the case and the potential implications for the players and their teams.

University of New Hampshire sports law professor Michael McCann noted that, under Arizona state law, the felony assault charges against Morris carry “a maximum prison sentence of 3.75 years and a presumptive sentence of 2.5 years.”

Given that Morris’s criminal history includes just one citation for misdemeanor battery, McCann says its unlikely he would receive “anywhere near the maximum sentence,” but could very well still face “some time behind bars or at least a suspended sentence, probation and required community service.”

Even a conviction not involving actual jail time is likely to elicit a response from the NBA and a suspension of 10 games or more.

Section 7 of the current NBA collective bargaining agreement mandates a minimum 10-game suspension for any player convicted of a violent felony

the commissioner has the right to punish players for lesser convictions

In the current environment, the NBA would likely feel compelled to suspend the Morris twins on admission of guilt to a misdemeanor charge or even on the settlement of a civil suit.

Hood reportedly suffered “a broken nose, a large knot on the back of his head and abrasions,” according to police records, and later identified Kane and the Morris twins as three of the five people involved in the attack.

In October 2016, Hood’s lawyers also filed a civil lawsuit against the Morris twins and the three other defendants, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

The Morris twins are very good basketball players with important roles on their respective teams. They’ve even suggested this incident would never have gotten to trial if it weren’t for their minor celebrity status.

However, the media reports over the past couple of years do seem to confirm this isn’t a nothing incident exaggerated by an overzealous police force and piled on by the media. It’s understandable why the Suns didn’t want to have to deal with the issue.

This trial could be over before training camps open, so no one in Boston or Washington is expected to be waiting long to find out if this is a serious matter that could impact their team this season or just an annoying public relations problem.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Jae Crowder

Is Jae Crowder The Jewel Of the Cavs – Celtics Trade?

Jae Crowder had to be included in the Celtics trade for Cavs star Kyrie Irving. Isaiah Thomas is on a bargain contract and they needed Crowder’s salary to make the trade math work, but before next season is over, he could be seen as the jewel of deal.

Crowder produced for the Celtics last year. Second in points scored during the regular season with 999, ahead of Al Horford’s 952 points and the best three-point shooter on the team averaging 39.8 percent on 5.5 attempts. Crowder was a two-way player who could hit the three and in today’s NBA that’s one valuable guy.

He was seen as a throw in when Boston got him in a trade with Dallas in 2014, but he became so much more than that as described by Basketball Insiders Jesse Blancarte. 

At the time, Crowder was 24 years old and his career-statistics up to that point didn’t give much reason to believe he would become such a valuable contributor down the road. However, Crowder became exactly that in his time in Boston and now takes his talents to the Cavaliers – a team that is still looking for ways to bridge the gap with the Golden State Warriors.

Crowder has been seen by some as a throw in again this time around, but he could be the difference-maker the Cavaliers need to challenge the best in the West in the Finals.

With so many cutters and relentless passing, the Warriors exploited every one of LeBron and his teammates’ mistakes on defense during the Finals. Injecting a versatile defender like Crowder could have made a significant difference in that Finals matchup.

The Cavaliers could now use a lineup including J.R. Smith, Crowder, James and Tristan Thompson, which should be formidable and could maybe make up for the defensive shortcomings of point guards Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose.

The Cavs new forward isn’t a one season wonder either. He got his opportunity to play starter’s minutes in Boston and he produced across the board over the past two seasons. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens let him play and Crowder rewarded his confidence with offensive production and a rapidly improving jump shot.

Crowder should find his offensive opportunities improved in Cleveland playing with a superstar who likes to set up his teammates in LeBron James and other shooters opposing defenders can’t leave in Smith, Love, Korver and Frye. The high powered offense of the Cavs should give Crowder even more opportunities to show off his complete game.

Crowder is one of those players who makes his team better in a number areas that are hard to notice, which is why it’s easy to overlook how significant of an addition he is for Cleveland.

While he may become a jewel on the court, he’s an even more valuable addition to the money-losing Cavs in the front office.

Now on the team with the highest payroll in the NBA and an estimated luxury tax bill approaching $60 million for the upcoming season, Crowder will likely be the only player in Cleveland averaging double-digit scoring that doesn’t have an eight figure salary. He earns a bargain $6.8 million this year and $7.3 million and $7.8 million in the following two seasons. He may be the best bargain not on a rookie contract in the entire league.

With Thomas looking for $30+ million a season next year and Irving demanding a $200+ million max extension the year after that, it’s players like Crowder who make those kinds of deals work under a punitive luxury tax system.  A real jewel of an acquisition.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Boston Celtics Kyrie Irving and Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and Washington Wizards John Wall

The Best Big 3s In The NBA East

No one could say this summer in the NBA has been boring and it’s been big name players from the Eastern Conference making most of the noise. But the dust has settled, those big names have found new homes and the best Big 3s in the NBA East remain on the best teams from last season.

There was only four wins between the first place Celtics and the fourth place Wizards last year and in the 2017-18 regular season no one should be expecting it to have gotten any easier for the best in the East despite the player movement.

Your Big 3s for this season are:

Boston Celtics – last year 53 wins

Three current or former All-Stars: Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.

Fourth? Marcus Morris averaged 14 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2 assists and shot 33.1 percent from three last season with a dysfunctional Pistons squad.

Last year the Celtics best 3 was Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford with Jae Crowder as a fourth, but as Horford is the only returning starter, chemistry could take quite a while to develop.

Cleveland Cavaliers – last year 51 wins

Three current All-Stars: Isaiah Thomas*, LeBron James and Kevin Love.

*If Thomas doesn’t start the season on time, one-time MVP Derrick Rose will fill in.

Fourth? Jae Crowder averaged 13.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and shot 39.8 percent from three last year with the first place Celtics.

Toronto Raptors – last year 51 wins

Two current All-Stars: Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka.

Note: Ibaka was acquired at the trade deadline last season. Toronto has four of last year’s five starters since the All-Star break.

Fourth? C.J. Miles averaged 10.7 points and 3 rebounds in 23.4 minutes with the Pacers last season and was acquired for his three-point shooting of 41.3 percent.

Washington Wizards – last year 49 wins

One current All-Star: John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter.

Fourth? Markieff Morris averaged 14 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and shot 36.2 percent from three last season.

Note: The Wizards are the only team from last year’s top four in the East to return all five starters. They should look good right out of the gate.

The Best?

Based on the players individual stats from last season, the new Big 3s add up like this:

Best Scoring Big 3

1st: Cavs 74.3 points

2nd: Raptors 64.5 points

3rd: Celtics 61.1 points

4th: Wizards 59.6 points.

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 averages 10.9 fewer points based on last year’s production which would still be good for second best.

Best Rebounding Big 3

1st: Cavs 22.4 rebounds

2nd: Raptors 16.8 rebounds

3rd: Celtics 15.4 rebounds

4th: Wizards 13.7 rebounds

Note: The Cavaliers, Raptors and Wizards all have above average rebounders outside of their top four players. The Celtics had the second worst rebounding differential in the East last season and have done nothing to improve the situation this summer.

Most Big 3 Assists

1st: Cavs 16.5 assists

2nd: Wizards 15.7 assists

3rd: Celtics 14.3 assists

4th: Raptors 11.8 assists

Best Big 3 Field Goal Percentage

1st: Cavs 48.2 percentage

2nd: Wizards 47.8 percent

3rd: Celtics 47.4 percent

4th Raptors 46.9 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 field goal percentage would be better based on last season.

Best Big 3 Three-point Shooting

1st: Cavs 7.3 makes at 37.2 percent

2nd: Wizards 5.9 makes at 39.3 percent

3rd: Celtics 5.8 makes at 39.2 percent

4th: Raptors 5.2 makes at 38.5 percent

Note: If Rose replaces Thomas, the Cavs Big 3 makes 3 fewer threes a game.

Wild Card

The Milwaukee Bucks have their own potential Big 3 in Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Kris Middleton, except for the fact the 22-year-old Parker tore his ACL and may not be back until after January.

Conclusion

If Thomas doesn’t miss too many games, the Cavaliers Big 3 looks to maintain their level of dominance over the rest of the Eastern Conference, but even if he doesn’t return to his prior form, Cleveland still has a Big 3 that will compete with the rest of the best.

The East has four teams with Big 3s that should lead their respective clubs to over 50 wins next season. But has anything really changed?

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

Cavaliers and Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving

Cavs Cold Feet Could Be Good News For Raptors And Wizards

So the Cleveland Cavaliers are either getting a case of cold feet or just looking for an opportunity to extort another asset from the rival Celtics, but either way, this could be good news for the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards.

The Cavs rookie general manager Koby Altman had already fleeced the Celtics by nabbing both the 23rd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, rookie center Ante Zizic plus the the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick in the Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving trade.

Altman only got that much because Thomas wasn’t ready to play when the trade was made. He had seen the medical reports before Friday’s physical. He knew Thomas and the Celtics had agreed on rest and rehabilitation instead of surgery. If he’s seen as having second thoughts now or even just asks for more assets, he may as well just call an already upset and potentially fragile Thomas a liar or a fool to his face.

Worse, backing out now, as is Altman’s right, means he’ll have to deal with an even bigger problem when he faces a very unhappy Irving whose trade value just crashed, doesn’t want to be there and likely believes, with cause, Altman just screwed with him.  This wouldn’t end well.

Joe Vardon on Cleveland.com reports,

The Cavaliers are indeed pausing to consider a “concern that we have” regarding Isaiah Thomas’ right hip

the team is conducting a “very deep and thorough review process” on Thomas

The Cavs’ options, ostensibly, would be to void the trade, which in Cleveland’s case would mean taking Irving back after a tumultuous breakup and sending away a potential lottery pick.

If the rookie GM was on the ball, he’d be out there squashing this speculation and assuring Thomas they want him in Cleveland – even if it wasn’t true.

Sometimes good business is making sure your assets aren’t going to be mad at you after you’re done.

Don’t believe for a minute NBA players aren’t influenced by the articles they read, ESPN talk show speculation and social media. Altman needs to get out ahead of this.

The biggest beneficiaries of Altman’s apparent indecision will be/ may already be/ the Raptors and Wizards who are both bringing back the cores from last season’s teams and if the Cavs and Celtics are in disarray, could find nothing to stop them from going on big early season runs in a weakened Eastern Conference that their rivals will not be able to overtake.

The only saving grace in all of this for Altman is if his medical team believes Thomas won’t be ready to play this season and the Celtics were trying to pawn off damaged goods on them. But if that’s the case, he should have just rescinded the trade on Friday.

Anyone missing David Griffin right about now?

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Boston Celtics Al Horford and Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward 2017

Danny Ainge Plays Fantasy Basketball With Celtics Players

Most teams would tell you chemistry matters. That building around a core of players creates an identity and long term success. So when the Boston Celtics finally got back to the Eastern Conference Finals after four years of not getting past the first round of the playoffs, it was a surprise when president of basketball operations Danny Ainge blew the team up in order to play a real life version of fantasy basketball.

The Celtics will start the 2017-18 season with just one returning player from last season’s starting lineup plus three young guys they hope are ready for bigger roles, but ditching 11 guys hasn’t meant the Celtics are intending to tank.

Ainge added talent he believes will make his team better than last year and the direction came from the top as Chris Villani indicated in the Boston Herald after the Celtics traded away another two starters in Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to acquire the Cavs Kyrie Irving.

“We are really excited about the trade, although it’s bittersweet to let somebody go like IT, let somebody go like Jae,” (Celtics co-owner Wyc) Grousbeck said. “Kyrie is a transcendent talent, and we are excited to put him together with Gordon Hayward, Al Horford, Marcus Smart, we want this team to go for banner 18 and we need to get the best possible players to do that, and that’s what we are trying to do.”

(The four returning players from 2016-17 in bold)

Those trying to sell the Celtics based on the team’s culture and history should realize the best player returning from last year, Al Horford, has only been with the team for one season and the new “big 3” in Boston that now includes Irving and Hayward have never played together before. This triumvirate will need to work some things out.

In terms of chemistry, this new starting lineup will likely also have to figure out how to incorporate newcomer Marcus Morris and one of second year wing Jaylen Brown or fourth year guard Marcus Smart into a starting role at shooting guard.

Other additions, Shane Larkin and Aron Baynes, aren’t an improvement over anyone the Celtics had last season and only further complicate things, plus there’s five rookies on guaranteed contracts and other than this year’s third overall pick Jayson Tatum, they’re all big question marks.

Guerschon Yabusele 16th pick in 2016, Semi Ojeleye 37th pick, Abdel Nader 58th pick, undrafted Daniel Theis, plus a couple of camp invitees fighting for the 15th roster spot.

Head coach Brad Stevens is going to have has hands full at the start of this season just deciding on who’s in his rotation and how best to incorporate everybody.

While there’s hope things come together quickly in Boston or at least before the end of the regular season, the real objective of all these fantasy basketball moves was long term success.

“We got bounced pretty hard last year in the playoffs, and then those guys got bounced pretty hard after that,” Grousbeck, referencing the Cavs and Irving losing to the Warriors in the finals, told reporters this morning at the topping off ceremony for the Celtics’ new training facility, the Auerbach Center at New Balance World Headquarters in Brighton. “So we didn’t feel we were at the top, we didn’t feel we were where we wanted to be, so that’s what you do when you run a team, you do what you have to do to try to get better.”

No one should doubt the start of the season would go a lot easier with Thomas, Avery Bradley and Crowder still in the starting lineup and at least of couple of last year’s veteran big men in the mix to provide some stability. Even the Celtics owner isn’t so blind with pride as to predict an easy transition to the new roster.

“I am not going to make any predictions about that, I think we are in a good positions to present Celtic pride well,” (Grousbeck) said. “We have a good, up-and-coming team, a strong team, a young team, with more youth on the way. So we want to be good for a sustained period of time and it starts now.”

All of these moves represent a risk. Will Hayward make the Celtics better than keeping Bradley? Does flipping Thomas and Crowder for Irving improve the team this year and beyond? How many teams have enjoyed playoff success with five or (gasp) six rookies on the roster?

If Boston gets off to a slow start no one should be surprised. Grousbeck said, “I am not going to make any predictions” with good reason. This team, this group of players has never played together before. It is going to take time to recreate the chemistry of last season. This is about being better long term, so don’t hold your breath or read too much into what happens straight out of the gate.

The Celtics have allowed Ainge to make bold moves with their roster just like a fan in a fantasy basketball draft at the start of the season and there will be fans of other teams wishing their owner(s) and management was brave enough do the same.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving

Cavs Fleece Celtics In Trade For Kyrie Irving

Sometimes you just have to tip your hat as the Cleveland Cavaliers new general manager Koby Altman pulls off a blockbuster trade for his disgruntled All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving by fleecing the Boston Celtics for All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas, 3-and-D forward Jae Crowder and the 23rd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, rookie center Ante Zizic plus the the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first round pick as reported on NBA.com.

The Celtics are happy with the trade. Thomas was demanding a max contract next summer and to put things bluntly, he was a defensive hole in Boston’s defense that division rival Toronto walked thru with ease last season. However, in Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge own words, he gave up a lot in Jae Crowder that will immediately help the Cavaliers this season and going forward in part because of his very team friendly contract.

“Jae’s toughness was contagious for our team. He improved his skills each year, but it’s his energy and fight that will be remembered,” said Ainge.

Crowder was one of the Celtics better defenders and at 39.8 percent, one of their best three-point shooters. He’ll fit in perfectly on the Cavaliers and with LeBron James finding him opportunities to score this season, he’ll undoubtedly produce more than last year’s 13.9 points per game.

The Celtics wanted Irving because he is an elite offensive player with two full years (plus a player option) left on his deal at about $20 million per season.

“Kyrie is one of the best scorers in the NBA. He has proven that on the biggest stage, the NBA Finals, the last three years,” said Ainge. “He’s been an NBA Champion, an Olympic Gold Medalist, and a four-time All-Star. For all he’s accomplished, we think his best years are ahead of him.”

Irving is all of what Aigne gushed over and at 6’3, he is harder to abuse defensively than the diminutive 5’9 Thomas. However, Thomas averaged 28.9 points per game last year compared to 25.2 points from Irving, so James shouldn’t feel like he’s lost anything in terms of scoring with his new guard.

The other players Aigne give up in this deal were surplus to the Celtics. Crowder was standing in the way of this year’s third overall draft pick Jayson Tatum and last year’s third overall draft pick Jaylen Brown. His departure opens up minutes for two players the Celtics are justifiably very high on.

However, the Celtics fixing their overstaffed roster to make room for rookies and sophomores doesn’t preclude the Cavs from walking away as the big winners in this deal.

They get a year with Thomas before he can enter free agency at the same time as the tight-lipped James, so if James isn’t re-signing next summer, they can start the rebuild phase with three additional desirable and controllable young pieces in Crowder, Zizic and the Nets draft pick.

In the meantime, the Cavs head into the upcoming season without an unhappy Irving and a replacement at guard in Thomas that shouldn’t diminish their chances at returning to the NBA Finals plus a hard working 3-and-D forward that should improve their slim chance at getting past the Warriors in the West.

“This trade needed to include both players and assets that we felt strongly could help us continue to compete for championships and we believe it does,” said Altman. “We look forward to Isaiah, Jae and Ante joining us and also felt that the unprotected first round pick in the deal was very important for us and our future as well.”

The Celtics can only be described as heading into the season as a big question mark. A roster that was first in the East with 53 wins will start the year without four of their top six scorers from last season and only four returning players in Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

While the additions of Gordon Hayward and Irving are impressive, any team with this many changes to key rotation players can’t be expected to get off to a fast start. It’s going to take time for this group to learn to play together and gel as a unit.

A rough start to the 2017-18 season should be anticipated in Boston with the Cavs looking like they completely fleeced the Celtics on this trade.

 

  

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyrie Irving and Boston Celtics Isaiah Thomas

Cavs Talking Trade Kyrie Irving For Celtics Isaiah Thomas

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting the Cleveland Cavaliers are in talks to trade Kyrie Irving to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic.

The big question in this trade is, who got better?

My money is on the Cavs, big time. Who do you got?

 

 

 

NBA Boston Celtics Jae Crowder and Utah Jazz Gordon Hayward

Celtics Pursuing A Sign And Trade For Gordon Hayward

The Celtics still don’t have enough salary cap space to sign Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward to the max contract they promised, so they’ve been running around looking for someone to take on Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and/or Avery Bradley and leave them with enough room to complete the deal as reported by Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN One of the better options, if the Jazz and Hayward will agree, would be a sign and trade for one of the players they are trying to move and possibly some of the other “assets” the Celtics could be forced to dump.

The Boston Celtics have been aggressively trying to create enough salary-cap room … by discussing trades involving Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley

The Jazz and Celtics discussed on Wednesday the possibility of including Crowder in a sign-and-trade agreement for Hayward

The amount the Celtics are short could be as low as $300,000 if they can jump thru enough less painful flaming hoops than giving away one of their players that has actual real trade value.

even if the team renounced the rights to Jonas Jerebko, James Young and Gerald Green, waived Jordan Mickey, left 2016 first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele in Europe this season and traded Demetrius Jackson’s partially guaranteed contract and Terry Rozier, Boston … is still about $300,000 short of his max.

From a practical standpoint, when teams know you are trying to dump a contract to create room to complete another deal, they are going to take advantage, but Boston does have the assets to grease just about anything if they want to.

A trade with a third team to create space or a sign and trade with the Jazz can accomplish the same thing. This will just come down to finding the “best” way to get it done.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge and Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Should Just Go For It This Season

Already deep in luxury tax territory and unsuccessfully looking to dump contracts even at the expense of potentially getting worse, Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri should be looking to do more than just being a top four team in the Eastern Conference. He should got for it and take his shot at getting to the NBA Finals.

As Basketball Insiders senior writer Joel Brigham reported recently, overall the East has gotten weaker with Jimmy Butler, Paul George and Paul Millsap heading west. The top four in the East aren’t about to change, although maybe things between the top teams could become at least a little more interesting.

Cleveland, Boston, Toronto and Washington look almost certain to keep their top-four status in the conference simply by bringing back the same players they had a year ago. Add Milwaukee to that conversation, too

Chicago, Indiana and Atlanta all made the playoffs last year but each will vie for the conference’s worst record next season after losing their stars

Boston took the first steps towards becoming more competitive with the Cavs by getting Gordon Hayward’s commitment for next season. Although they still have more moves left to create the needed cap space to sign Hayward and they’ll probably want to do something about carrying four small forwards that all need to play next season.

Expect the Wizards to match anything restricted free agent Otto Porter signs on July 6th.

The Raptors will bring back starters Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, but have lost rotation players P.J. Tucker and Patrick Patterson to free agency and are rumored to be looking to dump salary because of luxury tax concerns.

All three of these pretenders will be competitive during the regular season, but unless they have another major move up their sleeve, no one is going to give them more than a puncher’s chance at knocking off a healthy Cavs squad in the playoffs.

The Celtics with Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward still need rebounding and they have the trade pieces to go get a difference maker. Of course the Celtics with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Brooklyn’s 2018 first round draft pick could choose to tread water as a 50-win team while their young guys develop instead?

Built around John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Wizards will have continuity and if they can find some offense off the bench, it can be argued they don’t need anything else, but they really need that bench to step up.

The Raptors are built around Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Ibaka, but like the Celtics, they need another impact player if they are going to be more than pretenders in the East.

(Players shown in the positions they would like to play)

The Raptors could make do with the players they have, even if it isn’t practical luxury tax wise. Delon Wright has the size to play on the wing. DeMarre Carroll can play both forward spots and Ibaka can play power forward (like he has for most of his career.) But this isn’t the best use of team resources.

The favored move seems to be to find a team to take on Carroll’s salary to solve the luxury tax issue, but this doesn’t help re-balance the roster or help move the needle of the team’s outlook for next season.

No, Ujiri needs to go big if this team is going to be significantly better than last season. He needs to add an impact player, preferably while reducing his luxury tax position.

Once teams can actually start signing free agents on July 6th and reality sets in around the league, trade season can start in earnest and there is one multiple-time All-Star rumored to have shopped around at the draft because he wasn’t happy, the Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge.

The almost 32-year-old five-time All-Star power forward wasn’t named to the All-Star team for first time since 2012 last year. He posted his lowest scoring (17.3 points per game), fewest field goals made (6.9) and worst rebounding numbers (7.3) since his rookie season way back in 2006-07. However, he was still an impact player and as has been a big man trend, he added a three-point shot and hit 41 percent of his 56 attempts last season.

In addition to Aldridge being unhappy, general manager R.C. Burford isn’t going to have star point guard Tony Parker to start the season, if at all. It doesn’t look like free agency is going all that well either besides the return of Patty Mills, so an aging Spurs team could use some young ready-to-go players for next season.

If the Raptors sent Jonas Valanciunas, Cory Joseph and Lucas Nogueira to the Spurs for Aldridge, the Raptors would get another impact player who can shoot plus shave $4.5 million off their payroll, and the Spurs would get to fill some holes with a young starting center, a backup point guard they know well and a young developing big man.

The Raptors tax situation becomes a lot more palatable and the players fall into roles they prefer/fit.

If Aldridge can re-gain his All-Star form of a year ago, which should be a lot easier in the NBA East, Toronto would at least get a second look as a potential competitor for the Cavs come playoff time.

At this point in early July, nothing is set in stone, however, expect the Celtics to make a move to address those rebounding concerns, look for the Wizards bench to improve and the Raptors will do … something.

Ujiri created a three-year window with the contracts of DeRozan, Lowry and Ibaka, so he may as well go for it this year if he can and there may be no better opportunity to snag an impact player than the situation in San Antonio with Aldridge. That is unless Danny Ainge beats him to it.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

   Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

NBA Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward Admits He’s joining The Celtics

So what we were waiting for was Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward to write a thank you piece in The Player’s Tribune. Hayward and his agent could have saved all of us a lot of grief if they just said this upfront instead the, in hindsight, bizarro response that was handed out.

After seven years in Utah, I have decided to join the Boston Celtics. – Gordon Hayward

Would it have been so hard to say we’ve made a decision and will be announcing it later today?

Okay, that’s done. Maybe this unlocks a few more options and gets free agency and the trade market into full swing.

 

NBA Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward

What’s Next After Gordon Hayward Picks The Celtics?

So Gordon Hayward has picked the Celtics according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and will rejoin his college coach Brad Stevens, but that’s not the end of this story. Not by a long shot. As things sit, Boston doesn’t have the salary cap space to sign Hayward to a max deal as described by ESPN,

Boston would now need a series of transactions to create cap space for Gordon Hayward. The Celtics would have to pull the qualifying offer on Kelly Olynyk, renounce free agents Jonas Jerebko, James Young, Gerald Green and waive the contracts of Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson (or trade). The Celtics would be left with $27.6M in room and likely need to move the contract of Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart. Trading Rozier would have the Celtics short $1M of a max salary a lot.

Bobby Marks, ESPN

Now Hayward’s agent has replied to the news saying no deal has been finalized, so maybe the details are still up in the air, but as noted by Rick Kamla during NBA Summer League, if Hayward was rejoining the Jazz, he would have just said that.

(The article on ESPN has since been edited to reflect Hayward’s agent’s comments.)

The Celtics will look very different next season. Gone will be veteran centers Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynk, stretch four Jonas Jerebko and second year big Jordan Mickey.

Al Horford will be the last big man standing with NBA experience and a team that couldn’t rebound the ball might struggle to ever see another board.

Still on the roster are small forwards Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and this year’s third overall draft pick Jayson Tatum. Even if Hayward is moving to power forward, something has to give and fast. There wasn’t enough minutes to go around at his position before he got there.

And sure Hayward at 6’8 could possibly play a combo forward role in the new small ball NBA, but with Horford averaging 6.6 rebounds and Hayward coming in averaging 6.1 rebounds, the Celtics could well become the worst rebounding team in NBA history. Another move has to be in the cards on this front as well, doesn’t it?

It wouldn’t make sense to just DNP-CD Brown or Tatum next season and the Celtics need a veteran big man. So, the obvious fix is to dangle the team friendly contract of Crowder and see just how good the offers are coming back.

A starting caliber big man or rotation ready young center or power forward with a nose for the ball would go a long ways to re-balancing this guard and wing heavy lineup and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has the extra pieces already on his roster to land a very good player.

Gaining Hayward’s commitment to sign can only be the first step in putting the Celtics into contention for the NBA Finals next season. If ESPN’s Bobby Marks has his math right, Ainge has to dump $3 million in salary and then, from a practical standpoint, he has to find somebody(s) that can rebound.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA GMs Celtics Danny Ainge and 76ers Bryan Colangelo

The 76ers Process Is Over But The Celtics Is Just Starting

By Frank McLean

It was deal that has been speculated to happen over the last few days and it officially became a fact on Monday as the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers made a deal which lets the two teams flip spots in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft.

The Celtics, who had the first pick overall thanks to being the beneficiary of bad deals made by the past management of the Brooklyn Nets, flipped spots with the 76ers who were to pick third.

The Celtics also get for helping the 76ers either a first-round pick in 2018 or 2019. If the Los Angeles Lakers hold a pick between number two and five next season, Boston gets that one. If not, Philadelphia will send Boston either its own first-rounder in 2019 or Sacramento’s first-rounder that year which the Celtics hold the rights to.

This deal is all about the 76ers trying to build a contending team right now while the Celtics stockpile more draft picks to use to get players that can help them – now?

For Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge he now has something to offer teams to get a player that can go with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford and help them keep the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Maybe a phone call to the Indiana Pacers for a one year rent a player like Paul George.

TNT reported over the weekend that George told the Pacers that when his contract runs out next season he plans on leaving and going to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. The Pacers would be wise to trade George now and get something for him now instead of losing him for nothing in free agency.

Like the Raptors and Wizards, the Celtics are looking for the piece to challenge Cleveland for the Eastern Conference title and Golden State for the NBA title.

“This is certainly a trade that is under the microscope more than others,” Ainge said Monday. “But we’re not afraid of that.”

After Monday’s trade the Celtics have SEVEN! First round picks over the next three drafts and that includes Thursday night’s draft.

For the 76ers, well they will get the first pick overall for the second straight season and this time they hope they will get a player that can play.

Last year’s pick Ben Simmons did not play a game a game last season after breaking a bone in his foot. The player it seems they want this year is guard Markelle Fultz of the University of Washington.

Fultz has just one year of college experience. He averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists in 25 games standing out on a team that finished 9-22 and lost its final 13 games. He led the Pac-12 in scoring and finished sixth among all Division One players and led all freshman in scoring.

“We are very pleased with the outcome of this trade, which puts us in the enviable position of selecting first overall in consecutive draft years,” 76ers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. “History suggests that number one has the greatest odds of producing franchise level talent and we are confident that this year’s draft class has that very potential.”

Here’s my take on the trade if you are the Raptors.

For the 76ers, if they draft Fultz, it’s a start but they will not be a playoff factor this year or next year and probably not the year after that.

Fultz joins a core of young potential stars, Jahlil Okafor and 2017 Rookie of the Year finalists Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. But they need players that can help this team contend and that’s going to take about three years to acquire.

Now the Celtics, they have a ton of bargaining chips to make themselves championship contenders with the seven first round draft picks. This has to make the Raptors, Wizards and Cavaliers concerned with the make-up of their current rosters.

If Danny Ainge can get veteran talent to go with what he has that just might be enough for them to win the East outright and get a shot at Golden State or Houston.

However, the one thing the Celtics doesn’t have is rebounding, but they have the chips now and it’s up to Ainge to cash them in.

 

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry DeMar DeRozan Pacers Paul George Raptors PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka

Pacers Star Paul George Puts Himself In Play

Pacers star Paul George has been rumored to be wanting out of Indiana for some time now, but with no action forthcoming from general manager Kevin Pritchard, he decided to put himself in play. He made sure “The Reliable Source” for NBA rumors Adrian Wojnarowski knew he wanted out of town and couldn’t be talked into re-signing next summer.

Make no mistake, the “rumor” and timing was deliberate. By making it seem likely he’ll only be a rental until next season when he can bolt to L.A. as a free agent, teams won’t give away the farm to get him and rebuilding teams won’t even look at the possibility. Plus, less than a week ahead of the NBA draft, good teams with a chance to contend for the conference finals might be willing to part with a prospect and a late first round draft pick and under the circumstances, that’s more than generous.

Pritchard might be hoping the Lakers would ante up some of that young talent, but thanks to Wojnarowski, they’d look like idiots for giving away anything of value for a player they can sign for nothing in a year.

If anyone thinks Boston is going to give up the talent they fleeced the Nets for to take a risk on a rental, they should think again.

The Clippers should be interested in taking a run at acquiring George as it would help them re-sign their own free agents Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and remain relevant in the West. Not having a first or second round draft pick this year doesn’t help their chances though.

The Cavaliers may be temporarily in panic mode (that should pass), but the reality is, unless the Pacers are in love with Kevin Love, they’ll have trouble coming up with a package that Indiana would be interested in.

The Raptors should be the most motivated to take the risk and they do have some young prospects and a first round draft pick. President Masai Ujiri hates giving away any of his young talent, but for a chance at George, it should be possible to convince him to relinquish something Pritchard believes has value in a rebuild.

If Ujiri can re-sign his own free agents (and he believes he can), the Raptors could have a starting lineup of:

Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, P.J. Tucker, and Serge Ibaka.

That just might be good enough to win Toronto first place in the East during the regular season and let the chips fall where they may in the playoffs.

At the very least George has significantly upped the potential for excitement at this year’s draft.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Houston Rockets James Harden and OKC Thunder Russell Westbrook and Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Three Is The Key As Small Ball Rules The NBA

The traditional center in the NBA might not be dead, but unless he can hit a three, small ball rules and he’ll be sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter.

“That’s what the game is going to,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “The days of boom, boom, boom, pound it, pound it, pound it (are over) – you can do it two or three times, but as the game goes on they are going to send bodies, send traps off cutters, traps baseline and it’s clogged up and you’re not going to get anything done.”

The 51-win Raptors were in the bottom third of the league averaging 8.8 made threes on 24.3 attempts and improving on those marks will be a top off season priority.

This year the NBA averaged 9.7 made threes on 27 attempts with Houston leading the charge at 40.3 three-point attempts and Cleveland (33.9), Boston (33.4), Brooklyn (31.6) and Golden State (31.2) rounding out the top five.

It wasn’t all that long ago the leading scorer in the NBA wasn’t expected to ever hoist a three-ball, but today every single player in the top 25 averages more than one three-point attempt a game as do 94 percent of the top 50. More players are firing threes every year and more of them are firing with at least acceptable efficiency.

The reason for change probably comes down to simple math for most teams. A player that can hit on 33.3 percent of their threes, in theory, scores just as effectively as someone putting down half of their two-point attempts. Trading twos for threes is a good bet.

No where was the power of small ball lineups firing up three-pointers more obvious than in this year’s postseason.

The only conference finals team that wasn’t one of  the top five regular season three-point shooting teams was San Antonio and they led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage (39.1).

The Rockets led the postseason with 38.5 three-point attempts, but it was the Cavaliers leading in three-point makes (14.2). Houston (12.8 makes) barely edging out the better shooting Celtics (12.7) and Warriors (12.7).

In the NBA Finals, the Cavs shot 13.2-34.6 (38.2%) from three and the Dubs were 14.2-37.2 (38.2%) and the defense was actually pretty good. No team in the NBA should be under any delusions that an NBA Finals appearance is going to be realistic if your team can’t keep up from beyond the arc.

The trend towards small ball and an ever increasing number of three-point attempts isn’t going anywhere. If anything, next season NBA teams will average over 10 made threes a game on over 30 three-point attempts. The days of controlling the game by pounding the ball in the paint are over, at least for now.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

Raptors Jonas Valanciunas Is Working On A 3-Point Shot

Even Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas has been hunting down 15 foot jump shots in games and practicing his three-pointers in warm-ups.

 

 

NBA Utah Jazz Gordon Hayward

Why The Celtics Aren’t Looking For A Max Free Agent

Why aren’t the Boston Celtics looking for another max contract free agent this summer? The new national TV deal with the NBA means every team is awash in cash and cap space so, obviously, the Celtics can just grab what they need to become an NBA Finals contender?

At first glance it looks like the Celtics only have $62 million in guaranteed salaries for next season and with a projected salary cap of $101 million, giddy-up, here comes Gordon Hayward. Not so fast says Celtics Blog Keith Smith as he makes a solid case for why this is very unlikely to happen.

The Celtics can get to a maximum of just over $36 million in cap space, but that would mean renouncing all free agents, waiving Demetrius Jackson, Jordan Mickey and Tyler Zeller and agreeing to not sign any of the draft picks. That is an extremely unlikely scenario.

Make all those moves and the Celtics are still shy of the $30.6 million it would take to sign Hayward by about $1.4 million. Before you say the math is off, remember that you have to add what is called an Empty Roster Charge

It’s not impossible to create the space necessary to sign a max free agent, it’s just really, really painful and objectively stupid. You don’t just dump a number one overall draft pick to create salary cap space and there are no future considerations another team could offer that is going to be equivalent.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge hasn’t been in the habit of giving away his assets for nothing and he’s got some more big decisions coming up a year from now.

Next summer Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart will be free agents and could eat up to $85 million in salary cap space all on their own. Having those highly talented players acquired with his high draft picks (thanks Brooklyn) is going to become really important if Ainge wants to keep his core together and that’s still true if he wants to use one of those “salary slots” to facilitate a future trade to acquire an equivalent talent at forward or center.

If he can, Ainge will certainly be open to making trades this summer and next to fix the holes (rebounding maybe?) in his roster. He does have too many very good guards, but like last summer, he isn’t giving away his hard won assets for less than they are worth.

Nabbing that big free agent, however, just doesn’t look realistic.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

What Can The Raptors Get For Jonas Valanciunas?

The fifth overall pick of the 2011 NBA draft Jonas Valanciunas is a traditional 7′ center in a game that is evolving away from the paint. So if the Toronto Raptors want “a change” and face the Luxury Tax challenge of keeping their own free agents this summer, what could they get for for this still developing 25-year-old big man.

Valanciunas is a space-eater, a top-10 rebounder in each of the past three seasons and an imposing force against the undersized big men becoming oh so common in today’s NBA. Unfortunately, those same undersized big men can send him to the bench in the fourth quarter as Valanciunas struggles guarding the perimeter.

He is the type of player a team doesn’t need until they need him, but when your team is getting hammered on the boards, Valanciunas is the kind of guy you’ll need to stop the bleeding and hit back.

On Sportsnet, Dave Zarum quotes the former assistant general manager of the Brooklyn Nets Bobby Marks ahead of the trade deadline as saying,

“I think the league goes in cycles and there’s still a role for centers.

“In certain situations— Cleveland going small— then there’s probably not a role for him, but in the majority of matchups there is.

“I wouldn’t do anything with him if I’m in Toronto. It would have to be something really big. You look at what centers got this (past) summer — Mozgov, Noah, Mahinmi — and Jonas’ contract ($16 million/yr) carries great value.”

The Raptors made their own moves at the trade deadline by bringing in Serge Ibaka, a player they want to keep in free agency this summer who has made no secret of the fact he wants to start at center next year. So unless Raptors president Masai Ujiri is happy paying starter’s money for a center who’s likely to come the bench next season, he needs to find a trade partner for Valanciunas.

Boston Celtics

Like last summer there will be a lot of noise about the Celtics packaging draft picks and players to land another star, but the prices were too high for Danny Aigne last year and they’ll likely be too high again this year. Aigne isn’t about to disrupt what’s he’s building for a rental, potential poor fit or a massive overpay in free agency either.

The Celtics are a good team already, albeit a good team with a glaring weakness. They were one of the worst rebounding teams (-2.5 boards per game) during the regular season. They were the worst rebounding team (-6.6) in the playoffs.

What the Celtics do have is 2012 second round pick Jae Crowder who has evolved into a solid “3-and-D” small forward. While no one is going to call him a “LeBron Stopper,” he is just the kind of small forward the Raptors need for next season. He is also uncomfortably in the way of the Celtics third overall pick of last season Jaylen Brown.

If these two Atlantic Division rivals can put their egos aside, they have the solution to each other’s problem in a player they can afford to trade. Hopefully someone reminds them the goal is to get by Cleveland, if not now, eventually?

Indians Pacers

The Pacers would have been hard pressed to screw up last season any worse and while they probably cling to hope over the summer of a resurgence strong enough to convince Paul George to re-sign, if next season resembles last season, it’ll take a major brain cramp to not start shopping their best player before the trade deadline.

The problem with shopping a “rental” All-Star is teams won’t be giving up much unless they believe he’ll re-sign in his new home. Maybe George really does want to go lose with the Lakers? But it seems more likely he’d rather join a team that gives him a shot at the NBA Finals – say hello to Boston and Toronto.

Last year Aigne wouldn’t give a top draft pick and/or top young prospect(s) for a potential rental of Serge Ibaka and who could blame him? The Celtics don’t need to take those kinds of risks for a real shot at getting to the next level all on their own.

The Raptors are likely easier to convince, in part because they don’t have any former or current top five draft picks to risk other than Valanciunas.

It might seem like a pipe dream for Toronto to land a player like George, but if next season plays out like last season (for Orlando), the Pacers could find themselves looking for the best available offer with a player who has made it very clear where he wants to end up.

Dallas Mavericks

Mark Cuban doesn’t like to lose and he doesn’t like to wait either, so if the Raptors just want to do a salary dump for a first round lottery draft pick, the Mavericks are the team to talk to.

Draft Express has 7′ Arizona freshman stretch four Lauri Markkanen going to Dallas at nine and describe him as,

One of the top jump shooters in this draft regardless of position

Among the top shooting players over 6’10 in NCAA history

Shooters of his caliber at the power forward position don’t come along very often

If the Raptors can bring back both Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, a player like  Markkanen could be the perfect long term fit.

Why not just keep Valanciunas?

The Raptors make a lot of money. They are third in attendance in the NBA and, supposedly, Ujiri can go into the Tax if he so chooses. Bringing Valanciunas in off the bench probably doesn’t affect his minutes all that much and he’d arguably be the best backup center in the NBA.

As anyone who has followed the team for a long time knows, believing a stated willingness to pay Luxury Tax has fallen firmly into the show-me category. Besides, the Raptors have a backup center in Jakob Poeltl who can/should fill that role admirably next season if given a chance for a lot less money.

Valanciunas would probably say all the right things about coming off the bench, but most of us would have a hard time believing him if it lasted into the new year. To be fair, it’s start him or trade him.

As Bobby Marks said, “Jonas’ contract ($16 million/yr) carries great value.” So Ujiri should be able to extract pretty good value for Valanciunas. However, the problem will be other general managers can figure out the Raptors pending Luxury Tax issues with Toronto re-signing their own free agents and will want to exploit that situation for themselves.

What Ujiri can get for Valanciunas will depend as much on how quickly he wants to unload that contract for his own reasons as what he needs to get back. However, assuming Ujiri was sincere in wanting to re-sign free agents Kyle Lowry, Ibaka and Tucker, this is one situation that isn’t going to just go away.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

Top 4 teams in the NBA Eastern Conference 3-28-2017

So Who’s The Best In The NBA East Now?

It’s finally happened, the Cleveland Cavaliers have surrendered first place in the Eastern Conference with their 10th loss in 18 games since the All-Star break. The idle Boston Celtics assuming the half game lead on the back of an 11-6 run over the same period.

However, it isn’t safe to just assume the Boston Celtics are now the best team. The Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors have their own claims to make and the defending NBA Champion Cavaliers aren’t about to give props to anyone else reports ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelburne,

“That’s fine,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said when informed Boston had passed Cleveland in the standings with the 103-74 loss. “It matters more that we play better basketball than where we’re at. If that results in the 1, 2 or 3 seed, we need to play better basketball. That’s all it comes down to. I’m not worried about anything.”

Boston may temporarily hold down first place, but there are other measures that can indicate which team is currently the “best.” (NBA.com team stats)

NBA Eastern Conference net rating

The Raptors can lay claim to the best defensive rating and best net rating of the top four teams in the East, however, what is equally interesting is the Cavaliers terrible defensive rating. Only the Nets and Knicks are worse defensively than Cleveland this season.

The ESPN Basketball Power Index (BPI), a measure of team strength developed by the ESPN Analytics team, confirms the Raptors position at number one in the East. (Noting four teams in the West rank ahead of Toronto.)

However, the Raptors best argument for the strength of their team might come from focusing on just the games since the All-Star break. Notably, this period matches the concerns about the once heavily favored Cavaliers.

In the end, LeBron James and the Cavs have one stat they can hold over the three other teams challenging them in the East. In head-to-head games this season, the Cavs hold winning records over each of them.

It is going to take a lot to shake the confidence most of the talking heads will have in the Cavaliers ability to bounce back and play better once the postseason kicks off. The excuses relating to injuries and chemistry won’t count for much then and a LeBron James led team always makes it to the NBA Finals? Except for maybe this tidbit from the Celtics ESPN home page.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Celtics are in sole possession of the best record in the Eastern Conference this late into the season for the 1st time since the end of the 2007-08 season, when they won the title.

In the meantime, the Celtics are now favored to finish first in the East, but the Raptors can claim they are playing better, own the season series with the Cs and are the hotter team heading down the stretch. However, the best team won’t be known until the playoffs.

 
 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 
 

Projecting The NBA East Playoff Seeding

Down to a dozen games to go and only three spots seem to have been settled when it comes to playoff seeding. Cavs, Celtics and Hawks appear to have locked in their current postseason rank and everyone else with a chance is still battling for position.

The Cavaliers only have a game and a half lead over the Celtics for first and ESPN projects they’ll finish two games ahead at the end of the regular season. Unless coach Lue goes a little overboard on this “rest” concept, only road games in San Antonio and Boston should really present a test to the team everyone has pegged as returning to defend their NBA title. Of course they’ll likely punt a few games unless Boston is really pushing them.

And Boston’s relatively easy schedule just might give them that opportunity to push the Cavs all the way to the end of the regular season. If it wasn’t for those recent unexpected losses to the Suns, Nuggets and 76ers, the ESPN prediction of a 7-4 run to the finish would look unreasonably conservative.

The Wizards will be doing well to finish out the last 12 games going 6-6. Losers of their last two games, they play 5th place Atlanta and last place Nets before heading out on a brutal five game road trip book-ended by Cleveland and Golden State.  They might need to win out in April to go 6-6. Fortunately it looks like the Hawks are too far back to pass them for 4th.

ESPN has Toronto passing the Wizards for 3rd place and if they win the games they are supposed to, the Raptors will be better than the projected 8-4 over their last 12 games and be ready to pounce on any unexpected major slippage by the Celtics for 2nd.

The real battle for playoff seeding begins at 6th and runs through 10th place. Someone isn’t going to make it who thinks they should.

The Pacers are trying to set some kind of bizarre record for alternating wins and losses (now at 14 games of a loss followed by a win) and if they can keep it up, they should grab one of the three remaining playoff spots. However, they have a tough remaining schedule, so the 5-7 ESPN prediction seems reasonable and could be bad news. A 41-41 record might not be enough for a playoff spot.

Milwaukee is hot and got hot at the right time, but Giannis Antetokoumpo turned an ankle and if he misses the usual two weeks, all bets are off on how the Bucks finish out the regular season. With Antetokoumpo, the ESPN prediction of going 6-7 seems ultra-conservative, without him, it might be generous.

The Pistons are in a tie with the Heat now and forecast to still be tied at the end of the regular season. Detroit needs to make hay from now to the end of March when they have seven winnable games because they aren’t making up any ground in April.

The Heat have won a home-and-home against the Cavs in March and then beat Toronto, but they face a tough schedule to the end of the regular season with Toronto twice more, Boston, Detroit, Washington twice and the Cavs again. They’ll have to perform without their third best scorer in Dion Waiters who might miss the rest of the regular season with an ankle injury.

The Bulls have the schedule to make up ground, but they haven’t been playing well and have lost Wade for the season.

The Hornets have a tough schedule ahead of them and just don’t seem to have anything left in the tank.

Playoff seeding 6th thru 8th is decidedly undecided.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA L.A. Clippers Paul Pierce remembering the Boston Celtics

Paul Pierce’s Last Hurrah In Boston Goes According To Script

By Frank McLean

Paul Pierce’s last hurrah on the court in Boston couldn’t have gone any better. It was like it went according to script, a special moment in a special career.

“It was really cool,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said pregame in Toronto. “I don’t know what it meant to me, but that was as neat of a thing as I have been involved with that’s not playoffs. It was a fanbased, the way they received Paul was unbelievable.

“If you were a Boston fan yesterday you had one helluva day. The Celtics won, Paul Pierce makes the last shot and then New England wins (the Super Bowl). They had a good day yesterday.

“I look back on (the last play and) everyone got it. End of a game guys usually come down and jack shots, the game was over, but Austin (Rivers) came down, he knew to give it to Paul. Isaiah (Thomas) was guarding Paul, he knew to back up and give him a shot. It was like everyone kind of got it which is rare. Usually there’s that one guy with the ego that ruins the moment and it was funny, everyone got it. That was really nice.

“It was great to see what it’s like when you win something and do something in one city which I think more players should do more of. It’s really cool.

“I was a baseball White Socks fan and I stapled Dick Allen and George on the wall and they stayed there for years. They never left. Now you need Velcro.”

Excuse me a second if I sound like an old fart who thinks that things were better when he was younger than they are nowadays. I don’t think that way, but when it comes to professional sports in general I will make the argument it was better in the old days.

When I was a kid your sports heroes stayed with one team their whole career. If you were fan of a certain team like the Boston Celtics the Larry Bird’s the John Havlachek’s stayed with their team for their whole career. You just knew that when each season started your star guy was going to be in the lineup.

Paul Pierce who was drafted with the 10th pick overall in the 1998 draft never got to stay his whole career in Boston. He lasted 15-years with the green and white but then spent a year in Brooklyn and another year in Washington before playing the last two years with his old Celtics coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers where he is going to hang it up after a stellar 19-year career at the end of the season.

On Sunday Pierce played his last game at TD Bank Garden where along with Rivers as coach he won his only NBA championship in 2008.

His best days are behind him. He has only got into 13-games this year averaging just four points and one rebound a game, but that didn’t matter to the Garden faithful who brought him to tears chanting “we want Paul” and his nickname “the truth”.

Rivers made the class move of putting Pierce in the starting lineup playing the first five minutes of the game. But with the fans still chanting for Pierce, Rivers put him back out there for the last 20-seconds of the game where took a pass from Doc’s kid Austin and hit a 28-foot three-pointer for the only points he would score in a game which the Clippers lost 107-102.

It was kind of like another Boston great Ted Williams hitting a home run in his final at bat in Fenway Park, but the difference here is Pierce was playing for the opposition.

“It’s a tough situation. You’ve been sitting for like the last two hours and then I had to come in there and get a shot,” Pierce said afterward. “But I’m glad I ended it that way. It was a lot of emotion running through. My teammates kind of felt it too. I’m glad I was able to cap it off, my last game in the Garden. At least I can just say I put one last bucket in at the end of the game.”

“I never felt anything like this,” Pierce added. “I truly appreciate my time here. I truly appreciate tonight. Fans really showered me with a lot of love. It was just — you really don’t know what you meant to a team while you’re playing, and you really don’t get a chance to really reflect on it while you’re playing.”

When asked about putting Pierce back into the game Rivers said, “I’m no dummy.

“So once I thought the game was in hand to Boston, we put him back in. And him making that shot just, that’s just, I don’t know what the heck that is.  That’s that only happens like here, or, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know who can sit that long and walk in on the floor and make a shot.”

Monday night the Clippers make their only appearance in Toronto this year and Pierce will not be hearing any cheers. It’s more likely he’ll be booed by the Raptors faithful.

In the 2013-14 playoffs in Brooklyn and the 2014-15 postseason in Washington he was the main factor why the Raptors were upset in the first round. His buzzer beating shots and his trash talking made him public enemy number one in the 416.

But when I think of Paul Pierce I think of him as a Celtic, not a Net, not a Wizard and not a Clipper. Too bad he never got a chance to play his whole career in Boston, but he did get a proper send off by the fans that a future Celtic hall of famer is deserved.

You see sports was better when we were kids.

 

 

  

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Dwight Howard

Celtics Must Pursue Dwight Howard If They Want To Contend

The Boston Celtics have been accumulating prime assets in order to acquire another star so they can compete with the Cavaliers in the East and with the Hawks seemingly in full rebuild mode, they must strike while the iron is hot and pursue Dwight Howard now.

“That’s a tricky question to answer,” Howard said about the Hawks apparent change in direction. “It’s basketball. It’s a serious business. You never know what can happen, with any team. You never know. I mean, I didn’t expect this to happen, but like I said, you never know.” – Brian Windhorst ESPN Senior Writer

When the Boston Celtics acquired the Atlanta Hawks free agent Al Horford this past summer, president basketball operations Danny Ainge knew his team was still one piece away from really being a contender this season. He also knew the Celtics would be a terrible rebounding team just like Atlanta had been with Horford at center and eventually it was an area he would have to address.

Howard is the answer to Ainge’s problem, this is after all what the Hawks had planned for this summer before Horford jumped ship. It was Millsap who was supposed to be traded to make room for a Horford/Howard pairing that would allow Horford to slide over to his natural power forward spot and solve the Hawks rebounding problems. There is no shame in stealing another GM’s good idea and Ainge should be all over this.

As much as it will hurt in Atlanta to see Horford and Howard playing together on another team, Boston simply has too much to offer for Hawks president of basketball operations and head coach Mike Budenholzer to walk away from.

Ainge could offer Amir Johnson (expiring), 2016 third overall draft pick Jaylen Brown, 2015 16th pick overall Terry Rozier plus the Nets first round draft in pick either 2017 or 2018. Try walking away from that?

While Howard’s reputation has taken a hit in recent years, his production over the last season and a half has been at a difference-making level, 13.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 1 steal, 1.5 blocks. He is the second best rebounder in the NBA this season (24.5 percent of available rebounds) just behind Andre Drummond (24.7) and no disrespect to Drummond, but Howard is the better player.

From a Celtics standpoint, Howard’s contract should be taken as a positive as well. At $23.2 million this year and $47.3 million over the next two seasons, Ainge will have locked down his center at about 2/3rds of next summer’s maximum contract and it’s a deal he will escape from before Howard turns 35-years-old.

An opportunity to fill the Celtics greatest position of need might not come again. Ainge needs to jump on this opportunity fast before either someone else does or Budenholzer gets cold feet about the price he’ll pay this year for the rebuild he has just embarked on.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.