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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.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Atlanta Hawks Al Horford

Celtics Are Now The Worst Rebounding Team In The NBA

It was no secret that the Boston Celtics went from being a poor rebounding team to bad rebounding team this past summer and Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett just re-confirmed the organization was well aware of their situation.

“My biggest concern even before the year started was defensive rebounding,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. “I think that we are a small team and a quick team, and we have to do it collectively. We don’t have one of those guys that gets all the rebounds, and that was our problem last year, and it’s going to be a problem this year, too.”

When Pro Bball Report took a look at what the Celtics had done with their roster, one thing stood out, their rebounding issues were about to get worse.

Jared Sullinger was far and away Boston’s best rebounder and it’s not even close. Last season Sullinger pulled in 27 percent of the available defensive boards while he was on the court and the Celtics needed every one of them. (Last year’s) 26th worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA just took a step back and Horford is not the solution. With Horford replacing Sullinger in the starting lineup, the Celtics could be as much as 2.9 rebounds a game below last year’s pace.

Overall the Celtics had a 20th ranked rebounding differential of -1.1 boards per game last season and Sullinger was both their best offensive rebounder (2.4 rebounds) and defensive rebounder (5.9 rebounds) in just 23.6 minutes per game.

The early returns this season are a pathetic dead last 30th ranked rebounding differential of -8.0 boards per game. Opponents are grabbing more (cringe 1.3 more) offensive rebounds (12.7 vs 11.4) as last year and the Celtics just don’t have the same presence on the glass and are getting 3.5 fewer offensive boards (8.1) themselves. And as Aigne noted, the defensive glass isn’t being looked after either.

After seven games, Boston is only grabbing a league worst 45.3 percent of the available rebounds, a league worst 70.8 percent of the defensive boards and fifth worst 19.2 percent of the offensive rebounds.

Al Horford missing a few games isn’t the answer either. Horford’s rebounding prowess at both ends of the court has been in decline for three straight seasons prior to this one and he wasn’t close to being as effective as Sullinger was on the boards last year. If anything, the earlier estimated 2.9 fewer boards resulting from exchanging Horford for Sullinger might be too optimistic. The Celtics are a small team.

“We knew before the season that we don’t have the great rim protectors and we’re not a great defensive rebounding team,” Aigne said.

When a guard is your team’s best rebounder (Avery Bradley 7.9), you have problems.

There isn’t any reason to panic, however, the Celtics are a team that is still developing players and is far from a finished product. Injuries to Horford (5.3 rebounds per game) and Jae Crowder (6.3 rebounds per game) are distorting the win/loss totals and impacting the defense even if their return isn’t going to save Boston on the glass.

Scoring is up from last year’s 105.7 points per game and recent offensive slippage should reverse once the injured players get back. Now if head coach Brad Stevens can just get his usually tough defense that’s currently giving up a league worst 112.3 points per 100 possessions back on track, the lack of rebounding won’t stand out so much.

“I think that often times you get feeling like you’re a little better than you are,” Ainge said. “And when that happens, no matter how good your team is, you’re going to get humbled if you don’t realize what it takes to win.”

Most coaches in the league will tell you it takes defense and rebounding to win and if you’re doing neither, it’s going to be a long season.

 

 

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 playoffs Cleveland Cavaliers Lebron James - Kyrie Irving - Kevin Love

Who Has The Star Power In The NBA East?

The NBA is a star driven league and the teams with the biggest stars seem to inevitably make it into the playoffs and the best on to the NBA Finals. However, no star is big enough to do it on their own, they need help on the level of the top 100 NBA players as described by SI.com’s Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney. SI might not be 100 percent right on their selections, but be assured, if a team doesn’t have more than it’s share of talent from this list, their playoff aspirations could be in trouble.

Eastern Conference teams with significant top 100 depth are:

Cleveland Cavaliers (5 players on SI’s top 100)

Assuming a deal eventually gets done with J.R. Smith (96th), the Cavs have SI’s number one ranked player in the NBA, LeBron James backed up by Kyrie Irving (25), Kevin Love (30) and Tristan Thompson (52). This returning starting five averaged an impressive 81.1 points and 31.1 rebounds.

Somehow it doesn’t seem fair that James gets to play with this much depth until one checks out the Warriors who have four players ranked in the top 20.

Boston Celtics (5 players on SI’s top 100)

The free agent acquisition of Al Horford (18th) gives the Celtics a top 20 player to play with Isaiah Thomas (45), Jae Crowder (53), Avery Bradley (72) and Amir Johnson (86). However, this likely starting five only averaged 74.1 points and 24.7 rebounds combined last year. The Celtics might just miss last season’s number 4 scorer and SI snub ranked in the “next 25” Evan Turner. Horford replaces Boston’s top rebounder and fifth leading scorer Jared Sullinger who signed with Toronto.

Orlando Magic (5 players on SI’s top 100)

It may come as a surprise, but the Magic really are a better and deeper team than last year’s 35 win squad, albeit with perhaps more depth at the 4/5 than usual? The acquisition of Serge Ibaka (42) fits in nicely with the smash-mouth style of new head coach Frank Vogel as does free agent Bismack Biyombo (91). They join Nikola Vucevic (75), Evan Fournier (95) and Aaron Gordon (99). A starting five Elfrid Payton, Fournier, Gordon, Ibaka and Vucevic averaged 65.5 points and 28.1 rebounds combined last year.

Orlando could be a playoff team, but with no star in the top 40, depth can only carry a team so far.

Toronto Raptors (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Raptors top ranked players all played on last year’s 56 win team led by Kyle Lowry (14), DeMar DeRozan (46), Jonas Valanciunas (62) and DeMarre Carroll (73). SI snub Cory Joseph just missing the cut. Toronto’s starting lineup will include Sullinger from the Celtics replacing the 36-year-old Luis Scola. This anticipated starting lineup averaged a Cavaliers-like 78.8 points and 31.3 rebounds combined. Lowry is ranked as the third best player in the East and should be expected to carry his team far again this season.

Charlotte Hornets (4 players on SI’s top 100)

The Hornets live or die on the back of Kemba Walker (33), but he has help from Nicolas Batum (43), Marvin Williams (65) and Cody Zeller (94). Micheal Kidd-Gilchrist made the next 25 snub list despite only playing 7 regular season games last year. These five players averaged 68.9 points and 29.5 rebounds combined.

Washington Wizards (4 players on SI’s top 100)

No one ever said the Wizards didn’t have talent. John Wall (17), Marcan Gortat (55), Bradley Beal (58) and Ian Mahinmi (76) all make SI’s top 100. The presumed starting lineup includes Otto Porter and Markieff Morris with 74.5 points and 29.3 boards combined.

Atlanta Hawks (4 players on SI’s top 100)

This team doesn’t feel like a playoff contender, but Paul Millsap (15), Dwight Howard (34), Kyle Korver (70) and Kent Bazemore (90) indicate there’s still something here. Dennis Schroder takes over from Jeff Teague to lead this group at point guard, their combined averages were 62.6 points and 31.8 rebounds.

In a 30 team league, a middle of the pack team should have at least three players from SI’s list and five Eastern Conference teams do.  Teams hitting this mark include:

Chicago Bulls feature Jimmy Butler (16), Dwyane Wade (32) and Robin Lopez (82) plus three more in the next 25, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, so maybe they are better than average?

Indiana Pacers feature the resurgent Paul George (9), Jeff Teague (57) and Thaddeus Young (66) plus two snubs in Monta Ellis and Al Jefferson. George is ranked as the second best player in the East, so expect the Pacers to be in the middle of the playoff pack rather than the middle of the conference.

Milwaukee Bucks have Kris Middleton (39), Giannis Antetokounmpo (48), Greg Monroe (63) plus Jabari Parker in the next 25. (Note: Middleton is expected to miss the next 6 months due to injury)

Detroit Pistons rely on Andre Drummond (29), Reggie Jackson (54) and Tobias Harris (77). Head coach Stan Van Gundy might be the real star in Detroit.

In theory Miami had Hassan Whiteside (35), Goran Dragic (61) and Chris Bosh (37), however, Bosh failed his preseason physical so maybe the Heat can stop pretending they can even be an average team this season?

The star power in the East suggests Cleveland remains unchallenged with Toronto, Boston and possibly Indiana fighting it out for next best. However, the depleted Hawks with four players in the top 100 may not be as badly off as anticipated if they can find the chemistry needed to keep their 9-year postseason run alive.

It should be noted that the Knicks are one of just three Eastern Conference teams to have less than three players on SI’s top 100 list as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah fell into the snubbed category. The East and the West each have 50 players in SI’s top 100.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Experts Rank The 2016-17 NBA East

It seems like months since an NBA team has made a move that wasn’t anticipated or mattered, so how the NBA East was ranked really shouldn’t have changed much since the end of July when ESPN forecast the standings for 2016-17. Recently Basketball Insiders Joel Brigham and Steve Kyler threw caution to the wind and talked thru their ranking of the Eastern Conference and Pro Bball Report has come to its own conclusions about where this season is headed.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers, last year 57-25

ESPN – Cavaliers
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Cavaliers
Pro Bball Report – Cavaliers

Even with the Cavs three-point leader J.R. Smith still unsigned for 2016-17, any team LeBron James is on remains the undisputed favorite in the East. Besides, no one believes the 31-year-old Smith really has any other option but to re-sign with the Cavaliers.

2. Toronto Raptors, last year 56-26

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Raptors
Pro Bball Report – Raptors

Don’t undersell a 56 win season. ESPN tends to overestimate the impact of the loss of backup (stress backup) center Bismack Biyombo on Toronto who Kyler suggests might have the worst hands in basketball and ESPN ignores the challenge Boston will face with the loss of their best rebounder in Jared Sullinger to Toronto. The Celtics may have picked up a few wins with the veteran savvy of All-Star Al Horford, but a really bad rebounding team got worse this summer. Boston is still going to struggle getting the ball back after playing their brand of stellar defense again this season.

3. Boston Celtics, last year 48-34

ESPN – Toronto/Boston tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Pacers
Pro Bball Report – Celtics

Kyler likes the Celtics here, disagreeing with his senior writer on this pick as he is not sold on the Pacers coaching change and he’s got a point, Frank Vogel is a superior coach. However, everyone seems to agree that the top four teams in the East are the Cavs, Raptors, Celtics and Pacers. It’s easy to like the Celtics here.

4. Indiana Pacers, last year 45-37

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Celtics
Pro Bball Report – Pacers

After watching Paul George in the first round of the playoffs, it’s easy to say the Pacers are back and they have a superstar that can carry the team. The Jeff Teague for George Hill move is likely a wash, but acquiring Thaddeus Young is an upgrade and if Al Jefferson can get his game back on track, the Pacers will be one of the tougher teams in the East. Replacing Frank Vogel with Nate McMillan remains a head scratcher?

5. Detroit Pistons, last year 44-38

ESPN – Pacers/Pistons tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bulls
Pro Bball Report – Pistons

Basketball Insiders seems to think that as many as 12 teams in the East could have 40 or more wins in 2016-17, although a couple of teams are likely to fall short of expectations. Like last season when 10 teams had 40+ win records, the battle for the last four playoff spots is going to be fierce. The Pistons are building from a solid base with a fiery head coach known for getting the most out of his guys (at least for a few years). All the rest have issues to overcome and the Pistons continuity should give them the edge.

6. Chicago Bulls, last year 42-40

ESPN – Hawks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Wizards
Pro Bball Report – Bulls

ESPN hangs their hat on the acquisition of Dwight Howard to save the Hawks, but that’s not a limb everyone is going to be willing to climb out on. In Chicago the combination of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade should be enough to get the Bulls back in the postseason picture and it’s hard jumping on a Wizards revival bandwagon before seeing them play a game.

7. Charlotte Hornets, last year 48-34

ESPN – Hornets
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Knicks
Pro Bball Report – Hornets

Yes the Hornets lost Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee, but this team lives and dies on the play of Kemba Walker and as long as he returns 100 percent from his August knee surgery, the Hornets should be back in the mix for a playoff spot. Kyler’s assertion that this team can’t put together back-to-back winning seasons notwithstanding. Unfortunately, the popular Knicks are a team built to break their fans’ hearts.

8. Orlando Magic, last year 35-47

ESPN – Wizards
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Detroit
Pro Bball Report – Magic

Kyler acknowledges the Magic, among others, can win 40 games, although it will likely take 44 wins again this season to make the playoffs in the East. The Magic have issues to overcome, but talent isn’t one of them. This team will rise or falter on new head coach Frank Vogel’s ability to get the most out of what he’s got and just in case you haven’t been paying attention, betting against Vogel hasn’t been a good idea.

9. New York Knicks, last year 32-50

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Magic
Pro Bball Report – Knicks

On paper the Knicks should be fifth in the East like Kyler suggested, unfortunately at this point in their careers some of the Knicks best players have joints that seem to be made of paper. If Derrick Rose, Brandon Jennings, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah can stay on the court, the Knicks can stay in the playoff picture and be a threat in the postseason. Based on recent Knicks luck, that’s a lot to ask for.

10. Washington Wizards, last year 41-41

ESPN – Knicks/Bulls tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Bucks
Pro Bball Report – Wizards

A lot of people want the Wizards to figure it out. Wall and Beal are an exciting pair when they are healthy and don’t appear to hate each other (ok, hate is a little strong, but there are issues here). The Wizards are just one year away from a 46 win season, but that feels like ancient history now and if things aren’t going well by Christmas, changes will need to be made. Maybe Scott Brooks can save this motley crew, but we’re not convinced.

11. Atlanta Hawks, last year 48-34

ESPN – Bucks
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hornets
Pro Bball Report – Hawks

Two seasons ago the Hawks were a 60 win team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but since then DeMarre Carroll, Jeff Teague and Al Horford have moved/been moved on and Kyle Korver has had his 35th birthday. The Hawks are good enough to win 40 games, but that record will still end a nine year run as an Eastern Conference playoff team. There’s no love for the Hawks chances from Basketball Insiders. ESPN putting the Hawks in sixth feels like a lot of wishful thinking.

12. Milwaukee Bucks, last year 33-49

ESPN – Heat
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Hawks
Pro Bball Report – Bucks

The Bucks appear to have improved somewhat from last season, but so much of their success will hinge on the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker and getting a collection of talent that doesn’t quite seem to fit to play better.

13. Miami Heat, last year 48-34

ESPN – Magic
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Heat
Pro Bball Report – Heat

The Heat’s Big Three are no more. LeBron James left for Cleveland last year. Wade bolted for Chicago this summer and Chris Bosh may or may not ever play again. Add to this to the loss of Luol Deng and Joe Johnson and the Heat are rebuilding – whether they admit to it or not. The only real question outstanding is if Miami is willing to move out the 30-year-old veteran Goran Dragic for young players and a draft pick or do they stay the course and hope for better than the rationally expected outcome?

14. Philadelphia 76ers, last year 10-72

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – 76ers
Pro Bball Report – 76ers

A very young and inexperienced roster of top NBA draft picks with veterans Sergio Rodriguez, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson providing some badly needed leadership that should enable this team to double last year’s win total.

15. Brooklyn Nets, last year 21-61

ESPN – 76ers/Nets tied
Joel Brigham, Basketball Insiders – Nets
Pro Bball Report – Nets

It wasn’t easy to field a team that was worse than last year’s Nets, but with a little work (salary dump), the Nets made it happen. And the Celtics can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn in June and own the Nets 2018 first round pick. This is what basketball purgatory looks like.

 

 

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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Is The NBA East Waiting On LeBron James To Get Old?

Father-time remains undefeated and in the NBA East that may be the only thing that can stop the reign of King James. Soon to be 32-years-old, LeBron has taken his team to the NBA Finals six times in a row and he is the overwhelming favorite to carry his Cleveland Cavaliers there again this season. With many of the Cavs so called rivals choosing to hold onto draft picks and young developing talent, no Eastern Conference team even looks like they have made a serious attempt to dethrone the King this summer. Almost everyone in the East seems to be waiting on James to get old and/or injured for now.

The Cavs aren’t going to make it easy to compete either. They’ll be a luxury tax team again this this season – expected to be the only tax team in the East. The sole remaining outstanding question is how deep into the tax will re-signing J.R. Smith push them? Can Smith extract the $15 million per year out of Cleveland he’s looking for before training camp opens? The Cavs aren’t losing to anyone because of money.

While there were a number of outlandish contracts handed out this summer and a lot of good players got paid, there were some cheap head scratching deals done by players that would have helped any Eastern Conference team that actually thought they had a shot this season and some veterans who could help a team’s depth that are still available, such as:

David Lee – 2 years, $3.1 million, Spurs
Zaza Pachulia – 1 year, $2.9 million, Warriors
Marreese Speights – 2 years, $2.8 million, Clippers
Brandon Bass – 1 year, $1.5 million, Clippers
Terrence Jones – 1 year, $980,000, Pelicans

Still available:
Lance Stephenson
Norris Cole
Tyler Hansbrough
Josh Smith
Jason Thompson

There are a lot more names that could be added to either list who would be better than just about anyone’s 11-15th player.

Toronto Raptors

The 56 win second place Toronto Raptors seemed to be in the best position to make a bold move by cashing in their two first round draft picks and some young talent to go for it in the upcoming season, but the mantra in Toronto continues to be “we’re not a finished product.” That Toronto isn’t a finished product is true, but with two returning All-Star guards, a breakout playoff performance by center Jonas Valanciunas before he got hurt and the anticipated return of a healthy ‘3-and-d’ stopper in DeMarre Carroll, president and general manager Masai Ujiri didn’t seem to even try to fill out his roster with veterans like the Cavs have done. After deeming other teams trade demands were too high, he ignored the numerous playoff proven veterans that were available on the cheap and in the East, he wasn’t alone.

With 8/10ths of last season’s rotation returning, the Raptors will be a 50+ win team again this season with a shot a first in the Conference, but they know the Cavaliers don’t really care about that and with good reason. It’s hard to identify any possibly available player or combination of players that would tip the scales in Toronto’s favor in a seven game series with the Cavs especially without Ujiri giving up the best of his young talent. So the Raptors doubled down on developing talent and kept their youth and their picks and signed four prospects to training camp invites to see if they could find another player to develop.

Boston Celtics

If the 48 win Celtics could have found a way to add another star player after picking up Al Horford in free agency, then maybe, just maybe, they’d be considered a threat to the King. The Celtics had more draft picks than any team could possibly add in one season, so when the trade market wasn’t any friendlier to them than it was to Toronto, they went about stashing what they could in Europe and jumping back on the player development bandwagon.

Boston should be a 50+ win team this year and challenge Toronto’s claim on the Atlantic Division , but with so many young players deserving and needing playing time to develop, it’ll be another interesting season for head coach Brad Stevens as he tries to balance between winning now and finding out what he’s got for a couple of years down the road when the James led Cavs might finally be gettable.

Indiana Pacers

Then there’s the Pacers. Indiana is betting on the resurgence of superstar Paul George to carry a veteran laden team to the next level. Respected head coach Frank Vogel was replaced by Nate McMillan and the team waived good-bye to Ty Lawson, Solomon Hill and Ian Mahinmi. George Hill was traded for Jeff Teague, they traded a draft pick for Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson was picked up in free agency. Where Toronto and Boston brought back essentially the same rotation with tweaks they hope will fit in seamlessly for the better and are loaded with young prospects, Indiana used a wrecking ball and added veterans.

The Pacers won 45 games last year and should, if everything comes together as hoped, be better this year and no one can say they are waiting for James to get old. On the other hand, no one seems to believe the changes will put Indiana ahead of Boston or Toronto either.

Myles Turner is a player to watch for the future, but after that, the Pacers are a win now team that aren’t being given much of a chance of advancing beyond the second round of the playoffs.

Realistically, the East is treading water waiting on King James to let them back in the game. Not that anyone would (should) admit to that, but waiting on LeBron to get old isn’t such a bad idea. He’ll be 33-years-old in another year.

 

 

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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMarre Carroll

Ranking The NBA Eastern Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers ended up defeating the Golden State Warriors bringing the Larry O’Brien Trophy back to the Eastern Conference, but the major question is what did the other 14 teams in the East do to keep the Cavs from repeating? Here’s an early season preview on each of the teams.

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Additions- Mike Dunleavy Jr and Chris Anderson
Key Loss- Matthew Dellavadova

Outlook – LeBron James just re-signed and although J.R Smith hasn’t (he will), the Cavaliers are the defending NBA Champions with no major losses from last year’s team. Kyrie Irving has turned into a superstar point guard and could be best point guard not named Paul, Westbrook or Curry in the NBA. Dunleavy Jr. brings a solid 3-point marksman off the bench. Now the real question is will Kevin Love still be on this roster on opening night? If he is, then they should repeat with no problems.


2. Toronto Raptors

Key Addition- Jared Sullinger
Key Losses- Bismack Biyombo and Luis Scola

Outlook – Toronto entered Free Agency with one major agenda and that was re-signing DeMar DeRozan as soon as possible. Well the Compton, California native didn’t entertain the chance to going back home and signed a huge contract to stay in Toronto. Playoff hero Bismack Biyombo got a huge payday from the Orlando Magic and the team lost a few spare pieces off a team that won 56 games and took the Cavaliers to Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. So why do they stay at number 2? Well Jonas Valenciunas and DeMarre Carroll are both healthy and they added former Celtic Jared Sullinger to help in the forward rotation. Besides you have Kyle Lowry and DeRozan as your starting backcourt. There’s no need to go any further.

3. Boston Celtics

Key Addition- Al Horford
Key Losses- Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger

Outlook – Boston didn’t get Kevin Durant, but they got former Hawks All-Star Al Horford to come play in Beantown. The 31-year-old Horford, brings an interior presence, a solid team defender and inside/outside threat from the post. Armed with so many young players, they let Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger go in free agency, but 1st round pick Jaylen Brown should ease some of the load and remember the Celtics still have 1st time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart and All-NBA Defensive wizard Avery Bradley as your lead guard rotation. One can only wonder when will Danny Ainge pull the trigger on a big trade for one more big fish to chase Cleveland and Toronto in the East.

4. Indiana Pacers

Key Addtions- Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson
Key Losses- George Hill, Jordan Hill and Ian Mahinmi

Outlook – No team was more active in the early part of summer than the Indiana Pacers. They made Draft day deals for Teague and Young and during the free agency period and added Al Jefferson from Charlotte. With the additions Teague and Young, the Pacers potentially the best starting 5 in the Eastern Conference. Jefferson brings one of the best low post games to the bench while they still have All-Star Paul George, the always dangerous Monta Ellis and the improving 2nd year stud Miles Turner. Remember CJ Miles and Rodney Stuckey will lead the bench unit along with Jefferson. The major questions is how will new head coach Nate McMillan turn this group into a Eastern Conference contender.

5. Atlanta Hawks

Key Additions- Dwight Howard and Jarrett Jack
Key Losses- Al Horford and Jeff Teague

Outlook – I know when you look at this your wondering why are the Hawks rated this high? Well, adding Howard is going to be bigger than most think. Howard, in this writers opinion, will turn back into the Orlando Howard. Yes he’s a bit older and a lot of his athleticism is gone, that doesn’t mean Howard can’t go back to 18 points, 12 rebounds and at least 2 blocks a game. Howard spending more time in the post will allow Paul Millsap to be able to have more space on the floor on the offensive side. Resigning Kent Bazemore was critical to this team upcoming success especially if one of the draft picks Taurean Prince or DeAndre Bembry can step into the starting Small Forward spot and allow Kyle Korver to come off the bench. But the evolution of Dennis Schroder into an upper ensulion Point Guard is the key for the Hawks to stay in this spot.

6. New York Knicks

Key Additions- Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee
Key Losses- Langston Galloway, Aaron Affalo, Robin Lopez and Derrick Williams

Outlook – New York made some major splashes and took some major risks in the process. By adding Rose and Noah from Chicago they are taking a big risk with guys with no good great injury histories. Noah has had one season since 2009-2010 of playing at least 70 games and we already know about Rose’s history. Bringing in Lee adds another solid role player who knows his role and plays it very well. If the Knicks starting 5 can at least by 65 games together, this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Charlotte Hornets

Key Additions- Roy Hibbert, Ramon Sessions and Marco Bellini
Key Losses- Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee

Outlook – Charlotte did lose a lot this summer from a team that was one game away from being in the 2nd round of the Playoffs. So after losing 3 key members off last season’s team, how can they stay in the playoffs? Getting a full season from defensive wizard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is the 1st reason. With MKG and Nicolas Batum manning the wings it allows for Kemba Walker to play the passing lanes, which creates more steals. Adding Roy Hibbert at center is a massive upgrade on the defensive side of the floor because Jefferson couldn’t really guard anyone in the post. The main problem once again is can this team score enough points to win. For Charlotte to take that step forward, it’s going to have to be a team effort and they have enough guys who can do that. Watch for Walker to be an All-Star this year.

8. Chicago Bulls

Key Additions- Dwayne Wade, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez
Key Losses- Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose

Outlook – The Bulls didn’t make the playoffs last year and they lost Pau Gasol among other players, but this team will end up outlasting Detroit to make the final spot in the playoffs. Any time you have All-Stars in Wade and Jimmy Butler it’s kind of hard to leave them out of the playoffs. Wade has something to prove as he was passed over for a major contract this summer. Now they are issues everywhere when it comes to the roster and the style of play that 2nd year Head Coach Fred Hoiberg wants to play. He wants to be a perimeter oriented team, well with Wade, Butler and Rajon Rondo you won’t get that at all. None of the 3 of them are close to being 3 point threats. Good news for Bulls fans is with the losses of Gasol and Noah, the #FreeBobbyPortis movement can finally see the light.

9. Detroit Pistons

Key Additons- Jon Leuer, Ish Smith and Boban Marjanovic
Key Losses- Steve Blake and Anthony Tolliver

Outlook – Detroit made the playoffs last year and this unit is still young so they miss the playoffs for what reason? Well, Chicago added Dwayne Wade, New York has a better starting 5 and Atlanta and Charlotte are just better teams currently. Someone had to miss the playoffs. The Pistons can easily make the playoffs if Stanley Johnson and Kentanvous Caldwell-Pope can exceed expectations. What Detroit really needs is that star that can take games over in the 4th quarter. Andre Drummond is a free throw liability and Reggie Jackson is not a closer.

10. Orlando Magic

Key Additions- Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green
Key Losses- Victor Oladipo, Ersan Illavsova and Dewayne Dedmon

Outlook – Orlando made some interesting moves this summer to say the least. Good news is that they have the best shot blocking duo in the NBA, added a new Head Coach in Frank Vogel and they created a buzz in Orlando. Now here is the bad news, they don’t have a go-to-scorer, they have forced the potential face of franchise in Aaron Gordon to play out of position at Small Forward to get him playing time and have a serious issue when it comes to outside shooting. They added Jodie Meeks from Detroit, but he’s still hurt currently. Evan Fournier and Augustin are solid from behind the arc, but that’s really it. 2nd year Guard Mario Hezonja better make a tremendous leap or it’s going to be a long year in Orlando. To be honest, I’m not sold on the Biyombo signing, he’s needed but not at over $17 million per season.

11. Washington Wizards

Key Additions- Ian Mahinmi and Andrew Nicholson
Key Losses- Ramon Sessions, Nene, Gary Neal and Jared Dudley

Outlook – Washington has been going through the injury bug for years, especially with newly paid Bradley Beal. If All-Star Point Guard John Wall could finally get his main guys healthy long enough, this team has enough talent to potentially breakthrough and make the playoffs. New coach Scott Brooks is very good at getting the most out of his teams and if gets this unit in the playoffs, then he should be a serious candidate for Coach of the Year. If Beal and others can’t stay healthy, Wizards fans will be looking forward to next years draft.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

Key Additions- Matthew Dellavadova and Mirza Teletovic
Key Losses- Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo and Grievis Vasquez

Outlook – For a team that has one of the best groups of talent in the NBA and were in the playoffs 2 years ago, to be out of the playoffs for potentially a 2nd season in a row is head scratching. Lets be honest, the major hole on this roster was at point guard going into the summer. They went out and drafted Thon Maker (a 7’0 power forward/center) in the lottery, let Bayless and Vasquez go to other teams and went out and overpaid for Dellavadova from Cleveland. They would be better, if Michael Carter-Willams played with a pulse or the team could acquire a point guard for out of place Big Man Greg Monroe. Otherwise it could be a wasted year for young studs Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton in Milwaukee.

13. Miami Heat

Key Additions- Dion Waiters, Derrick Williams and Wayne Ellington
Key Losses- Dwayne Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson

Outlook – It could be a long year in South Beach in 2016-2017 for Heat fans. They have lost the face of the franchise in Wade, key veterans in Deng and Johnson and they still don’t know about the health of Chris Bosh. This spells a recipe for disaster for head coach Eric Spolstra and company. On a positive note, this youth movement will allow Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson to grow as the leaders with Hassan Whiteside anchoring the low post.

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Key Additions- Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson
Key Loss- Ish Smith

Outlook – For the 1st Time in years the Philadelpha 76ers aren’t the worst team in the NBA. They added Ben Simmons, Saric and Joel Embiid to the front court that already has Nerlens Noel and Jahil Okafor in the rotation. Now if they can either be bad for one more year and draft a guard of the future or deal a big man or two to get an established one, then we are talking something special in Philly. Simmons alone is one of the few players worth getting NBA League Pass for in the upcoming season.

15. Brooklyn Nets

Key Additions- Jeremy Lin, Grievis Vasquez and Luis Scola
Key Losses- Jarrett Jack, Thaddeus Young and Wayne Ellington

Outlook – It could get really ugly in Brooklyn this year. I mean REALLY UGLY. They tried and failed in free agency, offering contracts to Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe only to have them matched by their teams. Their previous 1st round pick went to Boston and their upcoming pick will in most cases head right back to Boston as well. Unless the Brook-Lin connection is the basketball version of wrestling’s Rock and Sock Connection, they will not get out of the cellar in the Eastern Conference.

 

 

Danny Thompson Full Court Press Radio hostDanny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist for FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 


 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

NBA Eastern Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

Barring in major trades or injuries between now and the start of the NBA Season at the end of October, most teams across the league have their starting lineups pretty much in place.

Starting units are very important. Just ask the Detroit Pistons, who had one of the the best starting lineups last year by many metrics, which carried them to the playoffs despite having one of the worst benches by those very same metrics. Who has the best one currently in the Eastern Conference? Number one should be no surprise:

1. Cleveland – Kyrie Irving, J.R Smith, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson

They are the defending champions, so why wouldn’t they be at the very top. With Thompson and Love, teams have a hard time grabbing rebounds against them. We all know that Smith can go off from behind the arc at any point in time and Irving has entered the discussion being a top 5 point guard. By the way they have LeBron James on their team as well.

2. Toronto Raptors – Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Jared Sullinger and Jonas Valanciunas

This unit made the Eastern Conference Finals without Carroll or Valanciunas being anywhere near healthy. DeMarre Carroll was brought in to be a defensive stopper and glue guy, and this will be the year he makes good on that reputation. Sullinger brings another scoring threat who can take pressure off the Eastern Conference’s best backcourt.

3. Indiana Pacers – Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Paul George, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner

So much talent here among this group of five. The three returning starters, Ellis, George, and Turner are very good. George is an MVP candidate, Turner could very well be the 2nd best player in his draft class, and Ellis is still a dangerous scorer. Now they add Thaddeus Young and Jeff Teague to the mix? This Pacer team has a group that could be very special.

4. Detroit Pistons – Reggie Jackson, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Andre Drummond

Detroit had one of the best starting 5’s in the NBA after they traded for Harris at the deadline, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be in the top five now, giving the young age of this group. Caldwell-Pope is the real key for the Pistons this year.

5. Boston Celtics – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson

This rating would be higher if they can find a way to replace Johnson without having to move Horford away from the Power Forward spot. Johnson is a talented defensive player, but he has a lot of issues especially with fouling that keeps this unit from being higher. Like last year’s Warriors, The Celtics best lineup may not be the starting one, given the strength of Boston’s guards.

6. New York Knicks – Derrick Rose, Courtney Lee, Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah

This team would be higher on this list, but there are so many injury flags with this group. If Rose and Noah can each play at least 65 games with this unit, Porzingis continues to develop, and Carmelo decides to lead this group like he’s leading Team USA this summer, then this rating is too low.

7. Charlotte Hornets – Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Ghilchrist, Marvin Williams and Cody Zeller

Charlotte has one of the best defensive units in the league, especially with Kidd-Ghilchrist coming back off of injury. Batum, along with the departed Jeremy Lin, allowed Kemba Walker to play off ball a lot last season, which helped Walker to have the best season of his career. Williams is very underrated at Power Forward, and Cody Zeller has to step up and play at an even higher level if the Hornets want to back in the playoffs.

8. Chicago Bulls – Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez

Fred Hoiberg wants a team that can go up and down the floor and be able to hit outside shots. The major issue is, well, none of the five listed here can do that. Maybe a style change will be in order in Chicago.

9. Milwaukee Bucks – Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe

This could be worse, Jason Kidd still wants to run Giannis at Point Guard and then this unit would have to use Rashad Vaughn or John Henson in the starting lineup. But the current 5 here is solid, especially if Carter-Williams can go back to his 76ers rookie season numbers.

10. Atlanta Hawks – Dennis Schröder, Kyle Korver, Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard

Kyle Korver will start the season at the shooting guard spot until one of the rookies ( Prince or Bembry) can adjust to the small forward spot which will allow Kent Bazemore to move to shooting guard. Millsap and Howard are All-Stars and Schroder is going to be very good in his first year as a full-time starter.

11. Washington Wizards – John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr., Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat

The talent is there, but there are glaring issues. Bradley Beal hasn’t proven to be a consistent 70+ game a year player, but Markieff Morris should have a better season after looking lost after the trade to Washington. Wall is one of the top Point Guards in the league and Gortat was outstanding last year which was a good thing. Now, if Beal can live up to his contract and Porter can finally live up to his 3rd overall draft pick from a few seasons ago, then Washington could get back into the playoffs.

12. Orlando Magic – Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vucevic

After a season of having poor paint defense, they traded for Ibaka to be able to play beside Vucevic. Payton has very good court vision, but still haven’t proven to be a good shooter. Fournier had a career year last year after being given starters minutes and will put up simlar numbers this year. The key for success is Gordon’s adjustment to the Small Forward spot.

13. Miami Heat – Goran Dragic, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow, Chris Bosh* and Hassan Whiteside

I know there is an asterisk beside Bosh’s name; We don’t know if he is going to play at all this year. Whiteside is an elite defensive center and Dragic is a solid point guard, but the youth of Richardson and Winslow playing major minutes is going to be the key in Miami this year. Without Bosh, you’re looking at either Derrick Williams or Josh McRoberts at Power Forward.

14. Philadelphia 76ers – Jerryd Bayless, Gerald Henderson, Ben Simmons, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel

The 76ers are so imbalanced right now; all of their talent is in the front court positions. If they can flip a big man or two for help in back court, then this rating is bit low. Simmons has so much star potential, it’s ridiculous. Having Henderson and Bayless off the bench is fine, but starting is not a good sign.

15. Brooklyn Nets – Jeremy Lin, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker and Brook Lopez

Brook Lopez is a very good center, and Lin is an upgrade over last years group of Jarrett Jack, Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan. Hollis-Jefferson is a solid wing defender, and Booker can provide a decent option at Power Forward. All five of these players are certainly fine on their own, but outside of Lopez, are all fringe starters.

 

 

Danny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist of FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 


 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jared Sullinger

Can The Boston Celtics Catch The Raptors Next Season?

The ESPN Summer Forecast predicts 51 wins next season for both the three-time in a row Atlantic Division winning Toronto Raptors and last year’s second place team in the Division, the Boston Celtics.  Boston made the biggest new addition of the two teams in July when they added All-Star Al Horford to a young up-and-coming roster and as is often the case, the biggest splash creates the most optimism, but with all that has gone on this summer, is the addition of Horford enough for the 48 win Celtics to catch up to the 56 win Raptors?

A Celtics Summer

Boston’s summer started with a bang, but it seems to be going out on a whimper. After adding third overall pick Jaylen Brown in the draft and Horford in free agency, the next big thing was the recent addition of 30-year-old journeyman Gerald Green.

As Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog wrote mid way thru July,

Everyone seems to agree on just one important point: The Celtics are aggressively looking to get something done.

By now we all know the names by heart. Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin, Jimmy Butler, Jahlil Okafor, and even a little Kevin Love and DeMarcus Cousins tossed in for good measure. Will any of them be coming to Boston this summer?

The short answer Jeff is “No,” no one else is coming. The Celtics are who they are pending future trades – maybe towards the trade deadline?

To make room for what happened and possibly for what they hoped would happen, the Celtics also lost two big pieces of last season’s rotation.

Veteran swingman Evan Turner averaged 28 minutes a game in Boston last season and put up a reliable 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists. The 27-year-old has become a solid two-way player and the Trail Blazers gave him $70 million this summer.

Turner’s price tag was way too high and Green will provide a really solid backstop for the rookie Brown. It was time to move on, but there is no way to say the Celtics are better next season with Green and Brown taking Turner’s minutes.

Jared Sullinger was far and away Boston’s best rebounder and it’s not even close, but his qualifying offer was pulled late in free agency and the big intriguing power forward/center signed a one year Mid Level Exception deal with the team the Celtics are chasing in the Atlantic.

Sullinger’s loss could be bigger than advertised. He started 73 games in Boston last year and averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in just 23.6 minutes. From the moment the Celtics landed Horford, Sullinger’s days were numbered, but shouldn’t something have been done to shore up this team’s abysmal rebounding after his departure.

Last season Sullinger pulled in 27 percent of the available defensive boards while he was on the court and the Celtics needed every one of them. The 26th worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA just took a step back and Horford is not the solution. With Horford replacing Sullinger in the starting lineup, the Celtics could be as much as 2.9 rebounds a game below last year’s pace.  Sure the Hawks were able to win games as a terrible rebounding team and Horford’s basketball I.Q., scoring and superior (compared to Sullinger) rim protection will help, but it gets hard to beat winning teams if you can’t get the ball back.

Last year the Celtics added 8 wins to their previous year’s total and it’s a lot harder to add the next 8 wins that get you into Conference Finals contention. More than the addition of Horford, improving on last year’s win total will come down to the progress of players in their mid-twenties – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, and even Kelly Olynyk. These players are the ones that have to take their game up a notch if the Celtics are to have any hope of catching the Raptors.

If should be noted that while the Celtics have a solid rotation, they get real young and inexperienced real fast if someone gets hurt.

There are at least three more moves in Boston. The team has 18 players under contract with John Holland and Ben Bentil on non-guaranteed/partially guaranteed deals.

A Quiet Raptors Summer

LIke in Boston, the Raptors hoped having extra first round draft picks would lead to a little more activity at the draft and during the free agent period, but, like in Boston, there was nothing doing.

However, the Raptors are not trying to become Eastern Conference Finals contenders, they were in the Eastern Conference Finals last season and they are bringing substantially the same roster back this year to defend their position.

It looked like something was up at the draft when Toronto took 7′ center Jabob Poeltl 9th overall and then took the rim protecting power forward/center Pascal Siakim at 27. As much as Toronto wanted backup center Bismack Biyombo to return and Biyombo was willing to give a hometown discount, there was no way (under the CBA) to come close to matching the $70 million offer from the Magic when Toronto didn’t hold Biyombo’s bird rights.

The Raptors focus in free agency was to re-sign All-Star DeMar DeRozan and it only took a matter of minutes to come to an agreement on a new near max five year deal. That done and the Raptors salary cap space was gone.

For a seemingly long time the Raptors appeared to be sitting out the rest of free agency until the Celtics pulled Sullinger’s qualifying offer. Within hours, Sullinger was being sold on the benefits of bringing his skills to Toronto for about half of what he was being offered by other teams. It wasn’t a hard sell. Biyombo bet on himself last season by taking a bargain contract with the Raptors and it paid off bigger than anyone could have predicted. If you believe in yourself, and Sullinger does, it looks like a good bet.

In addition to losing Biyombo to free agency, Toronto also lost starting power forward Luis Scola and third string forward James Johnson.

Biyombo is active player, superior rim protector and outstanding rebounder, but beyond setting very good screens, he provides little offense and in half court sets, teams can play off him.  He averaged 5.5 points, 8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 22 minutes per game and had several 20+ rebound efforts. He’ll be missed.

The obvious replacement for Biyombo is last year’s third string center Lucas Nogueira. A true 7-footer with a wingspan that doesn’t end, raw speed, quickness, court vision and a developing three-point shot. If Nogueira could have played up to his obvious potential, he would have taken minutes away from Biyombo last year. On a percentage basis, Nogueira is an excellent shot blocker, ball theft and offensive threat, if the proverbial light comes on. If he continues to only show flashes of consistency, Casey will be forced to give the rookie Poeltl a look and that might be the right move anyway.

At 35-years-old, Scola developed a never before seen reliable three-point shot last season and he can still rebound, but a year later and a year older, this Argentine superstar is well on the downside of his career. He only averaged 21.5 minutes per game as Patrick Patterson was the guy head coach Dwane Casey looked to to close games and pick up the slack.

Sullinger will take the starting power forward job and is expected to play a lot more minutes per game than Scola, but those minutes will not come at the expense of Patterson. Sullinger is also the Raptors real replacement for Biyombo. Like Biyombo last season, Sullinger will be given the opportunity to expand his game and take on a bigger role and he brings an offensive aspect to the center spot that vanished when Jonas Valanciunas was subbed out.

In a Celtics Blog Roundtable, they described the big man that was about to leave Boston,

Kevin O’Connor: Jared Sullinger is better than he gets credit for. But he should also be better than he actually is … I think Sullinger has All-Star-level talent that will ultimately go unrealized unless he makes strides soon.

Wes Howard: I do want to point out that he brings a skill that no one else on our roster has been able to duplicate consistently over the past couple of years. Sully has repeatedly demonstrated that he is able to handle large, strong, bruising centers down low.

The Raptors best rebounder and second best rim protector, Valanciunas will be expected to play more than 26 minutes per game next season just like Sullinger will be expected to play more than 24 minutes and more minutes will be expected from Patterson. Unless someone gets hurt, there probably isn’t going to be many minutes for Nogueira and Poeltl to fight for.

Basically James Johnson only got to play because DeMarre Carroll missed 56 games last year. He did a great job filling in, pedestrian numbers, but the Raptors kept on winning. Then the rookie Norman Powell took his job. As much as Johnson was a solid dressing room guy and well liked by the fan base, he isn’t going to be missed on the court (unless someone gets hurt).

Carroll had knee surgery early in the year to remove loose debris and Toronto only barely got a look at him during the regular season and only a shadow of what he could do in the playoffs. The knee is expected to be 100% next season and his return could be looked at like adding the free agent the team thought they were getting last year to this year’s rotation. Carroll was one of the best “3-and-D” forwards available last summer.

Out of nowhere, the second round pick Powell became a 45 percent three-point shooter and gritty defender on the wing after the All-Star break averaging 9.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 25 games including 20 starts. The rookie had an impressive playoff run as well. The now 23-year-old didn’t look out of place in the starting lineup and should be a big boost off the bench.

Unlike the Celtics, the Raptors don’t have to improve on last year’s regular season results to be taken seriously. Winning 56 games will do that, but they do have seven players in their rotation who are in their mid-twenties and just like the Celtics young core, these guys are supposed to be better than last year as well.

The concern in Toronto revolves around depth after the nine guys who will be the key players in Casey’s rotation. Poeltl and Siakam are rookies and enough said. Bruno Caboclo will be in his third NBA season, but for all intents and purposes he is the same as a rookie too. Third string point guard Delon Wright did improve over last season, but he isn’t proven at an NBA level and neither is last year’s third string center Nogueira.

Toronto does have an open roster spot with two players on non-guaranteed contracts vying for it, so, like last year, there could be more late additions. They may not be done yet.

Raptors vs Celtics

Toronto took the season series from Boston last year 3-1 with an average score of 103 – 98.5 and the biggest difference other than scoring came on the glass. The Raptors were +6.5 boards per game and that’s one stat that doesn’t have a reason to move with the changes that happened over the summer.

The Celtics lost their best rebounder to free agency in starting power forward Sullinger and the Raptors lost their second best rebounder in backup center Biyombo and picked up Sullinger to replace him. If Toronto kills Boston on the glass again this year, that’s got to hurt.

The ESPN Summer Forecast could still prove out. A lot can happen between now and the start of the season, even if it isn’t likely anymore. Boston should be better. Horford should make a difference and the young veterans are expected to improve, but that’s against a back drop of having to make up 8 wins on the team they are chasing, a team that isn’t likely to be any worse than last year and has probably improved in lock step.

Jae Crowder was quoted as saying he isn’t worried about Toronto and he shouldn’t be in July. It’s not even a fair question, but it does indicate a potential rivalry in the making. This season both teams will be striving to be better and the odds of Boston catching Toronto in the standings really aren’t that good – yet.

 

 

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 Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay

How Badly Does The Kings Rudy Gay Want To Win?

It’s rumored the Sacramento Kings Rudy Gay wants to be traded and multiple sources confirm Gay, Ben McLemore and Kouta Koufos are all being shopped with the Pacers and Celtics supposedly showing some interest in Gay. However, the Kings aren’t exactly dealing from a position of strength and Gay’s value may hinge on just how badly he wants to win. Would Gay accept fewer minutes and a role off the bench in order to join a team with a chance of getting to the Conference Finals?

As Sactown Royalty’s Tony Xypteras says,

At any rate, it’s starting to feel like Rudy Gay’s relationship with the Kings has soured to the point of no return, and I’m sure now that Voisin (of the Sacramento Bee) has made Gay’s trade request public, it will only get worse.

Gay has been on the edge of stardom since his rookie season and perhaps the worst thing that happened to his career was the five year extension he signed after his rookie contract that paid him over $19 million in 2014-15. He never could live up to that salary.

Gay has always put up stats. His 10 year career average is 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks. A combo forward that shoots 45.2 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from three-point range, but has only been to the playoffs once, lost in the first round and hasn’t been back for four seasons.

What has to hurt the most is the teams that traded him, the Grizzlies in 2012-13 and the Raptors 2013-14, have made the playoffs in every season after he was gone and both teams have since made an appearance in the Conference Finals.

Just maybe there’s a message here for the soon-to-be 30-year-old Gay. There are often sacrifices to be made if you are really willing to put winning first.

Last year was especially tough on Gay. The Kings had a better roster, but still couldn’t put it all together in a rare season when a .500 record earned you a spot in the Western Conference playoffs.

Sactown Royalty’s Blake Ellington reported in March,

A visibly exhausted Gay was asked if there has been a harder season for him than this one.

“No,” Gay said. “I don’t think any of us have been a part of something like this … It’s tough, it’s very tough. I’m not going to sit here and be like I’m happy with how we’re playing or what’s going on this season, because I’m not.”

Gay has looked disengaged on the floor for most of the season.

As the Kings inch toward closing the book on another failed season, Gay must be thinking about what the future holds for this franchise and his career.

At least Gay is on a much friendlier contract now. He’ll earn $13.3 million for 2016-17 and has a player option for $14.3 million in 2017-18. Based on how monies were being handed out this summer, that’s a decent deal for a proven veteran.

It isn’t hard to imagine how good the Celtic’s bench would look with Gay backing up Jae Crowder and soaking up minutes at the four spot in small(er) lineups. A Pacers rotation with Gay backing up Paul George and Thaddeus Young would be pretty scary as well.

However, the Raptors should be looking to get in on this action as well.

Forget the failed experiment using Gay as the focal point of the Raptors offense when he wilted under the pressure of being “the man” in Toronto. Look at Gay as DeMarre Carroll’s backup and a key depth piece in case of injury to any one of the forwards in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation. In other words, a big upgrade over what James Johnson brought to the Raptors last year.

The question for Gay in any of these situations is, how badly do you want to win?

The issue for the Kings will be they aren’t getting back a player for Gay that can put up the same stat line from anybody. It might take a while, but they are going to have to lower their expectations on the trade of a player who could walk in free agency next summer.

What might get Toronto’s attention is a package of Gay and McLemore for Terrence Ross, Lucas Nogueira and Delon Wright. It’s somewhat of a lateral move, but the Kings would get a proven three-point threat under a favorable contract for three years and two prospects and the Raptors get a needed veteran forward for their push to repeat as Eastern Conference Finalists and a potential replacement for Ross in case Gay walks at the end of the season.

It will be very interesting to see how long the Kings are willing to leave Gay hanging out there on the trade market before they make a move.

 

 

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 Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 


 

NBA Boston Celtics Jared Sullinger 2016

Celtics Make Jared Sullinger An Unrestricted Free Agent

The Boston Celtics wanted to get something of value back for their 21st pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, but apparently they haven’t been able to find anyone willing to help them out with their no longer restricted free agent Jared Sullinger. Either that or Sullinger and his agent have a vastly overinflated view of his value after seeing all of the overly generous deals other free agents have been signing this summer.

The 24-year-old Sullinger still gets knocked for his apparent lack of conditioning, the failure to improve on his three-point shooting and gets questioned about whether a traditional big man like him still has a place in today’s NBA.

Wes Howard and CelticsBlog Staff took on the question of Sullinger’s future with the Celtics after the season ended and they didn’t see the center back with the team next season.

Jeff Clark: Let him walk. Sorry to be so blunt, but I can’t imagine that he’ll be worth whatever he’ll get on his next contract. He’s skilled, no doubt. The guy can rebound, and at times he can score and defend bigger guys in the post. But he hasn’t improved his outside shot enough, he’s not versatile enough for today’s game, and yes, I’m concerned about his conditioning.

Wes Howard: I don’t think that Boston should spend what the market likely dictates it will cost to keep Sully around. However, I do want to point out that he brings a skill that no one else on our roster has been able to duplicate consistently over the past couple of years. Sully has repeatedly demonstrated that he is able to handle large, strong, bruising centers down low. He always seems to do well against Dwight Howard, against Andre Drummond, and against Pau Gasol, to name a few. In short, he does well against more “traditional” centers, on both ends of the court.

Kevin O’Connor: Jared Sullinger is better than he gets credit for. But he should also be better than he actually is. He obviously needs to get in better conditioning. He knows that. But once he does that, he also needs to extend his range to the NBA three-point shot. I’m not sure he’s interested in that based on his recent appearance on The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix. And it’s too bad because I think Sullinger has All-Star-level talent that will ultimately go unrealized unless he makes strides soon.

These Celtics Blog discussions were held before the draft and before the Celtics nabbed All-Star center Al Horford in free agency. Currently Boston is awash in big men and didn’t have room to keep Sullinger. Without a trade partner, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had little choice but to renounce his restricted free agent if only to keep him from picking up his qualifying offer.

Unless Ainge can create a roster spot, he’s got no where to put Sullinger or Zeller and every GM in the NBA knows it. The scariest thing that could happen in Boston is both restricted free agents pick up their qualifying offers sending the Celtics into full on scramble mode to make room for Brown and Yabusele.

Teams in the NBA tend to run like lemmings towards the latest style of play that seems to work, but the demise of the traditional center has become grossly overstated. If a team doesn’t have someone that can defend a traditional center, they will be in at least as much trouble as those teams that can’t defend the three-point line. Drummond, Howard, Gasol, Valanciunas, they’ll still be around next season and they aren’t alone.

Last season Sullinger averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 23.6 minutes over 81 regular season games. He pulled in 10.6 percent of the available offensive boards and 27 percent of the available defensive rebounds. In other words, he is a pretty effective glass cleaner.

Based on the early stages of free agency, Sullinger could command anywhere between $10-18 million a season, but most of those once available dollars have already been committed to other players and Sullinger might be forced to look at something closer to mid level exception money now? He is going to get calls, but his agent has his work cut out for him 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 Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller

There’s No Room In Boston For Sullinger And Zeller

The Boston Celtics still have a lot of work to do this summer. With 13 players under contract when Al Horford comes on board, 6 recently drafted players and an unsigned second round pick from last year, plus the two restricted free agents Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller hanging out there in the breeze wondering where they fit in all this, there isn’t enough room in Boston to keep everyone.

It’s no wonder Sullinger made this cryptic tweet. Something has to be up?

This isn’t a financial issue for the Celtics. They are under the salary cap and it would take unreasonably stupid offer sheets to their restricted free agents to change that. No, this is a pure numbers game. Teams can only keep 15 players in the end and while Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge can play around with a higher number of players under contract in the summer, if he doesn’t start making decisions soon, he’ll only put himself in a worse spot later.

Currently the Celtics are madly rushing around trying to get their 23rd pick in the draft center Ante Zizic a place to play in Europe and are likely working just as hard at finding all of their second round picks homes on other teams around the world. They just don’t have spots on their own roster for any of these guys right now.

However, push is really going to come to shove with the 3rd pick Jaylen Brown, the 16th pick Guerschon Yabusele versus the two restricted free agents. There are only two open roster spots available currently.

Brown is going to play for the Celtics this season. No one tries to stash a third overall draft pick. Yabusele has made it clear he entered the draft because he wants to play in the NBA right away. It isn’t going to be easy convincing him to go back to Europe and wait his turn. He feels he’s been there and done that. Generally speaking, it wouldn’t be a good idea to tell high draft picks you don’t want them around anyway. Their agents wouldn’t appreciate it and you don’t want agents steering future potential draft selections away from your organization.

Unless Ainge can create a roster spot, he’s got no where to put Sullinger or Zeller and every GM in the NBA knows it. The scariest thing that could happen in Boston is both restricted free agents pick up their qualifying offers sending the Celtics into full on scramble mode to make room for Brown and Yabusele.

Sullinger started 73 games with the Celtics last season averaging 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 23.6 minutes, but in the playoffs he only started in 2 of 6 games and averaged just 13.5 minutes. Easily the Celtics best rebounder, concerns about his weight and conditioning remain and with Horford’s arrival, it’s questionable if he still has a role anyway. Besides the rookie Yabusele is a 6’8 270lb forward with the three-point shot Sullinger has never been able to develop. It’s an NBA tradition – in with the new, out with the (not so) old.

Zeller only played an average of 11.8 minutes last season. The lowest of his four years in Boston. There are no signs the Celtics actually want him back. Next fall he would be fighting it out for third string minutes at center behind Horford and Amir Johnson with Kelly Olynyk and he should really be considered to just be in the way of Zizic in the future.

The summer isn’t over. All those reported free agent deals will take a while to get inked. Ainge has time – time to make decisions, time to find homes for draft picks he can’t sign, and time to look for ways to extract value from the surplus of assets and players he’s accumulated, but not too much time. He needs to act reasonably soon while other GMs believe he still has options.

If Ainge can find sign-and-trade partners for Sullinger and Zeller who can send back things like cash, future draft picks and/or other assets that don’t involve taking back a player under contract, he’ll have done pretty well.

Sullinger is enjoying the show. May as well join him and grab the popcorn while we wait.

 

 

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 Kelly Olynyk

Celtics Lost A Lot More Than A Basketball Game To The Hawks

By Frank McLean

The Boston Celtics Saturday night rode a giant roller coaster of emotion in their opening Eastern Conference playoff series game with the Hawks in Atlanta.

They lost a nail bitter 102-101 and the game was highly entertaining, which is why I think this could be the most fun to watch of the four first round series in the conference.

Both teams finished the season with identical 48-34 records matching the won-loss of the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets, but what can make this a highly entertaining best of seven is the fact that both teams aren’t the best defensively and they can score. Now that’s what fans want to see, lots of baskets and defensive-minded coaches pulling their hair out.

The Hawks lead by 17 at the half, but the Celtics outscored their opponents 67-51 in the second half only to lose by a single point.

However, the Celtics it seems lost more than just a basketball game. They have lost guard Avery Bradley probably for the rest of the series with a strained hamstring and Canadian forward Kelly Olynyk’s right shoulder injury has flared up again.

If you watched the game on television, you would have seen the replay where Bradley was just running up the court with the play and all of a sudden he’s grabbing his right leg and trying to get to the bench in intolerable pain. Then he said heard it pop while running up the court.

It’s believed he hurt it earlier on when he tried to block a shot by the Hawks Jeff Teague.

“Avery has a pretty significant strained hamstring, I would say would be doubtful for any of the remainder of the series, certainly very unlikely Tuesday night,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens after Sunday’s practice. “As of right now I would say he’s out Tuesday night, but obviously he’ll continue to get treatment around the clock and go from there. So I would say very unlikely the rest of the series.”

The other injury is to Canadian national team star Kelly Olynyk who strained his right shoulder again, the same right shoulder that kept him out of the Celtics line-up for 12 games in March.

Olynyk did not practice on Sunday resting it and with two day break between games one and two of the series the Celtics are hopeful that rest will allow him to dress for game two.

However from a Canadian standpoint, Basketball Canada and head coach Jay Triano have to be concerned that Olynyk’s right shoulder will be healthy enough for him to play in early July in the Philippines as Canada tries one last time to qualify for the Olympic Games in August.

To replace Bradley, Stevens is going to have to turn to rookie Terry Rozier who is considered someone who can play a little defense.

Rozier played for Rick Pitino at Louisville. I had a chance to talk to Rozier back in November when he was with the Celtic’s NBDL team Maine Red Claws when they played the Raptors 905.

He told me that in order to play for Pitino you have to play defense plain and simple or you don’t play at all.

Stevens is hoping that Rozier remembers what he was taught in Louisville because if the series is going to go longer than four games, he will have to make a significant contribution.

This wasn’t a good opening night in the playoffs for Boston.

 

 

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.

 

 

 


Team Canada Kelly Olynyk

Celtics Kelly Olynyk Is Hoping For No Time Off This Summer

By Frank McLean

When you talk to Boston Celtics and Canadian national team center Kelly Olynyk and you ask him “so what do you have planned for the summer”? He laughs because a holiday and a little time off to put his feet up are not on the radar.

Olynyk’s Boston Celtics are sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings and have clinched their second straight berth in the NBA playoffs which start April 16th.

The Celtics were knocked out in the first round last year after being swept four straight by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but this year with five games left in the regular season they would have home court advantage against the Miami Heat if the playoffs started now.

Olynyk is hoping for a long playoff run and making the playoffs was but the first goal for the Celtics. Getting to at least the second round is the real goal for the team and if that happens there is a good chance Olynyk won’t have any time off this summer.

Olynyk and his Canadian national team teammates have a date in the Philippines July 4th through the 10th in a last ditch attempt for the men’s squad to make it to the Rio Summer Olympics and if that happens it’s off to Brazil and the Summer Olympics from August 5th to the 21st.

If everything works out he might get the Labour Day weekend off. Then it’s back in the gym because three weeks after that it will be the start of training camp for the 2016-17 NBA season.

Talking to Olynyk when the Celtics were in Toronto recently, he knows the summer may be long, but he is ready to embrace it.

“It could be a real long summer,” Olynyk said. “There could be no break until the end of the Olympics. You wish it will happen but whatever happens, happens. We are going to give everything we got as a team and represent our country.”

“For me it’s an exciting time. With the Celtics playoff push it’s going to be an exciting three or four months and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.”

The injury bug hit Olynyk after the All-Star break as he hurt his shoulder, but everything is ok now.

“It’s getting better every day,” Olynyk said. “I have to do stretching exercises that keep it mobile. A lot of it is getting the strength back.”

On the Celtics playoff push Olynyk said the team is ready for a longer run this time around.

“Everybody is playing for each other. We try and execute our game plan every night. Coach (head coach Brad Stevens) does a great job of getting the game plan across to the guys and just communicating things. Next step for us is getting into the second round.”

When asked what he thought about a possible second round playoff series against his hometown Raptors?

“I’d love that. It’s possible, it could happen. I would not be opposed to that,” a smiling Olynyk said.

 

 

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 Dwane Casey

Toronto Raptors Casey For Coach Of The Year

With a baker’s dozen worth of games left in the NBA schedule, the season isn’t over and little is set for a lot of teams, but the field for this year’s Coach of the Year (COY) candidates is down to four or five and the Toronto Raptors Dwane Casey should be at the top of that list.

A COY should be having a good season with better than expected results and an objective look back at ESPN Summer Forecast provides a benchmark for the preseason consensus. There is no requirement to agree with the ESPN panel of more than 200 members, but they say it’s “produced the most accurate predictions in the game.” At least it was done before any games were played and it’s done by a very diverse group which should eliminate bias.

Our list of candidates comes down to six head coaches. In the West: Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich and Terry Stotts. In the East: Dwane Casey, Brad Stevens and Steve Clifford.

Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors, expected finish +13 wins better than projected

Last season 67-15, ESPN summer projection 60-22, current record of 63-7 projects to 73-9

If last year’s COY runner up Steve Kerr had of coached the entire season in Golden State, there wouldn’t even be a race. We now expect the Warriors to tie or beat the all-time NBA record for wins in a season. But when you miss the first half of the season, how can you still vote for the guy when assistant coach Luke Walton was running the show at the same pace?

Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs, expected finish +11 wins better than projected

Last season 55-27, ESPN summer projection 57-25, current record of 59-11 projects to 68-14

Three-time Coach of the Year winner in 2002-03, 2011-12 and 2013-14, there are those in the media who’d give the award to Pop every year, but that isn’t how the NBA awards are handed out.

Exactly how ESPN managed to only project the Spurs to gain two wins after adding All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and David West to an already deep roster is a little confusing and the bold attempts to argue how tough it must be for Pop to integrate all that talent seems more than a little forced. Ask almost any other coach and they’ll beg to be struck down by having to deal with another All-Star on their roster.

To put it bluntly, Pop is a great coach with a great team who is having a great season, but who honestly didn’t expect it?

Terry Stotts, Portland Trail Blazers, expected finish +11 wins better than projected

Last season 51-31, ESPN summer projection 31-51, current record of 36-35 projects to 42-40

Stotts basically lost his entire starting lineup sans Damian Lillard and his team was supposed to be rebuilding with a crop of promising but unproven young talent. To put it mildly, some of those guys have played a lot better than expected.

Projected to finish 11th in the West and currently precariously perched in 6th 1.5 games ahead of the 9th place Jazz, the Trail Blazers are a success story. If they can hang onto a playoff spot, Stotts will get some votes for COY.

Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics, expected finish +7 wins better than projected

Last season 40-42, ESPN summer projection 40-42, current record of 41-30 projects to 47-35

Brad Stevens has created a lot of believers in the media. He got a few COY votes last year and he’ll likely get a few more this time, but Boston has been stubbing their toes at the wrong time.

Not long ago the Celtics were considered to be the biggest threat to the second place Raptors, but a recent four game skid has taken the shine off an otherwise better than expected season. You can’t be lowering expectations heading towards the end of the season and still be in the COY race. Stevens needs to turn this ship around fast.

Steve Clifford, Charlotte Hornets, expected finish +12 wins better than projected

Last season 33-49, ESPN summer projection 35-47, current record of 41-30 projects to 47-35

The Hornets have been red hot since the All-Star break and are rocketing up the standings to be wedged in a three-way tie for fourth in the East with the Hawks and Boston. The third place Heat are only a half game in front of this pack. Forecast to finish in 10th, it’s safe to say the ESPN panelists didn’t see this coming.

Clifford has earned some votes for COY and if he can win the Southwest Division, he’ll get even more attention.

Dwane Casey, Toronto Raptors, expected finish +11 wins better than projected

Last season 49-33, ESPN summer projection 44-38, current record of 48-31 projects to 55-27

If you are looking for proof that ESPN doesn’t really pay much attention to the only team north of the border, look no further than their summer projection. Objectively the Raptors improved in the off season, but somehow the ESPN panel consensus was for five fewer wins?

Under Casey the Raptors number of wins has increased each season from 23 in 2011-12 to 34 to 48 to 49 and now projected at 55 wins this year.

Toronto has been closely tracking the first place Cleveland Cavaliers all season as the second best team in the Eastern Conference and are now just one loss back of the leader with 13 games left. Second place at a minimum is secure, eight losses in front of the third place Heat.

The Raptors franchise has never won 50 games in a season. They have never finished better than third place in their conference. Already in contention, if Casey can lead his team to a first place finish, it’s going to be hard to argue against him for COY.

 

 

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 Isaiah Thomas

Time To Whine? Boston Celtics Go In A Tailspin

By Frank McLean

There is a never a good time for a basketball team to go on a losing streak. But when you do it when you are in the last quarter of the season and playoff seeding is so tight that a five game losing streak could put you out of the playoff picture, this definitely is not the time to do it.

That’s the situation the Boston Celtics find themselves in after they tied a season high with their fourth consecutive loss Friday night in Toronto, a 101-94 setback.

Before Friday’s games the Celtics had dropped to fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. With Cleveland and Toronto battling out for the first and second spot in the conference, the jockeying for position is between the third and eighth seeds. There is only a 5.5 game difference between third place Atlanta and ninth place Detroit.

After the nationally televised Celtics home loss Wednesday night to the Oklahoma City Thunder 130-109, Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said in his post game comments that Friday’s game in Toronto was “ a must win game” and that the Celtics were “soft as tissue” against the Thunder.

On Friday in Toronto the Celtics were never in the game. They were outscored 30-14 in the first quarter. They never led at any time, managing to tie the score just once early in the first frame.

To make matters worst Luis Scola scored all of his 17 points in the game for Toronto in that first quarter where he actually stole the ball from an unsuspecting Celtics offense and made a uncontested slam dunk which is not in Scola’s usual playbook. The 35-year-old just couldn’t keep the smile off his face as he ran back down the court after that one.

Walking into the Celtics locker room after the game you saw a team that is shaken to say the least. Thomas sitting at his locker with his head down, both his knees iced and wondering what has gone wrong over the last four games.

Thomas scored 20 points for the Celtics in 33 minutes of play, but he only went to the free throw line four times in the game while his Raptors counterpart Kyle Lowry went the charity stripe 14 times, more than any other player in the game.

After the game he went to the officiating crew to talk about why he wasn’t getting the calls Lowry and others were. The crew was led by Ron Garretson who has a reputation of not being someone you can talk to during a game in a civil matter.

“I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to get fined,” Thomas said. “The referees have to be held accountable too. Some of those refs have to be held accountable. It’s frustrating not getting the same calls as the other team and we’re one of the top teams in the NBA as well.

“As a man, you want to talk to somebody as a man, right? I didn’t feel like they gave us an opportunity to talk with them throughout the game. Guys were complaining, but at the same time if I come up to you and ask you a question, then I should be able to talk to you and you should be able to answer back. We didn’t get that.”

Thomas also said that the Celtics didn’t lose the game because of the refs, but rather a lack of focus – 16 turnovers in a game is definitely a lack of focus.

“We gotta change something up,” Thomas added about the Celtics woes of late. “I feel like we were being real soft with the ball, not being in control of the possession. That’s the definition of how we’re playing. We’re not playing to the best of our ability. We’re not playing like we know how. We’re playing like were second-guessing, whether it’s offensively or defensively.

“I tried to tell the guys after the game, this is not on the coaches or anybody else. We’re the players. We’ve got to go out and play and we’ve got to figure it out. There’s like 13 games left? We don’t have that much room for error. Things gotta change around here.”

Thomas is right the Celtics need to get a win fast.

This losing streak could not have come at a worst time. Atlanta has won eight of their last 10 and four straight and passed the Celtics for third spot in the conference. Miami has won seven of their last 10 and Charlotte is red hot winning nine of their last 10.

Friday’s loss dropped the Celtics to sixth spot in the conference. If this streak continues they risk fighting with Indiana, Chicago and Detroit for one of the last two playoff spots or worse, dropping out of the playoff picture completely.

That makes Sunday’s game in Philadelphia “A MUST WIN GAME” for the slumping Celtics.

 

 

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 Boston Celtics David Lee

Raptors Linked To Celtics David Lee Once He’s Bought Out

Toronto Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujiri didn’t find a power forward he thought was worth the price at the NBA trade deadline, but that didn’t surprise Basketball Insiders Steve Kyler who predicted on February 16th Toronto would look to add the Celtics two-time All-Star David Lee once he was bought out.

(The Raptors) have a good thing going, so not likely to mess with it drastically, but if the right power forward comes their way, maybe. I think its more likely they wait and see if David Lee gets a buy out. I have been told there is mutual interest. Not sure the Raptors can trade for him without giving up something real because of his salary, but if he gets bought out… very possible.

With the NBA trade deadline now in the rearview mirror and Lee still with the Celtics, the promised buyout is expected to happen soon confirmed Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

In more immediate business, Ainge will be speaking with David Lee and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, to work on a buyout for the 32-year-old forward. The sides had said they would do so if Lee wasn’t traded — and his inclusion was only going to happen if his contract was needed to make a deal with a star work.

There is no great benefit to letting Lee go, but, if he’s not going to play here, Ainge doesn’t want to see an 11-year veteran tied to the pine. Lee will get a chance to see if there’s a place for him in the rotation of a team with stronger postseason aspirations than the Celts.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge undoubtedly knows about the mutual interest between Toronto and Lee, but a promise to an agent isn’t an easy thing to walk away from even if it’s to avoid helping out a team you’re chasing in the standings.

Lee originally wanted out of Golden State after winning an NBA Championship there last year because the team just didn’t have any playing time for him with the emergence of Draymond Green. Boston seemed like a logical landing spot, a team in need of a veteran presence, but then Ainge loaded up with big men and playing time vanished in Boston as well.

Lee only played in 49 games last year in Golden State and he’s only gotten into 30 with Boston this year, but he’s made the most of his opportunities and he’s continued to produce at a lofty double-double rate per 36 minutes.

His averages of 7.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 15.7 minutes with Boston equate to 16.4 points, 10 rebounds and 4.1 assists per 36 minutes which are in-line with his career averages on a per 36 minutes basis.

The soon-to-be 33-year-old Lee knows big minutes or indeed any minutes are going to be tough to find on teams expected to make a deep postseason run, so the trade-off he has to make is between potentially playing more versus helping a good team win in spot duty.

Statistically Lee is just another version of the Raptors soon-to-be 36-year-old veteran forward Luis Scola without the three-point shot. Both players are very good defensive rebounders, better than most on the offensive glass and can still put up big scoring nights when the matchups favor them. However, they are also both on the wrong side of 30, so putting up points like they could 3 or 4 years ago isn’t reasonable to expect on a consistent basis.

Ujiri should still be interested, however. The Raptors big weakness heading towards the postseason is a lack of depth. While Toronto didn’t need to make a trade and their top-10 players are solid, this team starts to look very thin when a second injury hits Casey’s rotation like what happened when James Johnson turned an ankle with DeMarre Carroll still rehabbing his knee.

Lee would be the perfect addition for the Raptors if he can accept a limited role like he embraced with Golden State a year ago. Injury risk is real for any team and can ruin a postseason early if there isn’t a reliable veteran on the bench ready to step in and play at a high level.

Toronto is 5.5 games ahead of third place Boston in the standings ( 6 games in the loss column) and still has an outside chance of catching Cleveland for first place in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors give Lee as good a chance at reaching the NBA Finals as any place he’s likely to land after he’s bought out.

If the mutual interest is there as Kyler suggests, Lee will be playing for the Raptors in the very near future.

 

 

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 head coach Brad Stevens

Should The Boston Celtics Stand Pat At The Trade Deadline?

Winners of 12 of their past 15 games, the Boston Celtics have gone from a .500 team at 19-19 that was hoping to squeeze into 8th place and a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference to a 31-22 record, third place and looking like a team that just might be able to challenge the preseason favorites for home court advantage in the first round and maybe more.

The Celtics were built for a blockbuster trade deadline deal. David Lee and his expiring $15.5 million contract was acquired in the summer to provide the flexibility needed to make a trade for any player regardless of salary. As many as four first round draft picks this year depending on how other teams finish the season plus four second round picks (possibly five) have been acquired for the upcoming draft. Any team looking to rebuild has to be talking to Boston.

Plus, there is duplication of players with similar talent throughout the roster, but with how this team is performing and the obvious chemistry that has developed, the question becomes, should the Celtics just stand pat at the trade deadline? After all, trades, even trades for star players, do not always make a team better immediately and this team is definitely headed in the right direction without an infusion of help.

Sacramento Kings head coach George Karl told Jay King of Mass Live he thinks the Celtics as constructed just might be able to beat the Cavaliers in the playoffs.

“I’ll tell you what,” Coach Karl said. “I think they have a chance against Cleveland.”

That might have sounded more than a little optimistic a few days ago, but the Celtics recently defeated those Cavaliers in Cleveland 104-103 on an  Avery Bradley buzzer-beater and a closer look at the Celtics recent record suggests this team has been steadily getting better.

Boston kicked off their current run by beating the Pacers who were three games ahead of them at the time. They also pulled out a near wire-to-wire win over the Bulls. Their only loss to a team they were chasing in the Eastern Conference playoff race came against the even hotter Toronto Raptors on the road.

What has become obvious is head coach Brad Stevens is getting the most out of a very deep roster. There is little to no drop off when the subs come in and that’s difficult for opponents to deal with.

“They’re a 48-minute team, that’s what I like,” Karl said. “The first thing I saw was that their bench is probably as strong as their starters. Their energy is good – more consistent than most NBA teams I watch on video. They don’t have a lot of ego, and I think they know that their defense creates offense for them, so they play that at a very difficult and high-energized level.”

Karl added: “I think NBA players play hard. It’s the teams that have the talent to play harder than their opponent that is what I think Boston has. In a 48-minute game it’s not dominant. But they have those five-minute moments, or those 15-possession moments where their energy is very much substantially stronger than their opponent. Some of it comes because they’re a defensive team that creates turnovers. Some of it comes because they’re young kids fighting for minutes, and (head coach Brad) Stevens does a great job of pushing buttons and keeping everyone highly motivated.”

The NBA trade deadline is less than two weeks away and to no one’s surprise, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been the center of attention for all kinds of speculation. The Celtics were built to make a move at this time of year.

However, all this winning is likely making his job a lot harder. Ainge has little incentive to make any move that doesn’t represent an obvious immediate upgrade. The Celtics don’t need any more prospects or developing players and the guys they got are doing as well or better than any of the journeyman or just-better than average talent he might have considered if the Celtics were a .500 team.

If Ainge can’t find a star player to add to his better than expected roster, standing pat with this group is going to be an easy decision to make.

 

 

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.