The Boston Celtics finished last season with 25 wins, and there is no quick fix to get back to contention this time around. Now a year removed from the overhaul which saw the departures of head coach Doc Rivers and future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Celtics are continuing to reconstruct its roster and forge a new direction. This season is filled with uncertainties and the faces on the team in training camp could be drastically different over the coming months.
Basketball Insiders takes a look at the 2014-2015 Boston Celtics…
Five Guys Think
If Boston Celtics fans want to feel good right now, their best bet is to take a long, hard look at their “future draft picks owed” list and start counting all the first-round selections they’ll be making in the coming years. If they want to feel bad, however, they can instead take a long, hard look at the current roster. While Rondo is still the team’s best player, it’s hard to believe he’ll be there much longer, especially with a young stud like Marcus Smart waiting in the wings. Brad Stevens is an interesting young coach, but still doesn’t quite have the talent to show what he’s made of. This is going to be another long year for the Celtics, and if lottery rules change, it could be that they don’t even have Jahlil Okafor to look forward to.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
What will the Celtics do with Rajon Rondo? That’s the big question in Boston entering the season. Unless the Celtics are able to use some of their young assets and draft picks to land a star player before the trade deadline (like they tried to do with Kevin Love), I think Rondo will be traded. Rondo will be 29 years old when he hits unrestricted free agency next summer and he is used to playing for a contender. I can’t imagine him re-signing with the Celtics as they’re currently assembled, since the franchise is in the midst of a rebuild that requires patience, when he could sign elsewhere and win in the prime of his career. I think Danny Ainge realizes this as well and will move Rondo before the deadline for more young players and draft picks. Holding onto him is too risky since they could lose him without receiving anything in return next summer. The Celtics had a nice offseason, adding potential cornerstones in Marcus Smart and James Young to a young core that already features talented pieces like Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger among others. Boston is likely another year or two away from competing for a playoff spot, but they have an excellent young coach in Brad Stevens and a lot of talented young players and valuable draft picks, so their rebuild is going exactly as planned.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Alex Kennedy
The Boston Celtics are in the midst of a rebuilding process president of basketball operations Danny Ainge long predicted would take place when Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were no longer in the fold. But the biggest cloud hanging over the team headed into training camp is the future of All-Star guard Rajon Rondo with the franchise. Rondo will be an unrestricted free agent next summer which will likely lead to trade rumors surrounding the star to be rampant throughout the campaign. There are some solid young assets on the roster and a few veterans who have been in their share of battles over the years. Playoff talk might be too much of a leap for this team, but with a healthy Rondo the Celtics will definitely be more competitive on a nightly basis.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Lang Greene
Now that Kevin Love is officially a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, it appears that Rajon Rondo’s departure from the only franchise he has known for his eight-year career is nigh. As it stands, with Ray Allen, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce all having moved on, Rondo is the lone remainder of the five pillars that won the 2008 NBA Finals. Danny Ainge will likely continue to scour the market in search of a running mate for Rondo, but this is a team heading into the second year of what may be a long rebuilding effort. With second-year head coach Brad Stevens and newly drafted Marcus Smart, the Celtics do not seem to be a team capable of challenging for anything other than being the worst team in the NBA’s Atlantic Division. Fortunately for them, the Sixers are likely to wear that honor, but unfortunately for them, the Celtics will enter the season with nothing but questions about Rondo’s future at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
4th place – Atlantic Division
– Moke Hamilton
All you have to do is look at the Boston Celtics’ depth chart to realize that they’re more than ready to trade Rajon Rondo when the right deal comes along. They’re loaded in the backcourt with plenty of young talent to take his place whenever a deal does happen, and I’d expect to see it sometime before the deadline – perhaps even earlier if Rondo gets off to a strong start or becomes more vocal about his unhappiness. Danny Ainge pulled a contender out of his hat before, but this time it seems like the road back to contention is going to be a little bit longer, because he’s not going to get contending pieces in return for Rondo. He’ll be fortunate to get a promising young big man, like a Greg Monroe and a couple of draft picks. Brad Stevens really had his moments last year and looks like he could be the right guy for the job in Boston, but this looks like it’s going to be another painful year. The only consolation is that even with Rondo, their potential just isn’t that high. The East is weak, so perhaps they could slide in to one of the final playoff spots in the best-case scenario, but that’s not the goal in Boston. They’ll take a couple steps back in order to hopefully take several forward in the future before settling on just being a one-and-done playoff team with their most tradeable asset heading towards free agency and potentially laeving for nothing in return.
– Yannis Koutroupis
Top of the List
Top Offensive Player: There is no question Jeff Green has the ability to lead the Celtics in scoring every game. The question is, however, if he will do it consistently. Green’s offensive performances have roller coastered with standouts and struggles on any given night. Last season he averaged 16.9 points per game and should be the top scoring option again this year.
Top Defensive Player: The Celtics showed their belief in Avery Bradley by inking him to a four-year, $32 million contract this summer. When healthy, Bradley has proved himself to be a lockdown defender against some of the league’s top threats. If the guard can stay on the court, he could develop into an All-Defensive Team player.
Top Playmaker: Rajon Rondo is one of the most creative players in the NBA. The combination of sky-high basketball IQ and athleticism allow him to create plays on the fly. Over the years Rondo has shown it is often hard to predict what move he will make with the ball in his hands.
Top Clutch Player: Following up with the section above, the most clutch player doesn’t have to be the one taking the final shot. (Think back to Rondo’s in-bound alley oops.) He uses his stealth-like court vision to put his teammates in position to attempt that dagger game winner.
The Unheralded Player: Undrafted, undersized, and playing behind one of the best point guards in the league, yet Phil Pressey has still established himself as a legitimate floor general in the NBA. He showed growth in Summer League and proved he is a reliable backup PG who should develop his game even more in his sophomore season.
Best New Addition: Given the uncertainty of Rondo’s future on the team, the Celtics made a smart (no pun intended) move and drafted Marcus Smart with the sixth pick this summer. The 20 year old from Oklahoma State University enters the NBA at 6-4, 220 pounds. The Celtics now have backcourt security for the future and a gritty young player who can be utilized at the one or the two.
Who We Like
1. Brad Stevens: Amid a struggling season, the newly appointed head coach was one of the standouts. Brad Stevens is gearing up for his second year in the NBA and has already made a positive impression. The players bought into his system early on and he has a season’s experience to build upon with a solid coaching staff.
2. Jared Sullinger: No longer the young guy in a group of veterans, Sullinger could have a breakout year in his third NBA season. Last year was his return from back surgery; this season he will be entering the season healthy. If he can improve his conditioning, he still has a lot of potential to reach in the front court.
3. Kelly Olynyk: After being named to the All-Rookie Second Team last season, Kelly Olynyk continued to impress in Summer League. The seven footer can stretch the floor to give the Celtics options in rotations. With the rookie learning curve behind him, Olynyk should become a more consistent contributor in his second year.
4. Tyler Zeller: For as many frontcourt players as they had last season, the Celtics lacked depth at the center position. Tyler Zeller, who was acquired this offseason in a three-team trade with the Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers, will give the Cs a young contributor who can play both the four and the five.
The Celtics roster is packed with youth and athleticism, giving them the advantage to get out and run. Stevens up tempo system allows Rondo to play in transition and creates matchup problems when players one through five can move up and down the court. What they lack in experience, they can use to outrun veteran teams.
Who are the Boston Celtics? The team lacks a true identity after being contenders for many years. Rather, this is the time when they are developing who they will become in the future. In addition the Celtics do not have the star power they boasted during “The New Big Three” era. The one remaining player from that period (see below) may not be around the entire season.
The Salary Cap
The Celtics have so many players, they can’t ink Evan Turner — despite coming to terms with the free-agent guard/forward. The offseason maximum is 20 players, where Boston sits with five non-guaranteed players including Keith Bogans at $5.3 million. The Celtics may hope to cash out Bogans in trade, along with a number of players including Rajon Rondo, Marcus Thornton, Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony, and Gerald Wallace, among others. Boston won’t rush to deal Rondo, looking for a lot in return, but the team needs to also mind the luxury tax line at $76.8 million in any deal that might come up before the roster is cut down to at least 15. The Celtics are also loaded with future picks, a $4.2 million trade exception (for Kris Humphries) and their Bi-Annual Exception ($2.1 million). Turner is expected to get a portion of the team’s $5.3 million Mid-Level Exception.
– Eric Pincus
The future is simultaneously bright and dismal in Boston. The Celtics bit the rebuilding bullet hard last year, trading away Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers in exchange for salary ballast (Gerald Wallace still has two years left on what is probably the worst contract in the NBA) and a bevy of future draft picks. But the current reality is roster with only one player–Marcus Smart–who looks like a good bet to become an above-average NBA starter on the next good Celitcs team. Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, and Jared Sullinger have their strengths, but they all look to be mostly one-way players. Rajon Rondo’s contract will expire at age 29 next offseason, and he should not be a part of the Celtics’ long-term plans considering his age and likely salary demands. And while the squad has both draft assets and cap space, it remains to be seen whether superstars may be available via trade or free agency. Even if one were, the lack of established talent on the roster could hamstring efforts to acquire such a star.
Perhaps the best asset in Boston is their coach, Brad Stevens. The former Butler wizard scraped together a nearly league-average defense from a roster without a single decent defensive big man last season, but he (like most coaches) proved powerless to improve the offense given the lack of high-end talent. Some may point to the potential return to form of Rondo, but it is worth remembering that the Celtics struggled offensively in 2011 and 2012 even with a younger Rondo at the controls of an offense featuring Garnett, Pierce, and Ray Allen. It seems very unlikely the offense will improve much on last year’s 27th ranked attack.
Best Case Scenario
If you scrolled down, you will note the best case scenario involves a worse record. That is because this season is all about developing talent, both for internal development and to potentially land a star via free agency or trade. An improved draft pick would also help the rebuilding effort along as well, but this scenario is all about trading the older players and letting the young guys play. Rondo and Jeff Green are traded, hopefully for something amounting to a first-round pick between the two of them, while the team manages to buy out Wallace so he can sit on a contender’s bench. That opens the door for Smart, James Young, and Olynyk (probably the most promising of the young bigs due to his mobility) to play at the expense of the 2014-15 record.
Worst Case Scenario
Rondo, Green, Wallace, and Marcus Thornton are all Celtics at the end of the season because Danny Ainge cannot obtain anything worthwhile in trade. Both Rondo and Green have career years and block the young guys behind them, the defense gets into the top half of the league, and the team overperforms its point differential (it underperformed by 3 wins last year) to get stuck in the back half of the lottery.
– Nate Duncan
The Burning Question
Where will Rondo finish this season?
The Celtics captain has an expiring contract and the most value on the team. The combination of those two factors make him an instant trade candidate. The Celtics and Rondo have to determine whether they will to continue a future together. Rondo wants to win again, and there will be other suitors out there who can provide that opportunity. Expect the Celtics, as well, to explore what they could receive in return for their top asset. If Rondo doesn’t want to commit to the team beyond his current contract, it is hard to imagine him in a Celtics uniform at the end of the season.
NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors
Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.
As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.
Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.
The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.
Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.
Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.
Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.
When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.
“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”
Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.
Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.
In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.
“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”
It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”
“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”
Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.
Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors
Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions
Opening week is finally upon us.
Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.
The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.
In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.
Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.
But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.
The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.
What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.
That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.
Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.
Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.
Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.
It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.
As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.
Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.
Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.
Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.
The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.
Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.
The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.
If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.
See you at tip-off.
NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season
NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.
The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.
In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.
Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.
New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:
- Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
- A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
- A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
- Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
- Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
- NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.
Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:
- Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
- Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
- NBA Team Pass: $119.99
- Single Game Pass: $6.99
- Virtual Reality package: $49.99
- Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
- Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
- NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99
As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).
This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.
Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.