Boston Celtics Ready To Rule NBA East For A Decade
As the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors experienced massive offseason change, the Boston Celtics proceeded into summer 2018 with calm confidence. After an incredible run to the eastern conference finals without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the Celtics didn’t need to wheel and deal. Instead, Danny Ainge remained rightfully confident with the personnel and prospects of Boston basketball.
The NBA east was shook with the news of Kawhi Leonard joining The North, but the Celtics remain favorites in the east. Toronto’s odds to win a championship are listed at +2000 while Boston has a +650 line, according to CanadaSportsBetting.ca.
Teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks will also challenge Boston – now and in the future – but all signs point to an extended period of eastern conference dominance for the Celtics. The Bill Russell era will never repeat, but Boston’s stockpile of youthful stars, future picks and organizational wisdom could set the pace for the next decade.
Jayson Tatum – Franchise Player
Fellow rookies Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons received the lion’s share of attention for their superb inaugural season, but Jayson Tatum might be the finest baller of the 2017-18 class.
Ben Simmons possesses the more dominant, LeBron-style physicality while Donovan Mitchell could be the best pure scorer of the 2017 NBA draft. As such, both deserved votes received for best regular season rookie. In the playoffs, Tatum left both freshman in the wake of his historic performance.
Post season work crowns any achievement during the regular campaign – just ask King James, who declared Tatum “built for stardom” after the 2018 Eastern Conference finals. Jayson lead the Celtics deep into the eastern bracket despite the absence of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, scoring 18.5 PPG over 19 games.
Jayson became the first rookie since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to notch ten consecutive 20-point games in the playoffs. Tatum was within a single point of breaking Kareem’s freshman record of 352 total points in a single postseason campaign. Sure, Abdul-Jabbar required nine fewer games to amass his total, but this takes nothing away from Jayson’s remarkable introduction to high-stakes pro basketball.
Tatum’s ability to score when points are most scarce reflects the type of skill, mental fortitude, and dedication to fundamentals that transforms top athletes into NBA superstars. This doesn’t include Tatum’s already sound defense, which prevents the opposition from playing him off the floor like Enes Kanter.
“He can get a lot better,“ Celtics coach Stevens said after the conference finals. “I think there are so many little things that he’ll continue to improve upon.”
“Wait ‘till you see him in two years,” Al Horford praised. “He’s way ahead of the game.”
Perhaps the most stunning compliment would be the tacit vote of confidence from GM Danny Ainge over the 2018 offseason. The Celtics refused to part with Tatum for Kawhi Leonard when given the opportunity. Leonard would’ve all but guaranteed an NBA Finals appearance for the Celtics over the next five years after re-upping for the max.
Instead, Boston believes Tatum contains the potential of a generational franchise player, capable of powering a dynasty.
Celtics Stockpile Of Picks & Elite Youth
A half-decade of swindling opposing GMs defines the tenure of GM Danny Ainge. Hoarding first-round picks hasn’t always been popular with Celtics faithful, but a surprise run to the eastern conference finals represents the first wave of success for this strategy. Unlike Philly’s “process”, which involved an historic volume of losing, Boston required only a brief teardown for the picks necessary to reboot.
Boston’s already been richly rewarded for their first wave of first round lottery picks, selecting Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum in 2016 and 2017. These two picks alone would be considered a success, but talent like Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart have proven themselves as strong playoff competitors too, selected in the first round during years prior. Rozier’s fantastic performance during the 2018 playoffs, which included ice-cold shotmaking, sparked discussion of Kyrie Irving’s redundancy – previously unthinkable before Irving went under the knife.
Danny Ainge has been so crafty that he stole a lottery pick in 2019 by picking Jayson Tatum – the player they wanted all along – while bluffing Philly into trading up for Markelle Fultz. Over the next three years, the Celtics have their own pick, along with a 2019 first round selection from the 76ers or Kings, and a pick from Memphis and the Clippers over the next few years, depending on conditional protections.
These six picks give the Celtics an absurd amount of leverage and options when pursuing talent. Boston can outbid any team in the NBA in a trade war. Worst case scenario, one or two of these picks develop into stars, eventually replacing aging or injured contributors.
Most teams buckle under the injury pressure experienced by the Celtics during the 2017-18 campaign. Instead, Boston discovered a substantial silver lining of youthful, resilient talent, envied by the rest of the association.
Boston’s Somewhat Fungible Superstars
There’s no insult in referring to Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward as somewhat fungible after Boston’s amazing run through the eastern conference. The Celtics were one game away from the NBA finals without Irving and Hayward, which hints at their replaceability in the grand scheme of basketball.
He may not be a plus defender, but Kyrie Irving remains an elite scoring point guard, capable of getting his own bucket under any circumstances. Gordon Hayward will be the star Boston lured from Utah, combining elite shooting and sneaky athleticism which coach Stevens will leverage to great success.
Ideally, the Celtics would love to keep all their talent together, but the reality of the salary cap will force Danny Ainge’s hand at some point. On paper, losing Irving because of severe luxury tax problems becomes less of an issue with Terry Rozier turning into a star guard. Hayward’s role as a small forward will be scrutinized if Jaylen and Jayson fulfill their promise.
In an NBA which features the highest rate of star turnover in pro sports, Boston’s ability to replace their superstars with young, elite talent improves their immediate outlook while ensuing a bright future during the 2020s.
Youthful talent fuels the upcoming dominance of the Celtics over the eastern conference. However, without veteran leadership, the potential remains unfulfilled. Cue the on-court intelligence and leadership of Al Horford, who helped Boston remain calm and organized throughout the chaos of the 2017-18 season. Kyrie should also receive acclaim for helping Rozier and other young scorers fill Irving’s shoes.
Coach Stevens seems to be the rare bench boss who combines outstanding personnel and play calling strategy with motivational skills which speak to rookies and veterans alike. At the age of 41, Stevens isn’t a generation removed from the 32-year-old Horford. Both will remain for at least a couple of seasons to mold the Celtics into a long-term favorite. Al’s only human, but he might decide to remain with Boston if the current atmosphere of winning continues.
NBA Championship Contenders at the Quarter Pole
The season is roughly a quarter of the way through and we’ve had more than our fair share of surprises thus far. If we would have told you before the season began that the Golden State Warriors would be ambling along in fourth place in the West would you have asked suggested that another round of cocktails might not be the wisest choice? We certainly couldn’t blame you but here the defending champions sit at 16-9, matching their loss total for the entire season back in 2015-2016.
Without further ado, let’s give a couple of quick hits as well as the corresponding NBA odds for a championship title being dealt by the best online sportsbooks found all over at Sportsbook Review.
- Golden State Warriors (-150) – Only a team like Golden State could still be considered the prohibitive favorite with three other teams above them in the Western Conference standings. Draymond Green has been on the shelf since November 15th, suffering from a sprained right toe, and the Warriors have gone 6-6 straight up without the six-year veteran in the lineup and won’t likely see him dress for another week or more. In addition, center Damian Jones is out for the season with a torn left pectoral muscle, which has left the champs thin in the post. But that hasn’t stopped the oddsmakers from making GSW the favorites to repeat as NBA champions.
- Toronto Raptors (+800) – The Raps were viewed as paper tigers by many before the season started after tearing through the 2017-2018 regular season with 59 wins and garnering the top seed in the East before they were swept in the second round by the Cavaliers. Toronto was not content and fired their Coach of the Year, Dwane Casey, and promoted Nick Nurse to take the helm. The Raptors are proving the pundits wrong and the NBA odds seem to back that up as they currently own the best record in the league and have won 10 of 13 in front of their rabid fans at Scotiabank Arena.
- Boston Celtics (+1100) – The Celtics were supposed to be a force of nature this season with a healthy Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to claim the East and make a charge at the Warriors. Well, things haven’t exactly turned out that way as Hayward has just now found his groove as a valuable sixth man off the bench as opposed to an underachieving starter. Jaylen Brown has been hindered by injuries and is not playing up to par while backup Terry Rozier, who looked silky smooth in Irving’s stead late last year, is grumbling that he’s no longer in the spotlight. However, the Green Machine has won three straight and seems to be turning the corner.
- Houston Rockets (+1200) – If you want to know how long the NBA season is, imagine a team that is currently under .500 being tagged as having the fourth-best chance to win the NBA championship. If the season ended today, the Rockets would not even be in the postseason but as we all know, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. But a healthy Houston team is a winning Houston team as evidenced by the fact that the Rockets have lost all five games when Chris Paul has been out of the lineup while dropping two of three when Harden was sidelined with a hamstring injury. When healthy, the Rockets are very much a team to beat.
- Philadelphia 76ers (+1500) – A one-hundred dollar bill will net you $1500 if you bet the Sixers to win the title six months from now. Philadelphia’s bevy of high draft picks are bearing fruit and after adding the talented Jimmy Butler to their roster, they are officially for real. Nevertheless, the Markelle Fultz experiment continues with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft being hindered by shoulder issues. It’s too early to tell whether this pick has bust written all over it but the Sixers are certainly talented enough to get by and challenge without him.
Will LeBron James buy an NBA team when he retires?
For all the money and fame it brings, the career of a professional sportsperson is a relatively short one, often coming to an abrupt end in their mid to late 30s. At this point, most are left searching for a new outlet for their competitive natures, as well as a way to invest their considerable fortunes.
Buying a sports team is one of the most popular options available and stars who have done this in the past include Michael Jordan who famously owns the Charlotte Hornets and Magic Johnson who is a leading shareholder in the LA Dodgers.
Now the player whose ownership future is being widely speculated over is LeBron James. At 33 he probably has a few more playing years ahead of him but his thoughts must surely be starting to turn to his eventual retirement.
One thing is for certain and that’s that his estimated $233 million fortune plus lifetime sponsorship deals with the likes of Nike, Sprite and Kia rumoured to be worth over $1 billion mean that his pockets will be more than deep enough to buy a substantial share of almost any team he chooses.
It’s also something he’s already done in the English Premier League with a $6.5 million investment and 2% stake in the Liverpool FC soccer team. With the club riding high in the league he’s already seen its value rise to around $32 million.
But basketball’s his first love so it would seem more than likely that he’ll set his sights on an NBA team when the time comes, but which one?
The logical answer would be the Lakers but, unfortunately, this wouldn’t be allowed under the terms of the cap arrangements with the team and would be in conflict with the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. So he’ll have to set his sights elsewhere.
There’s a strong tradition of players buying into the teams that they used to play for so how about the one that James has represented the most in his career, Cleveland Cavaliers.
With stints from 2003 till 2010 and 2014 to 2018 he’s spent no less than 14 years playing with them and his heart definitely lies in his home state, Ohio.
But one thing to consider is that when he left the Cavaliers for the Lakers earlier this year one of the reasons cited was his poor relationship with the current owner, Dan Gilbert. Whether he’ll want to business with Gilbert remains to be seen.
Then there’s the possibility of the other team he’s represented, Miami Heat. This would very much be an outside option compared with the Cavaliers but in basketball, as in life, nothing’s absolutely out of the question.
But with a possible three or four more seasons left with the Lakers it’s not a decision that James is going to have to make in the immediate future. And when he does it’s more than likely that his first overtures will be made to the Cavaliers.
As to how they’ll respond to this, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Killer Kemba & Shamrocks Sinking
Walker En Fuego
If you asked the casual hoops fan to list the best players in the game, names like LeBron, Steph, Anthony Davis, and Kyrie Irving might be among the first to be uttered. But there is a force in Charlotte whose name should be whispered whenever the elites of the game are mentioned. Kemba Walker has been a destroyer of late, as evidenced by his most recent outings where he shredded the 76ers for 60 points in an overtime loss and then followed up that gem with 43 in a winning effort over the Celtics on Monday night.
Oddsmakers at some of the most trusted and respected online sportsbooks like Bookmaker were dealing Boston as 3 ½ point favorites in that game but clearly, they had the wrong favorite and didn’t prepare for another stellar performance from the two-time NBA All-Star. Walker has now eclipsed Steph Curry as the NBA’s scoring leader, averaging 29.6 points per game, and has contributed mightily to a Hornets season record that wouldn’t be sniffing .500 without him.
Celtics forward Gordon Hayward had this to say after Monday’s game, “He’s been unbelievable, especially when your whole game plan is to stop him and he is still going off and doing what he does. He’s an unbelievable player.”
The seven-year veteran has come into his own over the past three seasons, averaging 23.2, 22.1, and currently 29.6 points per game. Walker and the Hornets will close out the week with a game at home against the Pacers on Wednesday and then hit the highway for a date with the Thunder on Friday and then an early evening affair against the Hawks in Atlanta.
Green Machine Broken
The Celtics are completely out of sync and lost their following two games to Utah and Charlotte after a huge win over Eastern Conference big shot Toronto. Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and the entire lot appear to be disjointed but there is one name that keeps popping up as the one many perceive to be the culprit – Gordon Hayward.
The former member of the Utah Jazz, who was wooed to Boston as a prized free agent before last season, suffered a gruesome broken leg in the opening game and has returned this season to much fanfare. However, the euphoria of a healthy Celtics roster has dissipated into utter disappointment and head coach Brad Stevens even pulled him from the starting unit to open their game against the Hornets with Aron Baynes getting the start. It made little difference as Baynes went 1-for-4 from the field and Haywood contributed another clunker on 1-of-6 shooting.
The Celtics have an ideal opportunity to get back on track with games against the Knicks at home before they travel to Atlanta and Dallas to close out the week. If the Shamrocks continue to struggle against those teams then the reality that this team simply isn’t as good as it looks on paper will begin to set in, and for the first time since he’s been coaching the Celtics, Brad Stevens could be nearing the hot seat. But before panic ensues in Celtics Nation, the head coach had this to say about his charges, “We have to build a tougher team mindset than we have. We just don’t have that mindset yet that we need.”
Many believe that it is only a matter of time before the C’s get well but in the interim, they are now slipping down the Eastern Conference standings where they sit tied with Orlando and Charlotte for sixth through eighth place. It’s basement playoff real estate that has been unfamiliar to Boston over the past few seasons and if change is gonna come, it better start soon.