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Shaun Livingston Knows His End Is Near

Spencer Davies discusses a multitude of topics with Golden State Warriors’ veteran Shaun Livingston, including retirement, player development and the season.

Spencer Davies

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Ever since taking hold of the Golden State Warrior reins in 2014, Steve Kerr has had an embarrassment of riches to work with.

The mainstays—a two-time NBA MVP in Stephen Curry, a three-time All-Defensive first-teamer in Draymond Green, a four-time All-Star in Klay Thompson—got their first taste of gold in year one of Kerr’s tenure.

Sprinkle in Kevin Durant, a former regular season MVP and two-time Finals MVP, to sweeten the original pot and it’s resulted in two more NBA titles (three in total). And, with DeMarcus Cousins added to the mix, the team may end up with its fourth in five seasons.

Those are the sexy names, the media darlings and the star talent—but there are two players who have been there since the inception of this dynasty that don’t receive nearly enough credit.

Mention Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston to Kerr and you’ll hear him rave.

“In many ways the unsung heroes of our team over the last four years,” Kerr said of his veteran pairing.

As the “backbone” of Golden State’s second unit, Iguodala and Livingston have made their biggest impact through pestering opposing offenses. Having the luxury of tall wings with long arms, Kerr experimented with a tactic, which, at the time, hadn’t been implemented before. To say it worked would be an understatement.

“They represent a lot of what we’ve done defensively, in that, we put a bunch of 6-7 guys who could switch,” Kerr said. “And Shaun and Andre were two of the biggest reasons we decided to go with that strategy because they were great with that stuff.

“So I’m just lucky to have coached them and to continue to coach them. They still are an enormous part of what we do, on and off the floor.”

Father Time Is Undefeated

Both Iguodala and Livingston were selected in the top 10 of the 2004 NBA Draft, with the former being older than the latter.

Though Iguodala’s 36,013 career minutes essentially doubles that of Livingston’s total, the younger one feels about the same age as him.

Battles with injuries early in his career and putting in extra hard work to continue playing at 33 years old have admittedly worn on Livingston.

In late November, Iguodala hinted to NBC Sports Bay Area about retiring within the next few seasons. Is it fair to say Livingston is in the same boat?

“I mean, honestly who knows?” Livingston told Basketball Insiders as Warrior trainer Drew Yoder wrapped a bag of ice around his knees. “A year, couple years? But I mean, it’s coming sooner than later. Handwriting is on the wall.”

Named Mr. Basketball for Illinois in 2004 and a McDonald’s All-American standout at Peoria Central High School, Livingston was a top point guard prospect in the nation. Instead of attending Duke, he decided to enter the draft, where the Los Angeles Clippers took him fourth overall.

Livingston’s stint with the Clippers went well when he played. The issue was his body wouldn’t allow him to stay on the floor.

As a rookie, a dislocated right patella and torn shoulder cartilage sidelined Livingston for 52 games. The following year, he missed the first 21 games of the season with a lower back injury.

What happened on Feb. 26, 2007, however, was a tragic moment no basketball fan will ever forget.

On a fastbreak drive to the basket, Livingston lost his balance after a layup attempt and landed awkwardly. Writhing in pain, he had broken his left leg, dislocated the same knee, severely sprained his MCL and tore his ACL, PCL and meniscus—all in one life-changing sequence.

It was so devastating that Livingston almost lost his leg. He had to re-learn how to walk. Months upon months of rehabilitation were necessary to do so.

But Livingston was determined to return. Sure enough, in June 2008, he was cleared to resume basketball activities.

His contract with Los Angeles had already expired and he didn’t receive a qualifying offer, so he became an unrestricted free agent.

While he was blessed to be playing at all, the road was still rocky for Livingston from there. The Miami HEAT offered him his first contract post-injury. He only played four games for the organization before he was sent to the Memphis Grizzlies and subsequently waived the same day.

Whatever it was—a D-League stint, 10-day contracts, trades—Livingston continued to grind, playing for seven organizations in six years. He found footing at the end of 2013 in Cleveland and continued the momentum the next season in Brooklyn, where he started a career-best 54 games and averaged 26 minutes per contest.

Livingston’s fight to not only keep his career afloat, but also make an impact in the process attracted the Warriors’ front office towards him. Three championship seasons later—the rest is history.

“Just being able to get to a position to where I can contribute, and for me personally, that was my goal,” Livingston said of what kept him going. “My goal was to continue to get better and be on better teams.

“I felt like if I was on better teams and able to contribute to a winning team, I felt like I was doing something right because they wanted me.”

So how will Livingston look back on his career when it is all said and done?

“I’ll be pretty proud of the fact that I was able just to stick with my career,” Livingston said. “I didn’t give up on myself.

“It’s just something to hang my hat on. A part of my character. It’s who I am more than anything, not the kind of player I was. It’s more about who I am as a person. That means more to me than anything I could do on the court.”

Who’s Up Next In The Bay

Of course, the show must go on in Golden State once Livingston decides it’s time to retire. Luckily for the franchise, they have a ton of promising players on deck.

Warrior guards Quinn Cook and Jacob Evans, along with young frontcourt players like Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and Damian Jones, are the future. Some of them are getting meaningful minutes already, while the others are observing and preparing themselves.

“I mean, those guys are grinders,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders. “They’ve worked their way to this position, now it’s about getting better. It doesn’t stop once you’re here. They haven’t ‘made’ anything. It’s just about getting better and continuing to help the team grow.”

As soon as the subject of growing talent was brought up, Livingston loudly responded with a stern voice: “LOONEY.”

“I mean that’s a perfect example,” Livingston said. “He’s our most important big right now with Draymond [Green] out, know what I mean? ‘Cause of what he brings to the table and he knows how to play. He’s always in the right spot.

“So that’s the progression of him being here these years and watching, learning from the vets – watching Andre [Iguodala], watching Draymond. And now he’s one of the main core guys that has to be on the floor.”

Player development is an element of Golden State’s organization that hasn’t really been talked about all that much, but has certainly been impactful on the depth of the roster.

Just look at when Curry went down with an injury—Cook had to step in and start, while two-way player Damion Lee supplanted those bench minutes.

Or with Green and, recently, Jones being out now, consider the job Looney, McKinnie and Bell have done filling the void.

“It’s important for every organization to grow from within and to develop young players, guys who may be new to the league and put into complementary roles,” Kerr said.

“We work really hard with our guys who are in that situation and I think they’ve made great strides. But it’s critical. You have to constantly be thinking about your entire roster.”

Durant insists that player development is the main focus of the league and has been an integral part of Golden State’s reign as champions.

“Obviously when you win, it’s always about the trophy or the guys that help you get the trophy,” Durant told Basketball Insiders. “But you’ve got a lot of young guys in our organization that work extremely hard every day. That’s the core of the league. That’s just the foundation of the league, is player development.

“It’s a next man up league and you’ve got an opportunity to play or get minutes, shots and you want to take full advantage. So everybody’s putting in that work just in case their number’s called.”

And if you want to know who’s next up for the Warriors, both Livingston and Kerr agree that it’s Evans.

Focus On The Season At Hand

While looking at the past and pondering the future can be on Livingston’s mind, he is 100 percent locked in on what’s happening in the present.

Golden State’s record is 17-9, good for fourth place in an extremely tight Western Conference at the beginning of December. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster season for the back-to-back defending NBA champions.

“Keeping guys’ body language, keeping their spirit right, that’s pretty important,” Livingston told Basketball Insiders of powering through.

There has been a bunch of injuries to key players, reported discord between certain guys in the locker and inconsistent effort game-to-game. Basketball Insiders asked what needs improvement on the court.

“I think it’s our defense, but I think that comes from energy and effort,” Livingston said. “I think we have the right group. And part of that is we’re a younger group, so we’ve got some young guys out there that’s feeling their way out.

“But it comes down to energy and effort and sometimes in the regular season, obviously the 82-game schedule catches up to you.”

However, the Warriors are well on their way back. After missing 11 games with a groin injury, Curry has returned to the floor, invigorating the team’s spirit with more than just his talent.

“The fact that he’s the type of player he is only elevates us,” Livingston said. “And then, his presence, as far as just his positivity. He never gets too down on himself. It’s just more about next play mentality and that just always helps coming from your best player.”

Livingston’s shooting numbers are down this year. On the bright side, he is coming off a 3-for-4 night against the Cavs.

He’s not asked to do much scoring with the abundance of talent around him, but when he does, there’s always the bread-and-butter of Livingston’s game—the backdown, turnaround 10-foot jumper.

It’s been a staple to the veteran’s career ever since he’s been in the league and it has served as a dagger to many opponents.

“You always have to try to have a go-to move or something that can get you a bucket when you need it, that you rely on when you may be struggling,” Livingston said. “It’s just about being a threat on the court and that’s really where it comes from.”

Pose a question to Livingston about what makes him who he is as a player, and he’ll tell you that it’s unselfishness—the characteristic that made Livingston so highly sought-after as an 18-year-old.

And that’s why Kerr and Golden State’s organization love him.

Spencer Davies is an Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past four seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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High-Performance Mindfulness: Energy Psychology – The NBA’s Best Kept Secret

Jake Rauchbach takes a deep dive into the positive correlation between the effectiveness of leading-edge Energy Psychology techniques in removing mental baggage and improving on-court statistical performance.

Jake Rauchbach

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With the NBA’s latest initiative requiring all 30 teams to have mental health professionals on staff, the door has now been kicked wide open on in regards to High-Performance Mindfulness and mind-based holistic methods that support the well-being of the player both on and off the court.

As teams all around the league begin to expand their mental health groups, and the scope of their player development departments, the next logical step in player support could be the application of Energy Psychology-based techniques. These techniques zero in on the elimination of subconscious performance blockages for the direct aim of exponentializing on-court statistical improvement.

Before we discuss how NBA, college and international professional teams are implementing these High-Performance Mindfulness modalities to move the dial on on-court statistical performance, let’s first discuss the foundational mechanics of the player mindset, starting with the subconscious mind.

Energy Psychology techniques interface directly with the subconscious mind of the athlete for the goal of unlocking the player’s full potential.

The Subconscious Mind

Science tells us that the conscious mind makes up 1-10 percent of total brain capacity, while the subconscious mind makes up 90-99 percent. The conscious can focus on one to two things at any given time (reading and writing, e.g.), while the unconscious can manage thousands of tasks all at once, doing so while a person is generally unaware that it is happening.

The subconscious mind is about habit, pattern and muscle memory. For a player, tending to the subconscious is vital, because all hours of practice, training and repetition get logged there. A player’s subconscious is like a supercomputer, storing all programs (thoughts, emotions, feelings, images) from life’s past experiences.

Subconscious Performance Blocks

If not fully processed on the mental and emotional levels, thoughts, emotions, feelings and images from negatively-charged past experiences can often become trapped within the player’s subconscious mind. When this happens, performance blocks occur, ultimately throwing a wrench into instinctual response, muscle memory and on-court performance execution.

A prime example is Nick Anderson’s missed free throws in the 1995 NBA Finals, and the unresolved subconscious loop of blocking thoughts, emotions and feelings that ensued and sabotaged the remainder of his career.

Mental blocks can stem from on and/or off-court experiences. Off-court situations that seemingly have nothing to do with basketball frequently present the biggest challenges when improving performance by working through the mind.

Many times, players are unaware that the unresolved thoughts and feelings from their past are acting as performance impediments to success. Furthermore, these players generally do not have the skills to resolve these performance-blocking imbalances on their own.

From the pool of NBA, college, international and national team players that I have observed, below are some of the most common subconscious blocks to on-court statistical improvement:

1.    Epic Failure: Epically failing the team, no matter the level of basketball, is one of the most commonly observed performance-blocking experiences. Often, the anxiety, embarrassment and shame attached to these unresolved memories can be carried throughout a career, effectively hampering performance. Case in point is Nick Anderson.

2.    Freshman Year of College: When a player has not quite solidified their role or found their confidence and rhythm within the context of the team, volatile experiences on both the mental/emotional and performance levels can occur. The first few games of a college career can be overwhelming. Players often carry forward emotional discord from these events, until resolved.

3.     DNPs & Injuries: When a player does not play for an extended period, it can mess with the psyche. NBA veterans who have experienced these stretches often carry it with them throughout their career with emotions such as lack of confidence, confusion and frustration. Watching teammates contribute while they are resigned to the bench can be debilitating.

4.     Family & Home Life: Many performance issues at the deepest levels map back to off-the-court issues. It is important to note that the older the blocking emotional discord, generally, the more debilitating to performance it can become.

5.    Recent Poor Performances: Subconscious blocks relating to recent hiccups in performance are common. It is prudent to address these immediately when fresh in the mind of the athlete so that long-term performance barriers do not occur.

With this breakdown, we are providing context to what coaches and players intuitively already understand: past negativity can affect future performance if it is allowed to linger.

This being said, when performance blocks exist, there is generally no amount of additional skill-development repetition, film study or strength and conditioning work that will help to unblock or unlock big time improvement for the player. The root cause of down trending performance held at the unconscious level has to be eliminated first.

This is something that many player development approaches have historically overlooked.

The Gap Within the Traditional Player Development Model 

Although closing fast, a gap has existed within old constructs of traditional player development strategies.

Players have been viewed as purely mechanical commodities as if they were robots repeatedly able to generate top-level performance by the click of a button. Outside of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and maybe a couple of other all-world players, this is simply not the case.

Players are multi-dimensional beings requiring customized, specific support at all levels of their awareness (especially the subconscious, where performance habits are created and fostered).

Only addressing the physical component (on-court work/strength and conditioning), or only addressing the conscious mind/analytical component through film analysis and scouting, neglects possibly the most important aspect of the athlete – the subconscious (muscle memory) element, which directly influences the player’s effectiveness in each one of these areas.

Tweaking the player development model, by addressing this aspect, may present the best opportunity to date for helping players consistently optimize on-court performance throughout a season and a career.

This, then, begets the question: What is the most effective way to do this when incorporated within the context of an overall team dynamic? Enter Psychology.

Closing the Gap Through Energy Psychology

Energy Psychology or EP is quite possibly the best-kept secret in basketball player development, and may be on the verge of breaking out big-time as a way to facilitate massive statistical on-court performance improvement for players.

Based on ancient traditional Chinese healing principals, and rooted in empirically-based results, EP works directly with the natural energetic flow, or meridian system of the body, to unburden and unblock past lingering experiences still residing within the subconscious mind of an athlete.

This has the effect of freeing up the player’s ability to perform better and, quite possibly, could be the fastest way to supercharge on-court statistical performance when integrated within the totality of an existing player development program.

Once deemed nonsensical and out there, techniques like Touch-Point tapping, muscle testing and Reiki and Quantum-Touch are now being implemented by NBA teams, high-major Division-1 college programs, and European ball clubs, as ways to supercharge performance.

Players and coaches are beginning to turn to these methods to dramatically improve three-point shooting percentage, free-throw percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, VAL analytics, plus-minus offensive efficiencies and defensive efficiencies, mental focus, confidence, decision-making and leadership qualities, just to name a few.

This past season, the Los Angeles Clippers and their Integrated Player Development Department, employed the next level skill-sets of Dr. Laura Wilde, a cutting edge High-Performance Consultant who has been working with professional athletes for years. Dr. Wilde is a pioneer in this space, applying advanced Energy Psychology methods as a way to promote player well-being and to improve performance.

The Utah Jazz rely on Graham Betchart’s expertise as a long-time Elite Mental Skills Coach to star NBA players as a way to support their players both on and off the court.

As awareness around this space continues to build and these practices become common knowledge for helping players, roles for the High-Performance coaches who administer these Energy Psychology–Player Development-based techniques will become more defined.

For now, the most effective implementation of this type of specialist is likely as an embedded, trusted resource within an overall coaching staff or player development department.

The bottom line: The trend for improving performance through unlocking the mind is growing, and so too are the innovative and proven ways for producing positive change for players.

Energy Psychology and other types of High-Performance Mindfulness methods like it are now coming on-line as player development – secret weapons – in facilitating big-time statistical performance improvement for players.

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NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Philadelphia 76ers

In this edition of Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series, Matt John takes a look at the Philadelphia 76ers, one of the most talented albeit confusing teams in the league

Matt John

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When evaluating a team’s offseason, it can take a while to complete.

Between going over what happened last season, what they did this summer and predicting what lies ahead – it’s quite the exercise. You could almost call it a process.

Oh hey, speaking of processes, the next team up in this series? The Philadelphia 76ers.

Philadelphia has to feel good about itself. It came within a literal buzzer-beater from overtaking the reigning champion Toronto Raptors. They don’t have the same team that they did three months ago, but they still have a team that, should things break their way, can feasibly win its first title since 1983.

Their roster makeup is a tad confusing at the moment. Then again, saying that would imply that their roster construction has always made sense in the Embiid-Simmons era, which it hasn’t.

One thing is for sure, though: This team is going to be good. With Kawhi Leonard out of the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant probably out for the year, the Sixers have a bigger window than they’ve had in decades.

Overview

Give Elton Brand credit. In just his first year as general manager, the guy didn’t shy away from shaking things up. Between Philly’s so-so start to their season to the trade deadline, Brand made the following moves.

  • Traded for a bonafide scorer who was available for cheap (Jimmy Butler)
  • Gave up on a prospect whose lack of progress was not helping the team (Markelle Fultz)
  • Acquired a pseudo star whose abilities fit like a glove next to Simmons and Embiid (Tobias Harris)

Since starting from scratch in 2013, Philly has always been about the future. The moves they made signified that the future was now. Butler wasn’t the best fit next to Embiid and Simmons, and Harris had never been on a team with aspirations nearly as high as Philly’s, but the talent that the Sixers had at their arsenal was gargantuan – gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated-like gargantuan.

Though Butler and Harris clearly made the Sixers a bigger threat for a title, progress was kind of slow after adding both of them.

Without Butler/Without Harris: 9-6 (Winning percentage of 60), Offensive Rating: 106.8 (19th overall), Defensive Rating: 106.9 (9th overall)

With Butler/Without Harris: 25-14 (Winning percentage of 64), Offensive Rating: 113 (7th overall), Defensive Rating: 108.9 (13th overall)

With Butler/With Harris: 17-11 (Winning Percentage of 61), Offensive Rating: 112.1 (10th overall), Defensive Rating: 110.3 (15th overall)

There are other factors that played into this. For example, it could’ve been the opponents who they played in those time frames. Or maybe it was Joel Embiid missing 18 games. Still, the Sixers somehow didn’t really take that next step they were hoping for. They finished the season 51-31, which qualified them for the third seed.

With Toronto and Milwaukee as their primary competition, that’s a mark the Sixers should be proud of. Maybe it would have been different if they had Butler and Harris from the get-go.

In their defense, some growing pains are in order when you shake up the roster to the degree that the Sixers did. When the playoffs come around, you can’t afford to wait for progress. When the Sixers entered the postseason, the progress they desired came, and it came swiftly.

After making quick work of the upstart Brooklyn Nets – and making someone look really dumb in the process – Philadelphia had quite the duel with Toronto. There were times where the Sixers looked completely outmatched against the Raptors. There were times where they completely outclassed the Raptors. To make a long story short, the craziest buzzer-beater – perhaps in playoff history – took them out for good.

As heartbreaking as that was, when you look at how the rest of the postseason turned out, the Sixers were the closest to eliminating the team who ended the Golden State superteam. Even if things didn’t end the way they wanted to, last season proved that Philadelphia is on the right track.

Offseason

In a perfect world, the Sixers would have retained all three of Butler, Harris, and J.J. Redick. As we know, not everything went according to plan. That doesn’t mean the Sixers had a bad offseason. Far from it.

It all started with the draft. The Sixers had five picks coming into the draft and wound up keeping two of them. They wound up with Matisse Thybulle and Marial Shayok. There’s not much to say about Shayok besides that the best hope for him is adding some guard depth.

For Thybulle, he could add so much to the 76ers. He was one of the best defenders coming out of this draft. At the very least, he should make Philadelphia much stronger on that end of the floor. He’s not necessarily a future star, but his potential as an impact player is very high. Expect him to be in Philly’s rotation sooner rather than later.

As for free agency, well, the Sixers were among the teams that went through quite a bit of turnover.

Let’s just get to the main course. Jimmy Butler decided to take his talents to South Beach, which honestly was a “surprised, but not surprised” type of move. Unlike say, oh, Kyrie Irving and Boston, Butler didn’t leave Philly on bad terms. In fact, he didn’t leave the Sixers empty-handed either.

While Butler is gone, in comes Josh Richardson. There is definitely a talent disparity between Butler and Richardson. In fact, there were many times where Butler carried the Sixers on his back when the team could not get things going. Richardson doesn’t command the same kind of respect, but he brings certain advantages that Butler does not.

-At 25 years old, Richardson fits better with Simmons and Embiid’s timeline than Butler does
-As a career near-37 percent shooter from three, Richardson is a better floor spacer than Butler is
-At $10 million, he’s one of the best bargain contracts in the league with his production

Brand probably would have preferred keeping Butler, but considering the alternative – letting Jimmy Buckets walk for nothing – getting Richardson expertly salvaged the situation.

That wasn’t the only sly move Brand made this summer.

When you’re building a contender, nothing helps your chances better like taking away a valuable piece from one of your biggest rivals. Philly took Al Horford right under from Boston’s nose, simultaneously giving the team another dimension while knocking the Celtics down a peg.

Over the last two years, Horford has established himself as one of the better defensive bigs in the league. He’s not a rim protector, nor is he the best pick-pocket, but his elite defense comes from his smarts. You wouldn’t think he could match up against Embiid’s girth or the footwork to contain Ben Simmons’ speed, but he can and he has.

As one of the few players who has shown the ability to slow both Simmons and Embiid, Horford has been Philly’s worst nightmare since “The Process” went full-throttle. With him on board, both of their young stars should be able to play their games more smoothly, especially against Boston.

That would be more plausible if Horford’s fit on the Sixers was a perfect one, which it isn’t. Horford is slated to start at power forward, which he only played eight percent of the time last year. At 33 years old, Horford’s footwork is on the decline. Plus, last season, he struggled to play well on back-to-backs. The Sixers already have enough worries on their hands with Embiid’s conditioning. With Horford, they’re going to have all their fingers crossed.

The Sixers also brought in plenty of new faces to help round out the roster. Raul Neto and Trey Burke are good flyers to take when looking for a second or third-string point guard. Kyle O’Quinn didn’t do much for the Pacers last season, but he’s an upgrade over the likes of Greg Monroe and Amir Johnson.

This offseason hasn’t just been about who they brought in, but who they brought back.

Considering what they gave up for them, the Sixers had to keep at least one of Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris. Butler leaving for Miami increased the urgency to keep Harris at all costs. The Sixers definitely took that to heart, as they gave him a five-year/$188 million extension.

Harris is a talented scorer. Before he was traded to Philadelphia, he gained a lot of well-deserved All-Star recognition. He didn’t put up the same numbers as a Sixer – with some of that understandably coming from less touches – but those numbers fell further in the playoffs. Being traded mid-season gives him the benefit of the doubt. With more time, maybe he’ll figure it out.

That’s going to be hard though, because with Horford on the team, Harris is going to be playing a lot more at small forward now than he’s played in years. His best position is playing a stretch four because he’s not quick enough to cover wings, but his strength holds up against power forwards.

He could make the proper adjustments, but if he doesn’t, that could spell trouble. What makes it more troubling is that the Sixers paid Harris superstar money when the man, as good as he’s been, is not a superstar. If he’s put in the right role, keeping Tobias could be the right move no matter what he gets paid. Finding that role is going to be hard with the frontcourt logjam.

The Sixers wanted to keep their wing depth this summer. Along with Harris, management brought back James Ennis III – who carried his weight in the playoffs – and Mike Scott, who, regardless of his production, will get plenty of attention because of The Office.

Oh, and the Sixers are going to have to adjust to losing three-point marksman that is J.J. Redick. Redick’s three-point shooting was a threat. Richardson and Horford have a respected deep ball, but they don’t command the same respect that Redick did. He fit perfectly next to Simmons/Embiid. Playing without him is going to take some time to adjust to.

Losing Butler and Redick bites, but Philadelphia compensated well in response to their departure.

PLAYERS IN: Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Raul Neto, Trey Burke, Kyle O’Quinn, Shake Milton, Isaiah Miles, Chris Koumadje, Norvel Pelle (two-way), Marial Shayok (two-Way)

PLAYERS OUT: Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, Greg Monroe, Boban Marjanovic, TJ McConnell, Amir Johnson

What’s Next

Boston, Milwaukee, Toronto and Philadelphia all lost a player(s) that played an important role in each team’s success. The difference between Philadelphia and the aforementioned teams is that they brought in a fair amount of talent to cover its losses. But was it the right talent?

This has been said about the Sixers all summer, but it bears repeating: This roster doesn’t make a whole lot of sense right now. Brett Brown is a good coach, and he redeemed himself pretty well in the playoffs following an embarrassing loss at the hands of the Celtics in 2018, but he’s got a lot on his plate this season.

This can go right or it can go so very, very wrong. It’s not just about who the Sixers gained and lost this summer. There still remains the question as to whether Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons can reach their full potential when they play together. Simmons may never get a respectable jump shot, and Embiid’s conditioning is still an issue.

Both are two of the best young players in the game. If the Sixers are serious, they may have to choose between one or the other going forward. This isn’t something that needs to be taken care of now, but it is something that the Sixers should be paying close attention to.

This season could be the one where the Sixers finally cash in on the process just as much as it could be the confirmation that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will never co-exist on a championship team.

OFFSEASON GRADE: B+

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NBA Daily: Grading the Offseason – Boston Celtics

Drew Maresca assesses the changes to the Boston Celtics’ roster to continue Basketball Insiders’ “Grading the Offseason” series.

Drew Maresca

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The NBA offseason feels shorter than ever thanks to the constant coverage of the draft, Summer League and free agency. Still, everything slows down considerably in the dog days of August.

But the NBA schedule was officially released this week and we can all start salivating over specific head-to-head matchups. Further, training camp opens up for the first few teams in just over a month and we are a mere 68 days from the start of the 2019-20 regular season.

And with that, Basketball Insiders continues its “Grading the Offseason series”. This iteration takes us to New England to grade the Boston Celtics’ offseason.

Overview:

The Boston Celtics are coming off one of the more disappointing seasons they (or any team) has experienced in the recent past. After being seen as favorites to come out of the East in 2018-19, they finished with a slightly disappointing 49-33 record and were made quick work of by the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

As though that weren’t enough, the Celtics then hemorrhaged Kyrie Irving and Al Horford to the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers, respectively. And if that weren’t enough, they had to contend with rumors that Coach Brad Stevens’ handling of Gordon Hayward ruffled feathers in the team’s locker room.

So the Celtics and their 2019 offseason do not have the luxury of being graded in a vacuum.

Nevertheless, the Celtics still have a good amount of talent on their roster. And the East has more parity now than it did last season. Remember, LeBron James left Cleveland for Los Angeles last summer and Kawhi Leonard took his talents to Hollywood this July. And with Durant’s Achilles injury limiting the Nets’ upside, the East is mostly up for grabs in 2019-20. But the C’s must continue maneuvering to compete for an accolade they hoped (and even assumed) they would achieve last season — an Eastern Conference title and a trip to the NBA Finals. And they begin this journey having swapped out two of their most important pieces.

Offseason:

Boston entered the offseason on surprisingly uneasy footing. Their season ended prematurely, again. And they failed to secure a desired trade target – Anthony Davis – again (after missing out on previously desired trade targets like Paul George and Kawhi Leonard).

And as previously mentioned, they watched their two best players leave for division rivals.

But the Celtics did not sit idly by after losing Irving and Horford. Instead, they signed All-Star Kemba Walker as Irving’s replacement. And while Walker is a slight downgrade from a talent standpoint, he should be a significant upgrade in the locker room and from a culture standpoint.

Walker’s former coach, Steve Clifford, recently raved about the All-Star guard, speaking to the caliber of player the Celtics acquired.

“I think what people there (in Boston) will find is that he’s not only a terrific player and a great competitor, but he’s team-first,” Clifford told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald in July.

The Celtics also signed Enes Kanter to a 2-year, $10 million deal (with a team option after the first year) to fill their void at the center position. And as much as losing Horford hurts, signing him to a long-term, $100 million+ deal would severely limit the team’s flexibility moving forward. With Kanter, the Celtics acquired a low-post scoring presence while maintaining cap flexibility.

The Celtics were also relatively active in the 2019 NBA Draft. They kicked things off with the 14th overall pick, courtesy of a 2017 draft-day trade with the 76ers.

Unfortunately for the C’s, the pick itself was Sacramento’s. The Kings pick barely qualified for the lottery (14) thanks to the Kings’ surprising 2018-19 season. Still, the Celtics lucked out and drafted Romeo Langford, who has star potential and plugs into the roster nicely as a shooter and scorer. Langford spoke about his potential at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago back in May.

“I just feel like my game translates really well for the NBA, where the NBA’s going right now and I’m just built for it,” Langford said. “My form needs a couple of things tweaked here and there,” Langford said. “But I can still shoot the ball. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about that.”

They then swapped their own first-round pick (20) for the 24th and 33rd picks and then flipped the 24th pick and Aron Baynes for the Bucks’ top-seven protected 2020 first-round pick (which converts to an unprotected pick in 2021). Milwaukee’s 2020 first-rounder will likely end up somewhere near the end of the first-round – but the move was done mainly to free up additional cap space ($5.4 million). But it also left them with one fewer big man — more on that later.

The Celtics also selected Grant Williams and Tremont Waters with the 22nd and the 51st overall pick, respectively.

Edwards is a sturdy 6’0, 200-pound guard who averaged 19.4 points per game in Summer League and proved he can impact a game on a professional level. Williams is a versatile forward who is a little undersized given his low-post-centric game, however, he averaged 13 points and six rebounds per game in Summer League. Williams will definitely have a role with the C’s given their need for help in the post. And Waters took a step toward proving he belongs in the NBA thanks to his Summer League performance. He averaged 11.2 points and 4.8 assists per contest, which earned him a two-way contract.

The Celtics also signed the undrafted 7’6 sensation Tacko Fall to a rookie contract. And GM Danny Ainge told Celtics report Keither Smart that Fall has a chance to make the roster.

“I think Tacko’s going to have a chance to make the roster,” Ainge said. “We’ll see.”

Finally, the Celtics also added a new assistant coach in Kara Lawson. Lawson is a WNBA champion and Olympic gold medalist. And she is the fourth active female coach in the NBA.

Additions:

Kemba Walker, Enes Kanter, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters (two-way) and Tacko Fall (Exhibit 10)

Departures:

Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes

What’s Next:

The Celtics were dealt a few lemons this offseason but they still they managed to make lemonade. They made strong additions in Walker, Kanter and Langford, and they maintained significant flexibility moving forward.

But lemonade is not exactly what they were hoping for. I wrote about the Celtics’ interesting dilemma last offseason, which has evolved into a bigger conundrum.

While their core is still young and versatile, the Celtics are significantly undersized and understaffed as far as their big men are concerned. They will especially miss Horford and Morris, and they will struggle to keep up with bigger and more versatile front lines – like that of the 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Detroit Pistons, Los Angeles Lakers (when healthy), etc. After all, their only centers with NBA experience are Kanter and second-year project Robert Williams, and there are challenges at the power forward position, too (e.g., the 6’8, 208 lb Tatum is currently projected as their starting power forward).

The Celtics continue to monitor the trade market in the event that a star is made available (e.g., Bradley Beal). They must finally entertain the possibility of moving some combination of Gordon Hayward, Brown, Kanter (expiring) and future draft picks in order to better round out their roster – if they hope to compete this season that is. While trading Hayward or Brown isn’t particularly alluring, the Celtics need more offensive firepower and additional help down low – especially on the defensive end. The good news is that they are still only a piece or two away from the top of the conference. But they must be more aggressive in the trade market than they’ve been in the recent past if they plan on succeeding. And success is graded far differently in Boston than it is in most cities.

Offseason Grade: C

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