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NBA AM: The Celtics Have A Lot Of Options

The Celtics may not last long against the Cavs, but they have plenty of options to weigh going forward.

Steve Kyler

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Hayward, Top Pick and Lots Of Decisions

The Boston Celtics got handled in Game 1 versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, and based on how large the inequities between the two teams appeared last night, the Celtics have a lot of choices to make fairly soon.

By way of a savvy trade back in 2013, Celtics president Danny Ainge stuck to his guns and demanded an unprotected first-round pick as part of the deal that sent future Hall-of-Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets. On Tuesday, that deal produced the top overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, the best possible outcome for the Celtics.

As much as Nets fans bemoan the deal today, the risks involved in the deal on the Brooklyn sides were thoroughly discussed, and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov made it clear he wanted a win-now roster at any cost. The Nets tried to protect the pick, however, Ainge was unwavering in the cost of his two All-Stars, and Nets ownership ultimately agreed to the price.

Today, the Celtics have an embarrassment of riches: a roster loaded with promising young players (many of whom are on rookie scale contracts), veterans are on moderately priced deals—most under contract beyond next season—and arguably one of the best young coaches in basketball. To top it off, the Celtics also have a treasure trove of future draft assets, many from that same Nets transaction.

The Celtics future looks very bright, despite the drubbing they took from the Cavaliers in Game 1. The good news is the Celtics have a ton of options, but with those options comes some decisions:

The Top Pick

The Celtics are sending out very clear signals and messages. They are not locked in on any one player, and they plan to use the leverage of the top overall selection to look at anything available to them. As much as Washington’s Markel Fultz looks like the smartest and safest selection, the Celtics plan to engage with UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Kansas forward Josh Jackson. They will likely work out the top five or six players before zeroing in on who they will draft.

The idea of trading the pick or trading down with the pick is on the table, but Celtic sources were quick to say the most likely outcome is the Celtics keep and use the pick. The thinking on keeping the pick is because the impact of the guys possible with the pick outweighs anything they feel like they could obtain with the pick in a trade.

The smart money says the Celtics select Fultz, but that’s not been decided at this point, mostly because it does not have to be.

Trades

As much as fans want to talk about trading the top pick for a proven All-Star like Indiana’s Paul George or Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, the stance from the Boston side is that neither player is worth the top selection under their current contract situations.

In George’s case, he can hit free agency next July. While the Celtics would love to add George’s talent, unless he agreed to extend his deal the day he arrived in Boston, the Celtics are not interested in moving what could be a 10-year All-Star for a 12-month possible rental.

With Butler, the Celtics get a little more contract security but ultimately face the same issue. Butler can be a free agent in 2019. In NBA terms, that is a long-time but given how the East is structured in the Celtics window really next season? And is the window better with Butler for two years or with what’s possible with the number one for 10 years?

There are no guarantees with draft picks, and that’s something the Celtics seem to understand, but the prevailing belief is the C’s are not going to trade the top pick for either of the names linked to them. However, if either of those player’s teams wants to talk about the trove of future picks the Celtics hold, they would absolutely have interest.

The Young Guards

It does not take a genius to see that the Celtics roster is loaded with point guards, and with another elite guard likely on the way, the Celtics have some issues brewing.

As much as fans like to talk about playing for a winner, players are playing for a contract. In the Celtics’ case, many are playing for a chance at their first monster payday. In the case of Marcus Smart, that payday window comes open in full force this summer, when he becomes eligible for a rookie scale contract extension.

If the Celtics are not going to pay Smart the going rate, his camp has to ask for a trade. The Celtics don’t have to trade him, but things become increasingly more complicated if they try and hold one of the young guys hostage while reducing his role and minutes.

The same is true of second-year guard Terry Rozier. He has emerged in the postseason as a quality young guard. He has been sharing minutes off the bench for most of the season and is eager to see an increased role. Like Smart, the Celtics are going to have to decide how much he matters to the future with another elite guard prospect likely coming in via the draft.

The Celtics also face some interesting future contract situations with playoff standout Avery Bradley, who will enter the final year of his deal next season. Bradley has been a monster for the Celtics, but where does he fit in the grand scheme if another guard needing big minutes comes into the equation? Bradley is going to command a hefty increase from his current $8 million per year contract. So that’s a factor for the Celtics to consider.

In the same vein, All-Star Isaiah Thomas will enter the final year of his deal next season, too. There has already been talk that the smart move might be to trade Thomas while his value is so high because of the quality depth the Celtics have and avoid what’s expected to be a new contract demand of over $100 million for a player that will be right at 30 when his current contract ends.

None of these are easy decisions, mainly because this core of guards powered the Celtics to 53 wins and first place in the East. Combine that will an amazing team chemistry, is it smart to mess with that?

Free Agents

As things sit today the Celtics have $61.77 million in salary cap commitments for 2017-18. They are going to get a cap hold of $7.1 million for the first overall pick, they’ll carry a $7.7 million hold for Kelly Olynyk. $8 million in non-guaranteed money if they plan to keep Tyler Zeller. A $15.6 million hold on veteran Amir Johnson until they re-sign or renounce him. They have decisions to make on draft picks Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic. If either push to come to the NBA next season, they would eat into the Celtics space unless they are renounced or traded.

In a realistic way, the Celtics are going open the 2017-18 cap year with a least $76.57 million in commitments, leaving them what should be $24.43 million in usable cap space against what should be a $101 million salary cap, based on the latest from our cap guru Eric Pincus.

While that’s enough money to add a serious piece or two, that’s not enough space to pursue the Celtics believed top free agent target in Jazz forward Gordon Hayward. The C’s could get there if they pass on Olynyk or find a way to dump off some salary in a trade around the draft, but things are tight for the Celtics in term of pure cap space, mainly because of the hold the top draft selection gets in the new collective bargaining agreement.

The Celtics have a ton of trade options to consider (many of which we’ve covered), but it will take some moves for the Celtics to get to a single maximum salary slot before free agency opens and it will mean subtractions before additions.

The good news for the Celtics is that if Hayward does indeed opt to explore his options away from the Jazz (which may not be likely), he’s likely not going to make a quick decision. That would give the Celtics a chance to know where they stand with him before passing on someone like Olynyk to open room.

While the Celtics do have some tough choices ahead of them, many teams wish they had the Celtics’ problems. Too much guard talent, an All-Star, and future All-Stars to potentially pay and some excellent draft options by way of the top pick and a ton of trade assets to play with to boot.

While much will be made over the next few weeks about how much better the Cavaliers are than the Celtics in the playoffs, the truth of the matter is the Celtics roster is constructed with so much youth that needs this postseason experience. The Celtics have nothing to lose and everything to gain from getting this far in the season, and the future in front of them is as bright as any in the NBA.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton, @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @CodyTaylorNBA, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers and @Ben__Nadeau.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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