Connect with us

NBA

NBA Daily: Gauging Tristan Thompson’s Trade Value

As a veteran with NBA Finals experience having a bounce back season, Tristan Thompson could help a number of teams in their playoff pushes, writes Matt John.

Matt John

Published

on

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in fire sale mode right now, or they may as well be.

The reigning Eastern Conference Champions currently sport a 10-41 record, which is good for the worst record in the entire league. The Cavs have already made a few moves, trading away the likes of Kyle Korver and George Hill for future assets. Things are more than likely to continue to trend downwards for Cleveland, so they may as well cut their losses now while they still can.

Outside of Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr and Ante Zizic, no one on the squad should be off limits. Luckily for general manager Koby Altman, the Cavaliers at least have a better salary cap situation than they did back when LeBron was in town.

Kevin Love instantly comes to mind, but he’s been out for almost the entire season. There should be plenty of interested suitors for JR Smith, but only because his contract next season is guaranteed for a little less than $4 million. The same could be said for Alec Burks and Rodney Hood and their expiring contracts.

In a market where teams are trying to conserve their cap space, odds are Jordan Clarkson, John Henson and Matthew Dellavedova are staying put at least until next season.

Then there’s Tristan Thompson.

Ever since he agreed to a five-year, $82 million extension back in 2015, Thompson has received much scorn for having one of the worst contracts in the NBA. Three years have since been shed off that deal. With only two years left, Thompson, while still being overpaid at almost $17.5 million a year and $18.5 million the next, can be a useful cog on a playoff team.

Since LeBron’s departure, Thompson is having himself quite the renaissance. Thompson is currently averaging 11.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 0.8 steals, all of which are either career-highs or the best he’s had since before LeBron came back to “The Land.” Now, a rise in numbers is to be expected because his role was due to expand with King James out of the picture, but still – Thompson has played well enough that teams should at least consider trading for him.

The 11.1 rebounds he averages is good for 11th in the league, with his offensive rebounding numbers of 4.4 per game are good for fourth in the league. Thompson may not be worth the money he is getting paid, but what he does well on the court, he does very well.

His playoff experience also could help a team who is trying to do some damage in the postseason. Thompson played a very important role on the Cavaliers’ four consecutive trips to the finals, including winning a title. If these increased numbers are not a mirage, then Thompson could be even more impactful for a playoff team than he ever was for the Cavaliers.

The concerns surrounding what Thompson can do and how much he is getting paid to do are valid. Paying over $17 million for a guy whose lone specialty is rebounding would not look like the brightest move. Thankfully, rebounding is not Tristan Thompson’s lone specialty.

Remember how Kendrick Perkins’ one elite skill in the NBA was being able to stop Dwight Howard one-on-one? Think of the same with Thompson, only with his Dwight Howard being Al Horford.

Coming into last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, Thompson was struggling to find minutes in Cleveland’s rotations. He only averaged 14.5 minutes in Cleveland’s first series against Indiana – with most of them coming from the 35 minutes he played in Game 7 – then averaged 17.3 minutes in their second series against Toronto – with most of them coming from the 26 minutes he played in Game 1.

Then, Game 1 of the Conference Finals happened. It didn’t go well for Cleveland, to say the least. Boston steamrolled them from beginning to end, winning 108-83, with Horford leading the way. Big Al was matched up with Kevin Love at center, and he took all the advantage he could out of it.

Horford finished with a stat line of 20 points, six assists, four rebounds, two blocks, shot 8/11 from the field including 2.4 from three and was plus-17. In that time, he held Love to 17 points on 5/14 shooting including 1-for-4 from three and was minus-13.

From that point onward, Thompson was inserted into the starting lineup as the center. That wound up making all the difference in the series. Horford never came close to that dominant for the rest of the series. With Thompson at center, Horford averaged 12.4 points on 42.4 percent shooting including 28.6 percent from three.

Perhaps Thompson’s re-insertion into the starting lineup just happened to coincide with Horford’s decreased numbers. A few statistics provided by old friend Ben Dowsett would say otherwise.

Also, before that series against the Cavaliers, Horford was averaging 17 points on 53 percent shooting including 36 percent from three his previous two playoff series. The Celtics were a plus-19 overall with Horford in those series. The Celtics were a plus-13.1 with Horford on the court against Cleveland, but that is still a steep drop-off.

Horford’s struggles against Thompson have been the case for the past couple of seasons. Although last season’s conference finals are the most indicative evidence of Thompson shutting down Horford, data from previous playoff matchups show more of the same.

You may be thinking, ‘Well, so what? Why is it so important that Thompson has proven he can shut down Horford in a playoff series?’ The answer to that is simple: Because Al Horford is the one guy who the Celtics need at his best in order to succeed.

This writer already penned an article detailing why Horford was the Celtics’ most important player. He won’t grab you with his stats, but his three-point shooting and defensive versatility create so many matchup problems for their opponents. This season, Al has struggled a bit – which is one of the under-the-radar reasons why Boston has disappointed so far – but now he’s starting to look like the Horford from last season.

In his last five games, Al has averaged 18.8 points and 8.8 rebounds on 66.1 percent shooting, including 47.1 percent from three, and the Celtics have been plus-5.4 with him on the court. If he has regained his form from last season, expect him to have his best stuff when the playoffs come around. When he does, that’s where having Tristan Thompson could really help.

Sure, the Celtics haven’t exactly looked as good as anticipated, but they’re still making the playoffs anyway as long as they don’t suffer any untimely injuries before the postseason. The lowest they’ll probably wind up with is the fifth seed. Who knows how they’ll look when the playoffs start?

This limits interested parties because Horford plays in the East, and the Western Conference have bigger, Golden State Warrior-sized problems to worry about. For the Eastern Conference, there are teams who do have players on contracts that could match up in a Tristan Thompson trade without sacrificing cap flexibility.

Toronto fits the mold. The Raptors have Jonas Valanciunas, CJ Miles and Fred VanVleet among others who they could trade for Tristan Thompson. Toronto has been better than Boston, but what could really insure them beating the Celtics in a hypothetical playoff series is having Thompson to stop Horford in his tracks.

Brooklyn also fits the mold. They have Allen Crabbe’s contract alone to match up with Thompson’s contract. They have been on a tear as of late, and things should only get better when Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris Levert return from injury. Those two coming back should also reduce Crabbe’s minutes. The Nets are already standing out as the team no one wants to face in the postseason. If they get Thompson, that would certainly frighten the team that basically ruined them.

What hurts Thompson’s value at the moment is that he is currently nursing a foot injury that’s bothered him through most of the season. He won’t be back until after the trade deadline passes, which means trading for him would be risky. Then again, winning a championship requires taking risks. Acquiring Thompson could provide many rewards.

Let’s rewind it back to Kendrick Perkins. The Perk experiment may have failed in OKC, but he still played a big role in them reaching the NBA Finals in 2012. That same low-post defense that worked so well against Howard played a role in limiting Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Tim Duncan. That doesn’t justify how much they paid him in that time, but he still did his part on their run to the Finals.

It’s the same thing with Thompson. Even if his defense is geared more towards stopping Horford specifically, that can make a huge difference in a playoff series. Even with all their struggles, the Celtics are not to be trifled with come playoff time. Thompson would be there to prevent trifling of any kind.

If Thompson proves valuable against Horford yet again in the playoffs, then he’d be worth every penny.

Matt John is a staff writer for Basketball Insiders. He is currently a Utah resident, but a Massachusetts native.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading

NBA

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

Published

on

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+

Continue Reading

NBA

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

Published

on

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

Continue Reading
Advertisement

NBA Team Salaries

Advertisement

CloseUp360

Insiders On Twitter

NBA On Twitter

Trending Now