The Boston Celtics weren’t the team we thought they would be a season ago.
Alongside the Golden State Warriors, the Celtics were expected to pace the NBA. In fact, most pegged them the class of the Eastern Conference, with a chance to topple those same Warriors from the NBA mountain top.
That, clearly, wasn’t the case. With the amount of talent that some teams could only dream of, Boston just couldn’t put it together.
Jayson Tatum didn’t take the step many had hoped for (some might say he regressed, even), while Gordon Hayward looked like a husk and Jaylen Brown struggled as a reserve. There was a clear disconnect between the roster’s veterans and youth, and management did relatively little to remedy the situation.
Now, among others, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are gone and, because of that, the Celtics are a different team. The way they approach the season, and the way they handle their personnel, should see major change.
But, it would seem as if the same question is being asked of the team, if not with a different tone: how far can they go?
The sky was the limit a season ago, but now? It’s hard to say.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
The 2019 offseason was not a kind one to the guys in green. Having lost Kyrie Irving, Marcus Morris and surprisingly Al Horford, core pieces were lost to say the least. However, with this comes opportunity, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are looking forward to taking the ball and running with it. The Celtics went out and brought in Kemba Walker to fill the All-Star point guard void, and Enes Kanter will likely assume starting duties in the middle. Considering how much those two love the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop game, it could be a match made in heaven. Perhaps what’s forgotten in all this is Gordon Hayward is going to be a focal point for the first time in years, and the 29-year-old showed signs of his old self in spurts last season. The bench could be inexperienced with a couple of rookies mixed in there, but the leadership of Marcus Smart with that unit may be enough to guide them along. Brad Stevens loves a challenge. And unlike the managing of egos and disagreements behind closed door, *this* seems to be the kind of challenge he thrives on.
2nd Place – Atlantic Division
– Spencer Davies
The Celtics may have lost Kyrie Irving, but they did replace him with Kemba Walker so don’t expect too much of a drop off on that front. Who they’re really going to miss though is Al Horford. Horford was their best interior defender and a capable scorer. They don’t have anyone on the roster who can replicate his production. What they’re really counting on, to avoid taking a step backwards, is the development of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. With a healthy Gordon Hayward, as well as Irving, there was only so many touches to go around. When the two were injured during the 2018 playoffs, both Tatum and Brown thrived with the offensive touches they got. They both took steps back last season overall, however. For the Celtics to try and offset the loss of Horford, they’ll need those two to regain their 2018 forms. They didn’t make much a splash on the free agent front, and they’re going to be expecting big roles from relatively unproven players like Robert Williams III and Semi Ojeleye. They’re still good enough to be a playoff team, but unless Tatum and Brown project upward, then they might find themselves without home court in the first round.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– David Yapkowitz
The Celtics had a tough offseason. They swapped out Kyrie Irving and Al Horford for Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter – which is a net negative from a talent standpoint. But there is still ample talent on Boston’s roster. And there is still redundancy at the wing position, with Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart all posturing for many of the same minutes. But Celtics depth continues to be a good problem to figure out for Coach Brad Stevens. And with Walker now leading the Celtics, there is likely to be fewer disgruntled players in the Boston locker room. Rookies Romeo Langford, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters and Grant Williams all show promise – but there obviously won’t be the requisite minutes for all of them to develop on the NBA team. Some – if not all – will spend a portion of the upcoming season with their G-League affiliate. The Celtics might have taken a step back from a talent standpoint, but they’ve added some much-needed stability. And with the league’s elite talent spreading across more teams (e.g., Kevin Durant leaving Golden State for Brooklyn), there is less of a need for a “big four.” So the Celtics picked a good year for this experiment, even if the plan was forced on them and not entirely theirs to pick.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Drew Maresca
Let’s be honest, you never want to lose talent in the NBA for nothing in return, let alone an All-Star talent like Kyrie Irving. However, if you do, Kemba Walker is not a bad consolation prize. In fact with the Celtics team chemistry being such a mess last season, Walker’s personality and style of leadership might actually make the Celtics a better fitting team this season which is a plus. The Celtics are going to miss Al Horford, not only was he a monster on the floor he was the big brother in the locker room that helped a lot of guys through the ups and downs of the season. That is a big void to fill. All in, the Celtics still look like a contender. They have fewer mouths to feed and that should help guys get in a rhythm a little easier. All said, the Celtics look like a more balanced team today and if any of the young guys take that next big step forward in their development, the Celtics should be in contention for home court.
2nd Place – Atlantic Division
– Steve Kyler
This was an interesting offseason for the Boston Celtics. Losing Al Horford is more significant than Kyrie Irving opting to join the Brooklyn Nets, in my opinion. Horford has been a huge difference-maker in the the lats few postseasons and is a good character guy to have around. Irving, on the other hand, never seemed to gel with the Celtics and was a disruptive presence during his time in Boston. Kemba Walker may not have as much raw talent as Irving, but he isn’t far off and should be a much better fit both on the court and in the locker room. Also, credit Boston for adding guys like Enes Kanter, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards. Kanter is talented offensively and not as inept defensively as many may have you believe. To be clear, Boston lost a lot of talent this offseason, but made solid moves to fill out the roster. The hope is with more opportunity, young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can take a step forward in their development and fill the void.
2nd Place – Atlantic Division
– Jesse Blancarte
FROM THE CAP GUY
The Celtics quickly pivoted when it became clear that Kyrie Irving didn’t intend to stay. By executing a dual sign and trade with the Charlotte Hornets that brought in Kemba Walker for Terry Rozier, Boston triggered a hard cap at $138.9 million. That shouldn’t be an issue given the team has used all of its cap space and room exception (on Enes Kanter) to reach $117.9 million in guaranteed salary.
Before November, the Celtics will need to pick up team options on Jayson Tatum and Robert Williams. Jaylen Brown is eligible for a contract extension until the start of the season. While Boston might have enough cap room next summer to sign a maximum-salaried player, players options (Gordon Hayward at $32.7 million and Enes Kanter at $5 million) and Brown’s cap hold as a restricted free agent ($19.6 million) suggests the team is unlikely to be a big spender in July.
– Eric Pincus
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Kemba Walker
In his two seasons in Boston (and with Brad Stevens), Irving posted some of the best numbers of his career. Now, in a similar role, Kemba Walker is set to do the same.
Already a potent offensive weapon, Walker averaged 25.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists and shot 43.4% from the field with the Charlotte Hornets last season. Irving, in arguably his career-best stretch, posted similar numbers (24.1, 4.4, 6.1, 48.9%), so it wouldn’t be ridiculous to think Stevens could push Walker to another level.
Even with the Celtics’ many departures, Walker is about the step into a primary role on a team more talented than any he was a part of in Charlotte. With those inferior rosters, Walker managed three All-Star appearances and an All-NBA appearance.
So, as Boston’s lead man? Expect Walker to take a leap.
Top Defensive Player: Marcus Smart
With Horford gone, there wasn’t much debate here. Boston has multiple versatile defensive weapons, but Marcus Smart is the best among them.
Defense has been the Celtics’ identity for years, and Marcus Smart has been at the heart of it, perhaps more so than ever last season. Smart finished eighth in the vote for Defensive Player of the Year and was a first-time member of the All-Defensive first team. Smart also finished third in the NBA in total steals (143) and sixth in steals per game (1.8).
He isn’t the biggest, nor the strongest, but Smart has shown the ability to excel, regardless of the defensive matchup. His defensive instincts are impeccable, as is his tenacity – ala Patrick Beverley, Smart is never one to give up on a play.
Smart also has a knack for making plays when the team is desperate for one. Whether a deflection, forced an errant pass or an outright block or steal, Smart can often be found in the thick of it late in games.
Top Playmaker: Kemaba Walker?
There isn’t an elite passer in this group, but there are a number of different players that could take on the mantle come season’s end.
Walker would be the obvious candidate, as his 5.9 assists per game last season would lead the Celtics’ current group. Smart, who thrived as a secondary playmaker last season, would also seem like an easy choice here.
Hayward’s career average of 3.4 assists per game doesn’t look like much, but the forward has solid passing skills and the team could look to employ him as a point-forward in certain situations.
The most likely scenario? Boston can (and probably should) look to Frankenstein their abilities together. They aren’t Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook, but together the three of them should be able to make a serious impact.
Top Clutch Player: Kemba Walker
Walker has long been regarded as clutch. And, as he has in almost every other facet, he should step in nicely for Irving as Boston’s go-to guy.
By virtue of his situation in Charlotte, Walker’s field goal percentage in the clutch, the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime and the score within five, doesn’t impress (49.6%) — he had to take almost every shot, because there just wasn’t anyone else that could. Still, Walker finished the regular season with the third-most field goals in those situations (52), just five behind Irving (57) and ahead of Stephen Curry (31), Kevin Durant (31), James Harden (47), Damian Lillard (36) and others.
Plenty of his teammates — Brown, Hayward, Tatum, etc. — can and will get up shots late in games. But, when the Celtics need a bucket, they’ll have a guy in Walker that can get it done when- and wherever.
The Unheralded Player: Jaylen Brown
Brown regressed in 2019, but not nearly as much as some would make it out to be.
He struggled early on due to a hand injury and, by the time he got back Boston was in the midst of a meltdown. Stevens moved him to the bench and it took some time for him to adjust but, once he did, he took off.
In Brown’s last 37 games, he averaged 14 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals and shot 38.2% from three. Only Paul George, T.J. Warren, Curry and Irving posted those numbers while playing more than 40 games last season.
With a chunk of the offense production gone from last year, expect Brown to not only take on a greater role with the team, but another step forward, career-wise, in the last year of his deal.
Best New Addition: Grant Williams
Of course, Walker would fit the bill as the best new addition. But, to highlight someone else, let’s take a look at rookie Grant Williams.
There is a lot to like about the big-man out of Tennessee. At 6-foot-7, Williams has the size to play at either the power forward or center spot and should hold his own against most players, small or large, defensively. He can score efficiently, pass effectively and can even step out and make an impact on the perimeter.
Williams would seem to fit the mold of the do-it-all front court chess piece. Depending on where he is at, development-wise, he could seize a large role relatively early in his rookie season as the Celtics look to fill the Horford-sized hole left in the roster.
If not, Williams should develop into a solid player, and one the team can build with, as the Celtics look to turn their team around after last season.
– Shane Rhodes
WHO WE LIKE
1. Grant Williams
To reiterate, there is a lot to like about Williams and what he could do at the NBA level.
He was exceptional in nearly every phase of the game at Tennessee — he can shoot, pass and defend at a high level — and he has the motor that any team would want to see in a rookie. In his third year with the team, Williams averaged 18.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists and shot 56.4% from the floor (32.6% from three).
Williams has also shown to be a team-first player, an attitude the Celtics sorely lacked last season, and should go a long way in bringing the locker room together.
He also impressed in Summer League and, given Boston’s options at power forward and center, Williams could step into a relatively large role out of the gate. If that’s the case and, should he hold his own, Williams could prove one of the biggest steals of the 2019 NBA Draft.
2. Carsen Edwards
Carsen Edwards can flat out score. And that’s exactly why the Celtics brought him in.
Boston struggled to score points off the bench last season, so they added the diminutive guard in the second round of the draft. Edwards scored easily and often during his time at Purdue, and even stepped up his game in the NCAA tournament and shined with the Celtics in the Summer League. He can score at every level — near the basket, mid-range and from three — and isn’t afraid of any matchup.
That confidence should bode well, both for Boston and Edwards. Even as a second-round rookie, expect some big nights out of him in his first season.
3. Gordon Hayward
Two seasons removed from his gruesome leg injury, this may be the year Hayward looks like himself again.
Many thought Hayward would take that step last season, but he struggled with his confidence and often looked lost on the court. Stevens tried to force-feed him the ball, but he only struggled further and the team worse for it (both on the court and in the locker room).
But now, with two years and an injury-free offseason between him and the original injury, Hayward may be able to take that massive step back toward the player he once was.
If Hayward can make that triumphant return to the court, it could completely change other teams view Boston and their place in the NBA hierarchy.
4. Romeo Langford
Should Boston not extend Brown, Romeo Langford’s rookie season could change from an afterthought to a primary focus quickly.
Langford isn’t the defensive presence Brown is, but the Indiana forward could become quite the offensive weapon. At Indiana, Langford made the game look easy as he averaged 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists. While he struggled in his efficiency — 44.8% from the field and 27.2% from three — much of that can be attributed to a thumb injury sustained early in his freshman season.
With a healthy hand and NBA spacing, the 6-foot-6 Langford, much like fellow rookie Edwards, should have no problem bringing some much-needed scoring off of Boston’s bench.
– Shane Rhodes
The future of the NBA is positionless basketball — teams want players that can play and defend a multitude of positions. And, when it comes to versatility, the Celtics have it in spades.
Brown, Hayward, Langford, Ojeleye, Smart, Tatum and (Grant) Williams can all play multiple positions. Meanwhile, Edwards and Walker can play either spot in the backcourt. Stevens has always been one to shift players around the court, and he should have a multitude of lineup options at his disposal for almost any in-game situation.
Should he (and the team) take advantage of that, it could give Boston a leg up on more than a few teams as they look to win games.
– Shane Rhodes
With Horford gone, the Celtics project to start Enes Kanter at the five. And, in case you didn’t know, Kanter isn’t exactly known for his defensive prowess.
With the number of players that can switch defensively, Boston should find few issues defending the perimeter. However, there is a distinct lack of defensive anchor on the Celtics roster. Second-year big Robert Williams flashed but played limited minutes — is he ready for a bigger role? Likewise, Daniel Theis has shown promise, but has played relatively little during his two seasons with the team.
It’s possible someone may step up, whether it be either Williams, Theis or even Kanter. But don’t expect Boston defense to look as stout as it has in recent seasons until they address their issues on the inside.
– Shane Rhodes
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can Walker Help the Young Celtics Run?
The Irving experiment clearly didn’t work, but Boston lucked out and hit the reset button with Walker. But where do they go from here?
It’s also fair to question whether the younger players — Brown, Smart, Tatum, etc. — can get better or if someone can push them to be better than they were a season ago.
Ultimately, that responsibility should fall to Stevens and, as the team’s best player, Walker. If the two of them can push everyone to be their best, Boston could find themselves where we thought they would be a season ago.
If not, expect another long summer as Danny Ainge and management look to re-evaluate.
– Shane Rhodes
Georgetown Prospect Omer Yurtseven is Ready for Center Stage
Omer Yurtseven spoke with Drew Maresca about playing for coach Patrick Ewing, training for the NBA during a pandemic and why he feels he’s the best center in the 2020 draft class.
Omer Yurtseven, the 7-foot tall, Georgetown center, posted an impressive junior season in 2019-20; he averaged 15.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. With legitimate NBA size and skills, it’s no mystery why he’s confident. “I don’t think anyone has my combination of tools and versatility,” Yurtseven recently told Basketball insiders. But he’s also a student of the game –well aware of the game’s history and where it’s headed.
“I wouldn’t put anyone ahead of me. I haven’t seen anyone with the tools that I have. I can shoot the ball, the three-ball, and that’s where the big man is headed,” Yurtseven said.
But he’s not satisfied with what he’s accomplished thus far. He wants more. And he understands that he’ll have to continue working to ensure his spot in the league.
“Some guys might be more athletic [than me], but there are a lot of athletic bigs in the league who don’t stick,” Yurtseven continued. “The skillset is just as important, if not more. So is the [willingness to put in] the work. I think I’m better or as good as any other players, and my rookie year, that’s my goal, to prove that.”
Yurtseven transferred to Georgetown from N.C. State in 2018 after a successful Sophomore season in which he shot over 50 percent on three-point attempts. He sat out the 2018-19 season voluntarily to play for Georgetown and coach Patrick Ewing. The opportunity to work with the Hall of Famer was too good to pass up.
“That’s what I was looking for coming in [working with Ewing]. I needed someone to see the game from my perspective,” Yurtseven said. “I was looking for that feedback and I demanded to be coached. I wanted to learn from him. The thing he stayed on me the most about was the pace of the game and how quick my moves would have to be at the next level.
“The turnaround jumper was one of his major weapons,” Yurtseven continued. “He was ahead of his time, but he wanted to see me do the same thing and give 100 percent effort every time.”
Yurtseven jumper is a major weapon in his arsenal, so a pairing with Ewing was an obvious fit. His numbers remained strong during his junior year season with Georgetown, but with one glaring drop off – three-point percentage. Ewing demanded that Yurtseven operate from the low post, a role that the prospect didn’t love, but accepted. Could a new role be to blame for a down shooting year? Yurtseven would never blame anyone other than himself, especially not Ewing. But it’s clear that he felt like he could have done even more if given the opportunity.
“The biggest thing is, I played how I played because that was the role demanded of me. All I had to do was be the inside presence, the defense collapser, and we had to stick to the strategy that coach thought was best for the team.
“I would love to have caught the ball at the top a little more,” Yurtseven continued. “But I was happy to be the post guy. I knew I had to get into my moves quick, so that’s what I did. I sacrificed what I think is my best skills for the team, and I was fine with it.”
It’s evident that Yurtseven is a team-first guy but his three-point shooting took a significant hit. As mentioned above, Yurtseven shot 50 percent on 1.3 three-point attempts as a sophomore in 2017-18, but only 21.4 percent on only half an attempt from long range per game in 2019-20. However, it’s not in his nature to look back – only ahead.
“That’s been my main focus,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “In April, I was shooting 30 or 40 percent two steps behind the college three. That percentage has added up 5 or 10 percent each month. Doing it isn’t easy, but it pays off and that’s why we do it. Now I’m at 75 or 80 percent (in practice sessions) and I’m really confident in my ability.
“And that’s the most important skill set for big men right now,” Yurtseven said. “You’ve got to be a perimeter shooter, as well as a perimeter defender, because big men are evolving away from the rim.”
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Yurtseven – and all of the 2020 class – received longer than normal between the end of the 2019-20 NCAA season and the 2020 NBA Draft. And while mock drafts have slowly whittled down the number of prospects, Yurtseven is working tirelessly to improve his stock in any way possible. impressive game.
“No one knew this offseason would be so long. It’s been 6, 8 months already,” Yurtseven continued. “But the team around me has been a blessing – coordinating workouts and making sure I’m taking steps to improve, from nutrition to training lateral quickness to shooting.
“It’s speed and agility, studying the game and having the knowledge about how to position yourself,” Yurtseven continued. “It’s timing and positioning and footwork. It’s all pieces of the puzzle. But the league is another level than college. That’s why I’ve been preparing, increasing lateral quickness, strengthening my glutes, making sure my quads and hips are firing well and that my lateral push-off is explosive as I want.”
“And seeing it translate on the court in two-on-twos and three-on-threes. Switching on guards and providing I can do it to myself. It’s been really fun and fulfilling.”
Yurtseven could have opted to play professionally in Europe – he had numerous professional offers as an 18-year-old prior to coming to joining N.C. State. But Yurtseven is driven by more than money and fame. He is family-oriented and understands the long game. His parents wanted him to receive a college degree before pursuing basketball – a decision that Yurtseven is happy to have made.
“The education was the main reason [I chose to play in the NCAA]. My family’s dream was that I get a college degree.
“When I was 18, [Turkish teams] offered me a huge contract. I’ve never seen so many zeros in my life,” Yurtseven continued.
“Now it’s time to chase my dream. And my team, my circle, it’s our goal to find a franchise that allows me to grow into a player for 10-plus years – and I’ll never stop working at it.”
Where Yurtseven ultimately plays is anyone’s guess – but he’s already spoken with 17 NBA teams.
Whatever franchise selects the center will add a hard-working and versatile big man that looks well-suited for the modern game – or he may not be selected at all. Yurtseven is currently ranked outside the top 50 according to some mocks – but if he gets an opportunity, he knows how he’d like to play.
“My aim is to get a double-double, year one,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “And, of course, guarding 1 through 5 is another big thing that coaches are looking for. Look at the Bucks, they were ranked first in offense (in 2019-20). Most of their points come from spot-ups. Defenses collapse on Giannis and Middleton – and Brook Lopez stays alone in the corner. I think that’ll be where I get my shots, too.”
Only three rookies in the past 10 years have averaged a double-double in their first season in the league – Blake Griffin, Karl-Anthony Towns, Deandre Ayton. That’s an elite club in which Yurtseven is seeking membership. Can he surprise the basketball world? Only time will tell.
There isn’t much data on him against elite big men. But there is one relevant contest worth examining: a Nov. 22 matchup against Duke and Vernon Carey, who is projected to be drafted No. 26 overall by Basketball Insiders.
Carey filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but so did Yurtseven (21 points, five rebounds and four blocks). That night, his entire repertoire was on full display – decisive drop steps, smooth turnaround jump shots over both shoulders, baby hooks, midrange jumpers and hard-nosed defense.
“He was the only true big man that I played against,” Yurtseven recalled. “He was quick and Duke did a good job putting the ball in his hands as soon as he stepped in the paint. I had to exert a lot of energy keeping him off his spot, but I adjusted quickly.
“I figured he would be very strong, but he ultimately didn’t feel as strong as I expected. My maturity and strength helped me a lot.”
Yurtseven’s skill and build render him tailor-made for the NBA. But for most, sticking at the professional peak is about more than skill and body. IQ, on and off of the floor, play a major role, too.
“A lot of guys [in this draft class] haven’t played many games,” Yurtseven told Basketball Insiders. “Having a college degree and that experience is a huge tool.
“Playing overseas as a pro is another layer of experience that I have compared to these guys. My IQ has improved. Those one-and-done guys are gonna be thrown into the fire, but I’ll be more ready.
“I saw a study,” Yurtseven explained. “Guys that come in 21-and-under stay in the league two or three years on average. Guys that come in and are 21-or-older stay seven or eight years on average. That just shows how much time it takes to mature your game.”
Comparatively, only four players were 22 or older as on draft night in 2019 – Yurtsevein is 22.
At the end of the day, it will be about how he performs on the court, and he’s comfortable with that.
“If I get drafted, I’ll be the first guy coming out of Turkey with a college degree,” Yurtseven said proudly.
“I’m ready for the next step. I appreciate everyone wishing me luck and supporting me from afar. I can’t wait to show my game’s evolution and reap the benefits of all of the work I’ve put in.”
NBA Daily: Tyronn Lue is the Right Coach for the Clippers
Is Lue the right coach for the Los Angeles Clippers? David Yapkowitz thinks so.
When Doc Rivers was first hired by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013, the expectation was that he would be the one to guide the franchise into respectability. A laughingstock of the NBA for pretty much their entire existence, marred by bad coaching, bad management and bad ownership, Rivers was supposed to help change all of that.
For the most part, he did.
Rivers arrived from the Boston Celtics with the 2008 championship, and he helped the Celtics regain their standing as one of the NBA’s elite teams. The Clippers were a perennial playoff contender under him and were even in the conversation for being a possible championship contender. The Lob City Clippers led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin certainly were talked about as being a title contender, and this season’s group led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were definitely in the mix as well.
Not only did Rivers steady the team on the court though, but he was also a very steadying presence off the court. He guided the franchise through the Donald Sterling controversy and he was a positive voice for the team as they navigated the bubble and the ongoing charge for social reform in the country.
But when things go wrong with a team, the coach is usually the one who ends up taking the fall. While Rivers did bring the Clippers to a level of respectability the franchise has never known, his record was not without blemishes. Most notably was his team’s inability to close out playoff series’ after holding three games to one on advantages two separate occasions.
In 2015, the Clippers had a 3-1 lead over the Houston Rockets only to squander that lead and lose Game 7 on the road. In Game 6, their shots stopped falling and neither Paul nor Griffin could do anything to halt the Rockets onslaught.
This season, in an incredibly similar fashion, the Clippers choked away a 3-1 lead over the Denver Nuggets and ended up getting blown out the second half of Game 7. Just like before, the offense stalled multiple games and neither Leonard nor George could make a difference.
There were also questions about Rivers’ rotations and his seeming inability to adjust to his opponents. In the end, something had to change, and whether it’s right or wrong, the coach usually ends up taking the fall.
Enter Tyronn Lue. Lue, like Rivers, is also a former NBA player and has a great deal of respect around the league. He came up under Rivers, getting his first coaching experience as an assistant in Boston, and then following Rivers to the Clippers.
He ended up joining David Blatt’s staff in Cleveland in 2014, and when Blatt was fired in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Lue was promoted to head coach. In the playoffs that year, Lue guided the Cavaliers to victory in their first 10 playoff games. They reached the Finals where they famously came back from a 3-1 deficit against the 73-9 Golden State Warriors to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Cavaliers reached the Finals each full year of Lue’s tenure as head coach, but he was let go at the start of the 2018-19 season when the team started 0-6 after the departure of LeBron James.
In the 2019 offseason, Lue emerged as the leading candidate for the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job, before he ultimately rejected the team’s offer. After rejoining Rivers in LA with the Clippers for a year, he once again emerged as a leading candidate for multiple head coaching positions this offseason before agreeing to terms with the Clippers.
Following the Clippers series loss to the Nuggets, many players openly talked about the team’s lack of chemistry and how that may have played a factor in the team’s postseason demise. Adding two-star players in Leonard and George was always going to be a challenge from a chemistry standpoint, and the Clippers might have secured the perfect man to step up to that challenge.
During his time in Cleveland, Lue was praised for his ability to manage a locker room that included James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. In Game 7 against the Warriors, Lue reportedly challenged James at halftime and ended up lighting a fire that propelled the Cavaliers to the championship.
Lue’s ability to deal with star egos isn’t just limited to his coaching tenure. During his playing days, Lue was a trusted teammate with the Los Angeles Lakers during a time when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant weren’t seeing eye to eye. He also played with Michael Jordan during Jordan’s Washington Wizard days.
Now, he’ll be tasked with breaking through and leading the Clippers to a place where no Clipper team has ever been before. He’ll be expected to finish what Rivers was unable to accomplish and guide the Clippers to an NBA championship.
For one, he’ll have to change the Clippers offensive attack. This past season, the Clippers relied too much on an isolation heavy offense centered around Leonard and George. That style of play failed in the playoffs when after failing to adjust, the Clippers kept taking tough shot after tough shot while the Nuggets continued to run their offense and get good shots.
With the Cavaliers, Lue showed his ability to adjust his offense and work to his player’s strengths. In the 2018 Playoffs, Lue employed a series of off-ball screens involving Love and Kyle Korver with James reading the defense and making the correct read to whoever was in the best position to score.
When playing with James, the offense sometimes tends to stagnate with the other four players standing around and waiting for James to make his move. Lue was able to get the other players to maintain focus and keep them engaged when James had the ball in his hands. Look for him to try and do something similar for when either Leonard or George has the ball in their hands.
He’s already got a player on the roster in Landry Shamet who can play that Korver role as the designated shooter on the floor running through off-ball screens and getting open. Both Leonard and George have become efficient enough playmakers to be able to find open shooters and cutters. That has to be Lue’s first task to tweak the offense to find ways to keep the rest of the team engaged and active when their star players are holding the ball.
The defensive end is going to be something he’ll need to adjust as well. The Clippers have some of the absolute best individual defensive players in the league. Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, George was a finalist for the award in 2019 and Patrick Beverley is a perennial All-Defensive Team selection.
When the team was locked in defensively this season, there wasn’t a team in the league that could score on them. The problem for them was they seemingly couldn’t stay engaged on the defensive end consistently enough. The other issue was Rivers’ inability to adjust his defense to his opponent. Against the Nuggets, Nikola Jokic had a field day whenever Montrez Harrell was guarding him.
Lue’s primary task will be to get this team to maintain their defensive intensity throughout the season, as well as recognize what matchups are and aren’t working. Both Ivica Zubac and JaMychal Green were more effective frontcourt defenders in the postseason than Harrell was. Look for Lue to play to his team’s strengths, as he always has, and to trot out a heavy dose of man-to-man defense.
Overall, Lue was the best hire available given the candidates. He’s got a strong rapport among star players. He’s made it to the finals multiple times and won a championship as a head coach. And he already has experience working with Leonard and George.
Given the potential free agent status of both Leonard and George in the near future, the Clippers have a relatively small window of championship contention. Lue was in a similar situation in Cleveland when James’ pending free agency in the summer of 2018 was also a factor. That time around, Lue delivered. He’ll be ready for this new challenge.
NBA Daily: The Lakers’ Third Scorer Is By Committee
The Los Angeles Lakers have a whole unit of third scoring options – and that’s why they’re one win from an NBA Championship.
One of the biggest questions surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers once the NBA bubble began was who was going to pick up the mantle of being the third scoring option.
Even before the 2019-20 season began, it was obvious that LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be the primary offensive weapons, but every elite team with championship aspirations needs another player or two they can rely on to contribute on the offensive end consistently.
The obvious choice was Kyle Kuzma. In his third year in the NBA, Kuzma was the lone member of the Lakers’ young core that hadn’t been shipped elsewhere. His name had come up in trade rumors as possibly being included in the package to New Orleans for Davis, but the Lakers were able to hang on to him. He put up 17.4 points per game over his first two seasons and had some questioning whether or not he had All-Star potential.
For the most part this season, he settled into that role for much of this season. With Davis in the fold and coming off the bench, his shot attempts dropped from 15.5 to 11.0, but he still managed to be the team’s third scorer with 12.8 points per game.
But here in the bubble, and especially in the playoffs, the Lakers’ role players have each taken turns in playing the supporting role to James and Davis. Everyone from Kuzma to Alex Caruso, to Dwight Howard, to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, to Markieff Morris and even Rajon Rondo have had games where they’ve given the team that additional scoring boost.
Earlier in the bubble, James himself said they need Kuzma to be the team’s third-best player to win, but Kuzma himself believes that it’s always been by committee.
“We don’t have a third scorer, that’s not how our offense is built. Our offense is really AD and Bron, and everyone else plays team basketball,” Kuzma said on a postgame media call after Game 4 of the Finals. “We’ve had a long season, hopefully by now, you’ve seen how we play. Everyone steps up at different times, that’s what a team does.”
On this particular night, when the Miami HEAT got a pregame boost with the return of Bam Adebayo and wealth of confidence from their Game 3 win, it was Caldwell-Pope who stepped up and assumed the mantle of that third scoring option.
He finished Game 4 with 15 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range. He also dished out five assists and grabbed three rebounds. Perhaps his most crucial moments of the game came late in the fourth quarter with the Lakers desperately clinging to a slim lead and the Heat not going away.
He hit a big three-pointer in front of the Miami bench with 2:58 to go in the game, and then followed that up with a drive the rim and finish on the very next possession to give the Lakers some breathing room.
Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most consistent Lakers this postseason and he’s been one of their most consistent three-point threats at 38.5 percent on 5.3 attempts. He was actually struggling a bit with his outside shot before this game, but he always stayed ready.
“My teammates lean on me to pick up the energy on the defensive end and also make shots on the offensive end…I stayed within a rhythm, within myself and just played,” Caldwell-Pope said after the game. “You’re not going to knock down every shot you shoot, but just staying with that flow…Try to stay in the rhythm, that’s what I do. I try not to worry about it if I’m not getting shots. I know they are eventually going to come.”
Also giving the Lakers a big offensive boost in Game 4 was Caruso who had a couple of easy baskets at the rim and knocked down a three-pointer. He’s become one the Lakers best off the ball threats as well, making strong cuts to the rim or drifting to the open spot on the three-point line.
He’s had his share of games this postseason when it’s been his turn to step up as the Lakers additional scoring threat. During Game 4 against the Houston Rockets in the second round, Caruso dropped 16 points off the bench to help prevent the Rockets from tying the series up. In the closeout Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, he had 11 points and finished the game in crunch time.
For him, it’s about staying ready and knowing that the ball is eventually going to come to whoever is open. When that happens, it’s up to the role players to take that pressure off James and Davis.
“Our third star or best player is whoever has the open shot. We know what AD and LeBron are going to bring to the table every night. They’re going to get their attention, they’re going to get their shots,” Caruso said after the game.
“It’s just about being ready to shoot. We have two of the best passers in the game, if not the best, so we know when we are open, we are going to get the ball. We have to be ready to do our job as soon as the ball gets to us.”
And if the Lakers are to close out the series and win the 2020 NBA championship, head coach Frank Vogel knows that it’s going to take a collective effort from the rest of the team, the way they’ve been stepping up all postseason.
“We need everybody to participate and contribute, and we’re a team-first team,” Vogel said after the game. “Obviously we have our two big horses, but everybody’s got to contribute that’s out there.”