A major theme of the rebuilding Celtics has been that no player is safe from being traded for the betterment of the team ‘ something Danny Ainge has shown the willingness to do throughout his career (and now once again by trading Rajon Rondo). Here are some trades that make sense for the mess that is the Boston Celtics. Again, these specific trades are not rumors, simply ideas. This is part six.
After a flurry of trades, Danny Ainge’s phone has finally cooled off. At least for the last couple of weeks. But now the trade deadline is a mere eight days away, so expect things to begin to heat back up.
If you take a look around the league (which to me means skim through the ESPN trade machine for an hour), it makes sense that the Celtics haven’t been able to piece together any more moves that accomplish the goal of selling unneeded parts for future draft picks. Most teams that are considered buyers have either already made their moves to add help, or simply don’t have the contracts or assets that would match what Boston is trying to do.
However, there are still buyers out there.
The Hawks are back in Boston on Wednesday, and despite continuing to run away with the Eastern Conference, Atlanta still has many doubters. The Hawks just traded rookie Adreian Payne to the Timberwolves in order to add a 2017 first-round pick — a pick that figures to be used to add more firepower for this season. Furthermore, Atlanta has also been rumored as a potential landing spot for free-agent guard Ray Allen.
But with the Hawks still under the cap, here’s a move that could help them build their bench:
CELTICS GET: Elton Brand and a future second-round draft pick
*Brand would have to waive his trade clause
This deal makes perfect sense for both sides, but would probably need to wait until Atlanta knows if they will be making a bigger move first. Coming off a month where the Hawks entire starting lineup won Conference Player of the Month (which is absolutely remarkable), it’s now time to build their bench. The addition of Allen — or any other guard around the league that they can lure with their newly acquired first-rounder — would sure-up Atlanta’s backcourt, but they still need help off the bench in the form of a big. Bass is that guy.
Because the Hawks are under the cap, they are able to swap Brand’s $2 million expiring contract for Bass’ $6.9 million expiring deal without any problems. Boston would most likely buy Brand’s contract out, saving them money for the rest of the season, while Bass provides the perfect spark for the Hawks. In addition, Ainge tosses another second-rounder in his pile … you never know when all of them may come in handy.
1. Make Ray Allen compete in the 3-point contest before he is allowed to return to the league
Numerous media outlets are reporting that Allen is channeling his inner Roger Clemens and is close to making a midseason comeback. Before the perpetual front-runner ultimately settles on which contender he would like to play for, Allen should be forced to provide NBA fans with a pro bono shooting display as a sort of payment for taking off the first half of the season.
This clearly is the best way for the NBA’s all-time leader in 3’s to make his return to the league. There is no doubt in my mind that Allen could still win the contest. In preparation for his comeback, Allen undoubtedly has kept up his absurd practice routine. When you have shooting OCD, you don’t just give up shooting altogether.
Imagine the potential WWE-like spectacle. After the first eight shooters finish the first round, the entire arena goes dark. The MSG public address announcer gets on the mic.
“AND NOW, A SPECIAL NINTH COMPETITOR HAS COME FORWARD TO PROVE HE IS THE GREATEST SHOOTER IN ALL THE LAND. A 6-FOOT-5 SHOOTING GUARD FROM LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL IN CONEY ISLAND, THE NBA’S ALL-TIME LEADING 3-POINT SHOOTER, NO. 34, JESUS SHUTTLESWORTH.”
Allen, wearing a Lincoln High School Shuttlesworth shooting jacket, then proceeds to obliterate the competition. Reggie Miller complains the entire time about how Allen is breaking the rules. Marv Albert is so excited he just starts biting everyone within his grasp. The NBA Twitter community explodes, creating an abundance of reaction memes, GIFs and new hashtags.
Then Ray Ray proceeds to destroy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver in the finals, and take his trophy and rip off his jacket revealing his brand new No. 34 Cavaliers jersey. Boos reign down from the rafters as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who are just as surprised as the rest of us, run out on the court to embrace the newest NBA villain. Courtside, cameras find Paul Pierce, Joakim Noah and Kyle Lowry pointing at Allen and making a menacing throat-slashing gesture. The gauntlet is thrown down and it is officially ON in the Eastern Conference.
Maybe it’s just me, but I think it could be the greatest moment in NBA history.
2. Add a defender to the dunk contest
The dunk contest of the 21st century feels like American foreign policy around the 1900s. For years and years, a sort of manifest destiny drove NBA players to explore the great unknown. There was a sense of hope, honor and optimism with each new dunk. What would happen if they put the ball between their legs? Spun the opposite way for a 360? Maybe even throw the ball off the side of the backboard?
Eventually, just as American pioneers ran out of land to settle out West, dunkers ran out of new and original dunks to perform. With nothing new left to accomplish, the dunkers tried to rehash dunks of the past, adding silly props like a Kia or a cape in an attempt to regain the feelings we once had. We as fans pretended to care, even pretended to be impressed, but deep down we knew that something was missing and these dunks were not as great as those of yesteryear. Sure it was nice to have control of the Phillipines and Puerto Rico, but were we really going to pack up our entire lives into a covered wagon and move there? Not a chance.
The Dunk Contest either needs to be abandoned completely or retooled for the modern era. As a strict isolationist, I am in favor of getting rid of the silly contest and instead focusing efforts on creating new forms of midseason entertainment. I understand this is unlikely, as the world is filled with backward thinkers unwilling to relinquish the tired and hackneyed ideas of the past.
The only way to I can think of to make the dunk contest exciting again would be to add a defender. Rather than jumping over a car or Nate Robinson, dunkers would have to outmatch the likes of DeAndre Jordan, Hassan Whiteside or K.J. McDaniels. This will never happen due to the insane likelihood of injury, but a one-on-one dunking death match would be a guaranteed thrill ride. Think of the potential blocks! The posterizations! The bruised egos and ensuing fistfights!
Unfortunately for the Boston Celtics, three is the magic number. On the second night of a back-to-back, the Celtics were unable to win what would have been a season-high fourth game in a row.
The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Celtics 96-93 on Saturday night. Playing their fourth game in five nights, the C’s (19-31) were unable to sustain a comeback attempt that brought them within one point in the final minute. Brandon Knight led all scorers with 26 points and sealed the game with an impressive step-back jumper in the final 10 seconds.
The Celtics struggled to deal with the absurd length of the Bucks (28-23). The Celtics were unable to establish their motion offense, and instead settled for contested jumpers. They shot 42 percent from the floor and an abysmal 24 percent from 3-point range. Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller, Marcuses Smart and Thornton each had double-figure points in the loss.
Greek Freak Freaks Greeks; Potential best player in NBA history
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the most intriguing player in the NBA. The 6-foot-11 20-year-old is STILL growing, is a dynamic ball-handler, and has the ability to euro-step and dunk from the 3-point line. Coming off a career-high 27 points against the Rockets, the talents of the Greek Freak were on full display against the Celtics. Finishing with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds), Antetokounmpo impacted almost every aspect of the game. His length was most impressive, as he bothered Celtics shooters the entire night. I fully expect Giannis to win the Slam Dunk contest next weekend and slowly evolve into the best player in the universe.
In the point guard-heavy NBA, Brandon Knight is not a household name. After being drafted eighth by the Pistons in 2011 out of Kentucky, Knight had a disappointing couple of seasons in Detroit. In Milwaukee, though, Knight has drastically improved his game. Last season he averaged a career-high 17.9 points per game and continues to do a solid job leading the surprisingly good Bucks offense. Saturday, he had a very impressive first half, scoring 18 of his 26 points.
Sullinger stays in the paint
To the delight of Celtics fans everywhere, Jared Sullinger only attempted 3 three pointers tonight (Although, his shot in the final 2 minutes was particularly reprehensible) For the majority of the game, he chose to plant his excess posterior in the paint. In the first half, he was the best C’s player on the floor, scoring 12 points and grabbing 5 boards. Recently, Sullinger has been doing an excellent job passing the ball, but only finished with 2 assists in tonight’s game.
After being sidelined with a hip injury, Brad Stevens- favorite savy vet- returned to the rotation with excellent results. When the Celtics went small, Prince played the four, notching 8 points in 19 minutes off the bench. Tayshaun’s return meant that rookie James Young, who had seen his minutes increase in recent games, did not see the floor, finishing with a DNP-Coach’s Decisions.
Marcus Smart continues to improve on offense.
After a couple low scoring performances, Smart finished with over 10 points for only the tenth time this season. In the first quarter, the rookie continued his assault from beyond the arc. He opened the game by knocking down 2 for 4 from deep. Smart has also shown remarkable improvement running the offense, particularly in the pick and roll. He finished with 13 points but only 1 assist.
“Guys in here are trying to win,” said Jae Crowder, the only one left from the Dec. 19 Rondo deal. “A lot of people counted us out, so we have a lot of pride in this locker room, and the city has a lot of pride, so we want to keep playing for those guys, playing for ourselves and playing basketball the right way to give ourselves a chance.”
The Celtics own a similar record after the Rondo trade (10-16) to before it (9-14), but since the Green deal was finalized on Jan. 12, the C’s are 7-7, including the first three road wins against Western Conference teams of the Brad Stevens era. For better or worse, this hodgepodge of young talent and expiring contracts is playing to win.
But some within the Celtics locker room are waiting for the other shoe to drop, or at least it sounds that way.
“It’s been great,” said Marcus Thornton, who netted 16 points off the bench in Friday’s win over the 76ers, of the team chemistry since a series of trades also saw Brandan Wright come and go. “It’s still not over yet. Feb. 19 is still a long time from now, so we’ll see how that goes, too. For the time being, everybody’s just here playing.”
Feb. 19, of course, is the NBA trade deadline, and Thornton seemed awful familiar with that date. “No, I’m not thinking about that,” he countered. “Whatever happens, happens. I would like to stay here. Who wouldn’t? We’ve got a good thing going, but like I said, it’s not controllable. I can’t control it, so whatever happens, happens.”
So goes the battle for Brad Stevens and this band of merry Celtics, who staved off a 76ers comeback for another victory and pulled within two games of the Nets for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff seed.
“We’ve been good in those moments in really the most part of the month,” said Stevens. “And we had a little bit of an adjustment, obviously, after Rondo was traded and Jeff was traded, but in close games — or, you know, we’ve had to come back in a couple of these games — I feel like for the most part it’s been a positive in the last eight minutes of games. So, that’s encouraging from where we started the year.”
Growing, morphing, evolving, it’s all part of the process of these Stevens Celtics, whatever that may be.
It hasn’t been pretty, but the Celtics are riding a three-game winning streak.
They nearly blew a 26-point lead to a listless Sixers squad, but pulled out a 107-96 win on the strength of another 3-point barrage from Marcus Thornton. The veteran reserve connected on back-to-back triples to maintain a cushion after Philadelphia cut it to a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter. The C’s (19-30) remain within striking distance of the eighth-place Heat (21-28), who visit the Spurs late Friday night.
Thornton (16 points) joined five other Celtics in double figures. Jared Sullinger led the effort with 22 points, eight rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Avery Bradley (18 points), Tyler Zeller (16 points, 9 rebounds), Brandon Bass (13 points) and Jae Crowder (11 points) rounded out the C’s double-digit sextet. Luc Mbah a Moute’s 18 points led a 76ers (11-40) squad that was without Michael Carter-Williams.
With Michael Carter-Williams out with a right toe injury and Tony Wroten (partially torn right ACL) sidelined for the remainder of the season, the Sixers started undrafted rookie JaKarr Sampson at point guard alongside 2014 second-round pick K.J. McDaniels in the backcourt, and the Celtics took advantage early. In a span of 77 seconds, Bradley made his first three shots ‘ including a 3-pointer ‘ on passes from Smart, Turner and Sullinger, giving the C’s an early 7-0 lead. Bass’ layup on their next possession pushed the lead to nine and forced a Philadelphia timeout.
A LITTLE HELP
Here’s something you may not have known: Despite dealing Rajon Rondo, the Celtics entered Friday’s game assisting on 62.4 percent of their field goals, ranking seventh in the NBA in that regard — behind only the playoff-bound Hawks, Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Wizards and Bucks. (Even more remarkable: The 76ers rank eighth.) In the first half against Philadelphia, the C’s recorded an assist on 17 of their 23 field goals (74 percent) and took a 60-42 lead into halftime. Evan Turner, who has led the Celtics in assists since Rondo’s departure, had five dimes by the break.
THE 76ERS AREN’T VERY GOOD
Even with Carter-Williams — the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year — the 76ers are league’s three worst teams. How the Knicks and Timberwolves have won fewer games remains one of life’s great mysteries. Only one member of Philadelphia’s starting five played in the NBA last year, and that was Luc Mbah a Moute, who has played for four teams in the past 22 months and was a throw-in to the Thaddeus Young trade. The Sixers’ front office is actively attempting to lose games, and Carter-Williams’ absence makes that a foregone conclusion. What’s Phil Jackson‘s excuse?
Treating the 76ers like The Bride at the beginning of “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” the Celtics pulled a Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and inexplicably left the church before finishing the job, allowing Philadelphia off the mat. While the C’s shot 21 percent in the third quarter (4-19 FG, 1-6 3P), the Sixers stormed back to within six, shooting 47 percent in the frame and outscoring the hosts, 27-15. Luckily, Philly is no Uma Thurman.
DID IT 1-FOR THE ROOKIES
While the Celtics received contributions from up and down the roster, their two rookies struggled to find the bottom of the net. Marcus Smart (1-6 FG) and James Young (0-3 FG) made just one of their nine combined attempts and totaled just three points as a tandem. While Young’s 0-fer came in a dozen minutes off the bench, Smart played a team-high 37 minutes, contributing in other ways as a starter (8 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals).
When Marcus Smart was selected No. 6 overall in this past June’s NBA Draft, many believed it would be to replace Rajon Rondo. The rookie had a slow start to the season that included an ankle injury and even limited minutes at times when he was available.
Rondo was shipped to Dallas on Nov 18, and since then Smart has continued trying to earn the trust of his coaches and teammates. On Feb 3 all of his hard work paid off when Brad Stevens named him the starting point guard for the Celtics. Smart’s playing time has gone up in each of his last five games, but he has set a career-highs in minutes in each of his two starts at the point.
In 37 minutes on Tuesday in New York, the Oklahoma State product poured in 13 points while also grabbing four rebounds, three assists and two steals. The next night, in 41 minutes of action while hosting the Nuggets, Smart only managed four points, but had maybe one of his most impactful games. Despite his lack of scoring, the 20-year old racked up 10 boards, dished out eight assists, and plucked three steals in the process.
“I just try to come out there and play hard,” Smart said of his new starting role. “Not worry about all the other things and just let my game come to me and let the rest fall into place.”
“I’m trying to push the ball and keep the pace up. I’m trying to attack the defense before they get set,” he said of his job as a facilitator.
Development with the ball in his hands is great, but may take some time. For now, defense is Smart’s calling card.
“I think you feel so good and comfortable with him defensively in the game,” Stevens said of Smart following Wednesday’s game. “I thought he did fine offensively. He had eight assists to two turnovers. He didn’t shoot a high volume of shots. I can’t think of many times where he made many mistakes defensively.
“He’s playing pretty well — without impacting the stat sheet too much, which is a good thing,” Smart’s coach concluded regarding his impact.
Even Smart’s peers around the league are taking notice of his abilities.
“I think he’s pretty good,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson confirmed following the game. “He’s tough. He’s pretty strong. He’s going to be a good defender in this league.”
But what’s the biggest impact of the C’s lineup change so far? Marcus Smart is a winner. The Celtics are 2-0 so far when he starts at point guard.