Boston Celtics climb into Postseason Race – Even if they didn’t mean to

Danny AingeEarlier this season, the Boston Celtics dealt with all kinds of tanking allegations. Aside from trading star point guard Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks, Boston President Danny Ainge didn’t exactly made the type of offseason moves that indicated a serious postseason run. But here we are with only a handful of games left and the postseason is exactly where it looks like these young Celtics are headed.

Currently, Boston is 36-42 and sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot. Their record is identical to the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets and one game ahead of the chasing Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat (both 35-43). So looking at things now, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Celtics in the postseason. The question remains, though, what does Ainge think of his overachieving Celtics.

So far, he hasn’t exactly offered ringing endorsements over Boston’s run, which severely diminishes their chances of getting a high lottery pick. However, he does support his club as they battle for one of the Eastern Conference’s final two remaining playoff spots. Here’s a look at what Ainge told the Boston Globe:

“Hopefully we can get a little better [over the next few days] because I think that both players and coaches feel like there’s things we can do better, but especially with such a young team we need more practice time together to reach our full potential. That’s why being in the playoffs would be nice from that standpoint, having a couple of weeks of hard games to prepare for and focus. I think that’s even more valuable than what we’re going through right now, which is valuable. I’m excited about the last five games of the season, to see how it turns out. I’m excited we get a couple of days off to catch our breath and we get some practice time.

[con’d later] It’s hard to manage a bunch of different agendas at once and we’re just trying to get our players better. It’s been a very positive year whatever happens in these last five difficult games ahead of us. But I believe there’s been a lot that’s been accomplished. It’s a credit to the players and the coaches. You could be the greatest coach in the world but if you got players that don’t have character to understand where the team is at and what’s happening . . . It could be tough on any coach and I think it’s a credit to Brad [Stevens] and the players that they’re playing and developing a reputation of a team that shows up to play and they’re playing hard and they’re playing to win.”

isaiah-thomas-celticsAs Ainge alluded to, there’s plenty to like about this promising young team. Isaiah Thomas (19.7 PPG) has quite possibly become the NBA’s best bench player since coming over from Phoenix. Avery Bradley (11.4 PPG) has proven to be a very effective young point guard. Jared Sullinger (13.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG) is playing a nice low-post game for the Celtics. And Kelly Olynyk (10.4 PPG) is finally realizing his potential after a highly touted college career at Gonzaga.

In fact, just about everybody on the Celtics has made contributions this season, with nine players averaging at least 9.5 PPG. And this doesn’t even include sixth-overall pick Marcus Smart (7.6 PPG, 3.3 APG), who’s steadily seen his game improve over the year.

So while Ainge’s unannounced plans to tank for another high draft pick may not have worked out this season, there is more than enough to be excited about with this young and emerging team.

Boston’s Jared Sullinger coming into his own in Second Year

jared-sullinger-boston-celticsJared Sullinger’s professional basketball career got off to a rocky start the minute he was selected 21st overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. After all, this was a guy whom many predicted to be a top-5 lottery pick going into the summer of ’12. And there was good reason why since the bulky 6’9″ power forward led Ohio State to a 63-10 overall record and Final Four appearance during his two years there.

Unfortunately, Sullinger’s stock slipped considerably after he suffered through back issues during the Draft Combine in Chicago. He eventually fell to the Boston Celtics, who grabbed him in the latter half of the first round.

Wanting to prove the critics wrong in his rookie season, Sullinger showed flashes of brilliance, including a January-of-2013 game against the Toronto Raptors where he scored 25 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. This was the first 20-20 game by a Celtic since Kevin Garnett did it in 2007. But then disaster struck just two weeks later on February 1st, when it was announced that Sullinger would miss the rest of the season with a back injury.

This was obviously a huge setback and a harrowing reminder of the Draft Combine the year before. However, all of these reminders seem to have vanished now that Sullinger is showing his true potential in the 2013-14 season. For starters, he’s averaging 13.4 PPG and 8.1 RPG in a modest 27 minutes per contest. These numbers may not leap off the stat sheet at casual observers, but what he’s done over the past four games definitely does. In a stretch from Jan. 29th to Feb. 7th, 2014, Sullinger has averaged 23.8 PPG, 13.8 RPG and 1.25 BPG. What’s more is that the 21-year-old has led the rebuilding Celtics to a 3-1 mark over these past few games.

jared-sullinger-boston-celtics-1Following his fourth game during this impressive streak, where Sullinger scored a career-high 31 points and grabbed 16 boards against the Kings, his teammates were asked to weigh in on this emergence. Gerald Wallace said, “He’s one of the best offensive rebounders I’ve played with. And when is focus is on, he’s pretty good down on the block.”

What impresses Rajon Rondo about his teammate is the consistency. “The hardest thing in this league is to be consistent, and right now he’s been very consistent for us…so it’s not easy what he’s doing,” Rondo said.

Sullinger himself also commented with the following, “I just went out and just played my game. (I’ve) been doing it for the past couple games and just letting everything go, playing my game and just showing better body language, according to my father.”

As mentioned before, Sullinger has played well before. But a four-game stretch with double-doubles is new territory for the power forward. So should we expect a drop-off at some point? Not according to Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely, who said the following:

The way that he’s going about doing it is really what’s impressing me. He’s not just relying on shots around the basket, he’s not just relying on jumpers. He’s mixing it up and that is what you want to see in a young, upcoming promising big like Jared Sulilnger – the ability to hurt teams in different ways.

One more testament to Jared Sullinger’s insane run over the past week-plus is that he’s currently playing with two injured hands. He’s got a dislocated finger on one hand and sprained ligaments in the other. So if he’s playing this well at age 21 with two injured hands, just imagine how good he’ll be for Boston in a few years as long as his back issues don’t return.

Evaluating the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets Trade

kevin-garnett-paul-pierceWe’re now over halfway through the 2013-2014 NBA season and there’s been quite a bit of time to analyze the Boston Celtics/Brooklyn Nets summer trade. As you may recall, Brooklyn practically sold their future by giving up three first round picks, and they dumped some veterans with large contracts. In return, the Nets got three players in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, whom they thought would put them among the league’s elite.

So who’s the clear winner in this deal? Before we provide a clear-cut answer to this question, let’s take a more in-depth look at what exactly each team has gotten out of the trade thus far.

Boston Celtics

Rather than try and make another run at a low playoff seed with aging superstars, Danny Ainge chose to start from scratch by getting rid of Pierce and Garnett. In doing so, he virtually guaranteed that Boston would be bad and that’s exactly what has happened, with the Celtics sitting at 15-32 and tied with the Philadelphia 76ers for last in the Atlantic Division.

But being bad this year isn’t such a terrible thing. After all, the 2014 NBA Draft is loaded with talent, and if Boston can grab a top-5 pick, it’d be huge. Speaking of the draft, this team will also be getting three extra first-round picks in the future, which is immensely helpful to the rebuilding effort.

The major downside on Boston’s part is that they had to absorb Gerald Wallace’s contract, which will see the overpaid forward get another $30 million. It’s not all bad, though, because they were able to dump Jason Terry’s $10 million contract on Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Nets

paul-pierce-1As we discussed in the beginning, the Nets made this trade in order to compete with the East’s top teams like Indiana and Miami. And they paid a heavy price for getting Piece and Garnett by giving up a lot of draft picks. So far, their reward is a 20-23 record, the current seventh seed, and a couple of solid starters. Not exactly what you give up your draft future for…

Piece is averaging 13.3 PPG on just 41.3% shooting. He’s also averaging 3.1 APG, but turning the ball over 2.4 times per game too. Garnett hasn’t exactly been a godsend either, scoring 6.9 PPG on 42% shooting. However, he has done some good work on the boards, averaging 6.9 RPG. Jason Terry has been a virtual non-factor, scoring 4.4 PPG and only hitting 37.4% of his shots from the field.

If this team was built to win a championship, something needs to change quickly. The Nets have already taken a huge hit with Brook Lopez sidelined for the remainder of the season with a broken foot. And if the playoffs were to start today, they wouldn’t even have first-found home court advantage.

The Trade Winner?

Neither team has escaped with an A+ from this trade. Of course, it’s still pretty early to tell how both teams will make out from the deal in the long-term. Boston is a very bad team right now, and how all of their draft picks pan out won’t be determined until after 2016. New Jersey is currently the seventh seed and could very well move up in the standings.

But if we have to pick a winner now, it’s definitely Boston. They’re set up well for the future with players like Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger. And they’ll likely add more promising young players over the next few years.

Dr. J says 76ers got “Damaged Goods” in Andrew Bynum

julius-erving-76ersLast offseason, the Philadelphia 76ers pulled off a blockbuster four-team deal that saw them net former Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum. Sure they had to give up All-Star Andre Iguodala as part of the deal; but this seemed like a reasonable sacrifice for a 7-foot, two-time NBA champion center.

After acquiring Bynum, Philadelphia thought they were getting a player who was entering his prime after averaging 18.7 PPG, 11.8 RPG and 1.9 BPG in the 2011-2012 campaign. Instead, what they got is a guy with terrible knees who didn’t play a game all season.

Sixers legend Julius Erving recently weighed in on the matter in an interview with the Philadelphia Enquirer. And Dr. J had some very interesting comments about his old rival, the Lakers. “When you talk to the Lakers, when you talk to the Celtics, when you talk to – well, those two in particular – the guy on the other end of the phone has his fingers crossed,” Erving said. “So whatever he’s telling you, he’s not telling you the truth. He’s working a deal for him. And what happened to us last year with getting damaged goods hopefully will only happen once. And that’s the extent of that learning curve.”

Erving is close to the situation because he serves as a consultant to 76ers owner Joshua Harris. And ESPN’s SportsCenter asked him to further expand on the comments he made to the Enquirer. “I was talking about the Sixers and the management and the ownership and their commitment to excellence, to being a contender, to being a champion,” recalled Dr. J. “And they set a timeline of five to seven years three seasons ago, so as they close in on that timeline, the comment was really about not making any mistakes. Not making decisions that don’t turn out.

andrew-bynum-76ers“So that’s how we got over to the Andrew Bynum decision, which on paper seemed like a good decision. But forewarned is foretold. If you’re going to deal with the Celtics who are our natural rivals, or the Lakers, the two teams that have won the most championships in the NBA, they’re always going to make deals where they get the better end of the deal. That’s been their history, that’s how they presently are and that’s how they’re going to be in the future.

“So for the Sixers, to get Andrew Bynum and think he was going to be an All-Star and an all-pro and think he was going to be a valuable part of the franchise, as was the thinking, it turned out to be a bad deal.”

To say that the Bynum trade was a bad deal is an understatement. He turned out to be a $16.5 million waste of roster space after not suiting up the entire season. When training camp began, the 7-footer was adamant that he’d play at some point in 2013. But as the months wore on, it was looking increasingly likely that he’d sit out the entire year. On March 18th, the speculation was finally put to rest when he underwent arthroscopic surgery on both knees, thus ending his season.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers-Media DaySo what does the future hold for Andrew Bynum in Philadelphia? He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July and still believes that he can sign a maximum contract somewhere….however, delusional this notion may be. Despite his lost season for the 76ers and degenerative knee problems, it’s likely that some team will gamble on the 25-year-old. Just don’t expect that team to be Philadelphia, which is in rebuilding mode once again.

Sam Hinkie, who’s the new president of basketball operations and GM in Philadephia, didn’t exactly give Bynum a vote of confidence. “I think of Andrew like the thousands of other young men walking around the world that are unrestricted free agents that have potential to play NBA basketball,” he said. “He is one of those. I’m duty bound to consider them and look at them. All of them.”

Reading between the lines, Hinkie may be searching elsewhere to find the future of the Philadelphia 76ers. After all, he wouldn’t want to make the same mistake as his predecessors Rod Thorn (former 76ers president) and Tony DiLeo (former GM), who are collectively blamed for one of the worst deals in the team’s history.

Plenty of Deals made at the NBA Trade Deadline

josh-smithGoing into the February 21st NBA trade deadline, the big question was whether the Atlanta Hawks would trade Josh Smith. The star forward, who averages 17.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 2.1 BPG, certainly drew plenty of interest; but he ultimately ended up staying put.

With the Smith trade rumors now squashed, it was a relatively quiet NBA trade deadline. However, there were some teams that made moves in an effort to either upgrade their club or dump salaries. That said, let’s take a quick look at some notable trades that happened yesterday.

Sacramento Kings deal No. 5 Pick Thomas Robinson to Houston Rockets

In perhaps what is the biggest trade deadline move, the Sacramento Kings sent fifth overall pick F Thomas Robinson, F Tyler Honeycutt and F/G Francisco Garcia to Houston for G/F Patrick Patterson, F Cole Aldrich and G Toney Douglas. The rookie Robinson (4.8 PPG, 4.7 RPG) hasn’t done a whole lot thus far, but he should get more chances in Houston’s high-powered offense. As for Sacramento, they’re getting a solid contributor right away in Patterson (11.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG), who shoots 51.9% from the floor.

jordan-crawfordWashington Wizards send Gunner Jordan Crawford to Boston Celtics

With their season going nowhere, the Wizards made a move to improve team chemistry by dealing unhappy G Jordan Crawford to the Celtics in exchange for G Leandro Barbosa and C Jason Collins. Crawford is averaging 13.2 PPG and 3.7 APG this season, but wasn’t happy playing second fiddle to John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt. He’ll get plenty of shots with the playoff-hopeful Celtics, who were desperate to fill the backcourt void left by an injured Barbosa and Rajon Rondo.

Orlando Magic send J.J. Redick to Milwaukee Bucks

The Magic are clearly in rebuilding mode and sent sharpshooting G J.J. Redick, C Gustavo Ayon and G Ish Smith to the Bucks in return for F Tobias Harris and G Doron Lamb. Redick (15.1 PPG, 4.4 APG) spent his first six and a half seasons with the Magic. However, his 3-year, $19 million contract is up after this season, and it appears that Orlando had no intention of paying even more money to re-sign him.

New York Knicks deal Ronnie Brewer to Oklahoma City Thunder

New York sent swingman Ronnie Brewer to the Thunder for a 2014 second round pick and cash considerations. Brewer (3.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG) actually started for the Knicks to open the season and helped them get off to a strong start. However, the Arkansas product quickly fell out of the starting lineup, and eventually out of the rotation altogether. New York plans to replace his roster spot with Kenyon Martin, who’s back from an injury.

sebastian-telfairPhoenix Suns send Sebastian Telfair to Toronto Raptors

Journeyman point guard Sebastian Telfair will be playing for his eighth team in nine seasons after being sent to the Raptors for C Hamed Haddadi and a 2014 second round pick. Telfair (7.5 PPG, 3.5 APG) had seen his minutes decline rapidly under new Phoenix coach Lindsey Hunter. But he should definitely get more playing time in Toronto after the Jose Calderon trade to Detroit.

Atlanta Hawks trade Anthony Morrow to Dallas Mavericks

As mentioned before, the Hawks didn’t pull off any big deal involving Josh Smith. However, they did trade G Anthony Morrow to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for G Dahntay Jones. Morrow (5.2 PPG) is an excellent shooter from 3-point range (39.5%), but has struggled with injuries this year. Jones (3.5 PPG) is a strong perimeter defender who should provide some quality minutes off the bench for Atlanta.

Brian Scalabrine dominates Amateurs One-on-One

During his 11-year NBA career, Brian Scalabrine wasn’t exactly considered the most “talented” player. The USC product never possessed great speed, a 40-inch vertical leap, or an incredible outside shooting touch – all of the qualities that a couch potato fan readily expects from a pro baller.

Due to the great white hype image that Scalabrine cultivated over the years, many fans publicly questioned his skills and asked how he stayed in the league for so long. So in order to quiet these naysayers, Scalabrine challenged four talented amateurs to one-on-one games. CBS Boston discussed the details of the challenge by writing:

Scalabrine, who retired over the summer after a very serviceable 11-year NBA career, took on four of Boston’s best ballers in 98.5 The Sports Hub’s 1-on-1 “Scallenge,” put on by morning hosts Toucher & Rich..

Listeners sent in their tryout videos, showing off their skills and talking some trash towards Scal, but it turns out even Boston’s best was no match for Scalabrine.

As you can see from the video we’ve posted below, the one-on-one “challenge” was more of a massacre than anything. Brian won all four games by a combined score of 44-6. And it wasn’t like he was playing total bums whose main claim to fame was winning five YMCA pickup games in a row.

Instead, some of these guys were actually pretty good, including the first challenger, 6’8″ Matt Tomaszewski, who played for Syracuse last year. Before we continue talking about the Scallenge, you can take a look at all four games below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHrz5Q29ECM

Tomaszewski gives Scalabrine some decent competition since he’s fairly quick on defense and matches up with Brian’s heighth. However, he easily gets out muscled by Scalabrine en route to an 11-3 blowout. The second and third games aren’t even contests because they both end in 11-0 shutouts. As for the final game, this turns out to be another 11-3 score, making the fourth straight blowout.

People really shouldn’t have expected anything different from this competition because there’s a massive difference between a longtime NBA player, and some guys who put up good numbers in their adult men’s league. While these wannabe ballers were guarding 5’11” shooting guards from Joe’s Auto Shop, Scalabrine was trying to stop Kevin Garnett every week in practice.

Thanks to his strong work ethic, team approach and great practice habits, Brian Scalabrine was able to last for over 11 seasons in the world’s toughest basketball league. Sure he never averaged more than 6.3 PPG or 4.5 RPG in a single season, but Scalabrine did become a fan favorite and earned a ring with the Boston Celtics in 2008.

Now retired, Brian is looking forward to life after basketball in his new role as a sports analyst for CSN New England.