Tag Archives: Jimmy Butler

2017 NBA Draft: Celtics take Tatum, Ojeleye, and another Bird

The Boston Celtics spent the last week driving the NBA internet nuts. Perhaps Mike Zarren has found a way to garner bitcoin off of search engine traffic related to Boston. The last week was full of peak-speculation and one actual trade that involved the top pick. This doesn’t happen. But it happened. And it will be okay, Celtics fans. Fultz does seem like a special talent…but remember that its easy to dream on 19 and 20 year-olds and convince yourself that your dreams of their success will soon become reality. After reading through Jonathan Abrams’ fantastic Boys Among Men, it will become clear just how uncertain the process of drafting young men one or two years out of high school with the hopes that they become world-class professional hoops magicians by age 23 or 24…how uncertain that process really is. By the way, read the book. Abrams is one of the better sportswriters working today, going deep with his profiles, unearthing deeper truths.

Still, despite the uncertainty, we read enough about a player and we believe. We love the player before he dons the uniform of our tribe…and then we regularly scorn the player for actually making his own choice about where to work. Free-agency was hard-won in all professional sports, but as fans, most of us remain focused on what we want out of the athlete, not on what the athlete wants for his or herself. Some make the argument that having a deeper level of sympathy or compassion for a man making $100 million over four years is too much to ask. Kind of like how the question of reparations for slavery is too much for many to even consider. Here we have a situation, the NBA Draft, where we obsess about potential, the future, and “assets.” The perfect cocktail for the internet age, where trade rumors spread like California wildfires and nothing ever makes any sense. And yet…there were a few impacting trades made this year, as we led up to the draft.

Boston Celtics

First GM Danny Ainge trades the top pick to Philadelphia for the 3rd pick, plus the 2018 Lakers pick if LA’s pick lands in the 2–5 spot next June. But if that Lakers pick doesn’t hit the high lottery sweet spot, Philadelphia will instead send a 2019 first-rounder to Boston that it acquired from the Sacramento Kings in the infamous Sauce Castillo (Nik Stauskas) swindle. The Kings will gradually improve with DeAaron Fox and Justin Jackson helping, but they’ll have a tough time winning 45 games in the crowded west by April of 2019. Watching Fox, I was amazed. Normally, I can’t watch NCAA Tournament for too long without getting annoyed by all the TV timeouts and the stagnant offense, but DeAaron Fox is really fast. John Wall-Isaiah type fast. He got wherever he wanted on the floor with his wiry frame. He’ll be fun.

So, this Celtics pick via Philly will either be great (Lakers, 2018) or possibly great (mid-to-late lottery, Kings 2019).

Why did Danny do it?

A half-dozen possible reasons:

  • Fultz and Isaiah wouldn’t be the most-ideal fit together.
  • Tatum can score in isolation and from the post. His body is more developed than the lanky Fultz. He’s 6’8″ and will be able to give the Celtics options in figuring out who will be the better long-term fit, Tatum or Jaylen Brown. Boston’s bench scoring needed a lift. They get it cheaply so they can attempt a free-agent run at Hayward/Griffin
  • The Lakers 2018 pick was too good a possibility to pass up. Not only could it be a top five pick…it was the rival Lakers pick we’d be stealing. Speaking of the Lakers, they got out from under what would have been a prickly situation with Ball coming in and reducing D’Angelo Russell to an afterthought. Instead, Russell may become an afterthought in Brooklyn (hope not, he doesn’t deserve to be given up on just yet). Clearing out Mozgov’s contract allows the Lakers fans to clear the red carpet for LeBron. Aging LeBron on 50-win Lakers in three years seems like a kind of minor tragedy.
  • They just really like Tatum and weren’t 100% in on Fultz becoming a once-every-five-years type of talent. Who knows?
  • They saved just over $1 million based on draft pick slot (3rd instead of 1st), which gives them a bit more to offer Hayward/Griffin.

From Chris Forsberg (ESPN Boston):

Ainge said the Celtics would have picked Tatum with the first pick if they had stayed in that spot before moving down to №3 in a trade earlier this week with the Philadelphia 76ers. Ainge gushed about both Tatum’s scoring potential and his versatility on the defensive end.

“We liked his size and length and rebounding and shooting. [His] Intelligence [and] character,” Ainge said. “There’s a lot to like about Jayson. He’s going to be a terrific player.”

Asked about trade rumors, including whispers that the Celtics were pursuing New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis, Ainge said, “I don’t comment on trade rumors. I will say this: It was a little blown out of proportion but I’ll just leave it at that. A lot more talk by [the media].”

Jayson Tatum: Let’s Take Him

From everything I’ve read, Jayson Tatum will be a very good isolation scorer…perhaps even soon…like within two years.

A link to a Tatum story from 2015, via STL Today. Tatum is from St. Louis.

http://www.stltoday.com/sports/columns/benjamin-hochman/hochman-like-godfather-like-godson-jayson-tatum-is-on-track/article_9599b815-ebc5-5a6a-8743-1cd389e3b0a7.html

Tatum’s Draft Express Profile: http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Jayson-Tatum-7249/

Fortunately the Celtics have a 53-win team that will probably add a high-level free-agent (Hayward still seems like the most likely possibility), and that will likely be it. No fireworks! None! Just a clear blue sky with a bright fucking future. Can we handle that?

Part of the issue is the culture of fandom is obsessed with stars. But sometimes the guys that become stars are unheralded. Sometimes they are picked 35th, sometimes they’re picked last (Isaiah). Sometimes, they’re not picked at all (Jonathan Simmons! Remember how good he was against Houston a month ago?)

Second Round Celtics Pick: Semi Ojeleye (SMU)

SI profile of Ojeleye from February:

https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2017/02/28/semi-ojeleye-smu-mustangs

From The Ringer:

There aren’t many sure-bets for the 3-and-D role in this year’s draft. Reed stands out as a good one — so does Villanova wing Josh Hart and the SMU duo of Sterling Brown and Semi Ojeleye. They’re all hiding in plain sight: Brown could go undrafted, and Ojeleye is likely a late-first-rounder at best. Ojeleye in particular, with his chiseled, Wreck-It Ralph body, has remarkable potential. There’s little doubt he will be able to effectively defend multiple positions. He also plays with intensity, which manifests in chase-down blocks.

Jabari Bird, 56th pick from Cal.

The Celtics had a chance to pick Bird again. So they did.

Wolves Howling

Anyway, the Timberwolves have some happy fans right now. They got the star. Jimmy Butler doesn’t have to move far to relocate from Chicago to Minneapolis. He’s headed for more snow this December. And Wolves fans are ecstatic. A core of Dieng-Towns-Butler-Wiggins-Rubio will battle for home court in the west, while the Clippers descend into mediocrity when Chris Paul and Griffin bolt, and the Jazz and Grizzlies try to hold firm to 48+ wins. Utah is balancing treacherously on the what-if-we-lose-Hayward?-waterslide. I’m happy for Thibs. I’m happy for Towns. I’m happy for Rubio. They need one more shooter…

Lingering Questions for Boston

Gordon Hayward?

Blake Griffin?

More trade speculation around Paul George, who probably needs a new public relations team. George has made it perfectly clear he’d like to stop playing basketball until he can move back to southern California.

Official signing date for free agents: July 9.

***

I wrote a basketball-themed memoir. It’s a collection of personal essays and reflections on the game of basketball, fandom, and identity. From childhood memories of growing up with the Boston Celtics, to playing the sport as a means of coping with adolescence, this is about basketball as a means of connection. Whether playing, watching, reading and writing about the NBA, or absorbing the intensity of being in the arena, the game has me firmly in its grasp. The book is my way of appreciating basketball and fandom.

http://www.blurb.com/b/8005459-the-dusty-jumper

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2015-16 NBA Preview, Central Division: Healing Cavs, Limping Bulls, and Young Bucks

One might wonder why the NBA still separates the conferences into divisions at this point. After Portland’s 51 wins granted them the 4th seed due to winning the Northwest (thanks to OKC injuries), despite finishing with the 6th-most wins in the West, the NBA altered the automatic 4th seeding formula, so that now a division title simply means having the best year out of the five teams closest to each other.

A division title has always been small consolation for a team that is bounced out of the playoffs in the first round. A chance for a team to raise a banner to the rafters. Geographic rivalries are not meaningless, but they mean less in West, where teams are further spread out, and where history doesn’t add that second layer of drama to the proceedings. When Denver visits Salt Lake City or Phoenix visits Sacramento, a divisional opponent isn’t much more than one game on the schedule.

What the divisions do, is provide a smaller group to write about. Five teams instead of fifteen at once. The Central Division is the deepest of the three Eastern Conference divisions and I expect they will finish in the same order that they did last year.

1. Cleveland Cavs

Arrivals: Mo Williams, The Immortal Sasha Kaun
Departures: Brendan Haywood, Mike Miller
Retained: Entire roster except for Tristan Thompson

2014-15: 53-29

The Cavs started 19-20 while they learned (or didn’t learn) David Blatt’s defensive principles, and while Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love learned how to play with LeBron. Center Anderson Varejao ruptured his Achilles after 26 games. The Cavs were fodder for the NBA gossip circuit. How could LeBron’s team be under .500? Maybe it would never work in Cleveland. Of course, trading for two defensive-minded players and one unconscious three-point shooter will help. The Cavs went 34-9 after acquiring Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. They survived well-documented playoff injuries to Irving and Love and forced a 6th game with Golden State in the NBA Finals because of their defense, the undeniable rebounding of Tristan Thompson (averaged 13 rebounds per game in the Finals), and a certain superhero/athlete named LeBron.

LeBron is LeBron and LeBron is inevitable. Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the questions surrounding LeBron in Northeast Ohio.
Tristan Thompson and his agent, Rich Paul, are engaged in a staring contest with the Cavs front office. After a brilliant playoff run in which Thompson repeatedly saved the Cavs, Thompson is being offered 5 years, $80 million (similar to Draymond Green’s recent contract), and is now waiting for the Cavs to blink.
*Update (Thompson blinked—and signed on October 21st, Thompson signed for 5 / $82m)
Thompson’s stock rose throughout the playoffs, with the Cavs transforming into a defensively dominant unit after injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving forced David Blatt to install Thompson and Matthew Dellavedova into the starting five. Thompson imitated Moses Malone (may he rest in peace) in his unstoppable offensive rebounding and displayed some mean pick-and-roll defense. Thompson’s reach, strength, and instincts were perfectly suited to ruining the hopes of Chicago and Atlanta, and eventually causing headaches among Golden State’s strategists. What do you do with a player who simply refuses to be boxed out?

Cavs power forward Tristan Thompson rebounds. (AP photo)

Assessing Thompson’s value is complex. With the financial floodgates set to open next summer, Thompson is demanding a max contract. Few offensively-limited players, if any, are ever considered for maximum-level slots. In addition, Kevin Love is back and healthy in Cleveland, having just signed a max deal for 5 years / $122 million. With LeBron, Irving and Love, the Cavs don’t have a max deal available.
The Cavs will be bringing three key players back from injuries. Aside from Love’s shoulder, Kyrie Irving (foot, knee), Anderson Varejao (hair/knee), and Iman Shumpert (wrist) are all recovering from ailments. On top of everything else, LeBron received an injection in his back within the last week.
Those questions, and the fact that it is increasingly common practice (thanks to the Spurs originally), to pace a team through the overly-long 82-game regular season, the Cavs won’t squeeze wins out of the calendar in the early going. Expect closer to 50 wins rather than 60.

Prediction: 54-28, 1st in East


2. Chicago Bulls

Arrivals: N/A
Departures: Tom Thibodeau (coach), Nazr Mohammed*
Retained: Jimmy Butler, Kirk Hinrich, Mike Dunleavy, Aaron Brooks

Drafted: Clinton Bobby Portis (22nd)

First off, let’s ask an existential question: What the hell did Derrick Rose do to the universe? I mean, every NBA player has to get lucky just to find themselves in an NBA uniform. But after Derrick’s MVP season in 2010-11, the man has simply been cursed. He started camp in good spirits, after an off-season without having to rehab an injury. Within days of preseason practice, he gets elbowed in the eye and is out with an orbital fracture that requires surgery. Goodness gracious. To be a Bulls fan requires a heaping of sadness on top of your cereal every morning.

The Bulls will be an experiment in the power of the new coach. Fred Hoiberg. Tom Thibodeau is apparently hanging out in Salt Lake City with legendary former Jazz coach /octogenarian Jerry Sloan. Thibs was known for his relentless obsession with defense and regular season wins. He was unfairly given the old axe by notorious Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf after all kinds of drama last spring. Now the clean-cut Hoiberg (he makes Celtics coach Brad Stevens look edgy) takes over a roster that hasn’t changed much at all, except for the addition of big man Bobby Portis, drafted out of Arkansas.

At long last, the minutes are expected to be limited. The serious depth (when the team is actually healthy, which is rarer than a Morton’s steak) the team has assembled should enable Hoiberg to keep the minutes around 30 for his aging crew of veterans. Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson are all in need of leg replacement surgery. Yes, entire legs.

There’s no denying the talent on the roster. From Jimmy Butler to Gasol and Rose, to the grit of Noah and Gibson, to the offensive spark of Nikola Mirotic, Bulls fans have many reasons to be optimistic. Yet, how does a fan-base remain optimistic when tragedy so often befalls the team in the last five years? Maybe the Cubs can come up with some magic this October, and the Bulls can build off that victorious momentum. Or maybe the absence of the brilliant workaholic Thibs can allow some joy to seep into the locker room this year. Either way, the Bulls will win around 50 games. Hopefully they won’t be worn out by the end of April.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg kisses basketballs for good luck. (photo must have been a candid shot. No idea where it came from.)

Prediction: 51-31, 2nd in East


3. Milwaukee Bucks

Arrivals: Greg Monroe, Greivis Vasquez
Departures: Jared Dudley
Retained: Khris Middleton

Drafted: Rashad Vaughn (17th)

The Milwaukee Bucks have length. Their name should be changed to the Bucksss. They play defense with arms spread wide, wingspans wreaking havoc on opponent pick-and-rolls by switching everything with a deep roster of athletic swingmen.

Jabari Parker, returning from an ACL tear that forced him to miss the final 57 games of the season, may eventually become a great scorer in the NBA, but three things will keep him from making an significant impact this year. First, Khris Middleton’s range. Second, new arrival Greg Monroe’s post game. Finally, Parker’s lack of outside touch will restrict his time.  Like Giannis Antetuokuompo, Parker is a great slasher from the wing. Parker is stronger than most SFs and quicker than many PFs. If both improve their range to the corners, the Bucks can become true contenders.

John Henson’s recent extension (4/44) will look good starting in year two. Henson’s shot blocking at the rim will be badly needed next to Greg Monroe, who is allergic to shot-blocking and jumping more than nine inches off the ground.

All of this discussion and we’ve yet to mention extra-long point guard Michael Carter-Williams. MCW arrived last spring, with Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, in a 3-way trade that sent Brandan Knight to Phoenix. Knight is a true scoring point. Carter-Williams does everything but score. Much like coach Jason Kidd in his playing days, but with weaker passing skills and yet-to-be-proven leadership, MCW is a force on the glass, a decent post-up option, and a very good defender. Can he lead an offense? Can he find something resembling a jumper? Last year, MCW shot 23.5% from deep. Unsightly.

It was a big gamble for Milwaukee, who is hoping they can rebuild MCW’s shot from the ground up. Not surprisngly, athletic, young players with extra long arms often struggle to shoot. The Bucks future depends on the shooting touch of MCW, Parker, and Giannis.

Also, I miss Larry Sanders. I will never forget that night he roamed the TD Garden paint waiting for any Celtic to attempt a lay-up or dunk. Rondo was looking over his shoulder anytime he crossed inside the three-point arc.

The Milwaukee Bucks starting five with their long arms hidden behind their backs. (Media Day photo)

Prediction: 44-38, 8th in East


4. Indiana Pacers

Arrivals: Monta Ellis, Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill
Departures: David West, C.J. Watson, Roy Hibbert
Retained: Lavoy Allen, Rodney Stuckey, Shayne Whittington

Drafted: Myles Turner (11th)

2014-15: 38-44

Goodbye, Roy Hibbert. David West takes the veteran’s minimum to play in San Antonio, leaving $12m on the table for this year. Everything they say about David West being humble, being an awesome teammate, and being genuine seems true to me. The guy wants to win a championship and so he joins the franchise known for selflessness and teamwork. Go West, young man. Go David West. Out with Hibbert and West and the core interior defenders of recent Pacers contending teams. In comes Monta. Talk about a change in identity. Now Paul George will have some offensive help, but the looks that Dallas’ offense enabled for Monta will be harder to find in Indiana. Paul George might be primed for a big year, and George Hill can knock down a three-pointer, but Lavoy Allen and Jordan Hill will certainly not cause any double teams. Frank Vogel has talked openly about playing Paul George at power forward. On paper this makes sense. The Pacers simply don’t have a power foriward other than Lavoy Allen. Rookie 7-footer Myles Turner doesn’t turn 20 until March, and though he took a bunch of three-pointers in college, he didn’t hit many (27%). He also grabbed only 6.5 rebounds per game (22 min). He is so clearly NOT ready to play more than a handful of minutes a night in the NBA. And yet he may this year…

Good luck, Paul George. The wisdom of the elders is gone. It has been replaced with an aging shooting guard who was never a great shooter (Monta). Things may start slowly…

Prediction: 39-43, 9th in East

5. Detroit Pistons

Arrivals: Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, Danny Granger, Reggie Bullock
Departures: Greg Monroe, Caron Butler, Shawne Williams
Retained: Reggie Jackson, Joel Anthony

Drafted: Stanley Johnson (8th)

2014-15: 32-50

What you might remember from last year’s Pistons team is the fact that Josh Smith was released (contract eaten) mid-year. The team started 5-23. A team that many were predicting to win 40 games. They were 18 games under .500 before Christmas. The funny thing? They finished 18 under. Which means they were actually pretty decent for the final two-thirds of the season…once they tossed Josh Smith to the winds (don’t worry, Smith found himself playing very meaningful playoff games with Houston and is now on another contender–the Clippers.

What can the Pistons do this year? The mid-30s seems about right. Andre Drummond remains enormous, yet not quite dominant enough, thanks in part to abysmal free-throw shooting, and a lack of help around him. Small forward Stanley Johnson has everyone intrigued. Point guard Reggie Jackson can put up solid numbers, but this will be his first attempt at leading a team from opening night. The Pistons will miss Greg Monroe’s steady post play. Aron Baynes has a nice accent, but his post-play is more awkward than steady.

Prediction: 35-47, 11th in East

***

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Conference Semis, Game 1: Bulls Take Cavs, Clippers throttle dazed Rockets (Jimmy Butler, Blake Griffin and Psychology)

Chicago Bulls 99, Cleveland Cavs 92

Jimmy Motherfucking Butler. LeBron can huff and LeBron can puff but LeBron can’t blow Jimmy Butler’s house in. Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler.

Mike Dunleavy decided to imitate Klay Thompson to open the game, hitting three from deep that splashed cleanly through before the Cavs knew which way to turn. Bulls 21, Cavs 7. Dunleavy smoking.

As expected, Cleveland knocked the rust off and jumped back into the game in the second quarter, but never got over the hump. Rose, Gasol and Butler counter-punched throughout. After the Cavs tied things up to start the third, the Bulls rampaged and that vaunted Cavs defense (oh wait, they aren’t known for their defense) couldn’t stop a 15-0 run. Bulls 68, Cavs 53.

Kyrie Irving single-handedly (or should I say ambidextrously?) kept the Cavs within range early in the 4th, crossing every which way and finishing with his trademark spinning lay-ups (reminiscent of peak Tony Parker).

As the Bulls bench (Brooks, Hinrich, and Dunleavy) floundered, the Cavs pulled to within 3 (83-80) with 8:30 remaining.

Thibodeau came back with his starting crew, the defense picked up, while LeBron and Kyrie were forced into desperation heaves from beyond 25 feet. Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler, and Jimmy Butler.

And one big jumper from Pau and Rose to ice the cake.

Los Angeles Clippers 117, Houston Rockets 101

Wow. No Chris Paul, and no energy from Houston. The Rockets were brutal. McHale’s coaching interview mentioned being “stuck in the mud.” The Rockets may as well have played without sneakers, because there was no ball movement, no cutting, no sharp screens, and no hustle outside of Dwight Howard (22 / 10 / 5 blocks) and Trevor Ariza.

Austin Rivers didn’t have to replace Chris Paul, so much as hit a few corner three-pointers, play decent defense and try not to turn the ball over when it was actually in his hands.

Blake was Superman while Dwight Howard was left on an Island by his teammates

Blake Griffin (26 points, 8-10 free-throws / 14 boards / 13 assists) was spectacular in distributing again, as he has been throughout the playoffs, with the exception of a few late-game lapses against San Antonio. Griffin and the surprising Matt Barnes (20 points on 11 shots! / 4 steals / 2 blocks) more than rose to the occasion as the Rockets looked shocked that they weren’t blowing the CP3-less Clippers out.

Here’s a question that goes beyond Xs and Os but to the heart of the difference between these two teams: one of them has incredible talent as well as heart, while the other has swagger and talent.

Is Kevin McHale to blame for the Rockets playing with such little motivation? Or is it impossible to keep the fire lit in the bellies of James Harden (6 free-throw attempts and 9 turnovers) and Josh Smith (3 of 12 and only 5 boards in 29 minutes)?

PSYCH 101

This was a psychological test for Houston, and they failed miserably.

Why was it psychological?

1. No Chris Paul for the Clippers invites a let down from the opponent.

2. Gear Shift. Dallas defense is much like regular season defense. Houston barely turned the ball over against such sad attempts at deterrence. The way the Clippers have been playing defense is nothing like what they faced for the first five games of the playoffs. This was like driving on a flat, straight country road and suddenly facing rush hour traffic in mid-town Manhattan. In the second-half, once the Clippers found their second wind (remember, they just finished a brutal 7-game series with the Spurs and were without Chris Paul), the Rockets simply couldn’t match them. They were not mentally ready.

Kevin McHale has always seemed like a nice guy. I like Kevin McHale. He let his team get too high on themselves. It was a problem on Monday. Wednesday will be different, but the home court they worked for all season is gone.

Third quarter scoring: Clippers 37, Houston 27 (Blake Griffin collects 6 dimes)

Fourth quarter scoring: Clippers 34, Houston 24 (Blake Griffin with 4 more assists)

In the second round of the playoffs, well-rested, playing at home, against a team that was without it’s maestro at the point, the Rockets gave up 71 points in the second half. Wow. Blake Griffin as distributor. Austin Rivers and Matt Barnes filling in. Unexpected.

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