Tag Archives: Minnesota Timberwolves

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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Halfway There: A Stroll Through the Bottom Third of the NBA at 41 Games

We have arrived…sort of. Welcome to the halfway mark of the NBA season. 41 games. All 30 teams have played between 38 and 43 games, so we’re as close to the midpoint as we’ll get. The All-Star Break is a few weeks away. As always at this time of year teams are dealing with multiple injuries and only three (Golden State, San Antonio, and Cleveland) have anything resembling a firm grasp of their playoff situation. That leaves 27 teams jockeying for 13 other playoff spots. In reality, more like 20 teams for 13 spots, which is a few more than usual this year.

This stretch of the season (six weeks between New Year’s and the All-Star break) is by far the most grueling. In an ideal NBA-schedule-world (70-game season), these six weeks would include 3 games per week maximum; 18 total). Instead, many teams will play 22 and 23 games in this stretch. Not only is the product on the court worse, injury-risk becomes magnified. Players are usually battling through injuries at this time of year as is. Back-to-backs and 4-games-in-6 days stretches compound things. As the NBA moves fully into a faster-paced, ball-movement-focused game, and as coaches look toward maintaining the health of their stars and restricting playing time to 32-34 minutes per game, the mid-year January stretch becomes a test in endurance, depth and the luck of health.

Making this time of year even more difficult to examine is the parity that exists throughout the NBA. As of January 17th, 10 teams—1/3 of the Association—are within four games of the .500 mark. Seven of those 10 teams are in the East. With few teams in obvious selling position as the trade deadline nears, questions abound. We have one month for teams to figure out how likely they are to make the playoffs (and, in the East, how likely they are to make the top 7 in order to avoid Cleveland in the first round).

It’s time to take a stroll through the Association. We’ll go from the bottom to the top, splitting this into three parts. Here’s the bottom third, by current win-pace.

  1. Philadelphia 76ers-Gypsies (pace: 10 wins)

We can only hope that the 76ers actually lose 76 games. Since entering the NBA in 2010, point guard Ishmael Larry Smith (17 ppg, 7.8 apg, 3.4 rpg after trade to PHI) has now played on 9 teams. We can only hope Ish will add four more teams to his resume, and set the NBA record with 13 before retiring.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (pace: 18 wins)

The Lakers have won 4 of 10, but as the season progresses, they have to ensure they finish with a bottom 3-record in order to keep their top-3 protected lottery pick from the Sixers. The Lakers will be sure to sit any of their useful veterans (Lou Williams, Roy Hibbert, and possibly create fake-injuries for Jordan Clarkson or Julius Randle in order to ensure those losses. What a wonderful way to go out, Kobe…in a tank.

  1. Brooklyn Nets (pace: 22 wins)

Fire everyone! That usually solves all your problems. Celtics fans remain eternally grateful, sending pickled Russian delicacies every holiday to Brooklyn’s infamously wealthy Russian owner. The lingering question: Will Brook Lopez and/or Thaddeus Young be traded in the hopes of acquiring a pick in this June’s draft?

  1. Phoenix Suns (pace: 26 wins)

The Suns may actually threaten the Lakers for the bottom 3. They play Los Angeles twice in late March in what will certainly be fiercely contested games to see which can score fewer points. Eric Bledsoe’s knee injury means he gets to sit out the rest of this tortured season in Arizona. Perhaps Jeff Hornacek regrets that fact that misguided owner Robert Sarver (damn millennials!) didn’t fire him last month when Hornacek’s assistants were let go.

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves (26 wins)

Karl-Anthony Towns has a lock on rookie of the year, thanks in part to the tutelage of a certain Mr. Garnett. In a fascinating Q&A between coach Sam Mitchell and NBA writer Britt Robson you begin to understand why the Wolves shoot the most long two-pointers and fewest threes in the NBA right now. There’s no denying Towns’ polished game at the moment. Meanwhile, the rest of the young Wolves core (Wiggins, LaVine, Rubio, and Mohammed) need a year of pure shooting instruction (and leg lifting) before Minnesota has a chance to fully arrive. One more top-seven pick seems like a prize, but with such a young team, the Wolves might be wise to dangle the pick and a role player for a true stretch four like Ryan Anderson.

  1. New Orleans Pelicans (pace: 27 wins)

Sadness comes in many shapes and sizes, and with all kinds of disguises. Meet the 2015-16 New Orleans Pelicans, the only team in the NBA that wishes the season were 90 games long. Instead, Ryan Anderson will be discussed until February 18th in nearly every trade rumor. A truly injury-riddled November doomed the spring for Alvin Gentry, Anthony Davis and friends.

  1. Denver Nuggets (pace: 30 wins)

Two and a half years after firing George Karl despite a 57-win regular season, the Nuggets appear firmly entrenched in the bottom of the Western Conference. The time since has taught us: a) the overall value of Andre Iguodala; b) the effect of alcoholism on Ty Lawson’s career; c) Andre Miller will always be a wise and steadying influence on a roster.

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (pace: 34 wins)

Pundits often talk about the most difficult step a team can make in the NBA is going from good (50+ wins) to being a legit contender. But what about going from decent (35-44 wins) to good (47-52)? With increased parity, that step is becoming increasingly tricky. The young Bucks (average age: 25) have struggled to incorporate post-presence Greg Monroe and compensate for the loss of bench depth (Dudley, Zaza). But here’s something more alarming: They won 41 games last year, despite finishing 8-18 after trading for Michael Carter-Williams. The future of the Bucks (Giannis, Parker, MCW) and the Wolves will both hinge on long-range shooting.

  1. Portland Trail Blazers (pace: 34 wins)

The post-Aldridge/Batum/Mathews Blazers have held things together with remarkable poise for such a young group. Allen Crabbe’s rise has helped the Blazers survive until now, but the team’s youth will make their modest success hard to sustain. Like the Kings, the Blazers have multiple offensive options, but struggle to play enough defense to win close games against the league’s better half. Unlike the Kings, the Blazers aren’t supposed to be winning 30+ games this year.

  1. Sacramento Kings (pace: 35 wins)

Vivek, Vlade and DeMarcus are praying for an 8th seed. The honor of being decapitated by the Warriors is too alluring for a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2006 and is about to wake up from their Sleep Train Arena slumber and move into the Golden 1 Center in November. Finishing 8th is a possibility if these things happen: a) Derrick Favors remains somewhat injured (backs are tricky) in Utah; b) Sacramento can win at least 2 of their 3 remaining games with Portland; c) Rondo and Cousins find a channel to their best selves for the 2nd half of the year…they did last night by ending the undermanned Clippers’ 9-game winning streak at Staples Center.

***

Next up: Teams 11-20 (Most of the Eastern Conference).

 

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Celtics Journal: Game 24 of 82, Wolves @ Celtics (Post-Rondo Bewilderment)

Game 24 of 82 (29.2%), Friday, December 17, 730pm EST

Wolves @ Celtics

What makes a person attach to a team? A desire to connect one’s identity to one’s place? A yearning to be part of a collective? A group to cheer with, outside of religion? Joining the energy of mutual excitement? A chance to lose oneself in the ups and downs of a team’s victories and losses? To see life’s ebbs and flows play out in real-time? An opportunity to feel something beyond our own control? Maybe all of the above.

Jared and I have known each other since junior high school. We watched countless Celtics games between 1994 and 2003, many with our mutual friend Eric. The Celtics didn’t win more than 36 games in a season between ’94 and ’01. In 2001-02, they surprised us with 49 wins and playoff success. As the older generation of Celtics fans divided into die-hards and former-fans of a formerly great franchise, we were overdosing on mediocrity.

On January 31, 2003, only seven months removed from the Celtics unexpected run to the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals (which included a playoff upset of the Detroit Pistons), Jared and I saw the Celtics suffer their worst loss in franchise history.

The final score that night: Pistons 118, Celtics 66. It was the second-largest road win in NBA history. After the game, Celtics star Antoine Walker, who returned to the court to shoot 1-of-15 after missing four games with a knee sprain, gave this quote: “It’s a basketball game. It doesn’t matter if you lose by one or by 50. It’s still a loss.” Technically, Antoine is correct. Each game counts only once. However, this game was a kind of test. The few fans who stayed at TD Garden for all 48 minutes were treated to Celtics fans cheering for Pistons baskets in the game’s final quarter. Celtics reserve Kedrick Brown will always stick in our minds for diving to the floor in pursuit of a loose ball in the final minutes. There are fans who can’t stomach losing. There are fans who will only cheer for a winning team. Who won’t spend money to go see a mediocre team. That’s why season tickets were available the summer the Celtics became relevant again. That’s why I had the chance to see my Celtics in the NBA Finals in 2008 and 2010. Seven years after that horrific January loss to Detroit, seven years after I moved to the Bay Area, Jared and I saw the Celtics play the Lakers in Game 3 of the 2010 Finals.

In this way, the games echo our lives. Full of lows and highs, of ebbs and flows. The Rondo trade signals the ultimate end of an era that was over when Pierce and Garnett were traded to Brooklyn in July, 2013. Now patience takes on a new meaning for Celtics fans. The possibility of a Rondo-led future in Boston is over.

The post-Rondo era of Boston basketball began on Friday night. The Celtics faced a franchise that is as bewildered as themselves. The Minnesota Timberwolves are beginning a new chapter in their identity this year. Kevin Love, their cornerstone power forward, is now a Cavalier. The rumor-era is over for Minnesota, but the bad luck continues with injuries to three of their best players this year: Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Nikola Pekovic. The Wolves came into the game having lost 10 of their last 11.

The Celtics shared the ball beautifully. Seven Celtics finished with three or more assists, never mind the barely existent Minnesota perimeter defense. Andrew Wiggins will be an excellent defender soon, but he can’t make up for the other four positions. At halftime, Jared and I met up with Steve, who I’ve known since I was about eight years old. Steve is old enough to have appreciated the 1980’s Celtics. Steve has been organizing the season ticket group since 2008. We have a ticket draft every year before the season starts and (in previous years) before the playoffs start. We can count on Steve to keep things organized and he won’t be jumping off the Celtics wagon any time soon. A loyal fan. It was great to see Steve.

As the third quarter started, the Celtics kept moving the ball, and started digging in defensively. By the end of the third, the Celtics had a six-point lead. They pushed the lead to 10, then 12. Jared and I had a good time. Jared is a father now. Hopefully, I will be within the next couple of years. The Celtics will be good again. Patience is a trait all good parents have. All true fans as well.

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