The Celtics’ disappointing season may have split the locker room between veterans and some of the young players who helped reach the conference finals last year, suggests Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated (hat tip to Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston).
The Eastern Conference favorites heading into the season, the Celtics are in fifth place at 25-17 as some players have been resistant to accepting new roles with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injuries.
“It does seem like there’s a divide in that locker room between the veterans on that team and the younger players on that team,” Mannix said Saturday on the Celtics’ post-game show. “I don’t know how big that divide is, how significant it is, is it fractured? But there does seem to be kind of a chasm that exists between those two sides.”
Boston is coming off a disastrous trip to Florida that included two losses and a pair of incidents that brought the internal conflicts to light. Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown exchanged words during a timeout Thursday in Miami, and Irving was visibly upset after an unsuccessful play at the end of last night’s game in Orlando.
here’s more today from Boston:
- Irving seemed to take a shot at his younger teammates in post-game comments Saturday, saying the Celtics are lacking the “experience” it takes to compete for a title, relays Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. “You’ve got to appreciate being out there and just competing,” Irving said as part of a long answer on why the team has gone through peaks and valleys. “It doesn’t matter who you’re going against. It matters the type of preparation you have, what you’re going out and trying to accomplish. What’s the big picture? What are we doing here? These are things I don’t think some of my teammates have faced just every single day. It’s not easy to be great.”
- Morris’ brand of leadership is exactly what the team needs, contends A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. In addition to being the Celtics’ most consistent player throughout the season, Morris has lived up to his reputation for being willing to confront teammates who he believes aren’t giving their best effort. “To be the team we want to be, we have to be open with each other and be able to discuss things that are going on, on the court,” Morris said. “If it leads to a little bumping, pushing and shoving … it’s nothing. You move past that type of stuff and keep going.”
- Terry Rozier had another bad performance last night, missing all five of his shots in 17 minutes, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge may have missed his best chance to trade him, writes Keith Smith on CelticsBlog. Rozier will be a restricted free agent this summer.
By: Arthur Hill
1. Should the Pelicans trade Anthony this season or this summer?
The Pelicans are in 12th place in the Western Conference, and it’s time they start thinking about trading Anthony Davis. If they deal him this season, the Lakers might be willing to part with three of their four young assets (Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart). The 76ers might be willing to dangle Ben Simmons, too. Heck, the Warriors could even offer Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
If New Orleans waits until the summer, the Celtics will be eligible to acquire Davis (a provision in the CBA is preventing them from doing so this season without including Kyrie Irving) and could offer a package including Jaylen Brown and their war chest of valuable future draft picks. The Knicks could offer their unprotected 2019 first-round draft pick and Kevin Knox. The only downside to waiting for the summer is that if Davis demands a deal to a specific team, the Pelicans lose all their leverage. Lots to consider in the Big Easy, and none of it is all that promising.
2. What does the Lakers starting lineup look like this spring?
The best-case scenario includes LeBron James and Anthony Davis. A lineup with those two could win the title. The next best scenario probably involves James, Bradley Beal and whichever two youngsters remain. This lineup could hang with any team in the league but is probably an underdog in the Conference Finals and Finals. The worst-case scenario would be if they make no major moves at the deadline because their current lineup likely has a Conference Finals ceiling and it’d be malpractice to waste a year of LeBron’s prime, like when the team has a number of trade chips.
3. Which teams mortgage their futures at the deadline?
Out West, the Pelicans are sure to be in the middle of everything, as they hold the crown jewel in Anthony Davis. Yet there’s a chance the Pelicans hold onto Davis and make a big trade of their own — we know they were in the mix for Jimmy Butler earlier this year. Everyone knows that the Rockets and Lakers will be looking for deals too. The Kings are desperate to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, so keep an eye on them as well.
Out East, any of the top five teams could justify pushing their chips in and try to capitalize on the Warriors’ perceived vulnerability. Also, keep an eye out for Pat Riley and the Miami Heat — they’ve straightened things out as of late and have been trying to land a blue-chipper ever since LeBron James left.
4. Does Michael Jordan deal Kemba Walker?
The conundrum of Kemba Walker: He means everything to the Hornets and wants to remain the face of the franchise, yet they can’t compete with him on their roster. He’s not quite elite enough to carry Charlotte deep into the playoffs, yet he’s too good to not carry the team to a .500 record. With no cap room (maybe you shouldn’t have maxed out Nic Batum, MJ!) and hardly any trade assets (maybe you shouldn’t have turned down four first-round picks to draft Frank Kaminsky, MJ!), Michael Jordan needs to seriously consider trading Walker for some future draft picks and/or cap relief if the Hornets ever want to quit toiling in mediocrity.
5. What do the Blazers do at the trade deadline?
The Blazers are having another solid season. They’re 25-17 and have an average offense and defense. They won’t miss the playoffs, but they probably won’t make it out of the first round if they don’t make a move at the trade deadline. Is this the year they break up the Damian Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt? How does the passing of owner Paul Allen impact the team’s previously unwavering loyalty to its dynamic backcourt? Would the Wizards ever consider a Bradley Beal for McCollum plus an unprotected 2020 first-rounder swap?
6. Which teams should blow it up at the deadline?
A couple of teams that are teetering on the brink of falling out of playoff contention should seriously consider blowing up their rosters by trading away assets for future draft picks and high-upside prospects. The most obvious team is the Washington Wizards. At 17-25, no John Wall for the rest of the year and no cap space, the team should absolutely be looking to trade Otto Porter and his massive contract, Markieff Morris and his abrasive attitude and even Bradley Beal if a team like the Lakers offers multiple prospects and draft picks.
Just above Washington in the standings, the Magic, Pistons and Hornets are all fighting for the eight seed. If any of them falter, they’d be obvious “tank” candidates. In the West, everything is still congested in the standings, but the Grizzlies and Pelicans will want to listen to offers for their respective stars if they’re on the outside looking in a month from now.
7. Do the Bucks have enough to compete for a title?
When LeBron James was 24 years old, he won his first MVP and led the Cavs to a league-best 66 wins. He was so transcendent that the team didn’t think it needed to improve a roster with Mo Williams as its second-best player at the trade deadline. Everyone knows how that worked out for Cleveland — the Orlando Magic caught fire in the Conference Finals and upset the Cavs.
Milwaukee Bucks fans should be scared to death of history repeating itself with Giannis Antetokounmpo this season. Giannis is also 24 years old and an MVP front-runner, and he’s leading a surprisingly good Bucks team to the top of the conference as the deadline nears. While the Bucks have better secondary options than the 2009 Cavs had, their current roster is probably another scorer and versatile forward away from being threats to win it all.
8. Are the Raptors finally a legitimate title contender?
These dinosaurs are legit. Unlike past years, they have a roster built for the playoffs. Kawhi Leonard is back to being the Kawhi Leonard of old (albeit, a little better on offense and a little worse on defense). Danny Green is having his best season in years. Same goes for Serge Ibaka, whose switch to small-ball center appears to have triggered a Benjamin Button-like reverse aging in his body. Kyle Lowry is second in the league in assists, too.
And who could forget Pascal Siakam — wow, where the hell did this guy come from? In his third season, he’s made the jump from solid defensive presence off the bench to potential All-Star and two-way terror on the court. He’s always sprinting, making offensive players uncomfortable on defense and pushing the envelope on offense — just making winning plays all over the court. He’s like Toronto’s own mutated version of Draymond Green. If you haven’t seen him play yet, you’re missing out on the best spin move in the NBA.
9. Are the Houston Rockets still contenders?
James Harden probably answered this one at Golden State last week where he put on one of the most impressive performances of his career. His three-pointer between the outstretched hands of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green was the climax point of an on-going, 15-game stretch in which he’s averaging over 40 points per game. We know Harden will keep stuffing the stat sheet, but we also know that he’s prone to wear down in the playoffs if another teammate isn’t there to lighten his load. Can Chris Paul get back on track once he returns from his hamstring injury? Does Houston trade for another shot creator at the deadline?
10. Are the Nuggets a legitimate title contender?
Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets’ meteoric rise to the top of the Western Conference has been one of the biggest surprises of this NBA season. Jokic is proving to be a one-man elite offense, as the Nuggets have been able to withstand significant injuries to a number of their key players, including Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Will Barton. Even if they sputter at some point during the second half of the season, they should finish with a top-four record in the West. The question then becomes what is their ceiling this season with a roster comprised mostly of players with little to no prior playoff experience? A safe bet is that they’ll win their first-round series and then lose a close battle in the second round to a more experienced team like the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder or Lakers. Regardless, the future is bright in Denver.
11. Have the Thunder quietly built a defensive machine to upset the Warriors?
With Paul George playing at a first team All-NBA level this season and Steven Adams, Dennis Schroder and Jerami Grant playing excellent two-way basketball, the Thunder might be the team best equipped to take down the Warriors. Notice I didn’t mention Russell Westbrook? That’s because the Thunder are often winning games in spite of Westbrook. While he is taking two fewer shots per game and has recommitted himself to defense (leading the league in steals), his shooting splits and shot selection are abysmal. He’s a key reason why OKC has the worst field-goal percentage in the NBA. It’s so frustrating because this team could absolutely steal some games from the Warriors in a series (they’re 3-2 vs. Golden State since acquiring Paul George) with its defense and overwhelming athleticism. However, Westbrook has to be a much more efficient player for the Thunder to take down Goliath.
12. Can the 76ers avoid a chemistry catastrophe?
There are layers to this one. For starters, the relationship between franchise cornerstones, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, is somewhere between “working partnership” and “icy.” It’s probably closer to the latter right now after their recent rebounding collision and Embiid’s subsequent freak-out. If that weren’t enough to worry about, Jimmy Butler is apparently already comfortable dressing down head coach Brett Brown in front of teammates about his role in the offense. Some teams can excel amid chaos like this; others fall victim to it. Will the Eastern Conference’s most talented team straighten things out for a long playoff run? Or will it implode from within?
13. Do the Pacers have enough offensive firepower to win the East?
It may come as a surprise to the casual fan, but the Indiana Pacers are a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference this season. They’re currently in third place and have the NBA’s third-highest rated defense despite missing their star, Victor Oladipo, for 11 games this season. Their defense and plethora of excellent role players will keep them in every game come playoff time, but can Oladipo carry their offense enough for them to make a deep run? Look for the Pacers to add some more scoring pop at this year’s trade deadline.
14. What is the Clippers’ ceiling?
How many players do you think a casual NBA fan could name on the Clippers? Three? Four? Despite having no star power, the Clippers are 24-16 and in fourth place in the loaded Western Conference. This is no longer a cute story about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts — this team is legitimately good. Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are all good players and have destroyed unsuspecting opponents this season.
How good are they? Can they win a playoff series? It’ll depend on the matchup and whether they pick up a better two-guard (Avery Bradley stinks now) and rim protector (Gortat isn’t cutting it). They could probably take down any team without an MVP-caliber player in a seven-game series, so if they play the Spurs, Blazers or Jazz in the first round, they’ll have more than a puncher’s chance to advance.
15. Will Jaylen Brown or Gordon Hayward get back on track?
If someone told you that Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward were averaging only a combined 23.6 points per game, you’d probably assume that the Celtics were having the season from hell. Fortunately for Boston, the “Marcuses” (Morris and Smart) have stepped up their respective games and covered for Brown’s and Hayward’s struggles. The team is comfortably in fifth place in the top-heavy Eastern Conference and will always have a chance in any playoff series with Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and the Marcuses playing well. However, if the Celtics want to compete for a title, they’ll need at least one of Brown or Hayward to start playing better. Both have shown some signs of life recently, but an occasional good game won’t suffice come May and June.
16. Do the Jazz have another magical second half in store?
Quin Snyder has been a second-half miracle worker in his tenure as head coach of the Utah Jazz. Last season, after a 17-24 start to the season, the Jazz ripped off a 31-10 record the next 41 games and rode that momentum to a first-round upset over the Thunder. At 20-21 through 41 games this season, Snyder will need to once again work his second-half magic to get Donovan Mitchell and Co. back on track.
17. How does DeMarcus Cousins fit in with the Warriors?
As they attempt to three-peat and win their fourth title in five seasons, the Warriors are struggling with mental and physical fatigue. Even when they’re at full strength, they seem as vulnerable as they’ve seemed since Kevin Durant joined the team. That could all change when DeMarcus Cousins makes his debut. Will the Warriors be rejuvenated by their “new toy” and find new ways to throttle teams? Or will Cousins’ overwhelming but unnecessary offensive talent hurt the team’s on-court chemistry? Boogie’s commitment to defense could ultimately dictate this one.
18. Can Steph Curry really go 50-45-90 again?
Remember when Steph Curry won the first-ever unanimous MVP in 2015-16 and forced us to recalibrate how basketball was going to be played moving forward? That season he averaged 30.1 points per game and joined Steve Nash as the only players to ever join the 50-45-90 Club (FG percentage-3FG percentage-FT percentage). Well, he’s doing it again this season. Right now he’s averaging 28.9 points per game on 48-44-91 shooting splits. (And he’s been in a slump lately too.) Thanks to the equally ridiculous seasons guys like James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo are having, hardly anyone seems to be noticing how insanely well Curry is shooting this year.
19. Can we hand Luka Doncic the Rookie of the Year, already?
Barring injury, the answer is yes. Doncic has been a revelation in Dallas and is must-see television every time he steps on the court. He might even get voted in as an All-Star Game starter. And while he shouldn’t be an All-Star starter, nobody should have any issues with him making the team because he’s averaging 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game and absolutely has a case as being one of the 12 best players in the Western Conference this season.
20. Should the Knicks even bother bringing Kristaps Porzingis back this season?
If you recall, Kristaps Porzingis tore his ACL just before the All-Star break last season. With a crappy roster in place and their sights set on Kevin Durant, the Knicks have been in no rush to get their young star on the court before he’s completely healthy. They are going to evaluate Porzingis in mid-February, but there’s a chance he doesn’t play at all this season.
Should he play? On one hand, it’d be nice to get him back on the court for about 10-15 games to help him get his rhythm and confidence back heading into the offseason — this is what the Pacers did with Paul George following his broken leg. On the other hand, with a shot at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, they might not want Porzingis winning games for them and screwing up their lottery odds.
By Pat Heery
One of the most consistent elements of the Golden State Warriors’ run with Steve Kerr as coach has been the minutes and rotation of Stephen Curry and the rest of the stars.
That’s changed some this season. And prior to Saturday’s win over the Sacramento Kings, Kerr addressed Curry’s change in minutes.
“We’ve tried a lot of different things this year in the beginning of the second, beginning of the fourth. We’ve tried KD in that spot, we’ve tried Klay, now we’re trying Steph. This is the one that has looked the best. That has felt the best. It’s ironic. People are talking about Steph’s fourth quarter minutes. Well, now he plays 10 minutes in the fourth quarter. He used to play six minutes.”
Curry’s overall minutes are up. He’s averaging 34.9 minutes a game. If that holds, it’ll be his highest total since averaging 36.5 in 2013-14, the year before Kerr’s arrival.
Of course, this may not hold.
Kerr also noted that the season is still relatively young and that things could again change.
By and large, things have worked out OK. While the Warriors aren’t having quite the dominant season we’ve grown accustomed to, they are 26-14 — the second best record in the Western Conference. Curry, meanwhile, is averaging 29.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds a game and is shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 45 percent on threes and 91 percent on free throws.
By: Michael Dixon
The Sixers’ front office is divided over whether to trade Markelle Fultz and would expect a quality first-rounder in return if he does get moved, according to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Fultz, currently sidelined while dealing with neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome, has improved his numbers slightly after a disappointing rookie season. He is averaging 8.2 PPG in 19 games, 15 of them starts, but continues to struggle with his shot, hitting just .419 from the field and .286 from 3-point range.
The Sixers entered win-now mode after the Jimmy Butler trade, Pompey notes, and don’t need the distraction of trying to develop a young player. However, they are wary of seeing him turn into a star somewhere else, knowing that former GM Bryan Colangelo will get the blame if Fultz fails in Philadelphia, but the current group will be held responsible if he is traded away cheaply.
The Sixers have already refused several offers for Fultz, which indicates that other teams aren’t willing to part with potentially high first-round picks. Pompey states that rival organizations believe Philadelphia will lessen its requirements as the Feb. 7 trade deadline draws nearer, adding that teams remain unconvinced that Fultz will overcome his shooting problems or shoulder injury any time soon.
Fultz hasn’t played since Nov. 19 and is working out in Los Angeles while rehabbing the shoulder. His agent, Raymond Brothers, said on Dec. 4 that Fultz would miss three to six weeks, which could put his return as late as mid-January.
Pompey speculates only a few teams — possibly as many as 10 — might take a chance on Fultz. He lists the Pistons, Magic and Heat as potential landing spots, stating that a league source confirmed Detroit was among three teams that reached out to the Sixers. Whoever winds up with Fultz will be committed to playing him $9.7M next season and will have to make a decision on his fourth-year option in October.
By: Arthur Hill
The Grizzlies have been one of the surprise teams to start the season, as they sit firmly in the Western Conference playoff picture at 13-8. As the season continues to unfold, it looks more and more clear that the Grizzlies hit on nearly all of their offseason moves as they’ve built a team that thrives on playing tough, physical defense at a slow pace.
Mark Giannotto of Commercial Appeal is now asking another question related to the Grizzlies’ season, focusing on how the team can improve its roster during the year to capitalize on this fast start. While the Grizzlies do have several expiring contracts on the roster in the form of Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green, those two are key cogs in the team’s rotation, especially defensively.
The Grizzlies could use another go-to perimeter player to help Mike Conley, but it may be tough to find an ideal trade that doesn’t see the Grizzlies sacrifice too much on the defensive end. Regardless, Memphis may become an active buyer at the trade deadline should their strong play continue.
There’s more from the Southwest division:
- In a recent mailbag for The Daily Memphian, Chris Herrington addresses potential trade targets for the Grizzlies as they look to address their needs on the perimeter.
- The Spurs are certainly struggling, as they sit at 10-12 and in 14th place in the Western Conference. As Chelsea Howard points out for Sporting News, Gregg Popovich is putting a lot of blame on himself as he expects more from his coaching performance moving forward.
- One bright spot for the Spurs has been the play of Bryn Forbes, who looks to be developing into one of the league’s best shooters, as Bryan Kalbrosky writes for HoopsHype. Forbes has received a much larger role due to the various injuries in the backcourt and is averaging 16.1 points and 3 three-pointers per 36 minutes.
By Eric Spyropoulos
Rap mogul Drake is the Raptors global ambassador, so he sits courtside at nearly every home game at Scotiabank Arena.
And given that the Raptors hosted the Warriors in an epic matchup on Thursday night, it was no surprise that Drake was in midseason trolling form.
The Warriors went into halftime trailing 67-58, and Drake made sure to let Kevin Durant and Co. know about it on their way to the locker room.
It wasn’t long until Durant got revenge, though. He drained a three-pointer from the logo in the final seconds of the third quarter, and Drake had an epic reaction to the long-range bomb.
It really is great watching those two go back and forth.
By: Matt Birch
The Washington Wizards are off to a terrible start this season, and the team’s front office may not be willing to be patient to see if things will turn around.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the Wizards are giving teams the impression that they are open to trading any player on their roster, including John Wall and Bradley Beal. Washington would reportedly prefer to build around its All-Star backcourt, but the belief is that the current roster may no longer be able to coexist.
Wojnarowski adds that the Wizards had previously chosen not to include Wall and Beal in trade discussions involving star players like Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, but the team’s 5-11 start has the front office reconsidering. Another possibility would be to shop Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre in an attempt to bring in a third star, but the Wizards have not seen much interest in those players on the trade market.
Beal is three years younger than Wall, who will be owed $42 million per year for four years starting next season. Wall also has a 15 percent trade kicker in his deal, so he may be tougher to trade than Beal.
A fresh start could make sense for Wall if things keep trending in the direction they have been heading, as he recently had to defend himself against criticism that he parties too much. However, it seems like the return for Beal could be more significant if the Wizards are looking to rebuild.
The Wizards fell at home to the Portland Trail Blazers 119-109 on Sunday, and head coach Scott Brooks unloaded on the team for a lack of effort.
By Steve DelVecchio
Kristaps Porzingis’ recovery from a torn ACL does not seem to be progressing at a rapid pace, but the team still expects to have him back this season.
The New York Post’s Mark Berman wrote an article published on Thursday about Porzingis and how Knicks head coach David Fizdale is handling things. Fizdale says he is no longer talking about Porzingis’ potential return to the team because he doesn’t want to let his mind run wild fantasizing about when he gets the big man back. Instead, he says he’s focusing on the players on the team’s roster and trying to do the best with what he has.
“Just mentally for me,” Fizdale said via Berman. “That’s somewhere else. I don’t want to get distracted personally as the coach, worried about if and when he’s coming back. I’d rather be focused on the day-to-day task with these guys, and when he gets back, that’ll just be a gift for me. You can get distracted as a coach, caught up in that world of when and hopefully soon and you lose focus on what you’re doing. And these guys deserve my undivided attention.”
Berman reports that the Knicks expect to have Porzingis back this season. However, he suggests that may not be imminent because Porzingis is still not sprinting and has not done more activities since training camp.
Back in September, Porzingis said he wasn’t putting any timetable on his recovery because there is no precedent for a 7-foot-3 player returning from the surgery. Porzingis should take his time and return when he feels comfortable because he’s right — there isn’t a precedent for his return — and he has a bright future that should not be jeopardized.
Porzingis suffered his injury in February. Players often take nine to 12 months before returning from such injuries, but they vary from case to case.
By: Larry Brown
New York Knicks rookie point guard Kevin Knox looked impressive in his first two games with the team, but it could be as long as a month before fans get to see him play again.
Knox left the Knicks’ game against the Boston Celtics on Saturday with an ankle injury, and Shams Charania of The Athletic reports that he is expected to miss 2-4 weeks after being diagnosed with a sprain.
Knox, the No. 9 overall pick in this year’s draft, scored 10 points in New York’s season opener and 17 points in 28 minutes against the Brooklyn Nets in their second game of the season. He’s clearly going to play a big role this year alongside Tim Hardaway Jr., so the Knicks are hoping the former Kentucky star can return as quickly as possible.
Full article Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports
By Steve DelVecchio