So its finally official, Kyrie Irving is a Boston Celtic. Danny Ainge finally pushed his chips to the middle of the table and called. Some Celtic fans who became enamored with Isaiah Thomas are still in disbelief that Ainge made this move, believing it to be at best a unilateral move at the point guard position.
I for one do not believe that. I’ve seen advanced stats, and “true shooting percentages” that say Isaiah is the peer, if not better than Kyrie. To that I say, stats can lie. I’ve seen Kyrie Irving play, and I’ve seen Isaiah Thomas play. As tremendous as Thomas was for the Celtics, and make no mistake, he was tremendous for the 2016-2017 Boston Celtics, he is no Kyrie Irving. I know it, and Danny Ainge sure as hell knew it.
Having the Thomas vs. Irving debate makes me feel like Clint Eastwood (because me and Clint are basically the same guy) in Trouble With the Curve. With all the Thomas supporters playing the role Matthew Lilliard played, the snot nosed kid pouring over the stats without ever seeing a real game.
Which is all really sad, because Justin Timberlake is in that movie, and clearly if they made a biopic on me right now, JT would be who they got to play me, I mean, really, check the resemblance below:
Its like looking at Markeiff and Marcus Morris, how do you tell us apart?
At the end of the day, to move on from Isaiah Thomas to Kyrie friggin Irving is a no brainer. Kyrie is younger than Isaiah. Ainge had no intention of paying Thomas what Thomas felt he was worth. Ainge is not crazy. Isaiah on the back end of that contract would be an albatross the likes of which we’ve never seen. Coupled with Thomas coming off a major hip injury that will sideline him into at least the early parts of the upcoming season, you add it all up, and even if you think Irving will “only” be a 25 year old, 25 points a game clutch scorer, you need to make this move.
Regardless of whether you’re pro-trade, or if you’re wrong, as a Celtic fan you’re excited about the upcoming season, and are eagerly anticipating the October 17th tip off against the Cavaliers.
To that I say, pump your brakes. Slow your roll. Keep it in your pants skippy. The 2016-2017 season saw Boston win the regular season Eastern Conference Crown (having that and a $20 bill might get you a 12 Oz. beer at Fenway), before knocking off the Rondo-less Bulls, squeaking past the Washington Wizards, and eventually losing to the Cavaliers in 5 games.
The Eastern Conference Finals showed just how large the gap was between Cleveland and Boston. To answer, Danny Ainge has brought in some marquee names. 3rd overall pick Jayson Tatum has seemingly cemented himself in Boston lore already without having played a single minute of meaningful NBA basketball yet. All star wing Gordon Hayward, and NBA/Olympic champion Kyrie Irving have also brought their talents to Revere Beach. (Lets be honest, Kelly’s Roast Beef blows away anything South Beach has to offer)
So knowing that, of these all star, and superstar additions, why would I ducking say to pump the brakes? Because FOUR players from last year’s team return. FOUR! Uno, dos, tres, quarto, FOUR! Only Al Horford, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier return. Marcus Smart, entering his 4th season, is the dean of the Celtics’ roster. They even let trainer Ed Lacerte leave. Lacerte has been around since Larry Bird was riding a stationary bike next to the bench to keep loose.
I fully expect to see the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals again come summer 2018. The roster is that good. Established all stars like Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford. An emerging superstar in Kyrie Irving. Coupled with ascending NBA talents like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart, the Celtics have what it takes to remain in the NBA’s Final Four.
Its even entirely possible, if not likely that they’ve narrowed the gap between themselves and the Cavaliers (narrowed, not closed). For all the skill that Lebron James has (and he has ALOT of skill), closing is not at the top of his list. Is he capable? Certainly. Has he always shown himself to be willing? No, that’s always been one of the most prominent knocks on his game. Kyrie Irving was the Cavalier’s closer. Chris Sale is the best pitcher in baseball right now not named Clayton Kershaw, but its Craig Kimbrell who is the Sox’ closer. Being the best, doesn’t mean the ball is in your hands when the big shot needs to be made.
That closer is now in Boston. Set to match up with Lebron. It seems almost inevitable at this point that at least one conference finals game will end with James and Irving going shot for shot trying to come out on top.
One of the biggest issues with the Celtics last year was that, as good as the Brad Stevens manipulated offense was, playing 5 out, free ball movement, open man shoots style, when it became crunch time, there was one man who could consistently get his own quality shot. There are now three players like that (Irving, Hayward, and Tatum).
The Cavs seemingly got deeper, and better prepared to encounter the Warriors death line up. Jae Crowder and Jeff Green are athletic wings with strength and reach capable of switching to cover multiple positions with relative ease. I am not at all sold on Derrick Rose. I know he put up good numbers with the Knicks last year, but he is not, and has never been a catch and shoot player. If you’re going to play with Lebron James you will become, whether you want too or not, a catch and shoot perimeter player (a situation that Jae Crowder should excel in by the way).
But the Cavs are not the issue, they’re not the reason why Celtics fans need to slow down and take a breather. The Celtics biggest obstacle in their attempt to again secure home court through out is themselves.
Sure the Celtics went 53-29 last year. Sure the East has gotten worse, with some mediocre teams like the Bulls and Hawks transforming themselves into lottery shoe ins. Sure they have ascending players all over the roster (as opposed to the Cavaliers who’s roster is littered with players on the back 9 of their careers, including some that should be in the clubhouse grabbing a bloody mary, I’m looking at you Richard Jefferson and Kyle Korver). But of the 14 players currently on the roster, TEN are new.
Think about that, 10 of the 14 players on the roster are new. Reports are that once the Irving-IT4 trade is processed that the Celtics will be signing forward Thomas Robinson. So unless they reverse course and bring back Gerald Green or Tyler Zeller, that will be 11/15 of the roster being new to the Celtics’ green. Even more, of the 11 new faces, 5 of them will be NBA rookies.
Jayson Tatum, and 2nd rounder Semi Ojeleye are true NBA rookies. 2016 2nd rounder Abdel Nader hasn’t played a minute of NBA basketball, but did spend all of last season as a NBDL all star for the Maine Red Claws. 2016 first rounder Guerschon Yabusele of France spent most of last season playing professionally in China before getting a small peak at American ball with a brief stint in Maine. Daniel Theis is the old man of the group, having spent the last few years playing Euroball.
Regardless of the various levels of experience though, not a single one of them has played a single NBA minute. That is 1/3 of the roster with zero league experience.
The starting line up should expect to see 80% new faces (discounting spot starts Smart & Brown made last year). Its all but certain that Al Horford will man one of the starting spots, as well as new comers Kyrie Irving, and Gordon Hayward. When Thomas was here, I expected Marcus Smart to man the other backcourt spot, and actually end up being the primary ballhandler, allowing Thomas to play off the ball, move off screens, and conserve energy, all the while Smart would defend the off guard on the opposing line up. With Irving now in the line up I would expect to see Jaylen Brown in the starting lineup. Allowing for a closer to traditional line up while letting Smart the ability to come in off the bench providing the energy boost he is known for.
The last starting position is tough. It could be forward Marcus Morris sliding in. He performed admirably last year in Detroit. And although by trade, he is a 3 man, in the modern “5 guys” NBA, he is capable of playing the 4. A more traditional lineup, and one that was used the majority of last year would see Aron Baynes replacing Amir Johnson in the Boston lineup. Often Johnson would start, and be the first guy to the bench, playing very short minutes for a starter. This was mostly done to allow Horford a break from the beating of going against the league’s rougher centers.
With bulky Centers going the way of the rotary telephone (look it up if you’re under 35), its entirely possible that Stevens goes with the smaller line up that includes Morris.
Its been noted that the Celtics most glaring weakness is rebounding, and its hoped that Baynes’ and his wonderful advance rebounding metrics could help in that area. The issue is that the Celtics are a poor rebounding team by design.
Okay, that last statement may be a bit misleading, kind of like the stats that show how awful Boston is rebounding. Theres a grain of truth to it, but its a bit overblown. With their personnel the Celtics were never going to be a superior rebounding team. So Brad Stevens being the coach that he is, and he is a great coach, made an adjustment.
Generally, you can be a good offensive rebounding team, or you can be a good transition defense team, its near impossible to be both. Knowing that regardless of how many players crashed the glass on offense, they weren’t likely to come away with the 2nd chance offensive possession, coupled with knowing that if you shoot a lot of deep shots (which the Celtics do shoot a lot of 3’s) it can result in easy transition baskets for the opposition if you miss. That knowledge resulted in the philosophy of getting back on defense when that offensive shot went up. That is one of the primary reasons the Celtics were tough in transition last year (having Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford in the line up didn’t hurt either, I’ll give you that), they punted on offensive rebounding as a scheme. And it was the right call.
Stevens is nothing if not adaptable. Find out what your players, your team, does well, and augment that, and hide their deficiencies. This year’s team will be much more capable of playing half court offense. Sure, they weren’t exactly awful in that area last year, but a lineup of Irving-Hayward-Brown-Tatum-Horford could be downright prolific in the half court. So its not unreasonable to see an overall scheme change.
The key point to take away as I note the schemes implemented and how Stevens plans for his team’s strengths is that we can guess what the team’s strength’s will be, but we don’t know. Stevens certainly has a much better idea than the rest of us, but he doesn’t know yet. It will take time. Time in practice, time in the games, and time on the calendar for chemistry and identity to develop.
The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook has the Celtics season win total over/under at 56.5. An increase of 3.5 wins over last season’s final tally. If I were a betting man (oh wait, I AM a betting man), I’d have no hesitation taking the under.
For years now sage Celtic observers have preached patience. Patience for the draft picks. Patience for the right young stud to become available for Ainge to pounce on. Patience for players coming out as college freshmen to develop. Now they must preach patience once more. Patience for this team to come together. To develop an identity. For players not yet baptized in the waters of professional basketball to find their way, new to an entire country, an entire continent to find their niche in Boston.
Don’t judge this team by what it looks like in November or December. Wait for how it’ll look come March and April. Take a page from the Cavaliers book. Just because you don’t win the regular season crown doesn’t mean its the end of the world. When you look back, no one outside of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates regular season “championships” certainly not a franchise with 17 championship banners hanging from the rafters.
You don’t go run a marathon in sneakers you haven’t broken in. Well guess what, Danny Ainge just bought the best pair of kicks this town has seen in 10 years. Let him break them in before you question how they’ll perform.
- Jason Sullivan
- You can find me on Twitter at @TopDucker