Boston Celtics

 

This is the third edition in a series previewing the seasons NBA teams with former Texas Longhorn players.  

So far I’ve previewed the Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors.  Today I’m looking at the Boston Celtics.

Boston Celtics

Last season: 41-40, Lost in first round to New York Knicks, 4-2

**Note: The Celtics only played 81 games, rather than 82. One of their games was cancelled due to the Boston Marathon bombings in April.

Longhorn player: Avery Bradley, point guard

The Celtics will be one of the most interesting teams to watch this season. Over the summer, they made a blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics sent longtime franchise player Paul Pierce, along with streaky guard Jason Terry, forward/center Kevin Garnett and forward DJ White to the Nets. In exchange Boston received swingman Gerald Wallace, forward Kris Humphries, guard/forward Keith Bogans, guard MarShon Brooks, forward Kris Joseph, three future first round draft picks and the option to swap first round picks with the Nets in the 2017 NBA Draft. 

Whoa. That was a mouth full. Still with me? 

With that massive deal, the Celtics are committed to shedding salary and rebuilding with youth. It was brilliant for Boston. They realized that Garnett and Pierce were aging rapidly and winning just 41 games and losing in the first round with those players was no longer economical. So, they are officially in rebuilding mode this year.

If you take a look at their roster now, you’ll see only two players over the age of 30: Bogans and Wallace, two of the guys the Celtics acquired in that deal. You’ll also no longer see Doc Rivers on bench. The Celtics hired Brad Stevens, former head coach at Butler University. This team is an extremely challenging situation for Stevens to step into. But I think he’s up to it — he more than proved himself by leading the Butler Bulldogs to two national title appearances. At 36, Stevens is now the NBA’s youngest coach.

This is still Rajon Rondo’s team. A glut of unproven players and journeymen will surround him this year. Rondo is Boston’s best offensive player by far, followed by Wallace. MarShon Brooks has potential to be an explosive scorer in the future.  

Former Texas Longhorn guard Avery Bradley will be Rondo’s primary backup and figures to get decent minutes behind him. He could even play some two guard.  Last year, he averaged 9.2 points and 2.1 assists in 28.7 minutes per game.

Overall, this year won’t be pretty for the Celtics. Expect a lot of pains offensively — this team will struggle to score. Rondo is not a score r— he’s a creator, and it would not be wise for new coach Brad Stevens to attempt to change his style. Defensively, there is a ton of athleticism on this squad. The Celtics will be a fast and long team. They should force quite a few turnovers and get Rondo out on the break.  

Bottom line: I’ll say Boston wins 28 games. Tough. After giving up its best player for the last decade, the Celtics will need to endure this rebuilding process for another couple of years.  But, by then, Rondo might be long gone. Boston has a lot of decisions to make over that time.

Top 10 NBA MVP candidates

1. LeBron James – Winner of three out of the last four MVP awards, LeBron has dominated the game of basketball like few have ever done before. It is already evident that Lebron will be among the greatest players ever by the time his career is finished. There really isn’t much James isn’t capable of accomplishing on the court. To top that off, he is only getting better. Every offseason James makes it a goal of his to improve an aspect of his game. Last offseason it was a deadly post-up game; this upcoming season he promises a lethal hook shot. But the real phenomenon worth noting is the profound mental resilience he has gained this past year. In the playoff series against the Indiana Pacers and the Boston Celtics, James illustrated a new side of his basketball character. He demonstrated to the world that he is no longer the man who had a complete meltdown in crucial playoff games against the Boston Celtics in 2010 and the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. No, this was a new James who wouldn’t back down in the most important moments. The 45-point, 15-rebound and five-assist performance, facing an elimination game against the Celtics, really sums up this mental growth and his newly acquired killer instinct. Watch out, ladies and gentlemen, because you will be awe-inspired by this phenomenal player who finally has both the physical and mental tools to become the greatest ever.

2. Kevin Durant – Since 1980 only two players have won three or more NBA scoring champion awards in a row: Kevin Durant and Michael Jordan. That is some exclusive company. It goes without saying that Kevin Durant is one of the most gifted scorers this game has ever seen. However, the improving aspects of Kevin Durant’s game are grossly underrated. Last year, Durant had career highs in rebounds, assists and blocks. Not only is this 24-year-old already the leader of a championship contender, but he is also very humble and willing to improve his game. Just this past offseason after the most success he has seen in his NBA career, Durant added approximately 15 pounds of muscle to his lanky frame in order to better play the power forward position for the Oklahoma City Thunder and also become a stronger defender. This guy is a workhorse. We have definitely not seen the best of Durant yet.

3. Chris Paul – With a continually developing frontcourt in DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, Chris Paul’s game will only get better. Griffin and Jordan will make Paul look better by the year because of their expanded offensive arsenals. With the absence of Derrick Rose for the majority of the year, the light will shine ever so gloriously on the incredible play-making abilities of the best point guard in the league. However, in order for Paul’s rank to be this high, his individual play is not sufficient. He must also be able to will the Clippers into the championship contender they are capable of becoming.

4. Kobe Bryant – As the greatest player of this generation, Kobe Bryant will have a lot to leave on the court in his last two years in the NBA. Very recently, Bryant chuckled when Ken Berger of CBS Sports questioned him about his willingness to play second fiddle or as a role player, reportedly saying, “That’s not gonna happen. That’s just not me.” Even as a spectator of the sport, it should become painfully obvious that Bryant will not want to leave the league without a final championship stamp on his first ballot Hall of Fame resume. With recent additions Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, Bryant’s offensive load will certainly lessen, allowing him to be the most efficient player he can be.

5. Deron Williams – Deron Williams had gone into the shadows for MVP discussions these past two years. However, there is good rationale to explain that. No player since the 1982-1983 season has won the MVP award while playing for a team with a winning percentage lower than .610. It is fairly reasonable to say that the Nets weren’t close to achieving that standard those past few years. After nearly three or four seasons of pointless basketball, Deron Williams finally has a team that will motivate him to reach his full potential. The addition of Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace will solidify the Nets as a second-round playoff team and give Williams all the motivation in the world. Watch out for Williams to have a statement year for the rising Brooklyn Nets.

6. Rajon Rondo – After his meteoric rise in the 2009 NBA playoffs, when he nearly averaged a triple double, Rondo has not failed to deliver in each of the following seasons. Since 2008, Rondo has made four NBA All-Defensive teams, led the league in assists and steals and dominated ball game after ball game without scoring a single point. Not much will change this year. Expect Rondo to grow as a leader and continue dominating games in ways very few can match.

7. Kevin Love – Is it safe to say Kevin Love is the best power forward in the league right now? After averaging 26 points and 13 rebounds last year, Love is poised to maintain that status (unless Dirk Nowitzki’s knee concerns dissipate). The addition of a resurgent Brandon Roy, the recovery of Ricky Rubio and the growth of Derrick Williams should finally provide Love with all the tools he needs to forge a playoff contender, almost a necessity for an MVP. The 24-year-old’s best days are still ahead of him.

8. Russell Westbrook – Kevin Love’s teammate at UCLA, Russell Westbrook, is not doing so bad himself. Although he plays second fiddle to Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s tremendous athletic ability and growing maturity make it impossible to leave him off this list. To me, Westbrook is the next Dwayne Wade of basketball, able to assassinate as he wishes through sheer athleticism. However, the next step in Westbrook’s development as a player has nothing to do with his athleticism. Rather, it has to do with the refining of his decision-making process and his leadership abilities.

9. Dirk Nowitzki – If not for the knee problems and potential arthroscopic injury, Nowitzki could beat out Love as the best power forward in the league. The ability of Nowitzki to instantaneously take over a game whenever he chooses to makes him a phenomenal player on the dark horse contender that is Dallas. At this point of his career, his offensive output might not match Durant’s or Lebron’s, but this guy can score at will. Because Nowitzki’s game doesn’t require tremendous athleticism, expect his game to age very gracefully. His fadeaway matches Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s sky hook as the most unguardable shot in the history of the NBA. So age should be no deterrent for Nowitzki this season.

10. Dwight Howard – In the ongoing debate surrounding the best center in the league, neither Dwight Howard nor Andrew Bynum seems to be a promising selection. Howard is coming off major back surgery and Bynum’s longtime best friends — knee injuries — are back in full force. However, Howard tops Bynum because he can impact the game so effectively in a multidimensional manner. Without even scoring, Howard’s dominant defense and rebounding abilities can create the largest imprint on a given basketball game. Although Bynum can finally be that No. 1 guy, the franchise player, he has to prove himself as a mature leader before he surpasses Howard.

*Before chaos ensues, there is a reasonable explanation for leaving out Dwyane Wade. His athleticism-based skill set does not age gracefully (ask Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady). Also, the addition of Ray Allen at shooting guard and Wade’s open willingness to defer to LeBron will slightly diminish his role on the Heat this upcoming season.

Title contenders setting themselves apart with playoffs looming

With only a week remaining in the lockout shortened 66-game sprint there are still many positional races from top to bottom in the standings.

The top seed in the Western Conference is up for grabs as the Spurs have made a run at the Thunder, after OKC has seemingly held that spot for the entire season. At the other end of the standings, the Jazz, Suns, Rockets and Nuggets are already in playoff-mode, fighting for the last two tickets to the postseason.

The Chicago Bulls are in good shape to claim the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive season. In a battle for the fourth seed in the East the Celtics, Magic and Hawks are all within a game of each other heading into the final stretch.

With so many teams still scrapping for position there are no set matchups for the first round of the playoffs, which get underway next weekend. There are at least four teams in each conference to consider as legitimate threats to make a run at the championship in what will likely be a surprised-filled post-season.

Chicago Bulls (47-15)
The Bulls are close to clinching the best record in the league despite playing a third of their games without last year’s MVP, Derrick Rose. Coach Tom Thibodeau’s team kept finding ways to win, mainly in part to their league-best defense. If Rose reaches his top form in the playoffs, it’s hard to pick against this team in any series.

San Antonio Spurs (45-16)
Gregg Popovich’s men find themselves atop the standings again and look like deeper team than the one that was upset by the surging Grizzlies in last year’s playoffs. Led by Tony Parker’s MVP-caliber play, the Spurs are loaded at every position and have the athleticism to compete with the Thunder and Grizzlies of the world.

Miami Heat (44-17)
Like the Spurs, the Miami Heat bring an even more well-rounded group into this season’s playoffs. Adding Shane Battier and talented rookie guard Norris Cole to the rotation, the Heat addressed a couple holes that left them as last year’s runner-ups. LeBron James has answered last year’s finals failures by putting together his greatest individual regular season to date. The problem is that the Heat must complete the process and win the championship or else their season will be considered a failure.

Oklahoma City Thunder (45-17)
The Thunder’s youth and athleticism got them off to the races and they have never really looked back in this shortened season. Durant, Westbrook and Harden have continued their flashy playmaking that had them in the Western Conference finals last season. The Thunder still have a lack of interior scoring and can be vulnerable if they are matched up against a smarter and more experienced team.

Los Angeles Lakers (40-23)
Mike Brown has done a nice job of utilizing his big men and few teams have found a way to contain Andrew Bynum and Paul Gasol. Coming off of a winning stretch without Kobe Bryant, the Lakers displayed some of the toughness and playmaking that won them two straight championships from 2009-2010. Dealing with the Lakers size in a 7-game series will be a daunting task for any opponent.

Boston Celtics (37-26)
Sporting a mediocre 15-17 record at the All-Star break the aged Celtics seemed destined for a rebuilding season. Instead Rajon Rondo has accepted his leadership role and has taken his game to an MVP-type level. With Garnett, Pierce and Ray Allen all peaking at the right time, this version of the Celtics could have one final championship run left in them

Dallas Mavericks (35-28)
The defending NBA Champions were counted out by most before they even raised their Championship banner. Many questioned this team’s defensive ability once they lost their defensive anchor Tyson Chandler to the Knicks, yet they have the second best defensive numbers in the Western Conference. The Mavs are finally at full strength for the first time all season at the most opportune time. Rick Carlisle’s veteran coaching and Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki will be challenging assignments for even the most talented teams in the West.

Indiana Pacers (40-21)
The Indiana Pacers have peaked their way into the third seed in the East with a 9-1 stretch that includes a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Pacers lack a true superstar, but have received major contributions from a handful of players on their way into the championship conversation. Center Roy Hibbert and a trio of forwards give them the length to compete with the Bulls and Heat.
 

Celtics shopping away Rajon Rondo

The Boston Celtics are actively trying to trade their star point-guard Rajon Rondo. The Celtics are shopping away Rondo after his attitude and personality have become too much of a burden on the organization, said an ESPN report.

The three-time All-Star is arguably among the top-five best point-guards in the league averaging a career high 14 points per game and more than nine assists per contest.

His on the court play has remained steady for the aging Celtics, but the off-court distractions have the Celtics front office listening to offers. Rondo’s clashes with Head Coach Doc Rivers have earned him a reputation of being high maintenance.

With the championship window likely shut on their current roster, the Celtics are looking to rebuild. Sources say the Celtics front office believes that Rondo isn’t worth the headaches and are no longer trying to build around the 26-year-old guard.

Golden State has become a likely destination for Rondo if he is traded before the March 18 deadline. The two teams have had discussions about a possible Rondo for Stephen Curry trade, but Curry’s recent ankle injuries have kept the Celtics from pulling the trigger on the deal.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge acknowledged in early January that Rondo’s name came up in trade talks before the season when elite point-guard Chris Paul was on the trade block. Ainge said at that point he wasn’t shopping Rondo he was just trying to acquire a player of the caliber of Chris Paul.

"I was not trying to trade Rajon Rondo," said Ainge. "There's a big difference between trying to acquire a player and trying to trade a player."

Even with the Celtics new stance on the former Kentucky guard, they aren’t planning to just dump Rondo. They would like to receive a high quality player in return for him, similar to what they would have obtained had they landed Paul.

Rondo has three years and $36 million remaining on his contract after this season.

After a 66-game sprint in a four-month span, the NBA has reached its postseason and many teams are already marred by injuries. The heavy schedule and lack of off-season preparations seem to be taking their toll on key players. No team was hit harder by this wave of injuries than the No. 1 overall seed Chicago Bulls.

Having played one-third of their season without reigning MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls will have to continue their postseason run without their best player. Rose landed awkwardly while driving to the basket late in the fourth quarter of game one against the Philadelphia 76ers. His teammates and fans feared the worst as he was carried off the courts. Hours later, it was confirmed that he tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the playoffs.

The Orlando Magic were hit by the injury bug weeks before the postseason got underway. They were well on their way to earning a top four seed in the Eastern Conference but then lost All-Star center Dwight Howard for the season with a
herniated disk.  

Staying in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics’ hopes of making another championship run took a major hit when they lost Ray Allen with an ankle injury. While Allen will not require surgery, he’s expected to miss their first round series against the Atlanta Hawks.

The most bizarre injury of the playoffs so far goes to the Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire. After falling 0-2 to the Miami Heat, Stoudemire took out his frustrations by punching a glass enclosure around a fire extinguisher in the visitor’s locker room. Stoudemire sustained a lacerated left hand and will likely leave the Knicks without his services in their attempt to stay in the series.

“He’s probably going to be out. I don’t know how bad it is ... Your emotions run high. In a split second, a decision can alter things. You can’t fault anybody. We’ve got to deal with the repercussions,” said Knicks center Tyson Chandler. The Knicks are also without Iman Shumpert, who tore his ACL on Saturday.

The Western Conference side of the bracket has, for the most part, been able to escape the current spree of injuries. The Los Angeles Clippers lost Caron Butler for the rest of the playoffs during their historic 27-point comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies. After scoring 12 points in 23 minutes, Butler broke his left hand during the second half.

The San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder are amongst the teams who have yet to be affected by injuries. With the Chicago Bulls and Celtics out of the picture in the East, the Heat have a relatively easy path to make a return trip to the Finals.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins agrees that the compact schedule may factor into the current rise in injuries.

“I don’t think there’s any question,” Collins said. “The wear and tear, I don’t think there’s any question, the fatigue. What happens during the playoffs, it gets ratcheted up even more.”

Commissioner David Stern disagrees with the assessment saying during a radio interview he stated that the injuries and the tight regular season were unrelated.

“I don’t think it’s related at all,” Stern said. “When anything happens, that’s what’s going
to happen.”After a 66-game sprint in a four-month span, the NBA has reached its postseason and many teams are already marred by injuries. The heavy schedule and lack of off-season preparations seem to be taking their toll on key players. No team was hit harder by this wave of injuries than the No. 1 overall seed
Chicago Bulls.

Having played one-third of their season without reigning MVP Derrick Rose, the Bulls will have to continue their postseason run without their best player. Rose landed awkwardly while driving to the basket late in the fourth quarter of game one against the Philadelphia 76ers. His teammates and fans feared the worst as he was carried off the courts.

Hours later, it was confirmed that he tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the playoffs.
The Orlando Magic were hit by the injury bug weeks before the postseason got underway. They were well on their way to earning a top four seed in the Eastern Conference but then lost All-Star center Dwight Howard for the season with a
herniated disk.

Staying in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics’ hopes of making another championship run took a major hit when they lost Ray Allen with an ankle injury. While Allen will not require surgery, he’s expected to miss their first round series against the Atlanta Hawks.

The most bizarre injury of the playoffs so far goes to the Knicks’ Amare Stoudemire. After falling 0-2 to the Miami Heat, Stoudemire took out his frustrations by punching a glass enclosure around a fire extinguisher in the visitor’s locker room. Stoudemire sustained a lacerated left hand and will likely leave the Knicks without his services in their attempt to stay in the series.

“He’s probably going to be out. I don’t know how bad it is ... Your emotions run high. In a split second, a decision can alter things. You can’t fault anybody. We’ve got to deal with the repercussions,” said Knicks center Tyson Chandler. The Knicks are also without Iman Shumpert, who tore his ACL on Saturday.

The Western Conference side of the bracket has, for the most part, been able to escape the current spree of injuries. The Los Angeles Clippers lost Caron Butler for the rest of the playoffs during their historic 27-point comeback against the Memphis Grizzlies. After scoring 12 points in 23 minutes, Butler broke his left hand during the second half.

The San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder are amongst the teams who have yet to be affected by injuries. With the Chicago Bulls and Celtics out of the picture in the East, the Heat have a relatively easy path to make a return trip to the Finals.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins agrees that the compact schedule may factor into the current rise in injuries.
“I don’t think there’s any question,” Collins said. “The wear and tear, I don’t think there’s any question, the fatigue. What happens during the playoffs, it gets ratcheted up even more.”

Commissioner David Stern disagrees with the assessment saying during a radio interview he stated that the injuries and the tight regular season were unrelated.

“I don’t think it’s related at all,” Stern said. “When anything happens, that’s what’s going to happen.”

Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as: Compact schedule could be to blame for playoff injuries

One-third of the way into the lockout-shortened NBA season, a couple of former Longhorns within the league continue to headline for their contending team while others show enduring signs of promising NBA careers.

Kevin Durant

An established scorer and 2007 college basketball player of the year, Kevin Durant has earned recognition as an early season MVP candidate. His 26.8 points per game are third-highest in the league and are a big reason why the Oklahoma City Thunder have an NBA-best record of 18-5 this early in the season.

Durant and the up-and-coming Thunder are poised to make another legitimate run at the title in what seems to be a wide-open Western Conference race. Their championship hopes ended last season at the hands of the eventual NBA Champions, the Dallas Mavericks.

“Durantula,” as many call him, made an early-season statement against the defending champions after beating Dallas with a buzzer-beating three-pointer and winning two out of the three early season matchups against the Mavs. In order for the Thunder to take the next step in their championship aspirations, the former Longhorn great must execute clutch plays of this sort when the playoffs arrive.

LaMarcus Aldridge

Aldridge and the tough-minded Portland Trail Blazers look to make a deep playoff run in a Western Conference that’s up for grabs. He has solidified himself as one of the top forwards in the league and, much like Durant, has a strong chance of being in this season’s All-Star Game.

“He’s matured, he has been consistent over the last three years. He’s shown growth. Even though we’ve lost a lot of guys to injury, we have continued to win and compete and get to the playoffs,” Blazers coach Nate McMillan said of Aldridge.
His career high of 23.1 points per game have the Blazers positioned to make a title run as they currently hold the sixth seed in the highly-competitive Western Conference.

Avery Bradley

After a rookie season with limited opportunities to make an impact for the Boston Celtics, Bradley’s NBA future was looking bleak.

This season, Boston’s aging and banged-up roster has opened the door for the former Longhorn guard to display his talents. He’s averaging 18 minutes and four points per game for the undermanned Celtics.

His offensive numbers aren’t exactly eye-opening, but his biggest contribution has been on the defensive side of the court. His breakout performance came in a historic 87-56 Celtics win over the Magic in January.

“His defense set the whole tone for the entire thing. He took us out; we had a hard time getting the ball down and getting into offense,” Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said of Bradley.

With the Celtics expected to rebuild and rely on young talent after this season, Bradley’s impressive defensive display may land him a long-term role with the franchise.

Tristan Thompson

The fourth overall pick in last year’s draft has displayed a high skill at the NBA level in limited playing time with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Like Avery Bradley, Thompson’s main contributions have come from the defensive side of the ball.
He is averaging over one block per game and fewer than five rebounds per game. With the emergence of teammate Alonzo Gee, Thompson saw his minutes dwindle. What separates the two forwards at the moment is Thompson’s limited offensive skill set.

The former Longhorn’s athleticism and length alone may keep him in the league for a while, but he must improve his offensive capabilities to fully reach his NBA potential.

NBA Draft

Tonight, three Longhorns will be watching for their name in the 2011 NBA Draft. Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Jordan Hamilton have all chosen to forgo the rest of their eligibility at Texas.

Last year, the Longhorns sent three players to the NBA in the 2010 draft.

The first to go last year, Avery Bradley, was selected 19th overall by the Boston Celtics. After spending some time in the developmental league, Bradley was called up to the Celtics in February following Marquis Daniel’s spinal cord injury. Bradley played in 31 games last season for the Celtics and shot 34 percent from the floor.

The Atlanta Hawks selected Damion James with the 24th overall pick last year. His stay with the Hawks was short-lived, however, when James was traded to the New Jersey Nets for more draft picks. James has played in 25 games for the Nets, averaging 44.7 percent from the floor and 64.3 percent from the foul line.

Dexter Pittman was the last Longhorn to go in the draft. He spent his first year in the pros alternating between the bench and the developmental league. In April, Pittman played in two games for the Heat before sustaining an injury. He went in the second round as the number two pick.

Texas’ participation in the draft has increased dramatically over the last 50 years. Since 1957, the Longhorns have sent 37 players to the draft with 22 going in the first two rounds. Over half of those 37 were in the last two decades.
Before 1990, the Longhorns sent one player to the draft every couple of years, but since then, Rick Barnes has sent 13 players to the draft. In the 12 years Barnes has been at Texas, he has sent more players than any other previous Texas coach. In the past few years, Texas has sent more high profile players to the draft, such as T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant.