Here we go, Thunder


Here we go, Thunder

When a team from Boston is eliminated one step short of a title shot whether its in the AFC Championship, the ALCS, either of the Eastern Conference Finals or whatever they call it in the MLS fans of the recently deceased are typically left with three options for viewing the final round of action:

1. Tune it out: In this scenario, it just hurts too much. Knowing how close your team came, how little anyone else cares and that if it wasnt for two or three bad bounces, your boys would be on this amazing stage, with a serious shot at glory. So you dont watch the Finals. You dont read about the Finals. If youre watching SportsCenter and theres coverage of the Finals, you quickly reach for the remote. If the remote is nowhere to be found, you reach for the nearest blunt object and bludgeon yourself into a deep, deep sleep.

2. Believing in the Best: This is the rarest of the three, but every once in a while youll come across a fan who roots for the team that beat Boston. Who would rather fall to the eventual champ than to an also-ran. Hey, if were going to lose, at least we lost to the best! A slight variation is the fan who remains steadfastly loyal to a particular conference. Who will always root for the AFC or the American League, regardless of the misery this particular AFC or AL team brought to Boston. I never really got these people, but they exist.

3. Death to Rivals: Ahh, now youre speaking my language. You root like hell against the team that beat you. You want nothing more than for them and their fans to feel your pain. This is the most vengeful option on the table, but if you can stomach it, its also the most fun. It makes you feel the most alive. Its the closest you can get to how things were in the round before, when everything meant so much.

And with the NBA Finals set to tip off tonight in Oklahoma City, theres little doubt as to where Celtics fans stand. Actually, thats not true. Maybe there are a few folks who will choose Option 1: Fans who would prefer any amount of physical pain to the sight of LeBron James peacefully reading in the pre-game locker room, or the sound of Mike Breen climaxing after every Miami alley-oop. But I think most of us are sitting firmly at No. 3: Death to the Heat!

Of course, it helps that OKC is led by the most likable superstar in the game, and features Celtics emeritus Kendrick Perkins in the starting line-up. But at this point, regardless of opponent, Im not sure theres anything of greater importance in the Boston sports world than keeping this title away from Miami.

Part of that is the mental aspect, a result of all the pain they've inflicted on us over the past two years. But just as important as the past, is what a Heat win would mean for the future.

Lets be honest: Once Miami wins that first ring, its going to get ugly. Once LeBron gets the mental monkey off his back, once he, Wade and Bosh prove all the doubters wrong and have reason to trust and believe in their coach; once the rest of the league and all its impending free agents realize that the Heat have finally figured it out and that theres no better route to a ring than by jumping on the Miami bandwagon (and doing so at bargain prices), our nightmares will come true. The NBA will belong to Miami and jokes about LeBrons Not one, not two, not three will turn into depressing reminders of the NBA's inevitable future. OK, maybe I'm overstating things a little, but not by much. I don't think anyone will be surprised if winning that first title sets off a switch in LeBron James' head that will make life impossible for the rest of the NBA for a long, long time.

But what it they lose? Ah yes. What if they lose?

If Miami loses, stuff gets real. They're back in that same helpless place. Another lost opportunity. Another failed season. More pressure on LeBron. More questions about Spoelstra. If Miami loses, the inevitable dynasty may cease to exist. There's a good chance we see a South Beach shake up. Maybe Erik Spoelstra's shown the door. Maybe they trade Dwyane Wade. Maybe LeBron freaks out and plays out next season as the starting leftfielder for the AA Jacksonville Suns. Anything can happen. But most certainly, the Heat will enter next season as they did this one with more questions than answers. With more doubters than believers. The monkey on LeBron's back will now be a 300-pound gorilla and the Eastern Conference will be up for grabs.

I don't know about you. But I like that second scenario much better than the first. It's just another reason to hitch our wagons to the OKC Express and root against Miami with all the passion of the last two weeks.

Naturally, that passion is not without consequence. You root against the Heat, and you open yourself up to that all-to-familiar pain. To watching helplessly as Wade and James reach new height, to the tune of Mike Breen's screeching support. We know it all to well. We don't want to feel it again.

We need this, Oklahoma City. Almost as much as you do.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Blakely: No. 1 pick isn’t necessarily the road to title contention


Blakely: No. 1 pick isn’t necessarily the road to title contention

BOSTON – Celtics fans are slowly but surely getting over the disappointment of the team not landing the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft lottery earlier this month.
As cool as that would have been, the conference finals serve as a reminder that while having the top pick can be a good thing, most teams have to take a different route when it comes to getting on track towards and NBA title.
Of the four remaining teams in the playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the only one that has truly been elevated to their current lofty status courtesy of landing the number one overall pick (first with LeBron James back in 2003 and more recently with Kyrie Irving in 2011).
That means the rest of the remaining field built their way up into an NBA power relying on a combination of making wise draft picks and shrewd additions via free agency and trades.
So much of that has to do with leverage, something the Celtics have plenty of on all three fronts.
They have the potential to free up enough salary cap space to sign a pair of max players, a first for this franchise. Boston also has eight draft picks in next month’s draft (three in the first round, five in the second), the most of any team leading up to the draft since it went to a two-round system in 1989.
Those picks plus a roster full of really good but not great talent, gives them the kind of ammunition to pull the trigger on a trade that could add that much-needed All-Star caliber talent.
But it’s like a high school chemistry experiment as the Celtics try to figure out the right combinations to avoid having it all blow up in their face.
For now, the emphasis has to be on the June 23 draft.
A big part of that planning process involves figuring out what to do with the No. 3 pick, the highest selection the Celtics have had since they took Jeff Green (and traded him that night) with the fifth overall selection in 2007.
If the Celtics keep the pick, it will certainly bring about some controversy regardless of who they select.
By taking Dragan Bender of Croatia, the Celtics will be selecting the youngest player in the draft (he turns 19 in November) who may take years to develop into a legitimate contributor.
Selecting Providence College’s Kris Dunn, arguably the best perimeter defender in this draft, seems a bit redundant considering all the guards Boston has under contract whose strengths are essentially the same as Dunn’s.
Buddy Hield of Oklahoma is another option. He’s the best shooter in this draft, but doesn’t provide much other than scoring. Is that really worthy of a No. 3 overall pick?
Regardless of who the Celtics take with the No. 3 pick (and that’s assuming they keep it and not trade it away which is indeed an option), one thing we know for sure.
History tells us that if the Celtics keep the pick, he will wind up being a pretty good player.
In the past 20 years, the No. 1 overall pick has produced 12 All-Stars.
Among top six picks in that same span of time, the No. 3 selection has generated the second-highest number of All-Stars (8), while the No. 2, 4, 5 and 6 picks each had five All-Stars.
That’s important to note because the need to have multiple All-Stars is paramount to a team’s chances at making a deep playoff run.
Take a look at the four remaining teams.
There’s the defending champion Golden State Warriors, whose roster includes a quartet of current (Stephen Curry; Klay Thompson and Draymond Green) and former All-Stars (Andre Iguodala).
Cleveland’s roster includes a similar breakdown of recent (LeBron James; Kyrie Irving; Kevin Love) and not-so-recent (Mo Williams) All-Stars.
And then there’s Oklahoma City (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) and Toronto (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan) who each have a pair of All-Stars.
For Boston, the team's lone All-Star is Isaiah Thomas, who knows all too well that he can’t carry this team to a deep, meaningful playoff run without getting some All-Star caliber help.

The top two picks in this year’s draft – Duke’s Brandon Ingram and LSU’s Ben Simmons – are head and shoulders above the rest of the draft class, but the Celtics are in a good spot if you’re talking about adding a key piece to a potential title contender. 

Report: Ainge in Israel this weekend scouting Dragan Bender


Report: Ainge in Israel this weekend scouting Dragan Bender

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and his son, Austin Ainge, the team’s director of player personnel, will be in Israel this weekend scouting Dragan Bender, the potential No. 3 pick in the draft, the Boston Herald reported. 

Bender, a 7-foot-1, 18-year-old from Croatia, won’t be playing in games this weekend but will be practicing for Maccabi Tel Aviv.  Bender is a bench player for Maccabi, averaging 4.3 points and 2.6 rebounds. Still, his size and potential to develop  have him projected to go as high as No. 3.

Here’s CSN’s scouting report of Bender.

Danny Ainge was in Croatia earlier this week scouting 6-11 Ante Zizic. 


Report: 76ers look to deal Okafor or Noel in draft trade


Report: 76ers look to deal Okafor or Noel in draft trade

There’s a high likelihood the Philadelphia 76ers will trade Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel in connection with the June 23 draft, in which the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, ESPN’s Chad Ford reported.

The Celtics, who have the No. 3 pick, have been rumored to be willing to part with it in a deal that includes Okafor.

Ford said in an interview with Philadelphia-area radio station ESPN 97.3:

You will not see the Nerlens Noel-Jahlil Okafor pairing at the start of next season. I think that they'll gauge the interest of both players. I think that there might be a slight preference for Noel, to keep him around with the Sixers, and I think you might be right, there might be a slight, better value for Okafor out on the market, but I think everyone agrees that that combination of those two players doesn't necessarily work.

The Sixers are expected to choose LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram with the top pick.  Ford and Marc Stein also reported Philly’s willingness to deal Okafor or Noel in this ESPN article. 

As a deal with the Celtics for the No. 3 pick, Ford told 97.3:

Absolutely…If I was Philadelphia, it would be done tomorrow. I don't know if Boston would do it, but for Philadelphia, 100 percent. That would allow them to actually I think bring in another guard, an elite guard, whether that's Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray, and suddenly now you've got a very, very bright future. I think that's an easy call for the Sixers if Boston would do it.