The Celtics are still trying to find their way into the win column after losing 97-78 to the Hornets in New Orleans. They're now 0-3 on the season and will look for that first win at home on Friday. Check out Talking Points
We’re back for another edition of the CSN Insiders notebook, the most comprehensive collection of trade rumors, team news, injurie updates and a wide range of league-related news sure to whet the appetite of any NBA fan.
We begin this week jumping right into trade rumors. And as we’ve seen in recent years, the Boston Celtics continue to be one of the more popular teams whose name is often brought up in various trade scenarios.
While there doesn’t appear to be anything imminent with the Celtics, it’s pretty clear that their greatest need at this point is a defensive-minded big man who can also rebound.
So who should they target?
CELTICS PURSUE BOGUT?
As the February trade deadline draws near, the Boston Celtics are expected to take a close look at adding a defensive-minded, rebounding big man with Dallas’ Andrew Bogut likely to emerge as a target.
The former No. 1 overall pick is the final year of a three-year, $36 million contract he signed with the Golden State Warriors in 2014.
He is due to make $11.027 million in this, the last season of the contract.
Dallas (4-15) has the worst record in the NBA and are likely to continue building for a post-Dirk Nowitzki with a high lottery pick in June’s NBA draft. Adding another first-round pick from Boston would benefit a squad that has to increase its quality depth going forward. Having another first-round pick can only enhance their roster.
Boston could offer the Mavericks Amir Johnson (he makes $12 million this season) straight-up for Bogut, but would likely have to include a future first round pick that would not be Boston’s 2017 pick which they have the option of swapping for Brooklyn’s first-round pick which is likely to be in the lottery (top-14).
For the Celtics, giving up Johnson and a future first-round pick is a small price to pay for a physical, defensive-minded rebounder who would provide a different brand of rim protection than Johnson who like Bogut, will also be a free agent this summer.
In addition, he gives Boston a legit physical banger in the middle which they current do not have.
While no deal is imminent, but both sides would appear to come out getting great value if this deal were to completed prior to the February trade deadline. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
PHILLY PLANS TO GO SUPER-SIZED AT POINT GUARD
The Sixers have big plans for Ben Simmons when he returns from a Jones fracture in his right foot.
Big as in, 6-foot-10 point guard big.
Yes, Brett Brown said this week the Sixers intend to utilize Simmons at the one spot on both offense and defense.
That role has been in flux all season as Jerryd Bayless, originally signed this offseason to be the starting point guard, only has played three games because of left wrist soreness. Sergio Rodriguez has stepped into the starting spot in his first season back from Spain.
Ball handling and court vision are two of Simmons’ biggest strengths. During Summer League he demonstrated how he could use his size to grab the rebound and then push the ball on the fast-break. The Sixers believe his stature will cause mismatches with defenders.
On the opposite end of the floor, Simmons will be tasked with stopping some of the league’s craftiest and quickest. He will have to counter his opponents using their smaller size as an advantage. Simmons already has been studying game film, including that of Chris Paul, to prepare.
“I think it is a hundred percent me realizing what we have,” Brown said recently. “Understanding that Jerryd Bayless could comfortably play a two, to talking with Ben more, to understanding the opportunity that we have to try this and to grow this. This is something that I’d think would be a mistake if we didn’t try it. I think the more I studied him and studied film and talked with him — I spent a lot of time with him since his injury — the more comfortable I feel, like this is the right path.” – by Jessica Camerato
HIP INJURY LIMITS MILLSAP AS HAWKS STRUGGLE
A left hip injury to Paul Millsap has slowed down the Hawks, who were .500 entering the weekend, and they’re trying to make it having used Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Muscala in the starting lineup in his place.
The winner of the Southeast Division the least two seasons, the Hawks have lost nine of 10 games. – by J. Michael
VUCEVIC OFF THE BENCH NOW, OUT OF O-TOWN SOON?
Nikola Vucevic is out of the starting lineup in Orlando, which has one of the league’s most disjointed offenses.
In his first four games off the bench, Vucevic is averaging 13.8 points, 12 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 blocks.
Is this a permanent role for Vucevic and will this ultimately lead to one of the Magic’s bigs being put on the trading block?
Bismack Biyombo, Orlando’s biggest free-agent acquisition this summer, has taken the starting job at center. His arrival instantly made such a scenario with Vucevic on the table. – by J. Michael
BLAZERS AMONG TEAMS INTERESTED IN NOEL
Portland’s defense has been among the NBA’s worst most of this season, so the idea that they’re interested in adding a big man whose strength lies in his defense really isn’t all that surprising. That’s why the Blazers reportedly being interested in acquiring the 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel from Philadelphia makes sense. He had surgery on his left knee last month and has not played in a single game this season but is making progress. He was recently assigned to the Sixers’ D-League affiliate as part of his rehabilitation from the injury. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
WARRIORS TAKE BARKLEY CRITICISM IN STRIDE
TNT analyst Charles Barkley’s fixation on the Warriors and their style of play has lingered on for nearly a decade, through four coaches, with no sign of abating.
In his most recent salvo, Barkley said the Warriors were playing “little girly basketball,” which amused some but outraged many who couldn’t help but see it as a knock on females.
The Warriors, for their part, shrug off everything Barkley says and does, considering it more entertaining than informative. No one shrugs harder than coach Steve Kerr, a former TNT colleague, who carefully offered to educate Barkley.
“I still believe you have to be strong defensively to win,” Kerr said. “That’s an area where people who follow the game know we were No. 1 in the league in defense the year we won the championship (2015) and we were No. 4 or 5 (actually No. 3) last year, when we came within a minute or so of winning the championship.”
Your move, Chuck. – by Monte Poole
WIZARDS’ MAHINMI (KNEE) IS BACK … SORT OF
The issue of Ian Mahinmi’s right knee has complicated the big picture for the Wizards as they try to find answers for their second unit.
After playing one game, his debut in his first season with the franchise this past week, Mahinmi has been a question mark each day going into Monday’s game with the Brooklyn Nets. He missed the first 14 games of the season because of surgery to remove cartilage in his left knee.
His availability complicates any potential moves for the Wizards when teams become active in the trade market by mid-December. – by J. Michael
HILL CLIMBING LIST OF NBA’S MOST IMPROVED PLAYERS
The Utah Jazz are playing like a team poised for the playoffs after a four-year drought, and a big part of that optimism lies in the play of George Hill whose play thus far makes him a legit candidate for the league’s most improved player award. Typically this goes to a young player on the rise, not a 30-year-old veteran like Hill. But the numbers don’t lie. A career 11.5 points per game scorer, Hill is averaging 20.0 points per game this season. Figuring out what the change has been is simple: he’s making more shots. A 45.2 percent career shooter, Hill is making a career-high 52.4 percent of his shots which includes career highs in three-pointers taken (5.2 per game) and three-point percentage (.456). He continues to play like this and gets Utah into the postseason, look for Hill to emerge as one of the big winners next summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
RAPTORS (STEAM) ROLLING OVER FOES
The Raptors head into the week having won six straight, which is a nice little win streak. But what makes their recent run of success so impressive is the dominant nature by which they are beating teams.
During their streak, opponents have come up short by an astounding 23 points per game. That includes a 128-84 win over Atlanta, with the 44-point margin being the biggest win in franchise history.
“Like I always say, it's cliché, but it's a make or miss league," Toronto head coach Dwane Casey said after the record-setting victory.
And right now, they are making everyone on the schedule look inept. However, the one knock against them during their recent run has been the teams they have faced are not exactly among the elite of the NBA. That will change on Monday when they take on the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. – by A. Sherrod Blakely
RIVERS’ EJECTION A GOOD THING FOR THE CLIPPERS?
The Clippers went from fabulous to desperate to whole again in a matter of days, and maybe they got a spark from head coach Doc Rivers who was ejected after throwing a full tantrum in the first of two overtimes in a loss at Brooklyn.
Rivers was having a conversation with official Lauren Holtkamp when lead official Ken Mauer assessed a technical foul and then, another technical, which is automatic ejection.
“I don’t think an official that has nothing to do with the play, should be giving someone a tech,” Rivers said.
That was the third straight loss for LA, which immediately rebounded with wins at Cleveland and at New Orleans. – by Monte Poole
LEBRON: “HONEYMOON OVER” FOR CAVS
It appears now the Cleveland Cavaliers have some self-inflicted adversity after an early cruise through the start of the season, prompting LeBron James to go into full dad-mode after a 111-105 loss at the hands of the Chicago Bulls.
It’s the third straight loss for the champs and despite James’ Magic-like numbers, the Cavs have slipped into a little malaise right before the holiday season.
"We've got to get out of the honeymoon stage," James said Friday night. “"That's y'all's headline for tomorrow. I know y'all going to use it."
The night began with a spectacle, as James showed up to the United Center in Chicago wearing a Chicago Cubs jersey after losing a bet to Bulls guard Dwyane Wade from last month.
Walking the green mile in the bowels of the United Center would’ve been the headline if not for the Cavs’ inability to handle a charged-up Bulls team that went shot-for-shot with the Cavs—leading to LeBron’s postgame comments.
"You've got to play the game the right way," James continued. "You've got to battle every night like we ain't won nothing. Last year is last year, and after ring night, it's over with. Now it's a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night, and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over.” – by Vincent Goodwill
It looks like the
Donatas Motiejunas situation will be reaching a resolution. The Nets signed the restricted free agent to a four-year offer sheet, according to multiple reports.
The Rockets have until 11:59 p.m. on Monday (72 hours) to match the Nets’offer. They could consider doing so given the structure of the offer. ESPN.com reported it is only fully guaranteed for $5 million and would increase to $17.5 million if he earns his 2017-18 season option by a March 1 deadline.
Motiejunas has been hampered by back problems, which included surgery for a ruptured disk in 2015. According to The Vertical, the offer sheet includes protections against such issues.
Last season Motiejunas appeared in 37 games, averaging 6.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 14.8 minutes. – by Jessica Camerato
LAKERS WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE?
Though the Lakers so far have exceeded all reasonable expectations, they hit a wall last week in taking a 113-80 loss to Toronto that left power forward Julius Randle criticizing himself and his teammates.
“We played too soft,” Randle said.
They also played horribly, as that game is, according to the statistical folks at Elias, only the second time since the 1970-71 season that the Lakers shot below 35 percent for the field, below 60 percent from the line and committed at least 15 turnovers. – by Monte Poole.
COUSINS: I’M A KING, I’M GOOD
The Kings’ six-game road trip was reduced to five after a bizarre condensation issue in Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon. The NBA would like to squeeze the makeup game into Sacramento’s seven-game road trip in late January, but Sacramento wants no part of an eight-game swing with three sets of back-to-backs.
DeMarcus Cousins was grilled about his future during Sacramento's stop in Washington and then againFriday in Boston, but he has yet to break. “I’m a King, I’m good,” Cousins told reporters in Boston.
“Most of the rumors come from people that want me on their team,” Cousins added. “So, I’m not really bothered by that.”
Sacramento continues to struggle early in games, falling behind big in the first quarter and then fighting the rest of the night to recover. More often than not, it hasn’t worked, which is why the Kings sit at 7-12 on the season. – by James Ham
BULLS, BENCH SEARCHING FOR A SPARK
Speaking of a team in desperate need of something, anything, presenting the Chicago Bulls. Not only do they follow up an inspiring win over the Cavaliers with a 25-point loss to a three-win Dallas team, but there’s an SOS being sent out to their bench.
Perhaps Doug McDermott can be the one to bring this group off life support. McDermott has missed the last nine games with a concussion and only recently did he pass the next step of the concussion protocol to be cleared for contact practices, as he could be back to action later in the week.
With Nikola Mirotic shooting 28 percent from three and Isaiah Canaan at 30 percent, the Bulls have gotten off to a decent start without being a good 3-point shooting team—but it can’t last too long.
Presumably if McDermott doesn’t suffer a third concussion this season, that one quality he provides will be consistent enough to keep the Bulls’ stars from losing their minds with the inconsistency of their teammates. – by Vincent Goodwill
SUNS RUN HOT AND COLD … MOSTLY COLD ACTUALLY
When the Suns are hitting their perimeter shots, they’re tough to beat. Unfortunately for coach Earl Watson, the hot nights are few and far between and the Suns defense is ranked 28th in the league.
Brandon Knight is showing signs of life after a slow start. Still adjusting to his role off the bench, the 25-year-old point guard scored 14 points of his 23 points in a five minute first quarter burst in Wednesday night’s win over the Atlanta Hawks.
After a breakout start to the season, T.J. Warren continues to miss games with a head injury. – by James Ham
YOU DA REAL MVP, RUSS
Russell Westbrook just landed the Western Conference Player of the Month honors for November and he already has his hand out waiting for the NBA MVP trophy.
OKC’s Mr. Everything has posted four straight triple-doubles, giving him 46 for his career. He’s averaging a triple-double on the season and has the Thunder riding a four-game win streak.
Westbrook and Co. welcomed back former head coach Scott Brooks Wednesday night and then sent him and his Wizards team home with a gut-wrenching overtime loss. – by James Ham
PISTONS AVOID SINKING IN JACKSON’S ABSENCE
Speaking of a return, the Pistons didn’t let their boat capsize without point guard Reggie Jackson being in action, and he’s slated to return Sunday, albeit on a minute restriction while he continues recovery from a knee injury that halted the start to his season.
The Pistons are now winners of three in a row after starting 8-10, and Jackson’s 19 points and six assists will be welcomed whenever he gets back to form, which could take a couple weeks.
“I woke up feeling pretty good so I was ready to get out here and compete with my teammates,” Jackson told reporters. “It was just getting confidence and continuing to sit down and make sure I felt comfortable where I was…the time is now.”
While Ish Smith has done a more than admirable job filling the spot, one wonders if Jackson’s return will spark Andre Drummond to being more productive offensively. Drummond’s scoring and minutes are down from last year, and if Jackson can settle things as opposed to Drummond trying to force his own action, it’ll make Detroit the dangerous outfit many expected them to be going into the season. – by Vincent Goodwill
LEONARD KEEPS GETTING BETTER AND BETTER AND …
The Spurs have strung together 11 wins in their last 12 games and are once against considered a Western Conference power.
Kawhi Leonard continues to develop into the game’s best two-way player. He’s adding new elements to his game all the time. His 21-footer in the final 10 seconds against the Wizards on Friday night was clutch and sealed the win.
San Antonio allocated Davis Bertans and Dejounte Murray to the Austin Spurs of the D-League for more seasoning on Saturday. Bertans has seen plenty of action for Gregg Popovich, including a start in his first 16 games with the club. His 45.5 percent shooting from long range has been a nice surprise.
Murray has a ton of potential, but he’s played just 46 total minutes for Pop. Taken with the 29th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the 20-year-old Murray needs all the playing time he can get with the Spurs minor league affiliate. – by James Ham
BOSTON -- The first quarter of the NBA season is about over for the Boston Celtics, a team that like so many in the league is far from a finished product.
When you look at where this team is versus where they could be if not for a slew of unfortunate injuries to key players, there’s a sense within the organization that they have weathered the early season storm and are in good shape going forward.
And while there’s plenty of fodder that would help explain away some of the team’s early season issues, the bottom line is the Celtics have been an inconsistent bunch at times regardless of who has been healthy enough to play.
Still, they Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season, third in the Eastern Conference and by all accounts are nowhere close to being as good as they should be this season. Which is why the evaluation of this team has to be about their sum parts as well as their individual success.
And with this group returning so many key performers from a year ago along with adding Al Horford to the mix, expectations were realistically high.
So naturally, how close they have come to achieving those expectations is a factor in both their collective and individual grades as well.
Here’s a grade breakdown for the Celtics’ guards, wings and bigs at the quarter-way mark of the season.
GUARDS’ OVERALL GRADE: B
ISAIAH THOMAS: Showing last season’s all-star appearance was no fluke, Thomas has made a strong case to be considered among the top guards in the NBA. His 26.3 points per game ranks ninth in the league, and he’s at his best in the fourth quarter (his 7.9 points which trails only Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard) – a trait that often separates good players from great ones. He’s the star of this team, without question. GRADE: A-
AVERY BRADLEY: The season began with Avery Bradley putting together a legit campaign to be a first time all-star. He’s still playing at a relatively high level, but he’s no longer deeply entrenched in that conversation in part because the Celtics haven’t won more games and his numbers have tailed off. After averaging 18.5 points and 8.6 rebounds through the first 10 games, Bradley’s numbers since then have been 16.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. But to Bradley’s credit, this was yet another season in which he came back and showed tremendous growth in a specific facet of his game. That would be rebounding. The 6-foot-2 guard is currently the Celtics’ leader with 7.9 rebounds per game. GRADE: B
MARCUS SMART: He is the Celtics’ best defender not named Avery Bradley, and before his career is over he will be named to one of the NBA’s all-Defensive teams. His shot-making remains sporadic, although he has shown a knack for hitting big 3s late in games. Shooting struggles aside, his defense and much-improved playmaking have been good for the Celtics this season. GRADE: B-
TERRY ROZIER: He was so impactful this summer and in training camp, it created expectations that he could easily slide in and fill the void left by Evan Turner who signed a four-year, $70 million deal with Portland during the offseason. Rozier has a ridiculously high assists-to-turnover ratio, but he doesn’t make as many impactful plays as the Celtics would like. The second-year guard hasn’t been bad out there, but the difference-making talent he showed earlier has not materialized yet. GRADE: B-
DEMETRIUS JACKSON: My initial thought was the sample size is too small to give Jackson a grade. But looking back at the three games he has played in for the Celtics as well as those stints in the D-League, Jackson has a bright future in this league. To his credit, he has made the most of his opportunities to play whether it’s with the Celtics or the Maine Red Claws. Still, he hasn’t done enough to knock any of the team’s more seasoned guards out of the rotation … yet. GRADE: B-
WINGS’ OVERALL GRADE: B-
JAE CROWDER: This is one of the tougher players to grade (see Al Horford). I absolutely love the fact that Crowder is such a jack-of-all-trades kind of player who is all about helping teams win. But the fact that he has missed eight games has to be factored into his grade thus far. Aside from missing games with injuries, there’s a lot to love about Jae Crowder and his role on this team: B+
JONAS JEREBKO: Aside from Isaiah Thomas, Jerebko is probably the most improved player who was on the roster a year ago. He doesn’t take many shots, but when he does he makes them at a ridiculously high rate. And his overall effort defensively and on the boards has solidified a spot in Brad Stevens’ regular rotation. GRADE: B+
JAYLEN BROWN: There are always off-the-charts expectations when you’re a high draft pick, and Brown is no exception. But he joined a playoff-ready team which means getting on the floor as a rookie has not been easy. Brown has shown tremendous athleticism and a willingness to learn, but like most rookies he hasn’t been as consistent as he needs to be and does more thinking than just playing when he’s on the floor. But he has shown progress on that front of late. GRADE: B-
GERALD GREEN: Having signed a veteran’s minimum contract at a time when the salary cap exploded should have been the first sign that Green wasn’t going to make much of an impact. He has a very simple job with this team and that’s to be an adequate defender and a shot-maker. Unfortunately, he has struggled on both fronts in his second tour of duty with the Celtics to the point where he has not played in eight of Boston’s last 11 games. GRADE: C-
JAMES YOUNG: He barely beat out R.J. Hunter for the final roster spot and frankly, hasn’t done much since. From the time he arrived in Boston until now, there’s no question he’s a better player. But the former first round pick still hasn’t done enough to secure a spot in the rotation. And barring a couple injuries, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. GRADE: C-
BIGS’ OVERALL GRADE: C+
AL HORFORD: There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding Boston signing Al Horford in the offseason. And to the surprise of many, the Celtics have been exceptional when he has played. But that’s the problem. He has missed half of the still-young season primarily due to a concussion. There’s an old saying that one’s availability can be their best ability. And with Horford missing so many games, those absences have to be factored into his grade thus far this season. GRADE: B+
AMIR JOHNSON: If there’s one player whose impact can’t be measured in statistics alone, it’s Johnson. His job is to defend at a high level, score once in a while, and grab a few rebounds when he’s not sealing off his man so that Avery Bradley and the rest of the team’s guards can come in and scoop them up. There’s no glory in what he’s tasked with doing other than the knowledge that it’s important to winning. And to some degree his impact on games is limited due to him playing limited minutes because of Boston’s desire to spread the floor with long-range shooters – something that’s definitely not a strength of Johnson’s game. GRADE: B-
KELLY OLYNYK: Olynyk missed the first six games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He has had some really impressive moments (19 points vs New York; 16 the following night at Indiana), but far too often he doesn’t make the most of what sets him apart from most players and that is being a 7-footer with legit 3-point shooting range. He has been solid, but he’s not having the kind of breakout year the Celtics could really benefit from this season. GRADE: B-
TYLER ZELLER: There were some who were surprised the Celtics signed Zeller to a 2-year, $16 million contract (team option on second year), but that’s actually below the going rate these days for a backup center. Zeller today isn’t all that different than he was when the Celtics acquired him via trade a couple years ago. And that’s kind of the problem. He’s looking to shoot the ball more facing up and from the perimeter, but that’s very much a work in progress. To his credit, he stays ready and when he does get a chance to play he usually gives good effort. But effort can only take you so far. GRADE: C
JORDAN MICKEY: Viewed by many (self-included) as a draft-night steal for the Celtics, Mickey’s growth has been OK but not great. He has great instincts defensively as a shot-blocker and his offensive game is definitely trending upwards. But he doesn’t do enough of the little things to get on the floor with consistency just yet, which is why his most recent D-League stint probably won’t be his last this season. But again, he still has legitimate upside and in time should get more opportunities to help. GRADE: C