Bynum key to the Howard deal for Celtics

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Bynum key to the Howard deal for Celtics

With a player as talented as Dwight Howard on the move, you had to know the repercussions would be felt throughout the entire NBA landscape - Celtics Nation included.

And while Howard's move out West certainly puts the Los Angeles Lakers back in the thick of the title chase (acquiring two-time league MVP Steve Nash to run the point doesn't hurt, either), Boston can't worry about what's going down in La-La land.

They've got bigger problems closer to home.

With the major offseason additions and subtractions by most teams just about complete, the rosters you see now are pretty much what you'll see when games matter.

That said, Boston had every reason to feel that defending NBA champion Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers were their biggest Eastern Conference obstacles in getting back to the pinnacle of the sport - the NBA Finals - and making one more run at Banner 18.

You have to add Philadelphia to the list now.

One of the residual effects of the proposed Howard trade is that it will send Andrew Bynum to the Sixers, and ship out Andre Iguodala to Denver.

Such a move bodes well for Philadelphia on two fronts.

It gives them a much-coveted center in Bynum, and it alleviates the logjam of wing players that developed on the Sixers roster this past season.

Now all of a sudden, Philadelphia has the versatility to hurt teams in both a half-court set with Bynum in the post or pick-and-pop action with Spencer Hawes, in addition to getting out to run in transition the way they did this past season with the likes of Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner on the wings.

Boston's run atop the Atlantic Division - five straight years and counting - may be legitimately threatened for a change.

"I still see Boston as the team to beat in the Atlantic," said one NBA executive on Friday. "Philadelphia is better now, obviously. But Miami getting Ray Allen out of Boston gives them something they didn't really have last year, and that's quality, veteran depth. They're still the team to beat. Boston and Indiana have great depth as well. And everybody seems to be writing off Chicago. Big mistake. They'll be right there, too. Like I said, Philly's going to be better. But there's a lot of teams they have to get past, and I'm not convinced they'll do it."

Indeed, the depth of the Celtics, maybe more than anything else, is why they'll likely begin the season picked to win the Atlantic Division for a sixth straight season. And as Celtics Nation bemoaned the fact that Boston was so thin in the frontcourt last season, the C's have done what teams are supposed to do when you can't acquire a dominant big man like Howard or Bynum in their prime - add depth.

Kevin Garnett will begin the season as Boston's starting center. Behind him will be veteran Chris Wilcox. In addition, Boston drafted power forward Jared Sullinger (The C's have already said he will play some center) and center Fab Melo. Boston also signed another defensive-minded big man, veteran Jason Collins for added insurance.

While there's little dispute that Bynum is at worst the second-best center in the NBA behind Howard, his success has come in part by playing with all-star caliber talent in the frontcourt (Pau Gasol) and on the perimeter (Kobe Bryant).

He won't have that kind of talent around him in Philadelphia, so there are some concerns as to how effective will he be now that he has to shoulder a greater amount of the load in order for his team to be successful.

So, with most of the talk in the coming days centering around Howard being the latest great big man acquired by the Lakers (Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, to name a few), the C's could care less.

They have their own big-man issues to worry about.

Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

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Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

NEW ORLEANS - Chris Webber and Rollie Massimino are one step from the Hall of Fame.

The career 20-point-per-game NBA scorer and the coach who led Villanova to a stunning upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game were among the 14 finalists unveiled Saturday for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Webber played 15 seasons with five franchises, plus was part of Michigan's famed "Fab Five" group that headlined college basketball in the early 1990s.

"I don't know what I'm most proud of," said Webber, who averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in his career and was a five-time NBA All-Star. "I'm proud to be in the room with all these great individuals."

Other first-time Hall of Fame finalists include longtime NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut women's star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self, and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

"I still can't believe I'm here," McGrady said. "This is not even a dream come true."

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include star point guard and Olympic gold medalist Tim Hardaway, winningest all-time boys high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach and four-time Division III national champion Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU women's national champion team Wayland Baptist University.

"We are grateful to the 14 finalists in the Class of 2017 for the impact they have had on the game we cherish," Basketball Hall of Fame Chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "To be named a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame is an incredible accomplishment."

Inductees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. Enshrinement ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are scheduled for Sept. 7-9.

Massimino, now an 82-year-old cancer survivor who is still coaching at NAIA school Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida, is a finalist for the first time. His Hall of Fame hopes have been backed by plenty of current and former coaches in recent months - including current Villanova coach Jay Wright, who presented Massimino with a championship ring from the Wildcats' 2016 NCAA title.

"Some days, we do take him for granted," Keiser guard Andrija Sarenac said. "But then you see him on TV so much, you see all these videos made about him, the movies about Villanova and everything, and it just hits you. You realize that he's a legend. I mean, your coach is a walking legend. With the energy and everything he comes in with, it's inspiring."

Finalists need 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee to be enshrined. Among this year's candidates who did not make the finalist group: Muggsy Bogues, Ben Wallace, Kevin Johnson, Maurice Cheeks, Mark Price, Lefty Driesell and Eddie Sutton.

Former New York Times sports writer Harvey Araton and former Turner Sports broadcaster Craig Sager will be recognized during Hall of Fame weekend as this year's Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients.

"A tremendous honor," said Sager's wife Stacy.

This year's lifetime achievement award recipients are former UConn coach Donald "Dee" Rowe and Michael Goldberg, who spent nearly four decades as executive director of the NBA Coaches Association. Goldberg died earlier this year.

"He bridged the gap between ownership and coaches," said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, who spoke about Goldberg on Saturday while wearing a bow tie - one of the signature wardrobe accessories that Goldberg donned for years. "He was just such a great guy."

Thomas on Skills Challenge loss: 'I guess it wasn’t the fourth quarter'

Thomas on Skills Challenge loss: 'I guess it wasn’t the fourth quarter'

NEW ORLEANS – Here’s hoping you got a chance to see Boston’s Isaiah Thomas compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday.

Because after yet another defeat, Thomas says he’s calling it quits on the event.

“That’s my last time doing it,” said Thomas who competed in his third Skills Challenge. “I can’t get a win. It’s fun, but it sucks losing. I hate losing no matter what it is.”

And the loss, which came in the semis to Utah’s Gordon Hayward, came about because of Thomas’ inability to knock down a 3-pointer.

“I couldn’t make a shot. I guess it wasn’t the fourth quarter,” quipped Thomas afterwards.

Although each player had their own set of challenges to wade through, Thomas admitted he went on the defensive when both players were trying to move on to the finals with one made 3-pointer.

“I knew he was shooting kind of fast,” Thomas said. “A couple of those shots, I was just trying to hit his ball; I was trying to make sure he didn’t make it.”

Regardless of how the Skills Challenge ended – New York’s Kristaps Porzingis was the winner - it doesn’t take away from what has been a strong start to the season for both Thomas and the Celtics.

But he understands the challenge that awaits him and the Celtics going forward as they try to continue rolling along as one of the top teams in the NBA despite having a roster that has been riddled with injuries this season.

“We’re like a next man … everybody has a next man up mentality,” Thomas said. “We don’t use excuses on why we lose games or why players are out, stuff like that. We don’t think about it when players are out.  When we know somebody’s out, it’s like, ‘OK, next man up. We have to take advantage.’”