18 Questions on the Drive to 18: Part One


18 Questions on the Drive to 18: Part One

By Rich Levine

18 Questions on the Drive for 18.

18 Questions on the Drive for 18: Part Two

Nine today. Nine tomorrow. Let's get it started.

1. How Driven is Rondo?

And I don't mean this as: "Do we have to worry about Rondo's drive?"

I mean, how driven will Rondo be this season:

a) Really driven
b) Insanely driven, or
c) So driven that he's going to take the court every night looking to embarrass someone, not crack a smile for the entire year, average 15 points, 6 rebounds and 11 assists a game, lead the league in steals, and not stop until he's on the cover of NBA 2K12.

Because let's face it, the guy's has more than a few chips on his shoulder this season.

There's being cut from Team USA. There's the fact that he didn't play well in the Finals. There's the constant fight to prove his worth and maintain the confidence and respect of his Hall of Fame teammates. There's the fact that he was an All-Star and first team All-NBA defender last year, and he has to prove it wasn't a fluke. Plenty of guys in this league have made one All-Star team; the truly great ones a crew Rondo desperately wants to be a part of make it every year. There's his budding rivalry with Derrick Rose and the debate over who's the best point guard in the Eastern Conference. Theres the fact that he was 16 assists shy of averaging 10 a game last season a nice milestone for a star PG.

There's also his contract.

After the way the GMs spent their money this summer, Rondo's five-year55M contract is a steal for the Celtics. He basically got Rondo'd.

That's not to say the C's pulled a fast one; the offer was fair at the time. But in a world where Rudy Gay signs a five-year86 million deal, you're not getting Rondo for 55 million. In hindsight, the C's got an enormous bargain.

And don't think for a second Rondo isn't aware of that.

It will be on his mind. Its going to piss him off. And, in turn, he'll become an even bigger steal.

A pissed off, ultra-motivated Rondo is the best kind.

2. How much can the O'Neals give?

One overlooked aspect of last year's baffling regular season was that Rasheed Wallace and Kendrick Perkins combined to miss a total of only seven games.

Perk played in 78; Sheed played 79 (at least in body). And over the course of a long season, that pays dividends. That was 50 front-court minutes Doc could pencil in every night, and they went a long way towards giving the team more flexibility with KG and keeping them afloat when the injury bug turned rabid.

Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal are this year's Perk and Sheed, and as of right now, it's silly to expect that same type of consistency.

Shaq's the oldest player in the league. He's also the biggest guy in the league. He's third to only Jason Kidd and KG in minutes played for active players. Hes already missed time in the preseason with a hip injury that Doc Rivers says "will be an on-and-off issue" this year.

As far as Jermaine goes, last year marked the first time since 2004 that he played 70 games in a season, and he's already been hit with two injuries (wristhamstring) this season. At one point or another, he's going to miss time.

And that's the expectation. No one's coming into this season predicting either of the O'Neals to appear in 80 games. You'd be happy with 70. But still, it presents a problem that last year's team never had to deal with

It puts more pressure on Big Baby, and more importantly, KG, and creates an opportunity and a need for someone else to step up. Which is a perfect segue to . . .

3. Is Semih really ready?

I never thought we'd see Semih Erden in a Celtics uniform.

The "Late-Second Round Foreign Guy Nobodys Heard Of" never makes it to the league. He goes back home, has trouble escaping his contract and plays out the rest of his career overseas. Or at least it seems that way. Thats always my expectation.

But over the last few years, I continued to hear Erden's name thrown around. He hadn't been forgotten, and seemed to legitimately be in the Celtics plans. Now I'm thinking: "OK, so maybe hell come to the States eventually, but he's a stiff. He's Stojko Vrancovic Jr."

Then I watched him in the World Games and saw a young, active, more-coordinated-than-I-ever-could-have-imagined big man running down the floor and holding his own with the best players in the world. A month later, he was in Celtics camp and then on the court for preseason and doing a pretty good job.

Sure, he looked a little slow. And he definitely needs to get a little stronger. But he was never out of place. Watching Erden in preseason, you got the sense that he belonged in the NBA, and will probably be here for a while. I don't think hes a rotation player, yet. But if the Cs are in a bind say the O'Neals are hurting, and they don't want to burn out KG I think you can throw Semih Erden into the mix against most second string centers, and he won't kill you.

Sorry, I know that's not the most glowing endorsement, I'm just still getting used to the fact that Semih Erden actually made it this far.

Considering Danny's success with second rounders, you think I'd learn my lesson by now.

4. Can Shaq keep it up?

Everyone's been converted by Shaq.

And I get it.

Its impossible to look at what he's done in and around this community over the last three months and find anything to complain about. The Shaq Experience has been as out-of-this-world as advertised.

But while the preseason's been fun, when it comes to real thing the Real Shaq still worries me.

On one hand, he's still big, mobile(ish) and crafty enough to get his numbers. If he plays 25 minutes, hell give you at least 12 points. He can still rebound, too. He definitely helps the team there.

But he really can't play defense anymore. He can't deal with the pick-n-roll which will have a trickle-down effect on the entire "team defense" strategy. He can't keep pace up and down the court with guys like Joel Anthony, Dwight Howard, Al Horford and Joakim Noah, and even on the offensive end hes looked sloppy and often out of sync.

I know that there are people out there who couldnt disagree with me more on this., and that the anti-Shaq camp dwindles with every amusing quote andor Random Act of Shaqness. But I'm still not sold on things playing out well with Blackie Bulger: The Godfather of Sudbury.

If you Google Shaq October any of the other cities he's played in before Boston, youll find all sorts of interesting and heart-warming stories. I'm not taking that away from him; I respect all the excitement he brings to the game and all the happiness he brings people. I'm just saying that Boston's not unique. He starts happy everywhere. And with his skills now not nearly as primed as they used to be and firmly under the Boston microscope it will be harder to stay happy.

I hope I'm wrong. I just feel like we've seen this all before.

5. Wheres Babys head?

I brought this up in a column earlier in the year, but theres something Glen Davis said during last year's Finals thats always stuck with me.

When I say it like that, it sounds like I've been holding onto this memory for 15 years, when in reality it's only been about three months, but still, heres what Baby said in his media session before Game Seven:

"I'm not a threat out there. And I know I can be a threat. I know what kind of player I am. The Lakers know what kind of player I am, but they really haven't seen me. I haven't hit a lot of jumpers this series. I have hit a lot of jumpers this year. But I can hit an open jumper, and they're giving it to me. I'm gonna be real aggressive. I'm either gonna be aggressive and Doc pulls me out of the game because I'm being too aggressive or I'm gonna be aggressive and hit my shots. I'm not about to sit here, and think about what I should have did. I'm gonna go out do what I should do."

Coming into this season, you have to assume that Davis is looking to take a very similar approach. He wants to be a scorer. He wants to be a threat. And that means bringing back that 13-15 foot jumper we saw down the stretch in 2009.

Is that a good thing? For Big Baby, yes. Hes proven that he can put up numbers playing that way. I guarantee you he averages more point per game this season than he did last, which is great because hes about to be a free agent.

The only question is whether that's the Glen Davis that Glen Rivers is looking for.

At times, sure, the C's will need Baby to step up and take a more offensive role. And when they do, theres every reason to believe that hell succeed. But that "need" won't be there for every minute of every game that Davis plays. There will be situations for instance, if he's out there with Rondo, Allen, Pierce and KG when Glen "The Threat" Davis isn't what the team wants.

And he'll have to accept that. I'm not saying that he wont, but given some of the things he's said recently, we at least have to question it. And hope it all works out.

6. Can Delonte stay on the court?

Here's a little fun fact that didn't make it into this year's media guide:

Its literally impossible not root for Delonte West.

I'm not kidding. Go ahead and try not to root for him.

Anyway, he was a fan favorite since the second the Celtics drafted him. A guy who remained a fan favorite through his entire time away from the team, even though he played the last two seasons for Bostons fiercest rival. Despite all he's been through, and the mistakes hes made, hes still one of the most endearing guys in the entire league. Everyone except maybe LeBron loves him.

Part of that is a result of his bizarre charisma and legendary take on pretty much everything, but the sometimes forgotten aspect of Delonte West is that he plays harder than just about anyone in the league.

What else can you ask for from a guy?

If Delonte stays healthy, he's my favorite to lead the team in Tommy Points. He may go undefeated.

But of course, there was going to be a but we still have wonder "if" he can stay healthy. West's determination and insanely competitive nature are a gift and a curse. You never want to say that a guy plays too hard, but Delonte has a habit of maybe playing a little too recklessly, and that doesn't always end well. It sometimes ends with him sitting on the sidelines in street clothes.

Thats not to say he's soft. NBA injuries are like Wendy's "when it's real, you know when it's real." And his are always real. (I know that analogy makes no sense; it's very Delonte, though). But he's injury-prone nonetheless, and this year, hes dealing with a sore back before the season even starts.

In the end, the 10-game suspension might help out, help him get healthy and better prepare him for the long haul. And in the end, it will hopefully also go down as the only significant stretch of the season where the C's were forced to exist without Mr. West.

For all his off-court genius and hilarity, he still has a very essential role on this team. If he can stay healthy, Doc may have shot to finally make good on his promise to limit Ray Allen's minutes. He makes the C's a far better and more complete team, but not when he's wearing a suit on the end of the bench.

7. How can Aztec Gino become less annoying?

Glad you asked.

a. Learn another dance move. The finger-pointing, knee-jiggle move is OK, but it's stale. You've overused it. And seeing that you're clearly not going anywhere, why not spice things up? Maybe a twirl, or some kind of twist? Or how about this: Break out into the Roger Rabbit on Tuesday night, and I guarantee people will go nuts. Theyll love it. You'll be a hero. And then once you've really got them going, then its BAM! back to the finger-ponting!

It's gold.

b. Watch the game once in a while. Its hard to sell people on the fact that youre a super fan when most of the time youre facing the other direction or scoping out cameras.

c. When there's two minutes left in a game and the Celtics are down by 15 points, just stop dancing. Turn it off. If it's not good enough for the real Gino, it's not good enough for you. Take a break. Have a drink. Might be a great time to start brainstorming those new moves we talked about.

8. Is this a lost season for Avery Bradley?

In reality, "Develop Avery Bradley" probably falls somewhere between "Learn Turkish" and "Write love letter to Bill Kennedy" on Doc Rivers' list of 2010-11 priorities, but because Bradley was a first-round pick, were allowed to wonder: Will we see anything from him this season? Is it worth getting even the most remote of hopes up, or should we just block him out for now and check back next season.

Obviously, it's a long year. Anything can happen. But between the ankle injury that won't go away and the options Boston already has at point guard Rondo, Nate, Delonte it's fair to say we wont be seeing much of the 18th pick in this years draft.

And that's fine. He's 19 years old. He's got time.

9. How much will they miss Tom Thibodeau?

They'll miss him.

He's a defensive genius, a tireless worker and a great basketball mind. You don't lose a guy like that without being adversely affected in some way shape or form. But thanks to two people the C's will adjust just fine:

One is Kevin Garnett.

If Thibodeau was the mastermind of the Celtics defense, then KG's his Jedi Knight. For the last three years he's lived and breathed Thibodeau's system. And while he may not have come up with it, Garnett can probably coach better than anyone else in the world.

The other is Lawrence Frank.

Isn't it unbelievable how well he's fit in here? Of course, he's gotten a little extra exposure because of Doc's surgery, but I feel like we know more about Frank after three weeks than we did after three years with Thibodeau. Players, namely Paul Pierce, have been quick to applaud what Frank brings to this team. Doc Rivers can't say enough great things about him. Not to mention, his resume already speaks for himself.

Thibodeau was and is a very rigid guy. Frank is far more laid back, which couldn't be a better fit for the 15 guys Danny's put together this season. So, yeah, they'll miss Thibs, but I'm not sure there was a better replacement out there than Lawrence Frank.

Don't you get the feeling he might be here for a while? He looks like the next head coach.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses


Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses

OAKLAND, Calif. - As Stephen Curry dribbled out the clock in a raucous Oracle Arena, Kevin Durant could only stand and watch.

The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals, while Durant's future in Oklahoma City is much less certain.

Two nights after blowing an opportunity to close out the defending champion Warriors at home, the Thunder got sent home for the summer when they lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals 96-88 on Monday night.

Instead of becoming known as the team that knocked off the Warriors after their record-setting 73-win regular season, the Thunder will be remembered for a playoff collapse. They became just the 10th NBA team to lose a playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead and now head into an uncertain offseason with Durant eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

If he does leave the only franchise he has played for in his nine-year career, he will do it having failed to deliver the championship to Oklahoma City. The closest the Thunder have gotten in Durant's tenure was when they lost the NBA Finals in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012.

They then lost in the second round the next season, in the conference finals in 2014 to San Antonio before missing the playoffs entirely because of an injury to Durant last year.

But under first-year coach Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City earned the third seed in the top-heavy Western Conference this season and then upset 67-win San Antonio in the second round. The Thunder followed that by winning three of the first four games against the Warriors, with a pair of lopsided wins at home.

But after losing Game 5 on the road, the Thunder blew an opportunity to eliminate the Warriors at home on Saturday night. Oklahoma City led by seven points with less than five minutes remaining but made only one basket and committed six turnovers down the stretch of a 108-101 loss that could haunt the franchise for years.

The Thunder responded on the road in Game 7 by taking a 13-point lead in the second quarter. But once Curry and Klay Thompson started hitting Oklahoma City with a flurry of 3-pointers, the Thunder had no answer. The Splash Brothers combined for 13 3-pointers as Golden State outscored Oklahoma City by 30 points from behind the line.

Oklahoma City's stars were no match. Russell Westbrook missed 14 of 21 from the field and shot just 36.8 percent in the three potential clinchers. Durant finished with 27 points but took only 10 shots in the first three quarters.

Durant did score seven straight points to cut an 11-point deficit to four with 1:40 remaining. But Serge Ibaka then fouled Curry on a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down, allowing Golden State to build the lead back to seven.

Durant then missed two shots and could only stare blankly when Curry ended Oklahoma City's season with a 3-pointer with 26.8 seconds left. Now the Thunder can only hope it doesn't end Durant's tenure in Oklahoma City as well.

Curry's 36 lift Warriors past Thunder, back to Finals


Curry's 36 lift Warriors past Thunder, back to Finals

OAKLAND, Calif. -  Stephen Curry dribbled every which way and drained yet another 3-pointer in the waning moments, pulled his jersey up into his mouth and yelled to the rafters in triumph once more.

A special, record-setting season saved for the defending champs, with a memorable comeback added to the long list of accomplishments.

Now, the MVP and his teammates are playing for another NBA title - just as they planned all along.

Bring on LeBron James once more.

Curry and Klay Thompson carried the 73-win Warriors right back to the NBA Finals, as Golden State rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 on Monday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

Curry scored 36 points with seven 3-pointers to finish with an NBA-record 32 in a seven-game series, while Thompson added 21 points and six 3s, two days after his record 11 3-pointers led a Game 6 comeback that sent the series home to raucous Oracle Arena for one more.

The Warriors became the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit and win a postseason series. They return to the NBA Finals for a rematch with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the 2015 title in six games as Golden State captured its first championship in 40 years.

Game 1 is Thursday night in Oakland.

His signature mouthpiece dangling out and the game ball cradled in his left hand, Curry pumped his right arm as yellow confetti fell through Oracle Arena once the final buzzer sounded.

The Thunder trailing 90-86, Serge Ibaka fouled Curry on a 3-point try with 1:18 to go and the shot clock running out. The MVP made all three free throws, then a 3-pointer to seal it.

And Golden State's beloved "Strength In Numbers" catchphrase coined by Coach of the Year Steve Kerr was needed in every way on this night to do it.

Andre Iguodala joined the starting lineup for just the second time all season and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP hung tough against Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Russell Westbrook had 19 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds.

Oklahoma City won Game 1 108-102 at deafening, soldout Oracle Arena, so Golden State never envisioned this one coming easily.

It just took a quarter and a half for Thompson to warm up after he hit an NBA playoff-record 11 3-pointers for 41 points in a 108-101 win Saturday at Oklahoma City that sent the series to a decisive seventh game back home in the East Bay.

He missed his initial seven shots before hitting a 3 6:02 before halftime, energizing the Warriors in their first Game 7 at home in 40 years.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Thompson and Iguodala pulled the Warriors within 54-51 with 7:57 left in the third. They tied it on Curry's 3 at 7:21 and he followed with another 3 to give his team the lead.

Curry and Thompson each topped the previous record for 3s in a seven-game series, 28 by Dennis Scott and Ray Allen. Curry hit one over 7-foot Steven Adams in the third, and Thompson wound up with 30.

Iguodala replaced Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup for just his second start of the season and first of the playoffs, and what a move by Kerr and his staff, who did the same thing last year in crunch time. Iguodala made a pretty bounce pass through the paint to Draymond Green for Golden State's first basket of the game, and his smothering defense on Durant kept the Thunder star without a shot until his 3 at the 5:45 mark in the first. Durant had just nine points on five shots in the first half.

But Oklahoma City dictated the tempo with snappy passes and the hard, aggressive rebounding that had been such a part of its success this season. The Thunder couldn't maintain it.

The Warriors, who began 3 for 11 from long range and 9 of 32 overall while falling behind 35-22, lost their last Game 7 at home: 94-86 to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals on May 16, 1976.

2017 NBA title odds are out, Celtics rank second in the East


2017 NBA title odds are out, Celtics rank second in the East

Teams are still fighting for the 2016 Larry O’Brien Trophy, but the 2017 NBA title opening odds have already been released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. The Warriors unsurprisingly come in as heavy 3/2 favorites. The Cavaliers already punched their ticket for this year’s finals and are second, with 5/2 odds. Then there’s the Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers, as you’d expect rounding off the top five.

But then there’s the Celtics with 20/1 odds -- sixth-best in the NBA -- to raise Banner 18.

With eight draft picks and a chunk of cap space, the Celtics are in a position to capitalize on any opportunities that may come their way. There is a lot of uncertainty at this point in the NBA calendar, so Vegas must be hedging their bets on the Celtics making a leap towards contender status.

Celtics fans will also be happy to know the Nets have 500/1 odds to hoist the trophy next season, which ranks last of all teams. The Celtics have the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets in the 2017 draft, which could give them another swing at a superstar prospect.

For full draft profiles of players the Celtics could draft this year, click here.

Team Opening odds
Golden State Warriors 3/2
Cleveland Cavaliers 5/2
San Antonio Spurs 6/1
Oklahoma City Thunder 8/1
Los Angeles Clippers 16/1
Boston Celtics 20/1
Toronto Raptors 25/1
Miami Heat 25/1
Chicago Bulls 40/1
Atlanta Hawks 40/1
Minnesota Timberwolves 60/1
New Orleans Pelicans 60/1
Houston Rockets 60/1
Portland Trail Blazers 60/1
Memphis Grizzlies 80/1
Utah Jazz 80/1
Charlotte Hornets 80/1
Washington Wizards 100/1
Indiana Pacers 100/1
Dallas Mavericks 100/1
Milwaukee Bucks 100/1
Detroit Pistons 100/1
Los Angeles Lakers 100/1
New York Knicks 100/1
Sacramento Kings 100/1
Philadelphia 76ers 100/1
Orlando Magic 100/1
Denver Nuggets 100/1
Phoenix Suns 300/1
Brooklyn Nets 500/1