Draft to the Future

805174.jpg

Draft to the Future

Remember the trade deadline?

Yeah, you remember. This past March, the NBA trade deadline approached these parts amidst more hype and speculation than at any point in recent memory.

We knew that Danny Ainge was ready to make a move. We knew that Danny Ainge was trying to make a move. And because Danny Ainge is Danny Ainge we knew that he was willing to move anyone. So as the deadline arrived, we took a deep breath, stocked up on canned goods, told friends and family that we loved them and braced ourselves for the end of the world . . .

Then, we all looked like idiots. Like a crazy cult, huddled around waiting for an asteroid that missed Earth by five million miles.

The deadline hit, and the Celtics disappeared. They backed off their reportedly relentless pursuit of a trade and settled on standing pat. And while the reviews were mixed, the results taught us an important lesson about Boston's vice president of basketball operations.

Sure, hell exhaust every option to make a deal no one's off limits! but hell never make a trade just for the sake of making it. At the end of the day, he understands value, he's confident in his own perception of value, and has no problem walking away if that value isnt reciprocated.

Would Danny Ainge trade his own mother? Yup! But only if he gets a better mother in return.

And that brings us to last night: The NBA Draft

The most hyped and rumor-ridden draft in recent Celtics memory. And while no one was expecting a deal on the level of what could have come down at the deadline, we were expecting something.

There was alleged interest in Josh Smith and OJ Mayo. Familiar tweets about how the Celtics were aggressively trying to move up, perhaps in polarizing pursuit of Austin Rivers.

Thats Danny, we thought. Up to his old tricks.

And he was. Theres no question that Ainge spent most of yesterday, and the better part of the last few weeks, in a frantic attempt to move up and improve the Celtics situation. I mean, what else would he be doing? Thats his job. But again, much like with the trade deadline, nothing clicked. The Celtics stood pat. Leaving them with the 21st and 22nd picks and the rest of us with an even greater excess of canned goods.

In retrospect, thats all easy to understand. But in real time, the moments leading up to the picks were pretty hectic.

It all started when New Orleans took Rivers off the board at No. 10. Not a surprise, but a necessary development in helping all of us officially eliminate the possibility and make a graceful landing back on Earth.

It escalated when the Rockets nabbed Royce White at 16. Man, that hurt. Regardless of all the indecision that awaited on draft night, I was pretty confident that the C's would find a way to emerge with White wearing Green. (Then again, I'm the same guy who said they wouldn't draft Fab Melo). I'd already fitted White for a jersey. I'd already nickname him "Royce da 6'8." I'd already carved out a spot on my mantle for his multiple Sixth Man of the Year Awards (not sure why he'd be giving them to me, but that was the plan).

Just like that, he was gone.

At 17, Dallas Mavericks selected Tyler Zeller (of the Zeller brothers), but not before Ric Bucher broke onto the scene with an important announcement: Dallas has traded Tyler Zeller to . . . He paused just long enough for me to scream at the television: "Damn it, Bucher! Spit it out!" . . . the Cleveland Cavaliers. OK, so no Zeller. Now who's left: Nicholson? Sullinger? Melo? Terrence Jones?

Yeahhhh, Terrence Jones: Intense, athletic, solid rebounder, great hands. Cool name.

I typed "Terrence Jones" into YouTube just time for . . .

David Stern: "With the 18th pick in the (BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!) 2012 NBA Draft, the Houston Rockets select . . . Terrence Jones."

Gah! Morey! He's officially that shrewd dude in your fantasy league who you hate drafting anywhere near. Who you just know is going to steal your pick and break your heart at least once every couple rounds.

Last night, Morey broke Boston's heart twice. In one round.

At 19, Orlando and their new GM Rob Hennigan (a protege of OKC's Sam Presti) nabbed Andrew Nicholson from St. Bonaventure another guy who Boston had rated high.

I don't know about you, but I feel like the NBA was a much better place for the Celtics when the rest of the teams were run by idiots. But now between guys like Morey, Presti and their forthcoming spawn, the league is getting smarter. It's a pretty exciting development, but last night was an enormous pain in the ass.

OK, pick No. 20 and at this point it was all about Jared Sullinger. The one guy who you knew the Celtics would take if he was still around. But there was one pick to go. Time for a little more heartbreak?

David Stern: "With the 20th (BOOOOOO!) pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets select"

Some French guy!

I'm sure Mickael Pietrus was crushed, but the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief. The Celtics got a Sullinger, and even though he wasn't the best-case scenario when the night began, all things considered, he was the right pick.

Sure, he's not a great defender. He's not explosive or all-that-athletic. He may not have many SportsCenter Top 10's in his future. But he can play basketball. He's NBA ready, and even if back problems derail his career five years from now, if he can give the Celtics two or three years of consistent and immediate impact so that they can squeeze every ounce out of this KGPierce era it will be enough.

I heard Donny Marshall lamenting the Sullinger pick on CSN's post draft show because Sully (are we calling him that yet?) doesn't run the floor or play above the rim. But I can live with that. So he can't run with Rondo? That's fine. Between Bradley and likely Jeff Green, Rondo will have plenty of guys to run with. And anyway, how much do we think that Sullinger will even play next year? Maybe 15 minutes a game? For that, I'll forfeit a little athleticism for a guy with a boat load of talent and understanding of the game.

But what about a boat load of talent and little understanding of the game?

That's where the Celtics went at No. 22: Fab Melo.

I'm on record saying that I wanted Perry Jones there not to mention, I tweeted out a few weeks back that the Celtics were unimpressed after working Melo out but all that being said, I understand where they're coming from with Fab. Even if they weren't entirely impressed with the workout, the raw talent is still there, and at some point the risk is worth it. He's an athletic seven-footer, and in today's NBA, those guys are few and far between. If you've talked to the kid, have faith in what you heard and the people you'll put around him, then why not take a chance? The Celtics did, and I'm looking forward to watching him develop.

One thing though: It's clear that the C's are NOT messing around with Melo. That despite any and all perceived problems, they won't take it easy on him. "I dont know what we project him as, but we have to treat him the Celtics way, and show him how to work," Doc Rivers said after the draft. Before adding, "I have a feeling Melo's first practice could be rough."

So, that's how it's going to be. They're going to put Melo through the ringer, really test the limits of what this kid can handle. And in the process, they'll create two very distinct possibilities: This will either end really well, or really badly. There's no in between.

We'll just wait and see.

Yes, wait and see. That's the theme of all things Celtics for the next few days, while we await word from Kevin Garnett.

At this point, I think we all believe that he's coming back, but our assumptions mean nothing. It's time for answer. For the Celtics to finally know what they have, so they can get their ducks in a row for what will be an undoubtedly interesting off-season.

No doubt we'll find ourselves right back in the midst of non-stop rumors. Talk of Danny Ainge frantically trying to do this, or offering his entire team for that. You can already see the tweets: "Sources close to the situation say that the Celtics are burning up the phone looking to make a splash in free agency."

If you can't, then it's time to wake up, because while Draft Week was chock full of speculation, in reality the speculation season has only just started, and knowing Danny Ainge, you know the Celtics will be right there.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses

thunder_kevin_durant_053016.jpg

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

warriors_thunder_durant_curry_053016.jpg

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

usatsi_7330000.jpg

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