The nature of the beast

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The nature of the beast

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

SALT LAKE CITY Its been a few days now since Kendrick Perkins was sent packing, and with time, the reality that hes no longer a part of this Celtics team has started to set in.

By next week, it will feel like five months since the deal went down. Before we know it, the sight of Perk in a Thunder jersey will look and feel as commonplace as Big Baby taking a charge or a KG cursing out an opponent.

Its like anything in life. A death in the family, a bad breakup, forgetting your favorite shirt in a Denver hotel room only to later be told that the maid found nothing (sorry, that came from a dark place). Basically, you always remember the good times, but you have to move on. You dont really have a choice.

But as we begin to separate ourselves from the drama that surrounded Perkins exit, theres one thing thats stuck with me. Its something Paul Pierce said in the aftermath of the Celtics Thursday nightpost-deadline loss to Denver.

At this point, it was already well-known that the veterans were unhappy with Perks departure, and Pierce was the first of the Celtics starters to address the issue. Now, a lot of the times (okay, almost ALL the time) these postgame interviews are about as canned as an Oscar acceptance speech. You can usually write out the answers before the guy even responds. But that night was different. That night, Pierce spoke more candidly than he had at any point since Game Seven of last years Finals. Or maybe even the night of the ring ceremony in 2008, when he broke into tears on the parquet.

Pierce went into how much Perkins had meant to the team, and himself. How sad he was to see him go, and how he just hoped Danny and Doc knew what they were doing. Then, in making the required remark about how "basketballs a business," Pierce made an interesting comparison:

Its a tough situation, its a tough business, but you saw how the business works all in one week, Pierce said. Everybody complains and talks about how Carmelo Anthony dictated what was going on in his situation. Where, in another situation, a guy cant control what goes on. So its both sides to the business. You cant be mad at either one of them. Just understand that thats the nature of the beast.

He continued . . .

Everybody thought LeBron James was cold for leaving Cleveland the way he did. This is an example of how it happens on the management end. You cant get mad at the players because it could happen to them unexpectedly, just like a player can go anywhere he wants. Thats just what it is.

Now, obviously the LeBron comparison isnt quite as powerful because it wasnt as much his decision as it was The Decision that rubbed everyone the wrong way. Still, Pierce makes a great point.

We really cant have it both ways. We cant expect the players to be completely selfless when it comes to trades, contracts and extensions, because theyve all seen what can happen. Say what you want about Carmelo, but I highly doubt he ever really wanted to hurt the city and fans of Denver. But when it came time for the extension, he had to be selfish. He had to go to the place that was best for him, best for his career. If he had to upset some people along the way, well, that's the way it goes. You cant please everybody.

At the end of the day, he has to look out for himself and his family, because no one else will. So he wanted go to New York? Fine. Wouldnt you?

In the same light, you know Danny Ainge loved Kendrick Perkins. You know Ainge never wanted to treat Perk the way he did, to leave him sitting in a Denver hotel room in tears as his former teammates took on the Nuggets.

But, again, at the end of the day, Danny Ainge has to do whats best for himself. His job is to win. That's the way he supports his family, and the only way he can keep his job is to build a sustainable winning basketball team. And as much as he loved Perk, it wouldnt have been fair to ask Ainge to not make what he thought was the best move for the team, just because it was going to hurt a players feelings especially if that player was just going to leave the team in three months anyway.

As Pierce said, You cant be mad at either one of them. Just understand that thats the nature of the beast.

Another reason fans cant get mad at either side? Because were just as guilty.

For instance, consider this:

Lets pretend its the summer of 2012. Blake Griffins fresh off averaging 3020 for the season. The 'Wolves are still waiting for Ricky Rubio. The Mayans are all embarrassed because the world still exists. And free agent Dwight Howard is about to end the speculation over his next NBA destination.

So Dwight hops on TV, sits down across from Jim Gray and announces to a stunned nation:

Im taking my talents to Lake Erie!

Not that this would happen, but just for fun, what if it did? What would be the reaction in Cleveland if Dwight Howard up and left Orlando for the Cavs? You know what it would be: Pandemonium. It would be one of the greatest days in franchise history. There would be rallies, non-stop parties. Dan Gilbert would run around screaming, I told you, Cleveland! Were back! Mwahahahaha! It would be Comic Sans Central.

Meanwhile, Magic fans are catatonic. But the people of Cleveland couldnt care less. Same way the people of Miami didnt care about them. The same way the people of Boston didnt care about anyone in Minnesota after KG. Same way New Yorkers cant be bothered by the little kids in Denver who just lost their idol.

So thats one side of the business. The other side happens when theres a trade like the one with Perkins. When someone is blindsided, and forced to move across the country at the drop of a hat. Trades like that break up families, they change lives. And for those who were really bothered by the Perk deal, that was a rallying cry. What about his family? What about his little son? Thats ruthless. But I guarantee the fans in Oklahoma City havent considered that once. Theyre just excited to have a big body to take on the Lakers and Spurs.

Going back to that Carmelo deal, it absolutely crushed Chauncey Billups to have to move to New York. It crushed everyone in Denver for him to leave. From the outside, you can sympathize with that. But if you live in New York, do you really care? Whats more important: Breaking up the Billups family or Mr. Big Shot helping you beat the Heat?

Bringing it back to Boston, Ill be honest: I have absolutely no idea if Jeff Green or Nenad Krstic are married or have kids or anything about what their lives were like back in OKC. They could be in the same situation as Perk or Chauncey, but Ive been to busy wondering if either can play defense. The fact that their lives were flipped upside last week hasnt even crossed my mind.

In the end, were just as bad as the players we criticize. And I think thats fine. Like Paul said, its just the nature of the beast. Everyone's guilty.

Players are going to do what they think is best for their careers. Executives are going to do whats best for their career. Fans are going to root for whatever is best for their team. Sympathy only exists when its convenient.

It's unfortunate, but there's nothing we can do to change it. The beast is stubborn as hell. So we might as well just quit being so surprised or offended when it ultimately acts out.

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

Celtics Question of the Day: Is Brad Stevens' honeymoon over?

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Celtics Question of the Day: Is Brad Stevens' honeymoon over?

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From now until the opening of training camp, we'll be asking a question about the Celtics and the upcoming season. Today: Is the honeymoon over for coach Brad Stevens?
 
BOSTON – When the Celtics convinced Brad Stevens to leave behind an incredibly successful college coaching career at Butler (two national title runner-up finishes) to become their head coach in 2013, the Celtics were immediately credited with having added one of the brightest young basketball minds to the family.
 
Three years into the job and Stevens has shown tangible improvement with Boston having won more games from each season to the next.
 
But this 2016-2017 campaign will be unlike any that Stevens has had while at the helm in Boston.
 
While the expectations each year have been greater than their immediate predecessor, Boston now finds itself going into the season as one of the hunted in the East as opposed to being well entrenched among the hunters.
 
Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook released its win total odds last week for NBA teams., predicting the Celtics (51.5) will be one of five teams (Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers were the others) expected to win at least 50 games.
 
But as we all have seen, expectations and actual results don’t always mesh.
 
Stevens has enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from the franchise and fans throughout his first three seasons.
 
But if Boston fails to live up to the increased expectations, does that mean the honeymoon for Stevens is over?
 
While anything is possible when it comes to Celtics Nation, it will take more than one sub-par season for him to lose the support of the team’s fan base.
 
Here are three reasons why regardless of how the Celtics fare this season, "In Brad we trust" will remain in effect.
 
YOUNG NUCLEUS
 
Boston has a roster full of what league execs like to refer to as "Young Veterans."
 
A great example of this is 27-year-old Isaiah Thomas who is heading into his sixth NBA season.
 
Thomas, a first-time all-star last year, has seen enough of the league to not be confused with a youngster. That said, he’s still young and has enough upside to where you can’t classify him as a grizzled veteran, either.
 
Because that makes up the majority of this Celtics roster, it speaks volumes about how this group still has a tremendous amount of room to grow going forward.
 
And because of that potential and Stevens’ track record of getting the most out of his players, you won’t see him or the Celtics panic if this season doesn’t play out the way they envision it.
 
STRONG FOUNDATION
 
In Stevens’ first year coaching the Celtics, there was a definite talent gap between what Boston put on the floor and what they had to deal with on the opposing bench.
 
And yet there they were most nights, fighting and clawing their way towards a competitive game that no most nights ended with a loss.
 
The silver lining in that 25-win season was how this Celtics team played with a never-give-up mentality, a trait they saw first-hand from their coach Brad Stevens.
 
Regardless of whether they were up 25 points or trailing, Stevens maintained an even-keeled demeanor that quietly accomplished a number of things.
 
For starters, it provided a sense of confidence among the players that their head coach wasn’t going to get rattled by a rough night or a stretch of rough nights.
 
Regardless of the results, Stevens was going to continue working towards getting better.
 
That was his approach when they were struggling to win games, and it remained in place last season when they spent a good chunk of the year ranked among the top teams in the East.
 
So with that being established as part of the foundation under Stevens, that foundation combined with better talent collectively led to more wins.
 
EVEN-KEELED LEADERSHIP
 
Stevens and the Celtics are now at a crossroads in which the steady improvement we’ve seen now must take that all-important next step and become one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
 
Again, it is much easier said than done but as every Celtics player will tell you, is definitely doable.
 
While Cleveland remains the standard bearer in the East, it is very wide open afterwards with Boston, Toronto and Atlanta the most likely teams to contend for the No. 2 spot in the East.
 
The mood is always a positive, upbeat one on the eve of training camp.
 
But the Celtics have more reasons than usual to be optimistic about their upcoming season which kicks off with training camp this week.
 
They have better depth with the additions of rookie Jaylen Brown and veterans Gerald Green and four time all-star Al Horford. Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder all return with the mindset being to build off of what worked for them last season.
 
And then there’s Stevens who has quickly established himself as a bright, up-and-comer in the coaching world.
 
But at some point, all that promise and potential he has shown as a coach has to ultimately lead to big-time production.
 
And the pressure that comes with that tends to build when the honeymoon that all coaches enjoy, is officially over.
 
Stevens is getting close to that point, but he isn’t there yet.
 
Much of his success will still be based on players striving towards reaching their potential.
 
Because of that, he won’t catch too much heat if the team underachieves in what will be a season in which the expectations have never been higher.
 
But that’s OK.
 
Because regardless of how the stakes may be, Stevens will continue to be an even-keeled, level-headed leader that Celtics Nation won’t turn its back on anytime soon.

NBA Question of the Day: How will Ben Simmons do?

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NBA Question of the Day: How will Ben Simmons do?

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From now until NBA training camps open, we'll be asking questions about the league and its upcoming season. Today: How will No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons do with the Philadelphia 76ers?

BOSTON – If you spent any time watching Ben Simmons beyond the 10-15 second highlights late at night, you would have seen a player whose potential as an NBA star is kind of scary.
 
There’s having size as a playmaker, and then there’s the 6-foot-10 Ben Simmons, who is as close to being a Magic Johnson clone, from a playmaking standpoint, as we’ve seen since the original 30-plus years ago.
 
Still, the Sixers of today will never, ever be confused with the 1980 Lakers.
 
The supporting cast was in place to help facilitate Johnson’s transition from college stud to NBA superstar.
 
In the case of Simmons, his success will be heavily predicated on two specific circumstances being created by the Sixers in order to fully take advantage of his strengths as a player.
 
WHERE DOES HE PLAY?
 
As tempting as it might be to have a 6-10 point guard on the floor, the Sixers know they can’t do that.
 
And the reason is pretty simple.
 
The reason you don’t see 6-10 (or 6-9 or 6-8 for that matter) point guards is because in order to play the position they have to be able to defend it, too.
 
Can you imagine Simmons trying to guard Isaiah Thomas with regularity for a game?

And if you get into the habit of cross-matching up all game long, it just opens a Pandora’s box of potential defensive gaffes with players either trying too hard to compensate for one another, or not recognizing when to help.
 
Simmons’ court vision is too great to not at least position him to be something of a point-forward. The Milwaukee Bucks are trying to do that with Giannis Antetokounmpo which thus far, has produced mixed results.
 
Regardless, the Sixers have to get the ball in Simmons’ hands and position him to make plays for his teammates. For all of his strengths, playmaking is what makes him a special talent. To not play to that strength and help him develop that even more so, would be stupid. 
 
 
WHO DOES HE PLAY WITH?
 
Philadelphia will once again lose a lot of games this season and that can certainly wear on the psyche of a young player like Simmons. It becomes even tougher when he’s making the right plays, getting the ball to guys where they can be most effective and the results are missed shot after missed shot.
 
It is absolutely imperative that the Sixers surround him with nice mix of guys who can shoot and/or finish at the rim.
 
Because with Simmons’ size and court vision, players with those skills as strengths will get opportunities to do what they do best.
 
Last season, the Sixers were in the bottom-10 in 3-point shooting (33.9 percent, 24th in the NBA) and field goal percentage (43.1 percent, 29th).
 
But here’s one of the dilemmas Philadelphia is facing.
 
They want to play faster which they were able to do last season as their PACE (number of possessions per 48 minutes) of 100.23 was the sixth-best in the NBA.
 
But this roster isn’t built to run a lot AND be effective offensively.
 
Look at last season.
 
They ran as much as any team in the NBA, and yet the Sixers had a league-worst offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 96.6.
 
And all that running seemed to wear them down more than their foes.
 
Their defensive rating was 106.7 which ranked 25th in the league.
 
With Simmons likely to start at small forward, he’ll be joined by Nerlens Noel and either Jahlil Okafor or Joel Embiid in the frontcourt. Jerryd Bayless, T.J. McConnell and Sergio Rodriguez are fighting to be the starting point guard. 

There are a number of directions Philadelphia can go at shooting guard (Hollis Thompson, Nik Stauskas, Robert Covington, rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot), none of which are great choices frankly.
 
And while there’s no lineup that will fit perfectly with Simmons’ game, there are several that could make his rookie experience a horrible one not only in terms of wins and losses, but also in his overall growth and development as a player.
 
And let’s be clear about something.

If the Sixers are going to ever become relevant in the NBA other than being a punching bag for other teams and an easy punchline for late-night comedians, Simmons is going to have to be that game-changer.
 
Indeed, he is the best hope to be the unifying force for a Sixers franchise that has lots of quality pieces that, for now at least, don’t have a natural fit.