Quick Takes #3: The Celtics are off to a strong start this offseason, and here’s why

Happy summer everyone! I’ve been pretty busy with school over the last couple of months, which explains the lack of content recently. However, with summer here, there’s plenty to look forward to on this website starting today.

The NBA playoffs are beginning to wind down as the conference finals are set. Meanwhile most teams, including the Celtics, have moved onto next season. The Celtics have already been busy, as Danny Ainge stepped down making way for former head coach Brad Stevens to take his job. Stevens has began searching for Boston’s new head coach and in the meantime he has made his first trade: dealing Kemba Walker, a 1st round pick, and a 2025 2nd round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Al Horford (who returns to the team after leaving in 2019), Moses Brown, and a 2023 2nd round pick.

Initially, I was very confused by these moves. Back in February I wrote about why the Celtics should hold onto Kemba Walker. It turns out that it was too early to judge at that point, when Walker had only played 6 games on the season. It has since become clear that Walker is not the player he used to be, as his knee injury continues to linger. Besides, he didn’t even want to be in Boston anymore. What made me skeptical of the move at first is that I felt like the Celtics settled for an underwhelming return package just to get Walker out of Boston as quickly as possible. Horford and another big man don’t seem like much in exchange for Walker and a draft pick downgrade. However, if you look beyond the surface, this is a good trade for the Celtics.

First of all, it’s important to remember the fact that Walker is no longer a superstar player. It would have taken a package deal with Marcus Smart and possibly others to get a superstar player back in a Kemba Walker deal. With Walker gone, the Celtics have flexibility. They can move Smart or Payton Pritchard into the starting point guard role and fill other positions, or they can go looking for a new point guard in free agency. While Walker isn’t a superstar player anymore, he was on a “supermax” contract. With his contract off of the Celtics payroll, the team has money to make significant moves in free agency. I think they should use the money they have to look for a true third option behind the duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Notable free agents this offseason include veterans like Mike Conley, DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry.

It does suck to give up a 1st round pick, but it’s rare that a player drafted 16th overall ends up contributing much in the short term, and the Celtics have had a lot of failed first round picks in the years since they drafted Tatum and Brown. Pritchard and Robert Williams have been our best first rounders since then, and neither of them are even regular starters just yet. With the right moves, this is a team that can win now. They invested in the long term when they drafted Tatum and Brown. Now it’s time to invest in the short term. Horford may not be what he used to be, but the additions of Horford and Moses Brown make an immediate difference for our power forward/center depth.

As for the Brad Stevens move, some people have criticized it, and I was a bit shocked at first, but I like it. Stevens was a good head coach, but the players didn’t seem to listen to him anymore. This role allows Stevens to use the basketball knowledge he has without having to interact directly with the players as much. In addition, I think Stevens’ first trade in this role is a sign that he is willing to be aggressive this offseason. Danny Ainge used to be aggressive as well, but has gotten complacent in recent years. Once the Celtics had the firepower to at least make the Eastern Conference Finals, he settled for what the team already had. This year was a wake up call that as time passed, the Celtics needed to make some changes not only to win a championship, but even to win a playoff series. Stevens is willing to execute those changes. It seems he is also prioritizing a head coach that will get along well with the players, and that’s just what this team needs. The players need to have a good connection with the staff, or Boston will become an undesirable system to be a part of. We’ve already seen Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker grow to resent this system. That cannot happen with Tatum, Brown, or any new key players the team signs.

Comment with your thoughts on the Celtics offseason so far, and who you think they should target in free agency.

Quick Takes #2: The Celtics should hold onto Kemba Walker

The Celtics have had a rough stretch of late, and many are quick to blame PG Kemba Walker for the struggles. The team is 1-5 so far when Walker plays, and Walker missed a game winner in Boston’s last game against the Lakers. Sure, Walker isn’t living up to expectations, but he is still an important part of this team.

Yes, Walker blew it in that last one, but the Celtics would not have had the Lakers within 1 point if it weren’t for Walker’s leadership. There are a variety of other reasons that are contributing to Boston’s struggles.

Note that three of the games the Celtics lost with Walker were also without star player Jayson Tatum. Since Tatum returned, the Celtics have at least come within 5 points in every game.

There were other factors contributing to Boston’s recent losses. The lack of bench depth is a problem, but that will improve when Payton Pritchard returns. They could trade Walker in exchange for a lesser point guard and bench depth, but I don’t think that’s necessary. The Celtics really haven’t been able to catch a break with injuries, as Marcus Smart went down last night.

Now you may ask how Walker has positively impacted the team. It’s not obvious through his inconsistent stats. I feel that Walker is a part of the environment that has allowed for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to dominate. Walker, Tatum, Brown, and Smart make for great chemistry in Boston.

I hear people saying we should have kept Kyrie Irving, but if Irving was here Tatum and Brown would not be maximizing their potential like they are. Trading Walker could ruin this chemistry. Whether he’s on the court or off the court, Walker is a leader on this team that makes everyone around him better.

Kemba Walker isn’t the problem, and we’ll see that in time. You may notice I blamed a lot of the team’s problems on injuries, but the real problem with this team is its inability to adapt when key players are missing. The Celtics have failed to step up their game in place of injured players.

However, this team could contend for a title at its best. Between the point guard duo of Walker and Pritchard, the star power in Tatum and Brown, and a defensive standout In Smart, this team has potential and I’m excited to see what this team can do later in the season. Walker makes a big impact as a leader, and we can only hope he improves on the court to add to it. He’s showed signs that he’s still capable. Prior to last night’s 4 point game, he had posted 4 consecutive games of 14+ points. Either way, it’s not the time to trade him.

After a lot of criticism from fans, the 5 game west coast road trip starting tonight will be a big test for Walker. I have confidence that he’ll bring something to the table for the team.

2020 Sports: Which changes from this year should stick around?

2020 was not an easy year for the sports world.  From March to July, there were no sports.  Sports looked very different in the second half of the year.  Some of these differences should stick, while others will not.  Below is a change I liked and a change that I didn’t like so much for each of the four major US sports. 

MLB

What Should Stick Around: Universal DH

The concept of universal DH has been in talks for years.  2020’s modified schedule involving more inter-league play was just the final factor that convinced the MLB to implement it.  Before universal DH, it was almost like Major League Baseball was two separate leagues.  The World Series was a matchup of an AL champion and NL champion who got there playing slightly different versions of the game.  The NL champions tended to have more pitching because they didn’t need as good of a lineup, while the AL champions usually had to have strong lineups.  The NL is still more pitcher-heavy than the AL, but at least this unites the MLB under one rulebook.  It was long overdue, and it needs to stay this way.  

What Should be Left Behind: The Endless Negotiating

The MLB could have started the season safely as early as the end of June and they would have the whole sports market to themselves for about a month.  Instead, they delayed the start of the season even more because of what was essentially a lockout.  Rob Manfred did not handle the preseason negotiations well, and in the process he probably lost some MLB fans.  If the MLB and MLBPA don’t get their act together and come to faster agreements, it could jeopardize the long term success of professional baseball.  The financial toll on the league is already having an impact, as this off-season seems to be even slower than previous baseball off-seasons.  Most of the top free agents are still available (I’ll have an article about that out soon).

NFL

What Should Stick Around: Expanded Playoffs

The 14-team playoff bracket causes more exciting late-season action and allows more teams to stay competitive throughout the year.  Only the worst of the worst have really given up on this season, and even they might still be trying if it weren’t for Trevor Lawrence.  The expanded playoffs also make the #1 seed more valuable, as only the #1 seed gets a first round bye.  The only bad idea surrounding these expanded playoffs?  That would be putting one of the extra wild card games on Nickelodeon to try to get more kids interested.  Plenty of kids watch football without Nick having to get involved.

What Should be Left Behind: The Lack of a Preseason

While the season generally went well without a preseason, there were definitely more injuries than usual.  Teams with lackluster offensive lines were especially vulnerable, like the Giants (who lost RB Saquon Barkley to an ACL tear) and Bengals (who lost rookie QB Joe Burrow to an ACL tear and RB Joe Mixon to a foot iniury).  In addition, many talented rookies, such as Vikings WR Justin Jefferson, got off to extremely slow starts.  Jefferson posted an 1000 yard season and even broke some of Randy Moss’ Vikings WR rookie records, but he barely participated at all in the first two games of the year.  Yes, the preseason should be cut down a bit, but I think you need to have at least a couple preseason games to get the players ready to go.  I’d propose a two game preseason, one preseason game as a dress rehearsal for the season, and one preseason game prior to roster cut down day.  

NBA

What Should Stick Around: The 2020-2021 Schedule

I’ve got to be honest with you all, I like this year’s NBA schedule more than the normal NBA schedule.  Shifting the start of the season to Christmas is smart, as the NBA playoffs can cut into sports viewership ratings during the dog days of summer when baseball is the only other sport on TV.  Having a different season timeline than the NHL and stretching across winter, spring, and summer makes the NBA a little more unique than other leagues.  Who knows, maybe outdoor summer playoff games are in the NBA’s future.  In addition, I like the simple breakdown of the schedule: 2 games against every team in the other conference and 3 games against every team in your own conference.  Divisions in the NBA are barely utilized to begin with, and shifting to a more balanced conference schedule without extra division play is a smart idea.  

What Should be Left Behind: Universal Location Playoffs

The NBA bubble worked extremely well during the pandemic.  It’s not going to work in the future.  The lack of home-field advantage was probably a factor in the insane amount of upsets in the NBA bubble.  Yes, a universal location playoffs might be a good way to check the power of super teams, but taking away home field advantage entirely is not the answer.  I think the NBA bubble may have given an unfair advantage to certain teams.  Lowering the salary cap might be a better idea.

NHL

What Should Stick Around: The Realigned Divisions

I actually really like the idea of an all-Canadian division.  It was utilized this year to minimize border crossing, but it’s also going to revive classic Canadian hockey rivalries.  It’s not going to work when the Seattle Kraken join the league, but the Arizona Coyotes were already going to have to change divisions.  Why not stick with this realignment, put Seattle in the Western Division, and have the Coyotes pack their bags and relocate to Quebec City?  The Coyotes don’t have a very good hockey market in Phoenix.  In Quebec City, there are more hockey fans, and the Videotron Centre would easily be able to host an NHL team.  I could see the North Division sticking around if the Coyotes move to Quebec. It may take a couple years, but I think the all-Canadian division should return in future seasons.

What Goes: The 24 Team Playoffs

Some of the teams in the NHL’s bubble did not deserve to be there.  I don’t think there’s any reason to expand the NHL playoffs.  16 teams is plenty in what’s soon to be a 32 team league.  If anything it’s too easy to make the NHL playoffs, but the 16 team bracket works.  If they realign the league like I was talking about, they could even make the playoff bracket a four quadrant bracket by division (like they did in the NHL bubble) and make a big event out of the “Final Four” with the four divisional round winners.  

To Conclude…

2020 has forced and inspired a lot of change in the sports world.  Along the same lines, this website is about to undergo some change.  At certain points during the year, I didn’t have much to post about, and I think the entire sports world is ready to move on from this crazy year.  To begin 2021, I will be upgrading to WordPress Premium and changing my URL from andrewr1008.wordpress.com to simply be bostonsportsmania.com.  This is to make my website more accessible by making the URL easier to remember.  I may make some other changes to the site and start with some new kinds of posts as well, so be on the lookout as 2021 begins.  In the meantime, I hope you all have an enjoyable and safe New Year’s Eve.

NBA 2020-2021 Predictions: Can anyone stop LeBron, AD, and the Lakers?

The NBA has come back with a bang this week. There could be complications down the road with COVID, but it looks like we still have a very exciting season ahead of us. It’s only just getting started, and today I’ll be giving you my predictions for the rest of the year, playoffs included. Remember, this year the 7-10 seeds will take part in a play-in tourney to claim the final two playoff seeds, so 20 teams will finish the 72 game regular season with at least a chance at a playoff spot. Keep reading to find out where I have the Celtics or whoever your favorite team is, and feel free to comment with your thoughts.

I had originally thought the Bucks, Heat, and Celtics would all be neck and neck for the #1 seed. With PG Kemba Walker missing time, I can’t see Boston getting the 1 seed, and I have them as a 3 seed. All three of these teams are very deep, but built around a superstar: Giannis Antetokounmpo for the Bucks, Jimmy Butler for the Heat, and the young stud Jayson Tatum for the Celtics. Yes, Tatum has reached superstar level, and he’ll prove it this year.

The Nets come into this year with a healthy duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, but there are many questions. Will they stay healthy? Will the chemistry work? I think it will to an extent, but they won’t be the dominant force that was expected when the Nets went out to sign them. Close behind Brooklyn should be the 76ers, who will likely improve under coach Doc Rivers.

I see the Raptors regressing after losing a strong veteran duo at center and replacing them with Norman Powell. They’ll just barely avoid the play-in by securing the 6 seed. The Wizards and Hawks both have star power, but lack depth. They’ll be flashy at times and could upset some top teams but they’ll be inconsistent. I have them in the play-in alongside Indiana and Orlando, two deeper teams that lack star power. All these teams have intriguing pieces, but haven’t quite put together the puzzle for title contention. The Bulls or Hornets could also make a run at the play in, as the Bulls brought in coach Billy Donovan and the Hornets brought in LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. Even the Knicks, who drafted Dayton’s Obi Toppin, have the tools to make a run.

It’ll be the Pistons and Cavaliers in a familiar spot: the Eastern Conference basement. I think Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, and Kevin Love could all find a new home by mid-season as they lack the surroundings to even contend for the playoffs and they aren’t at a level where they can carry a team.

Can anyone stop the Lakers? They just won a championship and they’ve upgraded this offseason, adding Dennis Schroder, Marc Gasol, and Montrezl Harrell around the superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They’ll be the clear #1 seed at the very least.

The Nuggets and Clippers should hold their ground as top 3 teams in the West, but don’t sleep on the teams behind them. As Luka Doncic improves, so will the Mavericks. The Suns added Chris Paul to join Devin Booker in the backcourt. The Warriors will get Steph Curry back from injury and also drafted a good center, James Wiseman. I see the Blazers improving after adding Derrick Jones Jr. to the front court to join a now healthy Jusuf Nurkic.

There’s a bit of a drop off after that, but still several more teams that could be competitive. The Jazz have to rely on the health of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mike Conley, and the chemistry between Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell could be off after Gobert caused Mitchell to catch COVID back in March. The Rockets will be a playoff team if James Harden stays, but I doubt he’s here after the trade deadline, and this team will probably struggle without him. The Pelicans and Timberwolves have some good young talent; it remains to be seen if they take the next step and lead a playoff run. All of those teams have a chance thanks to the play-in.

Even the Spurs, Kings, and Grizzlies could have a chance. All three made the bubble last year and none of them have lost much since then. The Thunder were also in the bubble, but they lost coach Billy Donovan and entered full rebuild mode. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re Western Conference basement dwellers.

Playoffs

In the East, I have the Celtics making a playoff run with Kemba Walker back. A trio of Tatum, Kemba, and Jaylen Brown can compete with any team in the conference, and possibly even lead Boston to an 18th banner. They’ll easily take down Toronto and outplay the Heat and Bucks in order to make the NBA Finals. I think the Pacers will end up with the 7 seed after beating Washington in the play-in, but it doesn’t matter as they should most likely fall short to the Heat and Bucks. The only first round series in the East that I think will be competitive is the 4-5 series between Brooklyn and Philadelphia.

In the West, the 2 through 7 seeds could end up in any order. I think some upsets will happen here, and teams like Golden State or Portland could make a run even with a low seed. However, I think the Lakers are the clear front runner in the Western Conference. Even the Clippers duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George won’t stack up with LeBron and AD in a playoff matchup.

This will lead to a classic NBA Finals matchup: Celtics vs. Lakers. The Lakers just tied the Celtics last year when they won their 17th banner. The winner of this series will be the first to 18 titles. I think the Celtics have the star power to at least make this series competitive. I have the Lakers winning in the series, but it truly could go either way, and I think the LeBron-AD Lakers and Jayson Tatum’s Celtics will be title contenders for years to come. Tatum is only getting better, and I think this year he will lead the Celtics to cement themselves alongside the Lakers and other teams in the league’s top tier of contenders.

2020 NBA Mock Draft: Breaking down Lottery Picks and Celtics Picks

The NBA off-season started off this week, and it’s already been full of news. In addition to a handful of trade rumors and requests, there have been some real trades already. Chris Paul was dealt to the Suns for a large player and draft pick package. The Bucks bulked up by trading for Bogdan Bogdanovic and Jrue Holiday. Now, the draft is tomorrow and teams are preparing. I’ve put together a quick mock draft for it, though I won’t be predicting trades. I will be analyzing the 14 lottery picks as well as later Celtics picks (I will include a list of the other first round picks at the end of the article). This mock is a mix of what I think should happen and what I think will happen. I think there are four players in this draft that are far better than the rest: Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, LaMelo Ball, and Obi Toppin. Which of those four goes first and who will go right behind? Keep reading to find out what I think.

The Lottery Picks

1.
Anthony Edwards
SG,
Georgia
With the #1 pick, the Timberwolves are looking for a third option to join PG D’Angelo Russell and big man Karl-Anthony Towns. It looks like it’s going to come down to Ball and Edwards. If they took Ball, it would force Russell to SG, so I see Edwards as the more likely pick here.
2.
James Wiseman
C, Memphis
Wiseman, a top 2019 college recruit, played for Memphis for a few games and dominated with 17 points per game. After that he left the school to prepare for the draft. It would work out for him if he ended up in Golden State, which I see as a perfect fit. The Warriors have lacked a good center for years, and Wiseman could help them contend now that the backcourt is healthy.
3.
Obi Toppin
PF, Dayton
Toppin was a dominant force in the Atlantic 10 and if there was an NCAA Tournament he could have potentially led Dayton to a title. The Hornets could take Ball here, but they already have De’Vonte Graham at point guard, and you can argue for Toppin, a better fit in Charlotte, over Ball considering his brother Lonzo was also a top prospect and has failed to meet expectations. Toppin should have an immediate impact on Charlotte’s offense.
4.

LaMelo Ball
PG, Australia
Unlike his brother, Ball did not go to UCLA and instead played professionally overseas. I think Chicago is a strong fit for Ball. Billy Donovan is the perfect coach to groom Ball into a successful player in this NBA. In addition, Chicago is a big sports market which Ball and his dad LaVar will both take advantage of. With Ball joining SG Zach LaVine and forward Lauri Markkanen, I think the Bulls could fight for a playoff spot.
5.

Killian Hayes
PG, France
Hayes is one of the better international athletes in this draft class. He’s a very talented player who can join Darius Garland and Collin Sexton in a young backcourt. I could see Deni Avdija, another international athlete, going here as well, but Hayes has high potential as well.
6.

Deni Avdija, SF, Israel
Avdija has been compared to Kristaps Porzingis, who went to the Knicks in the early 1st round back in 2015. I don’t see him going top five like many people do, but the Hawks missed out on Luka Doncic in 2018 and I don’t think they will pass on Avdija if he falls here. This would make Avdija one of the earliest draft picks in history out of Israel.
7.

Devin Vassell
SG, Florida St.
Vassell and Patrick Williams led Florida State to be neck and neck with Duke in the ACC and both are expected to be top draft picks. He can add depth to a rebuilding Pistons team, and maybe eventually he’ll be behind a Pistons playoff run. It could be a while though since the trade for Blake Griffin is hurting the Pistons in the long term.
8.

Tyrese Haliburton
PG, Iowa St.
Iowa State struggled this past season, but it doesn’t have an impact on Haliburton, who consistently contributed at a high level throughout the season. After some iffy early round draft picks in the past, the Knicks got their hands on R.J. Barrett in 2019. Hopefully this pick pays off as well.
9.

Isaac Okoro
SF, Auburn
Okoro has not been considered much in the top tier of prospects. However, I think he has one of the highest floors in this draft class. Davis Bertans appears to be on the outs, so Okoro can help fill the gap up front for Washington. It’s possible he expands his role in years to come.
10.

Patrick Williams
SF/PF, Florida St.
The Suns could be in line to contend with CP3 here. They are set in the backcourt and at center between CP3, Devin Booker, and DeAndre Ayton. They could use some depth at small forward and power forward, and Williams can play both.
11.

Tyrese Maxey
PG/SG, Kentucky
Maxey was one of Kentucky’s top players with Tyler Herro gone. In fact, he essentially played the Herro role there. Whether Gregg Popovich wants to rebuild or contend, another Herro-like player could be a big help.
12.

Onyeka Okongwu
C, USC
As much as I would want Ogonkwu to fall into Boston’s laps, I can’t see it happening with the Kings in front. The Celtics very well could try to move up over the Kings for Okongwu, but otherwise I think Sacramento will take him. Their backcourt is set with De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. Add some size to that and the Kings could be in a better spot to make the playoffs.
13.

Aaron Nesmith, SG/SF, Vanderbilt
Like Haliburton, Nesmith impressed in college despite lackluster surroundings. It should pay off on draft night as the Pelicans add depth to a young squad that already has Zion Williamson and can bring back Brandon Ingram if they’re willing to pay.
14.

Saddiq Bey
SF, Villanova
Villanova was stacked last year, and Bey was on the forefront of that squad. The Celtics do need a big man, but with Okongwu gone that will have to wait. Bey adds bench depth and could have an opportunity for more minutes if Gordon Hayward is dealt.

The Other Celtics Picks:

1.26: Josh Green, SG, Arizona: Green was one third of a big three that made the Wildcats a Pac-12 contender last year, and all three should go in Round 1 of this draft. This is a depth addition and long term investment for the Celtics, who have often taken a chance on backcourt talent from big name schools.

1.30: Xavier Tillman, C, Michigan State: The Celtics have reportedly had their eyes on Tillman. If they do not move up for Toppin or Okongwu, I see them waiting till the late first round for a big man and taking Tillman. I think the Celtics could add a veteran big man as well with this route, and give both the veteran and Tillman adequate minutes. As opposed to Green, Tillman is an older prospect who I could see having an immediate impact.

2.17: Myles Powell, PG, Seton Hall: Powell was one of the top players in college hoops last year, and one of a few seniors who I think will be drafted. Powell adds more backcourt depth and could help fill minutes if PG Kemba Walker is injured or traded. He does not have the high floor of some of these other prospect but could be a valuable bench asset.

The Other First Round Picks

  • 15. Magic: SF Jaden McDaniels (Washington)
  • 16. Trail Blazers: C Vernon Carey Jr. (Duke)
  • 17. Timberwolves: SG/SF Elijah Hughes (Syracuse)
  • 18. Mavericks: PG Cole Anthony (UNC)
  • 19. Nets: PF Jalen Smith (Maryland)
  • 20. Heat: PG Nico Mannion (Arizona)
  • 21. 76ers: PG Kira Lewis Jr. (Alabama)
  • 22. Nuggets: PG Devon Dotson (Kansas)
  • 23. Jazz: SF/PF Jordan Nwora (Louisville)
  • 24. Bucks: PF Prechious Achiuwa (Memphis)
  • 25. Thunder: PF/C Zeke Nnaji (Arizona)
  • 26. Celtics (see above)
  • 27. Knicks: PG R.J. Hampton (New Zealand)
  • 28. Lakers: SG Jahmi’us Ramsey (Texas Tech)
  • 29. Raptors: C Filip Petrusev (Gonzaga)
  • 30. Celtics (see above)

I can’t wait for tomorrow night. Once the draft is done the NBA off-season will really get crazy.

The Return of Sports: Predictions for the rest of the NBA season

The calendar has turned to July, and now all four of America’s biggest sports have plans to return to action. The NBA and MLB are both set to start this month, and the NHL is likely to do the same. The NFL will start training camp towards the end of the month as well. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making predictions about the sports that are returning, starting with the NBA and MLB (since they have set return dates).

The NBA is set to begin at Walt Disney World on July 30 with 8 additional regular season games for each team, known as seeding games. From there, the top 7 teams in each conference will slot into the NBA’s playoff bracket. If the 9 seed is within four games of the 8 seed, they’ll get the chance to compete with the 8 seed for a playoff spot. If they beat the 8 seed in both of two play-in games, they’re in.

Below are my predictions for the final NBA playoff seeding and my NBA playoff bracket. Realistically, there are 4-5 teams that I think have a legitimate chance at a title. Keep reading to find out which teams those are, and which team I have taking it all.

Continue reading

The Return of Sports: NBA Announces Target Date, Gov. Baker Permits Resumption of Sports Practices

The MLB is nowhere near an agreement for a return to play, as both owners and players try to minimize financial losses, and I’ll be reporting on that situation eventually. But in today’s column, I wanted to talk about the NBA’s updated plans for return and governor Charlie Baker’s update on Boston sports. Despite so many unknowns, coronavirus numbers have continued to decline, allowing people to begin thinking about returning closer to normal, and a return of major sports leagues would absolutely bring us closer. With multiple pieces of very good news in the sports world today, I have plenty to talk about in this column.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker Permits Sports Practices to Resume

Boston sports facilities will be allowed to reopen on June 6, according to Governor Charlie Baker. This opens the door for sports to return in the city of Boston, and with major sports leagues trying to coordinate returns, that is very good news. Sports will not come back until there are enough cities permitting their return. Boston joins the list. As a result, the Celtics will be opening the Red Auerbach Center, their own practice facility. Hopefully, this also opens the door for the TD Garden to be considered as a central hub for NHL games, since the Bruins are the #1 team in the Eastern Conference and would benefit from some form of home field advantage, even without fans in the stadium.

Adam Silver Announces Intention for 7/31 NBA Return

Adam Silver announced today that he is hoping for a July 31 return for the NBA. He had already said he was targeting late July/early August, but it’s good to hear a definitive date. It would be nice if they could start a little bit earlier, but it gives the league time to work towards gameplay, starting with small group training, then moving into formal training camp, and then finally playing games, just like the NHL. Below is what we know and how I think this plan will play out.

What We Know (The Facts)

  • The league will resume in one central hub: Orlando, Florida
  • Games will be played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Disney World
  • The league may also consider using the Orlando Magic stadium or the UCF stadium for games
  • For when the league does return, there are four potential formats being discussed:
    • A 16 team format
    • A 20 team format
    • A 22 team format
    • A 30 team format
  • The league is unsure whether the regular season will be continued or whether the league will skip to some sort of playoff

As you can see, not much has been decided yet, but at this point we know the league has picked a location, has a proposed return date, and is working to decide on a format.

What the Logistics of a Return could Look Like

The NHL has already established a format for the postseason, and I went ahead and speculated what the timeline could look like. The NBA already has somewhat of a timeline, but below I have proposed a playoff format that I think will fairly decide an NBA champion and written how the logistics of it could work out:

20-Team Playoff Bracket Proposal

I think a fair conclusion to the season would be a 20 team playoff based on overall NBA standings. If you look at the NBA standings right now, there is a clear divide in the Eastern Conference standings. But there are several Western Conference teams close to the top 8 that deserve their fair chance this season. The NBA has already been contemplating seeding based on overall standings (regardless of conference), and since games will be played in one city, I don’t see a problem with that, especially because it can give additional Western Conference teams a fair chance in an expanded playoff bracket. The NHL decided to expand their postseason, and I see the NBA doing the same.

Here’s what the timeline could potentially look like:

  • Early-Mid June: NBA practice facilities reopen
  • Late June: NBA Draft Lottery with 10 teams missing playoffs
  • Friday, July 10: All 20 playoff teams report to Orlando for formal training camp
  • Friday, July 31 – Sunday, August 9: Best of 5 play-in series
  • Monday, August 10 – Sunday, August 23 – Round of 16
  • Monday, August 24 – Sunday, September 6 – Quarterfinals
  • Monday, September 7 – Sunday, September 20 – Semifinals
  • Monday, September 21 – Sunday, October 4 – NBA Finals
  • Thursday, October 8 – 2020 NBA Draft
  • Monday, October 12 – NBA Free Agency Begins
  • Early November – NBA Preseason
  • Early December – 66 Game NBA Season Begins
    • 4 Games vs. Each Division Team (Total of 16)
    • 2 Games vs. Each Other Team (Total of 50)

The NBA is targeting a later start to the 2020-21 season in order to make way for a satisfying ending to the 2019-20 season. The 2020-21 season would look similar to the 2011-12 season after the last NBA lockout.

In the play-in round and the later rounds, all games could be played during prime time, as games would be played every other day and there are enough courts in Orlando for two games at once. In the Round of 16, games could take place both at 7PM and at 9PM, with 4 games across 2 courts each day. They would only need two channels airing games. ABC/ESPN could handle some games, while TNT handles others.

With this format, I think the Bucks and Lakers would still have the best shot at winning it all, but I think the Clippers, Celtics, Nuggets, and Heat among other teams would also have a chance.

That’s all for today, but I’ll be updating again soon with the latest news on the MLB negotiations and updates on the NHL and NBA.

NBA 2019-20 Predictions: The Year of Balance

Basketball is back, and it’s time for my annual NBA season predictions.  This off-season was crazy, and it changed a lot.  But it did something great for the league called balance.  In the past few years, we’ve pretty much known who’s going to win it all.  This off-season, balance was restored in the NBA, and with 8-12 potential championship contenders, the league will be fun to watch again.  College basketball has March Madness.  Nobody knows what will happen there.  Now there’s a little more madness in the NBA, and it should attract viewers.  It also makes these predictions more fun to write.  Which team actually has it in them to win the whole thing?  Keep reading to find out what i think and how that team will get there.

Note: Graphics are from playoffpredictors.com, where I made my season predictions game by game.

Eastern Conference

Giannis Antetokounmpo can’t win Milwaukee 65 games on his own.  But I believe that the Greek Freak will not only improve, but also distribute the ball more effectively.  This will allow F Khris Middleton, C Brook Lopez and G Eric Bledsoe to improve as well.  The Bucks have an easy schedule here in the Eastern Conference, but the 76ers and Celtics will give them a hard time.  Philly should look better with PF Al Horford in the mix and G Ben Simmons and C Joel Embiid on the rise.  Despite the loss of Horford, Boston should also improve, as new PG Kemba Walker plays as well as Kyrie Irving in addition to allowing his teammates, like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown more opportunities to thrive.

I also expect the Raptors and Pistons to remain competitive.  Even with Kawhi Leonard gone, Toronto will lean on PG Kyle Lowry and his younger surroundings to lead the team to a successful year.  Detroit will see improvement as C Andre Drummond proves himself in a contract year, PF Blake Griffin keeps up the good work, and PG Derrick Rose becomes a veteran mentor for the team’s younger players.

The Magic, Nets, and Heat will finish out the playoff bracket for the East with sub-.500 seasons.  Nikola Vucevic and his young surroundings will put up another decent year, PG Kyrie Irving will earn his team a playoff spot despite the absence of Kevin Durant, and Jimmy Butler will give Miami the boost they need to make the playoffs.

I don’t expect anyone else to come close to a playoff berth in the East, but the Pacers, Knicks, and Bulls will all still have solid seasons.  Indiana will regress without Bojan Bogdanovic, but still be decent.  The Knicks should improve with Julius Randle and R.J. Barrett on board, and a more experienced Bulls team will also improve.

In the Eastern Conference basement are the Hornets, Wizards, Hawks, and Cavaliers.  The Hornets have a decent starting five, but without Kemba Walker, they don’t have amy standout players.  The Wizards, on the other hand, have Bradley Beal, but lack depth around him, especially in their front court.  The Hawks will improve with Trae Young on the rise and multiple 2019 lottery picks on the team, but this improvement will not be that significant in an improving conference.  The Cavs have Kevin Love, but their lack of depth will leave them at the bottom of the barrel.

The Western Conference will be very competitive this year, and there are 6 or 7 teams I see as potential championship contenders.  But the two LA teams, the Warriors, and Portland are among the best of them.  The Warriors and Blazers met in the conference finals last year.  But after strong off-seasons that brought in Anthony Davis on one team and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on another, the LA teams have both caught up.

The Jazz and Nuggets will also have chances.  The Jazz have one of the deepest rosters in the league, and the young Nuggets may struggle to repeat last season, but should still have a good run.  The Rockets may have chemistry issues with James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and they lack depth.  However, Houston has a shot as well.

The next tier down consists of middle of the pack teams, most of which will miss the playoffs in the West, though they will be pretty good against Eastern Conference opponents.  The Pelicans, Spurs, Timberwolves, Kings, and Mavericks will likely have to fight for one playoff spot.

The rest of this conference will be in the basement all year.  The Thunder have some young talent, but it’s not enough for a playoff run.  Phoenix is in a similar situation, as are the Grizzlies.  These teams just need more time to develop before contention.

A lot of teams will put up a good fight this year, but in the end, our finals match-up will be rather unsurprising.  The Milwaukee Bucks don’t have a second superstar to play with Giannis, but in a weak East, their deep roster full of capable starters will lead them.  They’ll face the Lakers, whose duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be hard to stop, especially with the depth they’re surrounded by.  However, I do have minor chemistry concerns about LA, and I think the Greek Freak can lead a pretty good Milwaukee starting 5 past King James and the Lakers.

The Celtics and 76ers definitely also have a chance in the East though, and there are many Western Conference teams capable of knocking out the Lakers in an upset.

This season is one of the hardest to predict in a while, but that makes it more fun to watch.  This year, we don’t know what the finals match-up will be.  This year, there are no true super-teams and no true basement dwellers.  It’s hard to call this league wide open, but it’s way more open than it has been in the last 3-5 years.

2019 NBA Free Agency Predictions: Who Becomes Title Favorite?

Free agency is just one day away, and this year brings us one of the most impactful free agency seasons in NBA history. Without the decisions of stars on the open market, it’s hard to tell who will win it all.

But generally, whoever dominates free agency and signs some of these elite players will have the opportunity to become a title contender. Which teams will dominate? Keep reading to find out what I think.

Graphics Key

  • Star = All Star Rights (A player I feel will be able to decide where they go)
  • (R) = Restricted Free Agent
  • (PO) = Player Option
  • (TO) = Team Option
  • No Parentheses = Unrestricted Free Agent

PG

img_4567

At this point, we should all just assume Kyrie Irving is leaving Boston. He has publicly noted that he doesn’t like it here, and plenty of teams would want a star like Kyrie, so it’s ultimately going to be Irving’s choice as to where he goes. I think it’s down to Brooklyn and the Lakers, but I cannot see Irving teaming up with LeBron James again.

With Irving leaving, the Celtics are frontrunners to sign Kemba Walker. This is a move I have been a fan of for a while now, and I see no problems with it. D’Angelo Russell has also been rumored to sign with Boston as well as the Lakers, but I think he’ll go to Indiana instead. The Lakers are prioritizing DLo’s return, but I just cannot see it happening after how he left the first time. Instead, LA will fill their need for a point guard with the duo of Eric Bledsoe and Elfrid Payton.  Meanwhile, I think veteran Ricky Rubio will be added in Denver for backcourt depth.

SG

img_4574

I don’t see too much movement happening in the shooting guard market. There’s no reason for Danny Green to leave Toronto and no reason for Lance Stephenson to leave LA. I think Butler will stay in Philly. Although he may be a shooting guard if he signs elsewhere, he fit well as a small forward in Philly last year, so I expect the same this year. With that being said, I see J.J. Redick returning to Philly as well to play shooting guard.

Klay Thompson is expected to stick with the Warriors, I could see him leaving for a rising team like Brooklyn if Kevin Durant leaves. Once he returns from his injury, Thompson and Kyrie Irving will make for another great backcourt duo. I have Matthews starting across from Rubio in Denver as he leaves Indiana to make room for Victor Oladipo.

SF

img_4581

Kawhi Leonard reportedly bought a house in Toronto, and after the amazing run last season, I think the Raptors, Leonard included, will stick together for this season. However, Leonard beat Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors, so I think Durant will move on from Golden State, recovering from his achilles tear and putting together a playoff run with a new team. Brooklyn makes sense for him, but I don’t see them signing more than two max players, and the Nets won’t need a small forward if they re-sign DeMarre Carroll.

I think Durant will shock everyone when by signing in Portland. It is a perfect fit though. They need front court help, and with the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum already doing great things, the Blazers could be one front court star away from a title.

The Pistons have a similar need for a small forward. Chandler is no superstar, but he can make a difference for Detroit. The Clippers are also in on star small forwards like Kawhi and KD, but I think they’ll probably have to settle for someone like Harrison Barnes. The Kings should be alright without Barnes or Bojan Bogdanovic, so I have Bogdanovic returning to Indiana to team up with Russell and Oladipo rather than joining his brother Bogdan in Sacramento.

PF

img_4677

There aren’t many star power forwards on the open market. But there are a handful of capable players available. Millsap is far from a superstar, but with Michael Porter Jr. returning from injury, it’s time for Denver to move on, and he could be a good asset in Philly. Porzingis is a solid PF, so I think he will receive interest from other teams as a restricted free agent, and I don’t see the Knicks being ready to move on for good. Mirotic, another strong European player will also head to New York to join Kyrie Irving and others in Brooklyn.

Al Horford has been rumored to sign with the Mavericks or Clippers, where he would play PF. But I can’t see either team overpaying Horford. I feel Horford will eventually settle for less money to contend for a title with the Celtics. The Clippers will move on and instead sign Julius Randle, a different kind of player who can play a mix of SF and PF.  As for Markieff Morris, he has regressed, but he’s still a capable player who can share time with John Collins at PF for the Hawks.

C

img_4678

Cousins is not the same after his injury, but I still see him resigning with the Warriors and contributing even if KD and Klay Thompson leave. I have Noel and Brook Lopez returning to their 2018 teams as well, Noel on a player option and Brook as a UFA. Meanwhile, DeAndre Jordan will join Thompson, Irving, and company in Brooklyn. Robin Lopez will also head back to New York in a return to the Knicks. As Horford stays with Boston, I have the Clippers turning to Nikola Vucevic to complete their starting lineup.

————————————————————

That’s all for my 2019 NBA Free Agency Predictions. As you may have noticed, the graphics I used for my predictions have a currently blank column labeled “2019 Real Team”. I will be updating that column daily on Instagram (@bostonsportsmania) and Twitter (@AndrewRoberts1). In addition, I’ll be posting more NBA content as we get closer to the regular season, so stay tuned.

Basketball Bits #1: What do the Celtics need to win it all?

Screenshot 2019-06-26 at 9.15.09 AM.png

This year’s NBA off-season will be pivotal for many teams across the league. Going into free agency, I see no clear favorite to win the NBA Finals. Even the Warriors could fall out of contention if Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and DeMarcus Cousins all leave as free agents. A handful of big names will be on the open market, and whoever dominates in free agency should have a good chance to win it all. Even teams who struggled mightily in 2018-19 like the Knicks and Lakers have the chance to jump into title contention with the help of a strong off-season.

The Celtics are in an interesting situation. Last season, they were expected to be serious title contenders with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward from injury alongside the rise of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and others. But Kyrie Irving did not mesh well with the team, and he grew to dislike Boston. The expectation going into the season was that Kyrie Irving would return to the Celtics on a long term deal or at least 1 more year on his player option before agreeing to a long term deal. But now, Irving is expected to leave for Brooklyn, LA, or somewhere else.

With Irving expected to leave, what do the Celtics need in order to stay relevant and a potential championship contender? Do they need a star who will be a better leader than Kyrie was? Do they need multiple stars? Will they just roll with the young core of Tatum and Brown? Do they have enough cap space to do what they need to do? I researched every NBA champion in history and looked at how many star players they had, using 20 PPG as criteria for stardom. I also included the number of 25 PPG and 30 PPG scorers, as these players are less common. Check out my research as well as some Basketball Bits.

The Research

Basketball Bits #1_ Stars on Championship Teams – Sheet1

The “Basketball Bits”

  • The NBA has 73 champions all-time
    • Just 14 of 73 (19.2%) lacked a 20 PPG scorer
      • 35 of 73 (47.95%) had 1 20 PPG scorer
      • 22 of 73 (30.1%) had 2 20 PPG scorers
      • Just 2 of 73 (2.7%) had 3 20 PPG scorers:
        • The 2017-18 Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry, Thompson, Durant)
        • The 2016-17 Golden State Warriors (Curry, Thompson, Durant)
    • 47 of 73 (64.4%) lacked a 25 PPG scorer
      • 20 of 73 (27.4%) had 1 25 PPG scorer
      • 6 of 73 (8.2%) had 2 25 PPG scorers
    • 67 of 73 (91.8%) lacked a 30 PPG scorer – nobody had more than 1
  • The Boston Celtics have won 17 championships:
    • None of them had a 30 PPG scorer
    • Only 2 of 17 (11.8%) had a 25 PPG scorer
    • 5 of 17 (29.4%) lacked a 20 PPG scorer
    • 8 of 17 (47.1%) had 1 20 PPG scorer
    • 4 of 17 (23.5%) had 2 20 PPG scorers 
  • In the last 25 years:
    • Only 3 teams (12%) have won it all without a 20 PPG scorer:
      • The 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs (Most recent)
      • The 2007-08 Boston Celtics
      • The 2003-04 Detroit Pistons
    • Only 10 teams (40%) have won it all without 25 PPG scorer
  • In the NBA’s first 25 years:
    • 6 teams (24%) won it all without a 20 PPG scorer
    • 21 teams (84%) won it all without a 25 PPG scorer
  • Between 1972 and 1994 (everything else):
    • 5 teams (21.7%) won it all without a 20 PPG scorer
    • 16 teams (69.6%) won it all without a 25 PPG scorer
  • There are only 3 franchises who have ever won a championship with a 30 PPG scorer:
    • The Chicago Bulls (4 times, Michael Jordan)
    • The Milwaukee Bucks (1 time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)
    • The Golden State Warriors (1 time, Rick Barry)

The Verdict

In this era, the Celtics will need at least one consistent 20-25 PPG scorer to win a title, and a second would be helpful. You never know, maybe Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can be our guys. But I think pairing Tatum and Brown with a star point guard or star center would be ideal. The Celtics did win with a handful of 15-20 PPG scorers in 2008. That was in the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen era. I doubt they can put something like that together again in today’s NBA with all these stars on the open market.

But if they sign one star player that can allow Tatum and Brown to thrive while that player still puts up 25 PPG, such as PG Kemba Walker, PG D’Angelo Russell, or C Nikola Vucevic, this team could have the chance to contend. They aren’t going to pull the trigger if it puts their future at risk. I don’t think that will happen. But do they have enough money? Do these stars want to sign in Boston unlike Kyrie Irving? I can’t wait to find out, and I’ll be releasing my predictions soon.