December has been absolutely brutal schedule wise for the Celtics. They have 16 scheduled games in the month alone, including three back to backs, culminating in a game in London against the 76ers at the beginning of January. By my estimation this has been among the most difficult stretches in the NBA for any team. This gauntlet would take its toll on any team and their record reflects it. They laid a few eggs against Utah, Chicago, and New York (all at the tail end of back to backs). The unnecessary rigor of the NBA schedule has been litigated and debated ad nauseum, so I’ll save you another “Season Should Be 76 Games” diatribe. Until something changes, schedule losses are going to be part of the game. I’m not saying the Celtics are perfect, and that all their shortcomings this month can be attributed to issues out of their control. They are still young and it remains to be seen where the floor/ceiling will be with most of these young players. Marcus Smart is still mind-bogglingly inconsistent. I’m still worried they are relying to heavily on Horford at the back end and I’m not sure the season would survive an extended injury. This team is definitely flawed and the cracks certainly showed this month. However I think there are many bright spots that have shown through their otherwise difficult December. Tatum hasn’t really plateaued and is still threatening the mythical 50/50/90 club. Rozier continues to impress in his backup role. His game winning steal and dunk against Detroit earlier in the month was Marcus Smart-esque. Marcus Morris is a much better shooter than advertised and is sliding nicely into the corner shooter/tweener stopper role vacated by Jae Crowder. And Kyrie is doing Kyrie things.
Danny Ainge, 3D Chessmaster
With the resurgent play of Brooklyn, the implosions of Memphis, and the uncertainty surrounding the Los Angeles Lonzos, Dany Ainge is looking more and more like the trade value savant he is. The Lakers have lost 7 in a row, dropping them into the bottom 2-5 range that conveys their pick to the Celtics. The situation in Memphis, of which I will detail later, is looking more dire by the day. The Celtics command the Grizzlies 1-8 protected 2019 first round pick. The Grizzlies core of Gasol/Parsons/Conley will limit just how much they can bottom out next season should they decide to keep it intact. This means, depending on how the LAL pick conveys (we get Sacramentos 2019 first-rounder should the pick stay in LA), we have 3 potential lottery picks in the next two drafts. With the loaded 2018 and 2019 drafts, perhaps this will be enough for…… ANTHONY DAVIS (more on that later…)???
Gordo Haystacks is out of the boot, and walking around. Danny Ainge insists there is still no timetable for his return, and still I’m trying not to get my hopes up. He also got the Lee Jenkins Sports Illustrated treatment on December 20th in a piece I highly recommend. However the most important Gordon update come’s from Lil B, who bestowed his blessing on Hayward in a tweet:
This all but confirms Hayward’s comeback will happen this season, and we will have Lil B to thank. Lil B seems to be a big Celtics fan. He blessed Jalen Brown earlier in the season, who’s development has been an integral part of the Celtics success this season, and has put the team on his list of teams with blessings.
Where’s Lebron Going Power Rank
- Los Angeles Lakers – the Lakers are a joke this season, and despite all the cap room they have going forward, I’m still not convinced they can attract the top-flight free agent talent Magic has promised to deliver. For all the hype I can’t think of the last premier free agent to land in LA (Lamar Odom?). Lebron will have absolutely no patience for the sideshow that is the Ball family, and I’m not sure even with the addition of Lebron and another star will be enough to take out the Warriors or even the Rockets. However LA has in spades what all the other destinations sorely lack; proximity to Napa Valley. Lebron is one of the NBAs premier somaleirs and being close to wine country is a must.
- Cleveland Cavaliers – remains to be seen how the Cavs are going to stack up after IT gets up to speed. My guess; still good. As it stands I still think the Cavs offer the best situation for Lebron going into the back nine of his career, between the Brooklyn pick and the much-needed cap flexibility the Cavs will come into next summer. The Cavs biggest obstacle in their pitch to Lebron will be their lack of premium vinters and vineyards. If the Cavs can convince Lebron to switch from wine to MD20/20, Clevelands drink of choice, perhaps their chances will improve.
- Houston Rockets – If the Rockets can somehow dump the corpse of Ryan Anderson and shed a couple contracts, the Rockets can actually offer Lebron a max deal. It’s unclear how he would fit in Mike D’Antoni’ pick and roll centric, run and gun system, or if the system would have to be revamped around Lebron. In any case, the addition of Lebron give the Rockets more that enough firepower to unseat the Warriors and is clearly his most attractive “win-now” option. Unfortunately Houston is over 600 miles from wine country. Should Lebron go to Houston, I anticipate his play to slip once he replaces his nightly vino with Houston’s traditional purple drank.
- New York Knicks – Lebron has never shied away from the spotlight, and has never hid has affinity for New York. He’s gone as far as saying MSG is his “playground” and dubbed himself the King of MSG (much to the chagrin of Jay-Z). The Knicks offer an interesting alternative to Houston or LA, with a ton of roster flexibility and an established young star in Kristaps.
- Cleveland Browns – a man can hope, can’t he?
Enes Kanter vs Recep Ergodan
Enes Kanter, in the past 6 weeks, has become one of my favorite characters in the league on and off the court. The Utah Jazz/OKC castoff has found a home in NYC next to Kristaps, averaging 13pts/10reb on the season and proving a compliment to the outside style of KP. However Kanter’s off the court adventures are what are making headlines.
First, Kanter had this to say to Lebron after their altercation at MSG in mid-November: “Whatever you wanna call yourself – king, queen, princess, whatever – we’re gonna fight… and nobody’s gonna punk us.” Lebron responded by saying “Well, I’m the King, my wife is the Queen and my daughter is the Princess, so we got all three covered.” Boom, roasted Kanter!
Apparently Kanter did not get the memo that Lebron is a father of three, and therefore all shit talk against him would be deemed disrespectful, becuase afew weeks later posted this after Lebron got his first career ejection in late-November:
Finally, on December 20th, the Turkish state-run news agency Andalou said that government prosecutors would be seeking a 4-year prison term for Kanter after a series of twitter insults levied at President Recep Erdogan. Kanter is a supporter of Fetullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim cleric that Erdogan has falsely blamed for the failed military coup in Turkey last year that led to the jailing of thousands of journalists, intellectuals, and others. Interestingly, Gullen is also the man Mike Flynn, the disgraced ex-Trump administration national security advisor, promised to deliver to Turkey as part of a kidnapping plot that many speculate led to his arrest last month. Kanter basically laughed at the charges, saying the amount of shit he’s been talking should have earned him more, and called Erdogan a maniac. What a legend.
Big Man Trade Market
Nerlens had one of the most confusing offseasons in recent memory. Nerlens was traded to Dallas in exchange for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut (who was then waived), and a highly protected first round pick in the middle of last season. He then turned down a reported 4 year, $70 million contract extension from the Mavs and instead accepted a 1 year, $4.2 million qualifying offer after failing to get the max contract he was seeking elsewhere. Now, Nerlens is betting on himself and hoping his play with the lowly Mavs will serve as an audition for a big payday in 2018.
However Nerlens effort on the court has landed him in Rick Carlisles doghouse, inlcuding a slew of DNP-CDs, and before undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his thumb in early December, he was losing minutes to Salah Mejri. His value is declining rapidly, and the large payday he was hoping to land is looking less and less likely. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any value. Nerlens is still only 23 and is just two seasons removed from putting up 11pts/8reb/1.8blk/1.5stl. In a league starved for interior defenders it’s hard to imagine a team not taking a flyer on him once he’s eligible to be traded on December 15th.
Possible Destinations: Bucks, Wizards, Raptors, Cavs, Celtics
The Clippers season is becoming more and more hopeless as the days go by. The likelihood they start selling of the team for parts becomes more and more likely with each injury and Austin Rivers end of the shot clock heave. Deandre Jordan is easily their most intriguing piece that might be on the move. He’s a free agent after this season with a $24 million player option for 2018-2019, giving whatever team pursuing him some back end flexibility should things not work out. That being said, I’m not sure a team is willing to part with the high value draft pick or young player it will take to get Jordan without his commitment beyond next season. Jordan is one the the leagues premier interior defenders and would be an instant upgrade for any team in need of a big body in the middle. The Clippers are on the precipice of a rebuild so I don’t see Jordan moving for anything less than a mid 1st round pick and a prospect.
After getting benched in the 4th quarter of a loss late in November, Marc Gasol had some public words of frustration for coach David Fizdale (who was fired the next week). The Grizzlies are going nowhere fast with a ton of money locked into the stagnant core of Gasol, Mike Conley, and the forever injured Chandler Parsons. They committed to building around Conley, who signed one of the richest contracts in NBA history last summer, worth north of $34 million a year through 2021. Gasol and Parsons are locked into contracts through the end of 2020, each making about $25 million a year over that time. Hardly easy contracts to move. Gasol turns 33 in January and will be the easiest of the three to move. They are the latest victims of the Atlanta Hawks syndrome; a team lacking in roster flexibility who’s ceiling isn’t high enough to compete for a championship. The Grizzlies are at a crossroads that many midmarket teams face at one point or another. They cant afford to tank the way that a larger market team with a built-in fanbase like Philadelphia or LA or Boston could, but they also don’t have the pieces to compete for a championship.
Schroeder and Kent Bazemore are the remaining holdovers from the core that propelled Atlanta to a 60-win season in 2014-2015. His 4 year, $70 million contract signed in 2016 seemed ludicrous at the time, however by today’s standards has turned into a relatively good contract. Shroeder is a serviceable lead ballhander that has a solid combination of scoring instincts and defensive upside. He’s extremely long and disruptive, akin to Rajon Rondo with a better knack for scoring. In short, the perfect complimentary guard. My idea destination would be with the Knicks. Him and Frank Ntilikina would be a defensively problematic backcourt. While he does have a few red flags, including an inconsistent perimeter shooting game and the domestic violence charges from last season, Schroeder is a decent option as a second guard that won’t break the bank.
Speculation continues to run abound in New Orleans and their twin towers. We were long overdue for another round of Anthony Davis to the Celtics rumors and scuttlebut. Reports suggested that Danny Ainge and Co still haven’t given up on their dreams of bringing Davis to Boston. As they should. AD is one of the games most promising young big men, and with the Celtics still-growing treasure trove of assets it only makes sense. They are the only team with the mountain of assets that might be juicy enough to pry Davis away from New Orleans. But I think there more smoke than fire here. I’ll give legitimacy to these rumors only if the bottom falls out for New Orleans, or the Lakers/Grizzlies picks somehow both land in the top 10.