What does the future hold for the Celtics?

After a gutsy buzzer-beating win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, the Celtics lost Game 4 Tuesday night and find themselves down 3-1. However, they have simultaneously built a great basketball team that also has a very promising future.

The Celtics were the top seed in the Eastern Conference this year, so clearly they’ve built a team that can compete in the NBA. Their collection of assets also puts them in a unique position. Their roster is full of young guys budding with potential, and they have a number of quality picks over the next few years to build with.

The general assumption was that the Cavaliers had a stronghold on the Eastern Conference for the years to come, but Sunday’s game may have flipped that narrative on its head. Obviously, the Cavaliers are the better team. More than likely, the Cavaliers will advance to the NBA Finals with their commanding 3-1 lead. The difference between the teams is smaller than we thought though.

Boston Celtics Future

The future is bright in Boston. (Photo by Hoops Habit)

The Celtics have an interesting mix of proven talent and young players on their team. They’re starting lineup shows that foundation of proven talent. Isaiah Thomas has respectively proven himself as a top-tier offensive guard. Avery Bradley has done the same on the defensive side. In the frontcourt, Al Horford and Jae Crowder are proven talents as well.

Their stars have been great, but it is the production from their young guys that has proven to be the difference in these playoffs. Kelly Olynyk was crucial in delivering a Game 7 victory against the Wizards last week. Marcus Smart ended up being the difference Sunday night in the hard-fought victory.

The Celtics still don’t know what they have in guys like Smart, Olynyk, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. To make things more interesting, they have the top pick and this year’s draft and own the Nets’ pick in 2018.

The team will likely arrive at a crossroads this summer. They could try and turn the top pick into a star such as Paul George or Jimmy Butler. Or, they can use the draft pick (likely to pick Markelle Fultz) and continue their long term goals.

Something else to consider would be the team’s chances of taking down the Cavs in the near future. If the Celtics don’t think they can make the Finals while LeBron James is still in his prime, preparing for the future might be the best option. Would a superstar put them on the same level as the Cavs?

Most likely, the addition of a star player would not be able to stop LeBron in the coming years. Despite his anomaly of a game Sunday, he returned to form in Game 4. He has been having a historically dominant playoff run and doesn’t appear to be anywhere near his decline either. Not to mention, he has dominated the Eastern Conference for the past seven years of his career.

If the Celtics do decide to plan for the future, another key decision must be made regarding Isaiah Thomas. Thomas will likely warrant a max deal next summer, so the Celtics will have to either re-sign or replace him.

The Celtics looked much more formidable against the Cavs with Thomas on the bench Sunday. Sure, he is one of the large reasons the Celtics have made it this far. But is he the best option at point guard in the future?

Despite his offensive prowess, Thomas is quite a liability on the other side of the floor. Would waiting for someone like Fultz to develop be a better option for the Celtics? It would be difficult to commit such a large portion of the cap to a starting player that is so detrimental to the team’s defense. Much of the Celtics’ success is due to the fact that they are paying their star player barely more than $6 million per year. Because of that, they have been able to build a much better team around him.

It remains unclear what route the Celtics will take in their future plans. Either way, it’s hard to see them not being a strong contender within the next few years. Whether they add a superstar to their team or build around their young players and picks, the future looks incredibly bright for the Boston Celtics.

 

Featured Image by USA Today

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The Magic of Playoff LeBron

Last week the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards battled it out in a tough seven game series. On both sides of the court the players looked gassed by the end of the series. It was a toughly fought series that culminated with the exhausted Celtics barely getting a win.

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Cavaliers had 9 days of rest. Rumor has it LeBron James was channeling Rocky Balboa and climbing mountains in Russia during that time, but those rumors could be unsubstantiated.

We don’t often get the opportunity to see something like Playoff LeBron in sports. A player that has the unique ability to hit this type of gear in the playoffs is truly a joy to watch.

We’ve seen players in the past turn it up in the playoffs occasionally. Michael Jordan certainly hit another level in the playoffs, we saw Shaq do it in the early 2000s and Kobe had an undeniable killer instinct. But this is different.

LeBron James has not only been historically dominant in the playoffs, but he has done so for a ridiculously long period of time. LeBron is in his fourteenth season. Players aren’t supposed to be dominating in their fourteenth season, let alone performing at one of the highest levels of their career.

LeBron is encroaching on the territory of going beyond comparison. He continues to play at an incredibly high level with such longevity that his GOAT status may soon be undeniable.

This year proved to be yet another notch in LeBron’s illustrious belt. After leading the league in minutes through the first half of the year, LeBron seemed to coast through the second half of the season.

Sports media went crazy, and a narrative began to emerge about whether LeBron may have met his match with father time. Would his reign of dominate in the Eastern Conference come to an end?

The first round of the playoffs put those doubts to rest pretty quickly. LeBron is having what is likely the best playoff run of his career. He has put up insane efficiency numbers while shooting a high volume of shots, something that is incredibly hard to do.

The question of who is the greatest basketball player of all time may never have a definitive answer. Guys like Jordan, LeBron, Kareem and Wilt have put together such amazing careers in different eras that it is hard to compare.

But LeBron is reaching a special territory. Because there is nobody like LeBron. And there probably never will be anyone like LeBron. All we can do now is sit back and watch the greatest player of this generation dominate like nothing we’ve ever seen before. All we can do is sit back and enjoy.

(Photo by: LA Times)

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NBA Playoffs Awards (So Far)

After 25 days, the NBA Playoffs have gone by without too much surprise. The Cavs and Warriors have dominated and only one of the first round series went to seven games. Six teams remain standing, and here are the awards for the 2017 NBA Playoffs to this point.

Awards

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James

“Playoff LeBron” is no joke. The King has shown no mercy to the Pacers or Raptors as he has led the Cavs to a sweep in both series. So far this playoffs, he has compiled a stat line of 34.4 points per game, 9.0 rebounds per game, 7.1 assists per game, 2.1 steals per game and 1.5 blocks per game. He has elevated his performance to yet another level.

Perhaps his most impressive statistics come with his efficiency. His field goal percentage currently sits at .557 percent and he is making more than 46 percent of his three point attempts.

MVP of the playoffs so far really could not go to anybody else. LeBron has absolutely dominated his opponents in the first two rounds despite the lackluster play of his supporting cast. He has put to rest criticisms of his regular season performance and undoubtedly changed the opinions of many regarding the Cavs chances against the Warriors.

Not to mention, he’s given us ridiculous highlights such as this one:

Many performers have stepped up during these playoffs, but Lebron is clearly in a class of his own.

Honorable Mentions: Kawhi Leonard, John Wall, James Harden

 

Sixth Man: Joe Johnson

Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Eric Gordon have all been fantastic presences off the bench for their teams. Iguodala has done a little bit of everything, and Williams and Gordon have added a great scoring presence on the Rockets bench. Sixth man of the playoffs, however, has to go to the guy that is the reason his team won their first series.

Iso Joe was incredible against the Clippers, bringing back memories of his prime. At least two of the Jazz’ wins have to be attributed to Joe Johnson. This game winner in game one pretty much says it all.

Although his time in the playoffs has come to an end, Joe Johnson earned this one.

Honorable Mentions: Eric Gordon, Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams

 

Rookie: Taurean Prince

No other rookies have really had much of an impact in the playoffs besides Malcolm Brogdon and Taurean Prince. In six games against the Raptors, Brogdon put up 9 points per game while averaging 4.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists per contest.

In six games against the Wizards, prince put up 11.2 points per game while averaging 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per contest.

Brogdon has has a promising year, and he capped it off with a promising first playoff appearance. He logged more than 30 minutes per game while the Bucks did their best as the underdogs. He also made a stellar 10 of his 21 three point attempts.

Prince did not have as good of a regular season as Brogdon. His minutes doubled during the postseason, and he was able to take advantage of the increase in playing time. It is his defense, however, that lands him the title of best rookie for the playoffs. Prince played great defense against wings and guards, and played with a high intensity throughout the series. During Game 4, he had this impressive block on John Wall:

This playoffs have been lacking in rookie performance. The only other player who had a chance to compete was Jaylen Brown, and his minutes have dropped significantly during the postseason. Brogdon and Prince both had impressive series, but Prince’s impact on his team lands him the top spot.

Honorable Mentions: Malcolm Brogdon

 

Coach: Mike D’Antoni

Coaching has not seemed to play a huge role in the playoffs so far. The Cavs are dominating the Eastern Conference, and Tyron Lue has let Playoff Lebron do much of the work. The Warriors are dominating the Western Conference, and Steve Kerr has been out with a back injury.

Meanwhile, high profile coaches like Billy Donovan and Doc Rivers struggled mightily in the first round. Even NBA wizard Greg Popovich struggled mightily with adjustments against the Grizzlies.

All Mike D’Antoni has had to do to get this title is continue the Rockets’ regular season success. D’Antoni has shown once again that his offense first scheme can be successful in the playoffs. And so far D’Antoni has gone toe to toe with Greg Popovich in the second round.

Special honorable mention has to be given to David Fizdale of the Grizzlies. As a rookie head coach, Fizdale and the Grizzlies kept up with the Spurs despite being overmatched. And, he gave us this instantly legendary press conference after Game 2:

However, until a truly remarkable coaching performance can upend this spot, it belongs to D’Antoni.

Honorable Mention: David Fizdale

 

Defensive Player: Draymond Green

This one really isn’t much of a contest. Draymond’s defense was insane against the Trailblazers. He switched effortlessly from centers to guards, and has now anchored a defensive unit to two consecutive sweeps. He has 21 blocks in 8 games so far (for comparison, Rudy Gobert has 11 blocks in 8 games.) End of discussion. Draymond is in a league of his own right now.

Honorable Mentions: Rudy Gobert, Clint Capela, Lebron James

 

All-NBA Playoffs Teams

All-NBA First Team

John Wall: Wall has been absolutely unstoppable for the Wizards. He’s scoring more than 10 more points than his career playoff high while keeping his assist numbers steady. He’s been an elite playmaker and scorer, and his defense has been very solid.

James Harden: While his numbers are down from the regular season, James Harden has been great in the playoffs. He is averaging 30 points per game, and his team is two games away from the Western Conference finals. Although he hasn’t quite played to his potential, he’s still been one of the best guards.

Lebron James: See above.

Kawhi Leonard: Kawhi Leonard has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Spurs. He’s had to do just about everything to ensure victory so far, and he leads the playoffs in win shares as a result. His efficiency has also been remarkable. Kawhi and Lebron have been far and away the best two players of the playoffs.

Draymond Green: See above.

 

All-NBA Second Team

Steph Curry: The Warriors have breezed through their first two opponents, and Curry hasn’t had to play out of his mind to ensure success. Nevertheless, he’s put up some impressive stats and is shooting well from the field.

Chris Paul: Chris Paul could not have done more to help the Clippers win their series against the Jazz. After Blake Griffin went down, Paul stepped up. He ended up averaging 25.3 points and 9.9 assists per game. The Clippers may have fallen short, but Chris Paul deserves none of the blame.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: In his first playoff appearance, the Greek Freak continued to show the world that he is legit. 24.8 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. Not bad.

Gordon Hayward: Hayward has put up an efficient 24 points a game while leading the Jazz to the second round. Though his fate was sealed against the Warriors, Hayward put up a great playoff season in a contract year.

Rudy Gobert: The center position is weak, so Gobert makes the second team despite missing games. Gobert played well on both ends of the floor for the Jazz while adding 11 points and 9 rebounds per game.

 

All-NBA Third Team

Russell Westbrook: Westbrook had a 47 percent usage rate. Sheesh. Nonetheless, he kept the Thunder close most games before getting gassed in the fourth quarter. And a playoff stat line of 37.8 points per game, 11.6 rebounds per game and 10.8 assists per game can’t be ignored.

Mike Conley: Conley did everything he could to keep the Grizzlies close with the Spurs. He averaged 24 points per game while shooting 44% from the three point line. The Spurs were the better team, but Conley came out with something to prove in the series. Needless to say, he proved it.

Jimmy Butler: Butler didn’t have his most efficient series against the Celtics, but he was clearly the best player on the floor during the series. He played well on both sides of the ball, and kept the series much closer than it could’ve been.

Paul Millsap: The Hawks were outed in 6 games against the Wizards, but Millsap had a fantastic series. He put up his playoff career high in points per game with 24.3 while making more than 50% of his field goals. He also added his career high in assists per game.

Clint Capela: Capela has been a solid producer for the Rockets. In a playoff field that lacks in strong big men, he has put up more than 10 points and 8 rebounds per game. He also has 24 blocks in 9 games, and is third in the league in defensive win shares.

 

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What’s Next For Chris Paul?

Chris Paul has failed to even make the Western Conference Finals for his sixth straight year in Los Angeles. The Clippers have had trouble in the playoffs during Paul’s time with the team despite having other star players surrounding him. Paul’s time as a star player is coming to an end, which raises the question of what’s next for CP3?

Paul has an opt-out clause in his contract that would allow him to hit the free agent market this summer. Regardless of whether or not he decides to stay in Los Angeles, Paul will almost certainly use the opt-out clause.

If Paul stays with the Clippers, he is eligible to sign a five-year deal worth more than $200 million. Leaving the Clippers would significantly reduce the maximum contract that Paul could sign. However, some other factors must be considered.

A recent report said that Paul is likely to opt-out and resign with the Clippers. However, the status of fellow star Blake Griffin is also up in the air. If Griffin decides to leave in free agency, would it be wise for Paul to return to Los Angeles?

Paul’s window of opportunity for winning a championship is closing fast. Blake Griffin has proven his lack of durability again this season, and he has lacked the same explosiveness after suffering a number of knee injuries. Clippers starting shooting guard J.J. Redick is also a free agent this summer, which could further impact Paul’s decision.

The incentive to move would be motivated by a desire to have a better chance at a championship as his prime begins to come to a close. Paul looked great without Griffin in this year’s playoffs, and could likely be a key piece in a championship contender if the fit was right. The incentive to stay would be the considerably larger contract.

It seems that no matter how well Paul performs in the playoffs, the Clippers are doomed to have an early exit year after year. According to NBA analyst Shane Young, his career playoff stats have been historically great. He ranks third in player efficiency behind LeBron James and Michael Jordan, third in true shooting behind Magic Johnson and Stephen Curry, second in assist percentage behind John Stockton and has had a career playoff slash line of .519/.318/.847.

Clearly, the Clippers playoff woes run far deeper than Paul. Would his chance at a ring be heightened if he were to change teams? Paul could move to San Antonio this summer and team up with Kawhi Leonard to try and take down the Warriors in the West. With better coaching, Paul would likely thrive in the Spurs’ system. He would also be able to be more of a playmaker for the offense with Leonard, which could make him a much more efficient player.

The Clippers would still be a strong team if Griffin and Paul returned and could still continue to compete for a championship. After all, they looked like one of the strongest teams in the league at the beginning of the year.

However, after six years of failing to meet expectations, how high is the Clippers’ ceiling truly? Either way, Paul is a generational talent and will be a game changer no matter where he ends up going.

 

(Featured Image by Sporting News)

 

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The Best Remaining NBA Playoff Teams

The Trailblazers, Pacers and Thunder have become the first three teams to be sent home from the NBA playoffs. The Cavaliers and Warriors both swept their first-round opponents. The Rockets also sent Oklahoma City home, leaving 13 remaining teams.

As the playoffs have started, teams have started to reveal their true abilities. Playoff LeBron James has elevated the Cavs to another level, while the Celtics have struggled to capture their magic from the regular season. As teams begin to take playoff form, their championship potential has started to become unearthed.

Tier 1: The Elite

The top tier of NBA playoff teams consists of teams that have proven that they can win the title. They aren’t contenders, but rather the teams nobody would be surprised to see hoist the trophy come June.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The defending champions obviously have to be on this list. James has entered playoff mode. It’s evident by his massacre of the Pacers this week, and seems to once again be an unstoppable force. He has more depth than he had last season, and they have played well even without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love so far.

The path through the East shouldn’t be incredibly difficult this year, and the Cavs will most likely once again find themselves in the NBA championship. Seeing them repeat would hardly be a surprise.

Golden State Warriors

Even though Steve Kerr may miss the entirety of the playoffs, the Warriors still remain the favorites this year. They have two of the five best players in the league on their team, along with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green behind them. JaVale McGee is also having an incredible postseason so far.

The Warriors are one of the most dangerous teams in the league on both sides of the floor, so it is no surprise that they are one of the two elite teams in the league right now. They are undoubtedly the championship favorites right now, assuming they can stay healthy.

Tier 2: The Contenders

The second tier of NBA playoff teams consists of teams who have a chance to dethrone the Cavs or Warriors. They are the teams that have a chance to win the championship despite being the underdogs.

Houston Rockets

The Rockets have proven themselves as a legit team so far. James Harden leads the most dangerous offense in the league right now and can put up points in a hurry. The Rockets are a serious threat to pull off an upset, especially with the way Patrick Beverly has played so far.

The biggest flaw of the Rockets this postseason is that they might have a tough time guarding long wing scorers. Guys like Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and LeBron James would pose matchup problems for the Rockets, and they would likely have to get through each of those players to win the championship. Their offense still makes them a threat and they remain a contender in the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs

Although they have struggled with the Grizzlies so far, the Spurs will be a contender as long as they have Kawhi Leonard healthy and Gregg Popovich calling the shots. Leonard looks like the best player in the playoffs not on the Warriors or Cavs and has had a ridiculous series.

The elite coaching of Pop combined with the elite defense of Leonard and the Spurs could pose a huge problem for the Warriors. If they can take the Warriors off of their rhythm, they could make a run at the championship.

Tier 3: The Outside Shot Teams

These teams are the last teams that have a shot at the title. They aren’t contenders, but with a little bit of luck they could end up having a shot at the NBA Finals.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors came out slow against the Bucks, but have since started to regain their form. They are one win away from taking the series from the young Bucks.

The Raptors’ backcourt remains the strongest part of the team, and also their biggest weakness in the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have continued their trend of weak play during the playoffs as they have struggled immensely.

If Lowry and DeRozan can consistently play like superstars, the Raptors may have a chance at taking down the Cavs. Otherwise, all they have is an outside shot.

Los Angeles Clippers

This team could have ranked in the second tier if Blake Griffin was healthy. However, it is unlikely that Chris Paul will be able to carry this heavy of a load through the entire playoffs.

Paul has played phenomenally so far, but it will be tough to keep up this level of play up if they face the Warriors. The Warriors will also have an extended period of rest, while the Clippers will be playing two to three more games this round. If Paul can reach yet another level, they may have a chance. For now, they remain an outside shot team.

Utah Jazz

With the emergence of clutch time Joe Johnson, the Jazz have been putting up quite a fight against the Clippers. A healthy Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward will also make this team a tough out.

Like the Clippers, the Jazz simply don’t have the firepower to keep up with the Warriors in the second round. Both teams have a big defensive stopper in the frontcourt and scoring ability in the backcourt and wing. However, they will likely fall victim to the Warriors’ powerhouse.

Washington Wizards

The Wizards came out hot at the beginning of the series, but have since struggled against the Hawks. The Wizards have given the Cavs some trouble in the past, so it’s not crazy to think they might have an outside shot in a series against them.

The Cavs would likely have a tough time guarding the pick-and-roll between John Wall and Marcin Gortat. If the Wizards can exploit that, they may be able to put up points against the Cavs. Ultimately though, they simply don’t have a solution for LeBron James. Like most other teams in the East, James creates too many matchup problems for a small team like the Wizards to defend. They have a chance, but it’s a small one.

 

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Why The Wizards Are The Most Exciting Team In The Playoffs

John Wall lit up the court Wednesday night as the Verizon Center crowd rained down chants of “M-V-P.” Wall put up 32 points and nine assists for the Wizards to help them take a 2-0 lead over the Hawks.

The Wizards are beginning to prove themselves as legit as the playoff season continues to kick into gear. They’re not on the level of teams like the Warriors and Cavs, but one things is becoming clear: the Washington Wizards are the most exciting team in the playoffs.

Obviously, the excitement starts with John Wall. Wall took a steal the length of the court before finishing off with a nasty dunk on Dennis Schroder early in the second half, prompting Wall to stare down Schroder.

Wall has been publicly critical of his lack of appearances on national TV, and he seems to be taking this opportunity to show NBA fans just how great he is. Wall hit Schroder with a filthy spin move before draining a step back dagger to extend the Wizards’ lead later in the game.

Wall’s speed in transition, top notch ball handling and elite playmaking ability make him one of the most fun guys to watch in the league. He’s constantly made tough passes through the first two games of the series while showing his improved skill around the rim as a slasher.

The Wizards are made even more exciting by the second piece of their backcourt, Bradley Beal. Beal has struggled with injuries during every year before this one. He’s used this period of health to show what a great player he is when he can stay on the court.

(courtesy of Bleacher Report)

After struggling from beyond the arc during Game 1, Beal hit four 3-pointers on his way to 31 points Wednesday. Although streaky, Beal’s scoring ability is undeniable and he has turned into one of the more exciting shooting guards in the league. He also put up 16 of his 31 points in the 4th quarter to help the Wizards close out the Hawks, including a dagger 3-pointer that sealed the win.

Head coach Scott Brooks does have a knack for bringing the best out of players offensively, and he has clearly had a positive impact on Wall and Beal this season.

Markieff Morris has been another key factor in the Wizards’ success this season. Despite getting into early foul trouble in Game 2, Morris has added a physical presence to the Wizards that was desperately needed.

Morris came up huge in Game 1. He had two emphatic dunks and four monstrous blocks on the Hawks that helped the Wizards establish their physical presence from the get-go.

With Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter filling out the starting lineup, the Wizards have an incredibly dangerous starting five. Gortat and Wall have been deadly while running the pick and roll. With Wall’s playmaking ability and Gortat’s offensive prowess in the post, the duo has been consistently exciting to watch.

It will be interesting to see how the Wizards play with a 2-0 lead. They play the next two games on the road where they have struggled immensely this season. Still, every game for the Wizards should continue to be exciting with the talent they are able to put on the floor and the tenacity that the team has. So far, they truly look like they could contend with anyone in the Eastern Conference.

 

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