Celtics

The Tao of Darko: Why can't he help the Celtics?

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The Tao of Darko: Why can't he help the Celtics?

On October 30, short of injury or international incident, Darko Milicic will become the sixth Top 2 NBA pick to play for the Celtics in last the 20 years.

Thats very likely the most random sentence youll read all week, but just for fun, in the name of randomness, can you name the other five?

Once again, were looking for five players who were drafted either first or second overall, and played for Boston sometime between 1992 and Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals

Ill give you a few minutes to think.

OK, so in chronological order of their Celtics debut, weve got . . .

Pervis Ellison: The No. 1 pick in the 1989 Draft, Big Perv played in Boston from 1995-2000. He was often injured, appearing in only 69 games over his last three seasons with the Cs, but to Ellisons credit, his hair was always stupendous.

Kenny Anderson: The No. 2 pick in the 1991 Draft, Anderson played four seasons for the Celtics (1998-2002). The Green didnt get the best years of Kennys career, but he still played a key role in Bostons run to the 2002 Conference Finals and single-handedly kept at least four local Bentley dealerships in business.

Gary Payton: The No. 2 pick in the 1990 Draft spent the 2005 season in Boston. The Glove averaged 11.3 points and 6.1 assists per game, and is still the only player in Celtics history to be traded for, then traded and then signed as a free agent in the same season. I think.

Michael Olowokandi: The No. 1 overall pick in the 1998 Draft, the Kandi Man was a smooth criminal who dominated the paint in Boston from 2005-2007.

And finally, Shaquille ONeal: The No. 1 pick in the 1992 Draft, ONeals Celtics career spanned a mighty 37 games, and he once posed as a statue in Harvard Square.

In the words of Tony Kornheiser: Thats it. Thats the list. And while on the surface, these five guys have little to no connection aside from similar draft position and mostly forgettable stints with the Cs, their respective careers pretty much run the gamut of reality when it comes to Top 2 picks.

First, theres Shaq, arguably one of the Top 10 players in NBA history, and easily one of the most dominant. Hes your best-case scenario right up until he signs with the Lakers.

A stepmany steps below Shaq, theres Payton a future Hall of Famer; one of the greatest point guards, competitors and all-around defenders of his era. The Glove never won a title on his own, but snagged a late ring off the bench for the 2006 Heat.

Beneath Payton, albeit significantly, theres Anderson. Kenny (along with Derrick Coleman, although it didn't help that they lost Drazen Petrovic) never fulfilled expectations in New Jersey, but he still had a respectable career. Anderson averaged 17.8 points and 8.8 assists from 1992-97, and averaged double figures for eight straight years (1992-2000). He never won anything, and should never be mentioned in the same breath as Payton, but you can do a lot worse than Kenny Anderson with a Top 2 pick.

For instance, Pervis Ellison, who averaged 20 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.7 blocks a game in 1992 on his way to winning the NBAs Most Improved Player award but then saw his career derailed by injury (knee and otherwise). He played more than 60 games only once over his final eight seasons, and finished with career averages of 9.5 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. (However, by all accounts, he was never nervous.)

And finally, theres the Kandi Man. Olowokandi wasnt quite as bad as history will remember. A major project coming out of Pacific, he averaged 8.6 points, eight rebounds and 1.6 blocks over his first four seasons with the Clippers. He also played in more games and registered more career minutes than Ellison while struggling through a similar array of knee injuries. But the Kandi Mans career (perhaps due in large part to his association with the Clippers and the fact that his nickname was The Kandi Man) will always be a much more powerful punch line. His name is forever synonymous with NBA bust.

There are obviously many more intermediate levels on the spectrum of Top 2 picks, but Id say that these five guys have you pretty much covered from top to bottom . . .

And that brings us back to Darko.

As I type, Milicic's legacy is cemented within the depths of Kandi Land. He's an absolute bust. Not only when compared to the players he was drafted in front of (Melo, DWade, Chris Bosh), but by any standard of measure in NBA Draft history. Over nine NBA seasons, he's averaged six points and 4.2 rebounds a game. He's failed at five different stops (Detroit, Orlando, Memphis, New York and Minnesota) along his NBA trail.

Over that time, on top of his minimal production, Darko's also become a very angry man. A man you might not want hanging around your team. A man who once publicly threatened to have sex with a referee's mother (and daughter!) after Serbia was knocked out of the 2007 FIBA World Championship.

He's really become the total package.

Yet, here we are or most of us, at least two games into the Celtics preseason, and feeling like Darko Milicic has finally found a home in Boston. We're thinking and saying the same things they did at various points in Detroit, Orlando, Memphis, New York and Minnesota, before the crap hit the fan and Darko was off to his next endeavor.

We've heard the stories. We know the background. Yet, after two measly preseason games, we're starting to believe in Darko Milicic.

Why?

First, because unlike Ellison and Olowokandi, injuries have never been a major issue for Darko at least nothing that's affected him in the long term. Maybe that's because he's still only 27 (basically only a year older than Rondo), but whatever the reason, Darko's still every bit the physical specimen he was when came into the league. If anything, his presence is more imposing now than it's ever been. He might be one of the strongest, most immovable objects in the league.

Aside from his size, it's also clear that Darko understands the game. He might not be able to execute it all the time, but unlike some past Celtics back-up centers (aka Mikki Moore and Ryan Hollins), Milicic has a brain.

Take this pass in the Celtics first game against Fenerbahce Ulker:

That's a smart, heady play. If Rondo had done that, it would have been on Plays of the Week. Sure, it's just one little tip pass, but it displayed a level of basketball instinct that you don't see every day in seven-footers. And while we obviously have to factor in the competition, Darko also proved to be an aggressive rebounder and solid post defender during EuroCeltics action.

Finally, you're not worried about him being a locker room cancer, because that's just not possible. You really think the Celtics are going to allow their ninth man, who's playing for the veteran minimum, to have any negative effect on what they're trying to do?

The second that Darko becomes a legitimate issue off the court (that is, if he ever does), one of two things will happen.

1) The Celtics will show him the door, regardless his guaranteed contract. Worst-case scenario, they put him on the inactive list with a BS back injury and pay for his flight back to Serbia.

2. He's mauled to death by Kevin Garnett.

Take your pick, but know that Darko is not going to kill this team's chemistry.

We put all that optimism together and can't help but ask the question:

Why can't Darko help the Celtics this year?

Why can't he come off the bench for 13-15 minutes a night, rebound, protect the middle, block some shots, bust some heads and make Boston a better team?

It all comes down to managing expectations.

There's no doubt that much of Darko's anger stems from the belief that he never got a fair chance in the NBA: "I've said it 10,000 times, the best way for me to improve is to play. All the work in practice and individual workouts can only help me so much," he said during his time in Detroit. There's no doubt that he's been affected by all the noise surrounding his standing among some of the biggest busts in NBA history.

But now that he's on the Celtics, Milicic needs to understand that no one cares.

He's not the Celtics problem. They didn't waste a Top 3 pick or ruin their cap to bring him on board. As for as Boston's concerned, he's a nameless seven footer, playing for the veteran minimum, who can rebound, block shots and just happens to be built like an African elephant.

"Our thing right now with Darko is to play forward," Doc Rivers said last week. "From being around for a short time, as a coach I can probably feel he's played his career backwards. He lives in the past a lot and we're trying to get him to live in the future."

That's all it is.

Despite a career filled with untapped potential and unmet expectations, Darko needs to let go and come to grips with the fact that it's over. For the first time in his career, there are no lofty expectations. Only a modest role, befit of an average NBA center. It's no longer about where he falls on the spectrum of Top 2 NBA picks, it's how he fits within the fabric of this Celtics team.

And right now, on paper, it looks like he might fit in pretty well.

Just because he was a miserable No. 2 pick doesn't mean he can't be a quality back-up center.

But he has to allow himself to get there.

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

Blakely's 2018 All-Star Game selections

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Blakely's 2018 All-Star Game selections

WALTHAM, Mass – With only a few hours remaining, fans will get one last shot at voting in this year’s all-star balloting. 

The NBA has tweaked the rules a bit this year which includes a component in which a select number of media members are included in the voting process.

I am fortunate to be among the voting media members this year. 

And while the league won’t reveal exactly who each media member voted for, I have no problem publicly announcing who my starting five in the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively, would be this season. 

But before I do that, I need to explain my criteria for picking the starters. 

First and foremost, they have to be players who clearly impact winning and their team’s success. 

Most of the time, this is pretty apparent when you look at the numbers they post on a night-in, night-out basis. 

But every now and then, there’s a player whose numbers don’t speak to their impact on the court (yes, I have one guy in my starting five who falls under that category).

While most of the selections were relatively easy picks, the Western Conference was tricky because of the insanely elite depth in the backcourt.

Golden State’s Stephen Curry, Houston’s James Harden and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook are all worthy of having all-star starter status. 

But because only two guards can be picked, one of them will continue to be left off until all-star selections become position-less picks akin to the way the game is being played these days. 

 In addition, you have players like Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler who would have been a starter on my ballot if it wasn’t for the fact that the 6-foot-8 Butler is listed as a guard and not in the frontcourt.

And with that, here are my all-star selections for the Eastern and Western Conferences which includes my honorable mentions (aka likely all-star reserves).

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

GUARDS

Kyrie Irving, Boston: A four-time all-star, Irving has been the ultimate difference-maker for a Celtics team that has been among the NBA’s top teams most of this season. 

DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: One of the best scorers in the NBA, DeRozan’s play has elevated him to being in the league MVP conversation this season.

Honorable mentions: Victor Oladipo, Indiana. Bradley Beal, Washington. Kemba Walker, Charlotte. John Wall, Washington.

 

FRONTCOURT

LeBron James, Cleveland: At 34 years young, James seems to be getting better with time. Now the rest of the Cavs … that’s an entirely different story.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee: The Greek Freak train has slowed down some, but he’s still one of the best stat-stuffers in the NBA.

Joel Embiid, Philadelphia: There are a handful of players on the cusp of being named to their first all-star team. You would be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving than Embiid this year.

Honorable mentions: Al Horford, Boston. Kevin Love, Cleveland. Kristaps Porzingis, New York.

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

GUARDS

James Harden, Houston: A hamstring injury has him currently sidelined, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that he ranks among the league’s top 10 in scoring (32.3), assists (9.1) and steals (1.8) per game.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City: Tough call between Westbrook and Curry. But ultimately, it was Westbrook tallying 13 (and counting) double-doubles to include at least 20 points scored, and Curry missing 14 games this season that ultimately tipped – just barely – Westbrook ahead of Curry. 

Honorable mentions: Stephen Curry, Golden State. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota. Klay Thompson, Golden State. 

 

FRONTCOURT

Kevin Durant, Golden State: In what will be a ninth straight all-star selection, Durant is having a pretty standard season of elite play, averaging 26.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists along with a career-high 2.1 blocked shots per game. 

Anthony Davis, New Orleans: The Pelicans are winning and definitely on the rise, and part of that certainly has to do with Davis being a more efficient scorer. He averages 26.7 points per game while shooting career highs from the field (56.6 percent) and 3-point range (36.1 percent).

Draymond Green, Golden State: Easily the toughest call of all my selections, my preference was to have 6-8 Jimmy Butler of Minnesota here. His leadership, versatility and presence have been at the heart of Minnesota’s resurgence into a legitimate playoff contender this season. But Butler is listed as a guard and there’s no way I could have him start and have Westbrook or Harden come off the bench. Butler’s teammate Karl-Anthony Towns is a logical option to be the fifth starter, and I went back and forth between him and Green. There’s no question that Towns has the better statistics. And if it were only about stats, then you would have to throw New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins into the mix as well. I’m a big believer that every all-star game should have at least one guy in it who is being rewarded for being an ultimate glue-guy, a player whose statistics consistently come up short when compared to his impact on winning. You can find better players talent-wise than Green, but those who impact winning? Not so much. And as much as the all-star game is a celebration of the NBA’s most talented players, there should always be room for at least one player who significantly impacts winning. And as you look around the NBA, that talent sets Green apart from most. 

Honorable mentions: Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota. DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio. Nikola Jokic, Denver. Paul George, Oklahoma City.

Horford and Tatum return to practice

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Horford and Tatum return to practice

WALTHAM, Mass. – The extra days of practice could not have come at a better time for the Boston Celtics, with key players sitting out to rest their bumps and bruises leading up to Tuesday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both Al Horford (left knee/calf injury) and Jayson Tatum (left knee) returned to the practice floor on Monday after missing practice on Saturday.

“It’s responding better,” said Horford who plans to play against the Pelicans on Tuesday. “I’m excited for the game tomorrow.”

Tatum echoed similar sentiments.

“It’s feeling a lot better. I just tweaked it in the game in London,” said Tatum who like Horford, confirmed he too planned to be in Boston’s lineup against New Orleans. “And on a long plane ride, it got stiff. We had a few days off from practice. They just told me to rest the other day in practice.”

Monday was Boston’s second practice since returning to town following their five-day London stay which included an 11-point win over Philadelphia last week which extended the Celtics’ winning streak to seven in a row and improved their East-leading record to 34-10.

The added time in between games will provide Boston an opportunity to tighten up a couple areas of slippage that, while haven’t factored heavily in terms of wins and losses, has made finding success tougher than needed.

In their 114-103 win over Philadelphia on Jan. 11 at The O2 Arena in London, Boston trailed by as many as 22 points before rallying in the second half in which they led by as many as 19 points.

Horford had 13 points and eight rebounds in the win over the Sixers, while Tatum had 16 points – 11 coming in the third quarter.

Both played key roles in last week’s win, and their value remains high heading into Tuesday’s game against the Pelicans.

The timing of Tatum and Horford’s injuries not being serious comes when the Celtics are just starting to become whole.

Terry Rozier is playing some of his best basketball of the season lately. Daniel Theis and Aron Baynes are steady contributors defensively as well as on the boards.

And Marcus Morris, who has spent most of this season either injured or playing with a minutes restriction, played with no limitations last week in London and delivered one of his best games of the season.

Morris came off the bench to score 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting to go with eight rebounds in helping Boston come away with the win.

“It really is about the five on the court,” Baynes told NBC Sports Boston. “No matter who they are, we all know we got a job to do and we do it well, really well, together.”

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