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Contrary to popular belief, Celtics vastly improved with addition ... and subtraction


Contrary to popular belief, Celtics vastly improved with addition ... and subtraction

Whenever a blockbuster trade goes down in the NBA, the first reaction always seems to center around who "won" the deal.

After the Cavs traded Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the Nets 2018 first-round pick, that's all NBA Twitter wanted to talk about.

Plenty seemed to feel the Celtics got worse this offseason, especially defensively, and looked at it as a regression from last season's Eastern Conference Finals team.

Others were confused.

Some just wanted an excuse to make another Earth joke.

LeBron James took the high road at least.


There's way too much overthinking with this trade. It's simple, the Celtics are a better team than they were last year. 

Just on talent alone, any reasonable person would see that a lineup of Irving, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, Al Horford, and either Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown has a higher ceiling than Thomas, Horford, Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Kelly Olynyk.

Where did the "you need multiple stars to win in the NBA" narrative get lost in all this? When was it forgotten that the Celtics lacked more than one punch when it came to closing out games?

It was forgotten when the identity of the Celtics looked like it was changing. Yes, losing Bradley means a great perimeter defender is missing, and yes Olynyk was a hard-nosed guy that helped shape that defensive image as well. But this team can still keep that identity while adding more talent on the offensive side.

Believe it or not, the Celtics have players to do both.


Defensive Win Shares is something used to estimate the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense. The league leaders in Defensive Win Shares from 2016-17 were Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, Andre Drummond, Hassan Whiteside, Anthony Davis, and Kawhi Leonard. Some of the best defenders in the game today.

It has credibility. 

Bradley ranked 107th on this list. Olynyk came in at No. 120. 

Horford was 45th last year, Marcus Smart was 49th. They're still in Boston.

Even better news for the Celtics, newcomers Marcus Morris and Gordon Hayward were higher than Bradley and Olynyk too. Morris was 76th, and Hayward was all the way up at 20th. Hayward also came from a Utah team that was the best in the NBA in points allowed (96.8). The Celtics ranked 15th.

Smart will likely be counted on to defend bigger players this year, but compared to Bradley (6-2, 180), Smart is bigger (6-4, 220), with great on-ball defensive skills of his own.

So what's this all mean?

The Celtics lost some great defenders — yes — but added more players that can contribute on both sides of the ball, something they lacked on a consistent basis last season.

No, Irving didn't show great effort on defense, but Thomas, quite simply, is too small to defend anyone and had to be hidden on defense anyway. You can argue Irving is still a slight upgrade there, as crazy as that might sound.

Sometimes defense is about effort, and if there's anyone that can get maximum effort and results from his players, it's Brad Stevens. Any coach that can get mid-major Butler University within a win of a NCAA National Championship in back-to-back seasons, and take a Celtics team full of underappreciated players to the Eastern Conference Finals, shows he can make anyone better that wants to be. 

Now, Boston has the talent to count on multiple players late in close games. Last year, it was only Thomas.

The Celtics also have a chance to keep this core together for the long-term. Danny Ainge doesn't make this trade if he's not convinced Irving has a desire to stay past the next two years on his deal.

At the other end of the trade spectrum, the Cavaliers could be in total rebuild mode after next year.

LeBron James can leave, Thomas will want a max deal, and the team is already in luxury tax hell from all of the deals they've done to keep LeBron happy. Oh, and they just traded their second-best player to their rival. Not to mention, there's a good chance Thomas never puts up the numbers he did this past year again.

The Celtics sold high.

Sure, this new Celtics team still has to gel, which is something that's certainly beneficial for the Wizards, a team that has chemistry and continuity from years of playing together. But in today's NBA, you have to have stars, plain and simple.

Right now, the Kyrie Irving trade can only be judged by what we see in front of us, and what we see is a better team in Boston. 

It also means, all four nationally televised games between the Wizards and Celtics just got even more competitive too. 

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

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Oklahoma star freshman Trae Young to enter NBA Draft

After a sensational freshman season at the University of Oklahoma, point guard Trae Young plans to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, according to a report by ESPN.

Young will be one of the most fascinating prospects in this class given the extreme highs and lows of his one college season. He vaulted into the top 10 in most mock drafts after beginning his freshman year on fire, but then began to slip over the final months as his shooting percentage dropped.


Right now the Wizards are lined up to be in the late teens, so it's unlikely he falls to their range. But at this point it's difficult to predict where he will go, whether that is top five or later in the lottery.

It really could go either way. Some teams may see him as a Steph Curry-like scorer who can hit shots from unusually deep range. There were certainly times where Young backed up those comparisons.

Teams could see his flaws as a result of opposing defenses honing in on him because they could at the college level. In the NBA he may have more space and therefore be able to play to his strengths.


Or, teams could look at the fact he shot 36.1 percent from three on a whopping 10.2 attempts per game as a sign he is a chucker. He also led the nation in turnovers, commiting 24 more than the next guy. Young averaged 5.2 giveaways per game.

While Curry is the best-case scenario, Jimmer Fredette may be the worst-case. Fredette was the 10th overall pick in 2011 and now plays in China. 

Young will be an intriguing prospect in the draft because the ceiling is high and the basement is low. 

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