Celtics

Blakely: How rare is it for a conference finalist to have four returnees?

Blakely: How rare is it for a conference finalist to have four returnees?

BOSTON – One by one, we have seen the Boston Celtics, just three wins away from a trip to the NBA Finals, dismantled before our very eyes.

Just like the Celtics felt in 2013 that they had gone as far as they could with that core group, a similar sentiment was felt this offseason.

Boston returns just four players from a team that had the best record in the East (I know Cleveland rested players, but, hey, I didn’t see Toronto or Milwaukee or any other team step up and take hold of the top spot, either).

It’s not unusual to see teams try to shake things up after a deep playoff run. But a near-complete overhaul?

Looking back at teams that have advanced to their respective conference final, no team in the last decade has gutted their roster to the extent that we have seen the Celtics do this offseason. 

Now, mind you, most of the changes that the Celtics have made for the most part are seen as upgrades.

You lose Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko but in come Aron Baynes and Marcus Morris, whose defensive rating as a tandem is among the best in the NBA.

Fans will certainly miss Jae Crowder’s do-it-all defense and Isaiah Thomas’ scoring. But Crowder’s departure opens up more minutes for Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum. And the gap left by Thomas’ departure will be filled by Kyrie Irving, a 25-year-old Olympic gold medalist who has already won an NBA title and has been named to the Eastern Conference’s All-Star team four times.

And let’s not forget the Celtics also landed Gordon Hayward, who left Utah -- and about $40 million on the table -- to reunite with his college coach, Brad Stevens, here in Boston. 

Still, it’s a bit startling to see how unusual the Celtics and their overwhelming desire to look and play differently, compares to other teams after coming so close to getting to the Finals. 

Since the 2008 playoffs (Boston won it all that year, remember?), only 32.5 percent of the teams (13 out of 40) that advanced to their respective Conference final returned a single-digit total of players the following season. 

And then there’s the 2014 NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, which knocked off the Miami Heat in five games, at the opposite end of that spectrum. Following their title season, they returned a whopping 14 players.

And from among those teams that have advanced to the Finals in the last decade, the Spurs (5) are the only club to get to their respective Conference final more than Boston (4).

While there have been a decent number of teams to have rosters with single-digit returnees the following season, this Celtics team is very much in a class unto itself.

In fact, the closest team to returning so few players from a team that advanced to the NBA’s equivalent of the Final Four was the Orlando Magic after they advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.

The following season, they returned just seven players from the previous team.

To endure such a major roster reconstruction raises lots of questions about chemistry. Specifically, how long will it take to develop?

In past years, teams would meander their way through a long and oftentimes drawn out preseason. That won’t be the case this year, not with the league allowing for more practice time for teams, which has sliced Boston’s preseason schedule down to just four games.

Timing and continuity will have to be developed in practice, which could make for some not-so-stellar play early in the season as different combinations are used to figure out which ones work best against competition, without necessarily the benefit of seven or eight preseason games.

But as much as the chemistry at first may be an issue, Boston’s overall upgrade in talent isn’t in question.

They now have a Big Three of Irving, Hayward and Al Horford, who collectively have 11 All-Star appearances to their credit. The team’s depth is green, but Boston has veterans like Marcus Smart coming back along with veteran newcomers Baynes and Morris to add to a young mix of talented up-and-comers like Brown and Tatum.

While Boston dismantling its roster may seem jarring, Celtics Nation has to be mindful that the changes are geared toward doing one thing and one thing only: building a squad that can put the Green Team on a faster track to competing for Banner 18.

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Bleacher Report puts Jayson Tatum on 'overhyped' list

Bleacher Report puts Jayson Tatum on 'overhyped' list

Bleacher Report ran a piece Tuesday listing the NBA's five "most overhyped players" entering the coming season. Jayson Tatum leads the list. Hold me back. 

These pieces are obviously subjective as hell, as they rely on "people probably think X," which may or may not be the reality of the situation. In the case of Tatum, writer Grant Hughes acknowledges that he feels Tatum is a franchise player, but that he could be a victim of the team for which he plays. 

Writes Hughes

Kyrie Irving has never been one to take a backseat, and with him back on the floor, it'll be much harder for Tatum to build on his postseason takeover. Throw Gordon Hayward into the mix, and there will be even fewer touches for the 20-year-old wing. And that's to say nothing of Jaylen Brown, who's a superior defender at the moment and averaged 18 points per game in the playoffs on more efficient shooting than Tatum managed. He's due for an increased role as well.

C's fans can first breathe at the fact that Hughes most certainly is not calling Tatum overrated. Then, if they're rational, they can wonder whether Hughes has a point. 

Tatum's five best scoring games of the regular season came with Kyrie out of the lineup, one of which was prior to Irving being shut down for the season. He obviously went on to average over four and a half points more in the postseason without Irving (18.5) than he did in the regular season (13.9). 

No, Tatum is not going to be the Celtics' top scorer this season. He also won't be a rookie again. Dude looked like he tacked on like 80 pounds of muscle like a month after the season ended. He's been in gyms destroying everyone from Joel Embiid to a hilarious assortment of camp-going children. He's out here mentoring Kobe

Even if Brad Stevens wants to get creative and have Tatum come off the bench (that doesn't need to happen; he can start the five best players), Tatum is a lethal enough offensive player to put up 20 a night. 

But back to the idea of him being overhyped. I don't think anyone's putting the kid in the MVP conversation. They probably just saw the third overall pick have a really good rookie year and figure that he'll continue to blossom into a star, if he isn't one already. 

The other players listed in the piece were DeMarcus Cousins, Zach LaVine, Josh Jackson and Kawhi Leonard. Leonard falls into the rule of thumb that if you're one of the five best players in the league, as Kawhi is, it's really easy for people to overhype you. That's not Leonard's fault. 

But the other guys? Who the heck is hyping -- let alone overhyping -- Zach LaVine? The only time Zach LaVine made headlines this summer was when he was given an offersheet by the Kings that most felt was too much and the Bulls matched it. Everyone thinks he's a stinky defensive player who's coming off an ACL injury. Unless there's some expectation that he's going to start averaging six or seven more points a night than he ever has, he isn't being overhyped. He's just overpaid. 

The Cousins pick could very well be fair. As Hughes writes, Boogie is a "luxury, not a game-changer for the Warriors." It's very possible that his impact on the Warriors won't be as significant as the league fears. Maybe he takes longer than expected to come back. Maybe when he does come back, he proves to be a divisive player with that group. Then again, maybe he gives them 25 and 12 a night and the Warriors go undefeated in the postseason. 

Selling Jackson as overhyped is tough. He's a second-year player who finished his rookie year on fire, including a 36-point performance against the Warriors. He sure as hell won't average 22.6 points like he did over his last 10 games as a rookie, but does anyone think he will? Nobody thinks he's a great shooter, but it's reasonable to expect something approaching the 18.7 he averaged post All-Star break, plus his usual strong defending.

Anyway, this Hughes fellow should have put Ben Simmons on the list. Guy never shoots threes. 

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Knicks, Nets reportedly in mix for Kyrie-Butler combo in '19

Knicks, Nets reportedly in mix for Kyrie-Butler combo in '19

Remember those rumors of Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler teaming up in free agency next year? Well, that buzz is back and Boston isn't the rumored destination.

Two league sources told Business Insider that the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets could be well-positioned to land the two players, with one source saying the chatter is "substantial."

"It wouldn't surprise me if either New York team or potentially both New York teams hit it big next summer," one source said.

That echoes a Chicago Sun-Times report from July which said the Celtics and Timberwolves stars had been talking about how they could team up. Each player can opt out after this season and Irving has made it known he'll be heading to free agency. The Kyrie-to-the-Knicks rumors have been around for a while. 

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