Celtics Mailbag

Celtics Mailbag: Readers have no shortage of ideas to get C's back on track

Celtics Mailbag: Readers have no shortage of ideas to get C's back on track

We don’t need a long preamble here. You know the nitty gritty.

The Boston Celtics have lost five of their last seven, including a pair of games against top Eastern Conference rivals Milwaukee and Philadelphia. After feasting on bad teams early in the season, Boston has started playing down to inferior opponents and enduring unsightly losses to Washington, San Antonio and Detroit. The confidence they inspired at the start of the year has eroded.

We asked our readers what’s on their mind and, well, there was a lot. (No, really: just scroll through the responses here). So, let’s dive into this week’s letters, which include an awful lot of thoughts on how Boston should move forward:

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Schedule's sucked, we've sucked, don't overreact. — @LeoDAndreB

This is sort of what Celtics players are clinging to at the moment. As Marcus Smart said after Thursday’s loss, "It’s the NBA. You can’t get discouraged off [rough patches]. We’ve played two back-to-back nights and stuff like that. You can’t let that discourage you. That’s part of it. We’re at the 40-game mark. It happens.” 

The schedule kicking into overdrive certainly hasn’t helped Boston’s cause and yet the level of competition — outside of those back-to-backs involving the 76ers and Bucks — has been so poor that the Celtics’ inability to continue dominating those matchups is at least a bit troublesome.

What’s more concerning is the eye test. The Celtics aren’t flying around like they once did on defense and teams have shot lights out against them lately. Boston’s offense can look great for stretches and then grind to absolute halt when Kemba Walker isn’t on the court. The schedule isn’t relenting until mid-February and the Celtics must grind through it.

What’s happened to Hayward? Even when he scores it lacks the aggression he showed the beginning of the season. — @cheeroo

Maybe Boston's most polarizing player right now, Hayward is under the microscope after some roller coaster play since coming back from the foot injury on Christmas. He’s a microcosm of the Celtics: Spectacular at times and really fighting himself at others. Hayward labored through 1-of-10 shooting in Milwaukee on Thursday night and couldn’t fully aid Boston’s comeback attempt.

Hayward hasn’t suggested that any of his struggles are injury-related and was the first to admit Thursday that he needs to be better. Fans like to point to his maximum-salary contract when fretting this inconsistent stretch and many want to move him to alleviate the wing logjam. 

We’re not at that point. We think the Celtics are still at their best when all of their wings are contributing and making each other better. Each of them has slumped a bit lately and Boston’s margin for error simply isn’t great enough to overcome that, especially given the injuries they’ve endured.

Upgrade the coach.  Get a real NBA coach! — @iamaceltic33

The Brad Stevens slander in the mailbag the past couple weeks is wild. He’s not absolved from blame but I think he, as much as anyone, would like to have all of his horses for a change so he can actually pin down the best rotations.

I'm sure everyone will be super rational with their trade proposals 🤣🤣 — @JRat316

(Takes deep breath) Let’s find out … 

Trade for Giannis, LeBron, and Harden — @NickSpada

(Sigh)

Get some shooters for the bench. — @ShawtyReed

Faithful Mailbag readers know we’ve been beating this drum for a while now. For all the laments about Boston’s need for size, we’ve long felt that Boston’s biggest issue is shooting and it’s a more obtainable skill based on the in-season assets you have available to upgrade.

Here’s the crux of the issue: Boston ranks 19th in the NBA in 3-point percentage (35.2). Take away Kemba Walker’s shooting and it plummets closer to 25th.

More condemning: Celtics reserves are shooting a meager 30.4 percent beyond the arc this season. It simply feels like Boston needs another bench piece who can consistently knock down shots and loosen things up for everybody else. Boston bench is averaging only 28.7 points per game and, given the talent of the starters, that’s not a huge issue. But you can clearly feel the offense grind to a halt when reserve units are on the floor.

The one name we keep throwing out — and who just happens to be in town on Saturday — is Suns forward Dario Saric. His playing time with Phoenix has been in flux in Phoenix recently and he hasn’t shot the ball particularly well this season, but he was solid for Philadelphia in the playoffs a couple years ago, would give you a little extra size (6-foot-10) as a backup 4.

Most importantly: He’s making reasonable money ($3.5 million) and seems like the type of player Boston might be able to pluck if it were willing to sacrifice draft assets.

Semi + Poirier + Boston 1st for Luke Kennard? — @piggypanda123

Not sure what Detroit’s motivation would be to move Kennard -- who's been sidelined by a knee injury since late December -- when he’s on a favorable rookie deal and playing well. But he’s certainly the sort of low-money sharpshooter the Celtics should covet. 

Would it be easy to just sign Jamal Crawford? If no, why not? — @JLK7299

While beggars can’t be choosers, I’d say the best fit for the Celtics is someone who might be content to simply space the floor and knock down open shots. While adding a veteran presence wouldn’t be the worst thing on a rookie-filled team, I’m not sure Crawford’s high-volume approach best accentuates Boston’s other bench talent. 

Get a scorer off the bench so they don’t have to run Semi out there anymore. — @MarcR33

In defense of Semi’s, um, defense, he was Boston’s best defender against Giannis Antetokounmpo on Thursday night. While the whole "Giannis Stopper" nickname has always been a little bit over the top, he’s stout enough to make Antetokounmpo work: The Greek Freak went 2-of-6 against Ojeleye and 9-of-16 against everyone else (including 3-of-4 against Marcus Smart).

Ojeleye did get whistled for two shooting fouls and Antetokounmpo still finished with eight points against him but it was a nice effort on a night Boston was without Jaylen Brown. This isn’t to suggest that Ojeleye needs to be a consistent bench presence but he’s a nice luxury, especially given Boston’s size woes. When he knocks down open 3-point looks, he’s a helpful player.

This team desperately needs some veterans coming off the bench. — @dalappas

Found Kyrie’s burner! Just kidding. But this is part of the trickle-down effect of injuries: Inexperienced players are being put into spots they might not be ready for and, with inconsistent minutes, the results haven’t been great.

They miss Terry Rozier.  This was a much bigger loss than I thought it would be, now that none of the rookies has proven able to contribute meaningful offense. — @tom_steely

The takes are spicy this week. I’m not sure the Celtics miss 2018-19 Rozier but, certainly, the sort of boost he was capable of providing off the bench is missed.

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Can't wait for the deadline to pass so most of the stupid trade scenario ideas go away. — @Paullyt5

Found my burner account every time someone pitches an Andre Drummond trade.

Would trading Hayward make the Celtics, and specifically Danny Ainge, look bad to potential free agents? Or has he given (Hayward) enough of a chance at this point? — @DatHennessy

We had a long talk with Ryan Bernardoni (@dangercart) on the Celtics Talk podcast this week (see above) about Hayward’s somewhat murky future and why the Celtics have to at least be willing to listen to trade possibilities.

Let’s be clear here: We don’t think the Celtics should — or will — trade Hayward but you have to at least consider options if you’re uncertain about his future here. While optics are part of the equation, Ainge has rarely let emotions or what others think dictate his decisions.

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Celtics Mailbag: It's important not to panic amid C's losing streak

Celtics Mailbag: It's important not to panic amid C's losing streak

The Boston Celtics’ first three-game losing streak of the 2019-20 season had some fans smashing their panic buttons and pondering roster shakeups. The conversation around the team veered sharply from gushing about the glut of All-Star-caliber talent on the wings to wondering if it’s suddenly holding Boston back. 

Deep breath, everybody. While we agree that this week spotlighted some of the concerns about this Celtics team, it’s been comical how quickly the tenor of the season has shifted because of one bad week. The Celtics Mailbag is overflowing with angsty letters (and a few rational ones, too) so let’s try to assess what’s worth fretting over and what’s not.

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When do we press the panic button?! — @M1ck1

Based on the responses we got to our call for question (just scroll through this), it appears some are tap dancing on the button already. You’ll see some toasty takes in the bag this week. We think it’s OK to have some concerns about this team but let’s see if this funk persists before we start talking about trading away core pieces.

What’s changed? A couple of weeks ago we looked like a championship team, but now…. — @RodatRodders

Boston certainly isn’t playing with the same sort of defensive intensity that it had early in the year when players were flying around and covering for each other. Offensively, Boston’s wings all slumping at the same time hasn’t been ideal. But, ultimately, a little more effort and attention to detail would go a long way.

A stretch of decent health would aid continuity and rotation development, too.

Is Gordon Hayward being on the team blocking the development of the Jays (Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown)? It's hard not to notice that their performance has dropped since Hayward came back from injury. — @ceesfan18

The three-man combo of Tatum, Brown, and Hayward have played 273 minutes together this season and Boston owns a solid net rating of plus-5 in that span. Take Hayward off the court and the Tatum/Brown combo’s net rating bumps up slightly to plus-6 in 474 minutes (but there’s also a sharp downturn in offensive production).

On the surface, it suggests that Hayward isn’t having a pronounced impact on team performance when the Jays are on the court together.

Tatum’s ratings are better in the 445 minutes he’s played with Hayward (plus-10.3 net rating) versus when Hayward is off the floor (plus-8.7 in 786 minutes).

What’s a bit more noticeable is how Brown’s net rating jumps from plus-0.2 in 370 minutes with Hayward to plus-6.4 in the 702 minutes without him. The flip side to that is Brown’s offensive shooting efficiency is much better with Hayward, the team simply has played better as a whole in those minutes without him.

All of which is to say that Tatum and Brown’s little funk might simply be coinciding with Hayward’s, and not a product of his return from the foot injury. All three players should ultimately be better with the others on the court because of the matchup issues they can cause opposing teams on the perimeter.

Are the Celtics a contender? — @joshkin08

Define contender. Can they emerge from the East? Sure, they’ve shown the ability to hang with the best in the conference and, while we might not peg them as favorites in certain matchups, it’s clear this team can compete with anyone.

That said, for as good as Boston's record and overall numbers have been, it’s fair to be leery of their ceiling. Boston feasted on inferior competition early in the year and is a meager 7-7 against teams over .500. The Celtics have won only two road games against teams with winning records — and both of those teams were missing key players (Toronto without Pascal Siakam and Dallas without Luka Doncic).

There’s still a lot of strides to be made before we’re ready to lump Boston in with other title contenders but the league is so wide open that Boston’s flaws don’t seem impossible to overcome.

Brad Stevens is (still) getting a free pass here. What would it take to have some of the accountability spotlight start to shine on him and his weak coaching style of basketball? I’ve been to games, I’ve watched all Celtics games, and he has been very weak. — @narimon00

We told you the takes in here were spicy this week. As we talked about on the Celtics Talk podcast this week (shameless plug but definitely go subscribe and leave a 5-star review RIGHT NOW), Stevens is certainly searching for the right reserve combinations but to pin the majority of the blame for this team’s funk on the coach seems a bit much.

Stevens has coached most of the season without a full roster and is trying to figure out what lineups and rotations put this team in position to maintain its bursts of strong play. It’s ultimately on the players to maintain their effort and intensity, something that has waned at times this week.

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Why does Brad Stevens get a pass? What has he really done? — @McSports14

Has everyone on the internet completely forgotten 2014-2018? Did last year scar everyone this badly?

Not worried about the funk as much as the Sixers. Who would C's need to add to have a chance in a series? — @RyLo2382

I’m not sure there’s a Philadelphia-specific addition that Boston could make to tilt that series in their favor. Certainly, the major issue in the matchup is size and trying to limit Embiid. But, in general, we’d say that simply adding some bench shooting could be more important for Boston because they’re unlikely to upgrade the big-man spot enough to make a tangible difference beyond what they’ve currently got.

Less a question than an observation, and probably not a unique one: Celtics will only go as far as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum take them. When those guys play engaged on both ends, C's are tough to stop. When they look lost or out of sorts, they’re middling at best. — @PatRileyMA

I'll use this very reasonable take as a launching pad to note this: Part of being an All-Star is bringing it every single night. For as good as Tatum and Brown have been, they are prone to the occasional clunker. No one is immune to it -- and Kemba Walker has had some duds as well — but that consistency is what will take Tatum and Brown from All-Star hopefuls to surefire invitees.

Other than Brown, Tatum, and Marcus Smart, the Celts haven’t had much luck in the draft. When can we count on guys to consistently produce from the last two drafts? — @nebs33

It’s too soon to suggest Boston whiffed in the draft the past two years. Injuries have obviously conspired against first-rounders Romeo Langford and Robert Williams. Obviously it’s a tough look to see Philadelphia be able to lean heavy on someone like Matisse Thybulle and, yet, they don’t have a lot of options.

Grant Williams has a bright future. Tremont Waters might be a backup point guard of the future for this team. High lottery picks get more opportunity and the Celtics have done a solid job developing all of those players. Roster depth conspired against some later picks in recent seasons but the Celtics need the recent draftees to develop, especially as the roster cost bloats when extensions for Brown and (eventually) Tatum kick in.

Why is everyone getting sick??? Someone needs to sanitize the entire practice facility. — @MikeRobidoux

We talked to Enes Kanter about this on the podcast this week (another shameless plug but, seriously, go subscribe immediately) and he confirmed that everybody gets flu shots and has access to plenty of hand sanitizer. Anyone with a kid in elementary school knows how this works: One kid gets sick, everybody’s getting it (and then they bring it home and spread it around there, too).

TACKO TIME!

Tacko Fall got some minutes in the first half versus the Spurs. He definitely was a deterrent and continues to make his case as an NBA player. What is your assessment of his chances to contribute more? — @Smileyjogger

Stevens had hinted that he might throw Fall into a game during the doldrums of January if he thought the team needed a spark. If nothing else, it generates a buzz inside TD Garden. But the Celtics are also encouraged by Fall’s development early in his pro career and, with 45 days to maximize his services, Boston feels confident enough to throw him in there for a handful of minutes.

I don’t think it’ll happen often outside of late-game situations but those 10 minutes against the Spurs will be mighty valuable, both for Fall’s development, and the team’s ability to assess his progress.

LIGHTNING ROUND!

Why do so many people think Drummond can fix all our problems? — @ap_joseph96

(Shrugs)

Is trading for Steven Adams something the Celtics should seriously think about? — @emerson_isacc

[Danny Devito No (dot) GIF]

Seems like the Celtics lack a reliable bench scorer — maybe excluding Kanter — and it hurts them in these stretches where their starters just aren’t hitting shots. Would a trade help, or just hope Carsen Edwards and Grant Williams starting making shots? — @celtswatchclub

While everyone fixates on Boston’s need for size, we’d make the case that bench shooting is the bigger issue and, more importantly, more readily available. If Danny Ainge is to make a move, we could see it being for a low-cost, 3-point shooting bench weapon rather than sacrificing one of the team’s top 5 for a marginal upgrade.

On a scale of 1-10, were Perkins shots at Fragile Durant on Twitter a 10 or an 11? — @ChefdDds89

Truth be told, I’m not sure that this Twitter beef had a winner (besides all of us watching it unfold). Durant should take a page out of a journalist's playbook and never read the comments.

Long season. Ups and downs. The Celtics will be ok. — @DCarnevaleMYOS

Hey, who let a rational question slip through?! Delete this!

Question: Why exactly are we panicking when we came into the season expecting the worst yet currently sit in third place AFTER a three-game losing streak? #OnlyBoston — @rclemensDFS

Another one! (It certainly doesn’t take long for expectations to shift in these parts)

Will I ever be happy again? — @washburn647

There’s the familiar angst! Hang in there, friend. Remember how much fun the first two-plus months of the season were? The Celtics weren’t going to go the whole year without hitting some adversity. How they respond to this stretch will tell us an awful lot about what they're capable of this season.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Pelicans-Celtics, which tips off Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics Mailbag: It's time to embrace the Enes Kanter Experience

Celtics Mailbag: It's time to embrace the Enes Kanter Experience

Each week since we rebooted the Celtics Mailbag, it’s been brimming with queries from readers wondering how Boston can acquire the sort of impact big man that could make them a true championship contender.

While we fully acknowledge that both Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter have their limitations, it’s time to give the duo their due, particularly as they’ve shouldered the big-man load with Boston’s center depth thinned by injuries. They’re far from perfect but they’ve embraced their roles and helped Boston build the third-best record in the NBA.

Thirty-one games into the 2019-20 season, Kanter leads the Celtics in net rating, the team outscoring opponents by 15.7 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the court. For all the jokes about his pick-and-roll defense — and certainly, it’s an issue, as Toronto exposed this past weekend — the Celtics have posted a defensive rating of 98.7 during Kanter’s 424 minutes of floor time.

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On Tuesday against the Hornets, Kanter posted a career-high six blocks while adding 13 points and 14 rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench. Kanter was a team-best plus-15 (same as Jayson Tatum) while connecting on six of his seven shots attempts.

Kanter has held his own when tasked with jousting with Embiid. He’s perfectly content to rebound, run the floor, and finish a tough layup when the ball zips his way. Maybe most importantly, he’s brought some much-needed levity to the Celtics’ locker room, making outrageous claims to his fellow reserves — like he’s one of the five fastest bigs in the NBA -- then brashly celebrating when he makes a highlight hustle play.

“New year, new me, baby,” Kanter joked after Tuesday’s New Year's Eve win in Charlotte. We’re just waiting for him to make a social media post stumping for Defensive Player of the Year. (The Celtics, via Elias Sports Bureau, noted he was the first Celtic to produce a stat line of 13+ points, 14+ rebounds, and 6+ blocked shots). 

Sure, in a perfect world the Celtics would have an All-Defense-caliber big capable of slowing Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo the way that Al Horford and Al Baynes once did. But Kanter is ready for the challenge, Theis has helped Boston’s first 5 thrive, and Boston’s big situation could get a boost whenever Robert Williams is healthy again.

So go ahead and brace the Kanter Experience. (Shameless plug alert: Listen to The Enes Kanter Show, too!) There will be maddening moments but it can be a fun roller coaster, too. 

OK, now let’s sift through the rest of your trade demands: 

I’m thinking no move at the trade deadline for the C’s. what do you think? — @bri.marie.d

I’d lean no move as far as finding an upgrade at the big-man spot. I just don’t see a path to a deal that doesn’t involve moving one of the team’s “best 5” guys and it’s probably best to see what the buyout market turns up. I could see the Celtics tinkering with their bench if they can package depth pieces with their late first-rounders to add a proven role player. But, even then, the salary match could be tricky and the boost might not be worth the cost of messing with team chemistry.

What moves does Danny Ainge make to position this team to move deep into the playoffs? Is the Memphis pick in play, and if so, for who potentially? — @cgessner

Memphis entered the day tied for the 11th-worst record in basketball. That’s somewhat deceiving though. The Grizzlies are only two games ahead of the teams with the fourth-worst record. Still, ESPN’s Basketball Power Index currently gives the pick a 61.1 percent chance of landing outside the top 6 and conveying to Boston. Which means the Celtics have to at least consider the possibility of using it as a trade chip, at least depending on how enamored they are with what they could fetch in the late lottery if it does convey. The Kings' pick should be a reminder that, as tantalizing as it might be to think about what that pick could become, if there’s a deal to be made for a proven talent that can help the team now and further out, it’s worth considering. Still, Boston’s salary confinements make it tricky in-season. As for what the Celtics need beyond a beefy 5, maybe some additional bench shooting, especially if it was a versatile 4 who could add some size to a team brimming with perimeter talent.

Is Dewayne Dedmon worth pursuing, or maybe as a buyout? I could see him as injury insurance especially if Time Lord/Kanter can't stay on the floor, but hard to see if he's really an upgrade otherwise. -- @MarvelousMarks

For what it’s worth, Joel Embiid put up 16 points on 4-of-8 shooting while drawing two shooting fouls against Dedmon earlier this season. Embiid put up 14 points on 3-of-4 shooting while drawing three shooting fouling against Dedmon in two meetings last year. All of which is to say that Dedmon’s probably not the big-man upgrade the team is seeking, though he is big.

TACKO TIME!

Because people just can’t get enough of Tacko… 

Thoughts on Tacko Fall going forward? Red claws most of the year?? —  @CHRISplanteLMT

The Celtics can carry Fall on the parent roster for 45 days during the G-League season and they burnt a handful of days this month while their big-man depth was thinned. With a busy stretch ahead, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Fall pop in occasionally until Robert Williams and Vincent Poirier are healthy. He could give the Garden a nice jolt of energy on nights the team is sluggish during the January doldrums. But those game reps in Maine are extremely valuable to his development.

How can Tacko Fall help the patriots offense? — @BigYarrett8

He can literally get you 2.5 yards just falling forward. And don’t tell me Tom Brady couldn’t use a target with that size in the red zone.


LIGHTNING ROUND!

Chris, what were the worst Celtics alternate uniforms of the decade? — @TopherJames5

The Adidas gray-sleeved shirtsies circa 2014 (see above) were the worst and it’s not even close. I’m 94 percent sure those jerseys gave Marcus Smart his eye infection. On the opposite end of the spectrum, wish the NBA would bring back some of the Christmas Day alternates, which were always pretty solid in the pre-Nike era.

Will Jaylen Brown squeeze into the All-Star game with Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum? — @robgreeneeeee

I think it all hinges on whether Walker is voted a starter. Then there’s at least a chance that East coaches could vote both of Boston’s wings in as reserves. But if Boston doesn’t land a starter, it gets a lot murkier and there’s even a chance that Tatum/Brown split the vote. We broke it all down HERE. 

How can we prevent our guys from getting sick? Flu shots? — @flyfishsalt

Sometimes an NBA locker room is no different than every elementary school in New England in December. People are going to get sick.

I emailed you my Kemba tribute song but you didn’t reply. — @JimTom3000

Surely, I wouldn’t delete such a thing (but I don’t see it in my inbox). Send it again and remind me next week to include a chunk in the mailbag. 

Why didn't the Celtics do more to draft Tyler Herro? Instead, they let the Heat swoop in and get him. Obvious blunder. — @agreatcall

While I do wonder what the Celtics would have done if Herro was still on the board at 14, it’s waaaaaay too easy to sit here six months after the draft, with the benefit of watching 30 games and start nitpicking selections. What’s more, Danny Ainge seems quite excited about what Langford could potentially become.

Will Langford see steady minutes even with Marcus Smart back? — @p.kels5

As the past two games showed, it might be tough, especially as Smart’s minutes ramp up. His next chance is only an injury away — and that never seems far for Boston. We’re certainly eager to see more of Langford given the encouraging moments he’s had on both ends of the floor after working through all the maladies at the start of his pro career.

Will Timelord improve our defense in any way? — @dk1ng1287

The Celtics sure could have used him in that Toronto loss. He just brings a different look than Theis and Kanter, a nice third option that Stevens can lean on to run the floor and provide rim protection when the top options are struggling. And we remain convinced that, with a run of good health, Robert Williams could distinguish himself as more than just the team’s third big.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Hawks, which tips off Friday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Tommy have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.