Celtics

Bean: Weighing the obstacles of LeBron-to-Boston

Bean: Weighing the obstacles of LeBron-to-Boston

I would love for LeBron James to be on the Celtics. Why? Because he's the best player in the world and it would probably get the Celtics at least one NBA title in the near future. Championships rule. LeBron rules. 

But it's not as simple as just signing the player, as we all know. In addition to having to ship out at least one key player to make the money work, it would also mean abandoning what seems to be a pretty clear path to a long run of Eastern Conference dominance. 

Yet if there's any player worth changing plans for, it would have to be LeBron. Here are the things - assuming LeBron chooses the Celtics, which is a big "if" - that could get in the way: 

1. YOU CAN'T TRADE GORDON HAYWARD


Technically you can, of course, but if the Celtics were to trade Gordon Hayward one year after selling him on Boston, it would be Danny Ainge's coldest move. Much, much colder than trading Isaiah Thomas. 

The IT thing was cold, of course, but it was also similar to a lot of trades. Teams trade players at the end of their contracts all the time. As for the personal tragedy recently endured by the player - and this isn't to downplay that at all - but it's actually more common than you'd think for players to be traded while going through something awful in their lives. The details just aren't always brought to light. 

But convincing a top free agent to pass up more money elsewhere to play for you and then trading him before he's played a full game? That very rarely happens in any professional sports. This is because executives are well aware (and rightfully fearful) of the message it sends to future free agents/trade targets whose blessings would be needed to complete a deal. 

Obviously, the fact that a potential Hayward trade would be for the best player in the world is an important thing to note. It wouldn't be like the C's signed Hayward and then flipped him for a couple of draft picks. LeBron is a once-in-a-generation, so in the moment, we'd all understand why the Celtics would do it. 

And it wouldn't even hurt the Celtics in free agency immediately. A team with LeBron, Jayson Tatum and others? Free agents would be champing at the bit to join that. 

But what about in a few years when LeBron's gone and the Celtics are back to what they were when they signed Hayward: a good team hoping to add a player and be great? Those free agents will have other choices just like Hayward did, but the other suitors won't carry as big a threat on pulling the rug from under the player. 

THE KYRIE THING


If Kyrie Irving is willing to play with LeBron, which could be a possibility, great. Those guys obviously play well together. If not, you're risking pissing off your franchise player one year before he can opt out and sign somewhere else. 

If not, what are you doing? Kyrie doesn't make enough for him to be easily traded as the outgoing piece in a sign-and-trade, so then what? You sign old-ass LeBron, trade Al Horford to make room for him, then trade Kyrie somewhere else? 

The first thing that comes to mind there is trading Kyrie for a big. Karl-Anthony Towns would be a hell of a get. Then ask yourself this: If the Celtics should supposedly be concerned with Irving potentially walking after next season, wouldn't any team trading for him be concerned as well? Irving is one of the best players in the league, but he's also coming off knee surgery and could potentially hit free agency next summer. Would a team really trade a Karl-Anthony Towns for him now? I'd guess not. 

IT WOULD INTERFERE WITH WAITING OUT THE WARRIORS


After next season, the Warriors could start to finally take some hits. Klay Thompson will need a raise. Depending on what he does this summer, Kevin Durant could also be up. Draymond Green will be a free agent the following summer. 

By the time all that happens, Chris Paul will be 35. So, you'd have the Warriors potentially breaking up and the Rockets getting old. Even if the Celtics don't have any titles between now and then, their current plan would have them in position to be favorites once those teams endure their roster challenges. 

If the Celtics add LeBron, they'd be making themselves better now - while the Warriors and Rockets are also loaded - while not being as potentially dominant a few years from now when the competition may be less daunting. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Al Horford's success against Joel Embiid is a microcosm of Celtics-76ers "rivalry"

Al Horford's success against Joel Embiid is a microcosm of Celtics-76ers "rivalry"

Joel Embiid can choose not to admit it. But Al Horford arguably is the Philadelphia 76ers big man's kryptonite.

How else to explain the Sixers' 2-10 record against the Boston Celtics in games Embiid and Horford both play? While Philly has risen to prominence in the Eastern Conference over the last two seasons, Boston has remained bafflingly unsolvable: The C's have won 10 of the teams' last 12 meetings overall, including a definitive five-game series win in the 2018 playoffs.

Philly's shortcomings against Boston don't start and end with Embiid. (Remember when Ben Simmons scored one point in Game 2 last year?) But the 25-year-old big man is the Sixers' best player, and Horford's ability to neutralize him has been quite remarkable.

Let's go to the numbers.

Per NBA.com's matchup stats, Horford has been Embiid's primary defender on 142 possessions this season, the most of any NBA player. Embiid has managed just 41 points on those possessions, or 28.9 points per 100 possession. That's a 9.1-point drop-off from Embiid's season-long average of 38 points per 100 possessions, making Horford the third-most effective NBA defender among players who have guarded Embiid for 100 possessions or more.

Those numbers don't suggest total defensive domination by Horford; indeed, Embiid still averages 22.1 points and 12.6 rebounds per game in his career against the Celtics. But here's the key: The two-time All-Star is a much less efficient scorer with Horford locking him up.

Embiid is shooting 42.5 percent from the floor against Horford this season and is just 3-for-12 from 3-point range, both below his season averages. As a result, Philly's offense suffers: The Sixers average a full 7.3 points fewer per 100 possessions this season when Horford matches up on Embiid.

That's actually an improvement from last season, when Philly's offense lost a whopping 24.6 points off its points per 100 possessions average when Horford guarded Embiid on defense.

Embiid has refused to give credit to Horford for locking him up, but the statistical (and video) evidence is pretty hard to ignore. And if the Sixers want to exorcise their demons against Boston, it will start with Embiid overcoming his own kryptonite in Horford.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Kyrie Irving: Celtics need 'more focus and discipline' to flip switch

Kyrie Irving: Celtics need 'more focus and discipline' to flip switch

PHILADELPHIA — Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving said the team needs "more focus and discipline” if it desires to flip the proverbial playoff switch but expressed hope that the team could improve those areas over the final 11 games.

Irving then suggested that he plans to sit out some games late in the regular season with the rigors of the postseason looming.

"I’m definitely taking some games off before the playoffs,” Irving said at Boston’s morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. "Makes no sense, the emphasis on these regular games, when you’re gearing up for some battles coming in the playoffs.”

While downplaying the significance of Wednesday’s tilt with the Philadelphia 76ers (“It’s just another game”) and suggesting that seeding doesn’t matter for Boston (“As long as we get [to the playoffs], I’m happy”), Irving was asked if a playoff mindset had already set in for the Celtics.

“No. We need more focus and discipline in order for that switch to be turned on,” said Irving. "So, we have yet to figure out what that switch is for us going into the postseason, but that’s why we have 11 games left.”

The Celtics have endured some notable focus lapses lately, including at the end of the third quarter against Denver on Monday. Just how far away are the Celtics from figuring it out?

“We’ll see,” answered Irving, offering the same response he did when asked if the team might rally together out west before Boston’s famed flight out west.

The Celtics entered Wednesday trending heavily towards earning the No. 4 or 5 spot in the East, which would almost certainly set up a matchup with the Indiana Pacers. According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Celtics had only a 13.3 percent chance at the No. 3 seed, compared to a 51.7 percent shot at No. 4.

A win Wednesday over Philadelphia could open the door for a surge to No. 3, but some fans have wondered if the fourth seed — and the possibility of matching up with Milwaukee instead of Toronto in Round 2 — might actually be better for the Celtics.

Regardless, Boston needs to be playing inspired basketball when the playoffs arrive. Irving was asked how his Cleveland Cavaliers teams of years past were able to routinely flip the switch.

"I think that the best thing we had going in that aspect is experience,” said Irving. "So, like, the switch — we know what that switch is. This team doesn’t yet.

"The best thing for us is experience. So, guys have a year of experience and I think we’ve given ourselves too much credit. What that switch is, championship-level basketball, only a few people know what that switch is. It takes time to develop it, it takes experience with each other. And we’ve tried to make up as much ground in the last year and a half as we could.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.