Celtics

Blakely: Even with Kawhi in Toronto, Celtics still the team to beat in East

Blakely: Even with Kawhi in Toronto, Celtics still the team to beat in East

BOSTON -- The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is nearing an end with reports that the estranged San Antonio star will be traded to the Toronto Raptors for a package centered around the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan
 
As good as DeRozan has been for the Raptors, acquiring a healthy Kawhi Leonard makes them a better team on several levels. 
 
But that improvement isn’t enough of a power shift to move Boston off the top of the Eastern Conference food chain. 

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Leonard is the best two-way player in the NBA right now, a perennial All-Star when healthy. But his health is one of the many questions out there. He missed all but nine games last season, primarily because of a quad injury. 
 
He's a significant upgrade defensively for the Raptors, which would more than compensate for whatever they lose in terms of offensive punch with DeRozan’s departure. 
 
Toronto's addition of Leonard still doesn’t change the fact that Boston has the deepest roster in the East, headlined by a triumvirate of All-Stars (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford) with an emerging cast of superstars led by Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, who finished third in last season’s Rookie of the Year voting. 
 
Throw in a solid bench with strong coaching and a connected front office, and it adds up to a team that has every reason in the world to believe it’ll be the last one standing in the East, regardless of what moves are made by others. 
 
More than anything, Toronto getting Leonard makes the East far more interesting in addition to providing the Celtics with yet another legitimate challenger in the conference. 
 
Philadelphia, by all accounts, looks to be the next best team in the East this season, with Indiana, Milwaukee and the Raptors not too far behind. 
 
Adding Leonard to the mix gives Toronto hope of separating itself from that crowded middle class. But it still leaves the Raptors short of being on the same level as Boston. 

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 For starters, Toronto is adding a player who -- for now, at least -- doesn’t want to be there. 
 
The only assurance they will have is that he’ll be on the roster for this upcoming season. He hits free agency in the summer of 2019 and has reportedly been leaning heavily towards returning to his California roots and playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, who signed LeBron James earlier this month.
 
One of Toronto’s strengths has been the chemistry between DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. There's no guarantee that can replicated by swapping out DeRozan for Leonard. 
 
Also, Toronto has a new coach in longtime assistant Nick Nurse. His strength in the league has been that of a good development coach, which is more in line with a team that's rebuilding rather than one trying to re-tool for another run towards Eastern Conference supremacy. 
 
Regardless of this trade, the Raptors were going to head into this season with lots of questions after getting swept by Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs and then firing Dwayne Casey (who was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year shortly after his dismissal).
 
There’s no denying Leonard’s talent makes a deal like this palatable to many, but the Raptors did more than just trade away a talented player. 

DeRozan was arguably their first star, and at no point in his career did he even hint that he wanted out of Toronto. It was, in fact, just the opposite: DeRozan made it clear, both publicly and privately, that he wanted to spend his entire career with the Raptors. 
 
But that’s not going to happen now. 
 
If Leonard stays healthy and plays at the level we've grown accustomed to seeing him at in the past, the trade makes Toronto a better team on many levels. It certainly closes the gap some between the Raptors and the Celtics.
 
But Boston is still the team to beat in the East, a position that no one trade -- not even one that lands Kawhi Leonard -- is going to change. 

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Anything is Podable Episode Four: Building the Roster

Anything is Podable Episode Four: Building the Roster

Even with three All-Stars in Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, Danny Ainge and the Celtics knew that, in order to win a championship, the team needed a strong supporting cast of role players.

Episode Four of NBC Sports Boston’s “Anything is Podable” takes a look at how Ainge constructed the rest of the roster and how one word, “ubuntu,” set the tone for a memorable season.

Giving the team a shooter off the bench, as well as another veteran presence in the locker room, Eddie House was perfect for the 2008 Celtics.

“I remember going to a practice when he was a young player,” said Ainge regarding House. “Just watching him shoot, and shoot, and just amazed at what a great shooter this kid was.”

“I saw him have his 56 and 60 back-to-back point games in the Pac-10 and it was amazing.”

Long a fan of House, Ainge went out and got his guy, but he wasn’t finished yet.

James Posey, a veteran wing who had experience both starting and coming off the bench, was nearing a deal with the Nets, but one call changed everything.

“I actually told my agent, I’ll just go to New Jersey,” said Posey. “Then Eddie House called me.”

House convinced Posey to spurn the Nets in favor of the Celtics, giving Boston another veteran off the pine.

With the roster taking shape, what the team needed now was an identity.

Ubuntu.

Mentioned to Doc Rivers at a trustee meeting at Marquette University, the word that means “I am who I am because of you,” became the team’s mantra.

“I looked this word up and I spent, no exaggeration, hours and days on this word,” said Rivers. “Everything about the word epitomized what we had to be.”

Ubuntu was the rallying cry of the 2008 Celtics and it all started with a Board of Trustees meeting at Marquette.

Anything is Podable is a ten-part series diving into the story of the 2008 Celtics and their championship season, with exclusive, never-before-heard interviews with team executives, former players, and media members.

Narrated by Kyle Draper, it’s the perfect way for Celtics fans to pass time this offseason and get excited for 2018-19, a season in which the Celtics have as good a chance at raising their 18th championship banner as they’ve had since that magical 2008 season.

Fans can subscribe to the podcast through the link below and check out the other nine episodes for a look at this exclusive series.

Report: Knicks given slight edge over Celtics as Kyrie's free-agent destination

Report: Knicks given slight edge over Celtics as Kyrie's free-agent destination

Those pesky Kyrie-to-the-Knicks rumors have been around even before Yahoo's Chris Mannix mentioned the Celtics were "scared" of Kyrie Irving heading there next summer. They picked up steam this week with another report of The Big Apple as a destination for Irving and Jimmy Butler to join forces.

Now, ESPN's NBA Forecast Panel gives the Knicks a slight edge over the Celtics to land Irving, 46.9 percent to  43.8 percent.

Here's part of the panel's explanation on ESPN's "The Jump": 

It would take some salary-cap machinations for New York to lure Irving to play close to where he grew up in West Orange, N.J. They would likely have to risk losing Kristaps Porzingis in free agency next summer by not giving him a big-money extension this season. 

There's also a potential pursuit of Kevin Durant in free agency next summer as the Knicks - playoff-less since 2013 and title-less for 45 years - make another attempt to spend their way back to relevance. 

Irving has made it clear he's not going to cost himself millions by signing an extension with the C's this season ("Contractually, financially, it just doesn’t make any sense”) and is headed to free agency, so, with training camp more than a month away, get used to a season full of questions about his future. And expect the Knicks speculation to heat up before the four C's-Knicks games (Oct. 20 and Feb. 6 in New York and Nov. 21 and Dec. 6 in Boston). 

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