Celtics

Careful what you wish for with Kyrie Irving, Celtics fans

Careful what you wish for with Kyrie Irving, Celtics fans

When Kyrie Irving trudged off the court before the final buzzer of Boston’s Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that all but sealed the Celtics' postseason demise, a chorus of fans near the tunnel vented their frustrations by suggesting Irving could just leave (even if maybe the loudest fan, and the outlier of the group, pleaded for the opposite.

Now that the Celtics have bowed to the Bucks, capping one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, the dispirited masses have only grown louder in their suggestion that it would be best if Irving did not return to Boston next season.

Here’s what those folks are missing while blinded by their anger at the 2018-19 Celtics: Nothing would be more catastrophic for the future of the Celtics than Irving signing with another team.

We understand the frustrations. Irving’s missteps trying to learn how to be a leader this season caused avoidable strife in the locker room and, combined with the heavy burden of expectations, left this team perpetually frustrated by its shortcomings. Irving compounded matters by brooding midseason about the speculation about his future. And he could have erased those memories by keying a Boston postseason run — just like he had boldly declared himself ready to do as early as February — but he instead endured one of the worst shooting slumps of his career while Boston lost four in a row and got unceremoniously dumped by the Bucks in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

While Brad Stevens blamed himself for a bad coaching job this season, all while Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown offered public apologies for Boston’s underwhelming campaign, Irving never quite took accountability for the Celtics’ failures. The “We Miss Isaiah” crowd dropped from out of the clouds with their pitchforks while others used Boston’s playoff exit as an opportunity to revisit the season-old “Are the Celtics better without Kyrie?” argument.

It’s completely understandable but also misguided and there’s a heavy recency bias. The possibility of losing an All-NBA talent with a championship pedigree should be terrifying for Celtics fans, no matter how infuriating his play was against the Bucks. For all his warts, Irving is still one of the NBA’s elite players at a high-demand position and, maybe most importantly, the Celtics would have almost no immediate means of replacing his talents without completely rebooting the roster.

There'd be no cap space to sign a big-ticket replacement (sorry, Kemba Walker and Kevin Durant are not walking through that door). There wouldn’t be a superstar presence to entice more talent (if Anthony Davis’ camp didn’t want him here before, they certainly won’t now). In the NBA, it’s OK to move on from talent, but unforgivable not to get something in return for that departure.

Call it the Kyrie Conundrum. While we understand all of the reasons why you might want to move on from Irving, it’d be the worst thing that could happen for the Celtics this summer.

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It is ironic that, back in September, when Irving first teased us with the suggestion that he planned to stay in Boston long term, the exact phrasing he used was, “If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here.” A straw poll of Celtics fans almost certainly would suggest that, at this moment, he is persona non grata.

Of course, if you told these same folks that the best option to replace Irving next season would be overpaying Terry Rozier to stick around, they might change their tune.

Even if Irving declines his $21.3 million player option and alerts the Celtics that he does not plan to re-sign, Boston would remain over the salary cap. This isn’t a situation where, if Irving walks, the Celtics can turn around and use his salary to pursue a big-name free agent such as Walker. Trying to generate any sort of meaningful salary-cap space would require both Irving and Al Horford to both opt out of their deals, and for the team renounce their rights (meaning neither could be re-signed, nor would the team be able to sign-and-trade them for anything).

Bidding farewell to two All-Stars for only the chance to pursue another on the open market seems like bad business.

What about a sign-and-trade, you’re wondering? Good in theory, difficult in execution. Remember that, in a sign-and-trade under the new CBA, the Celtics couldn’t offer Irving the lucrative fifth season that distinguishes their offer. What’s more, sign-and-trades only benefits the receiving team if they didn’t have the space to absorb the contract. It’s likely that any team that Irving would desire to play for would have the available cap room to sign him outright (New York, Brooklyn, Los Angeles) and agreeing to a sign-and-trade would only weaken the roster of the team set to acquire him.

All of which is why the Celtics will be ready to give Irving his five years and $190 million, regardless of whether you’ll have him back or not (there is the chance, too, he might simply want a shorter-term deal in hopes of a bigger payday down the road). Talent is king in the NBA and every superstar has warts. Ultimately, teams do their best to mask those deficiencies and winning goes a long way towards hiding them.

Irving’s return likely means changes to other areas of the roster because this blend simply didn’t work last season. Maybe his return encourages the Celtics to be even more aggressive in the pursuit of Davis. 

It will also challenge all involved to morph and grow. Stevens has thrived his entire career with scrappy underdogs but struggled to put the pieces to this uber-talented puzzle together this year. He must learn how to motivate and discipline elite talent, even if those players don’t always want their deficiencies spotlighted.

You can absolutely make the case that, if Irving signs elsewhere, the Celtics might be just fine by bringing back the same core from last season. Or maybe Boston could use its surplus of draft picks to seek a replacement. It’s simply hard to see how they land a player of Irving’s caliber that way. It would seemingly lower their ceiling.

To be fair, the Celtics came nowhere near that ceiling this season. And the team’s failures only accentuated much of what bothered fans most about Irving. It’d be easier for Green Teamers to accept him if he owned his shortcomings, suggested he’s eager to atone and showed a Marcus Smart-like desire to represent what the Celtics stand for.

That might not happen. And maybe you’ll grumble if he ultimately elects to re-sign in Boston. But a second chance might just be the Celtics' best chance to make you forget about all the frustrations of the past season.

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Celtics' Semi Ojeleye gives positive reaction to reported NBA return proposal

Celtics' Semi Ojeleye gives positive reaction to reported NBA return proposal

The NBA's Board of Governors reportedly is expected to approve a 22-team return plan during Thursday's meeting, which would pave the way for the 2019-20 season to resume later in the summer.

Under the reported proposal, each of the remaining 22 teams would play eight more regular season games before a 16-team playoff commences. 

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The Boston Celtics currently are the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They also are one of three teams in the East that's already clinched a postseason berth. It's not a perfect plan, but it does allow players some regular season games to get ready for the grind of the playoffs. The proposal gives teams on the playoff bubble a chance to earn a postseason berth as well.

Boston Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye joined Wednesday night's "Arbella Early Edition" to discuss the proposed return plan and the challenge players will have in getting ready to restart the season.

"I think it's a good plan," Ojeleye said. "Obviously, the entire pandemic we've been focused on keeping people healthy, and keeping the players and the fans healthy, that's why we shut (the season) down. I think what we're doing now, easing back into workouts with a few people in the gym is a good plan. Hopefully, going forward we keep people healthy as well."

What has Ojeleye been doing to stay in shape?

"I've been blessed to have a little outdoor space," he said. "I got my hands on some indoor equipment -- some bikes and weights. From there, it's really just about not skipping days. There have been a lot of days where I'm like -- I can't hoop, but I knew I could try to get my cardio in and try get my lifts in. That's what I've been focused on, and hopefully it pays off."

There's been a lot of debate over how much time players need to get into game shape. Some people think a month or even a few weeks is too much, but the long layoff hasn't been like a normal offseason where players are able to play pickup games and train however they choose. Many players have had limited access to workout equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic as gyms and team facilities have been closed.

Ojeleye explained why players need plenty of time to prepare their body and mind for the remainder of the regular season and the ensuing playoffs.

'It's going to be tough. Different guys have different access to weights and facilities," Ojeleye said. "And guys are at different stages of their careers. Some guys are coming off injuries, some guys have had nagging injuries during the year and they've taken a break. Everyone is going to need a little bit more time. I'd say, at least a few weeks at minimum for everyone to get back in shape and to get that feel. As a team, we need our chemistry, and that's going to take time as well."

The Celtics, despite making several roster changes before the 2019-20 season, quickly developed a strong chemistry. While there are reasons to be optimistic the C's will find this chemistry again soon, the process doesn't happen overnight, especially when these players have been unable to play basketball with their teammates during this pandemic.

What NBA's return-to-action plan means for the Celtics

What NBA's return-to-action plan means for the Celtics

When the NBA season was put on pause in March, the timing could not have been much better for the Boston Celtics. 

Wins were getting harder to come by (they had lost three of their last five), the jacuzzi-hot play of Jayson Tatum was starting to cool off some and Kemba Walker was headed towards a stretch of “strategic rest” days off because of knee soreness. 

And just like the rest of the NBA is fired up about the potential return to play reportedly as early as the end of late July, the Celtics are an eager bunch to restart the season as well. 

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And they should be for a number of reasons. 

First and foremost, there’s a very real chance that they can move up in the standings if the league adopts the reported return-to-play model which includes eight regular season games before the playoffs. 

Currently third in the East, the Celtics would begin the postseason against Philadelphia if the league went straight into the playoffs — an idea that hasn’t garnered a ton of support from owners or players. 

An eight-game slate of games would provide Boston with enough opportunities to potentially move ahead of Toronto and secure the No. 2 seed in the East. 

The way the standings look now, the potential for movement is great for many teams. 

Boston (43-21) trails the Raptors (46-18) by three games in the standings. Behind the Celtics you find the Heat (41-24) who are 2.5 games back.

The next closest teams to Boston beyond those two are Indiana and Philadelphia (both 39-26) who each trail Boston by 4.5 games. 

For the Celtics’ sake, moving up from their current draft position and avoiding a first-round matchup with Philadelphia would be the preferred path to take this postseason. 

The Sixers, one of the bigger disappointments this season, will feature a healthy Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, making them a much tougher foe come playoff time. 

For the Celtics, the alternative if they move up would be a Brooklyn Nets team that’s expected to play this postseason without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant who have both been out recovering from injuries. 

There’s also a chance that Boston would face the Indiana Pacers in the first round if the C's remain as the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 seed which, similar to facing Philadelphia, would provide a tough first-round matchup. 

The reboot to the season also allows more time for the Celtics to adjust to what’s shaping up to be a new pecking order. 

While Walker is the team’s most proven, most decorated talent, there’s no escaping the inevitable rise of Tatum as the face of the franchise (if he’s not already there). 

As the season wore on, his ascension was undeniable. Tatum began the season as a player the Celtics were hoping to see blossom into a big-time talent with the departures of Irving (Brooklyn) and Al Horford (Philadelphia).

Following his first All-Star appearance in February, Tatum averaged 29.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 46.8 percent on 3’s. His ability to pick up where he left off would go far in Boston’s quest to build off the successes they had this past season. 

As for Walker, he had missed some games and played limited minutes in others shortly before the season was paused thanks to knee soreness.

The extended downtime without games or practice should allow Walker to return to action revived and refreshed.

And him being healthy combined with Tatum’s improved play gives the Celtics a potent 1-2 punch as they inch closer to rebooting the system and in doing so, restarting their journey towards what they believe will be a deep postseason run.