Celtics

Celtics Mailbag: Wherefore art thou, Romeo Langford? C's lottery pick set to develop slowly

Celtics Mailbag: Wherefore art thou, Romeo Langford? C's lottery pick set to develop slowly

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

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The Celtics’ offseason roster overhaul left the team with a whopping seven rookies on their 17-man roster this season. Among that group were four 2019 draft picks, a French import, a 26-year-old overseas journeyman, and an undrafted 7-foot-7 big man.

Conventional wisdom suggested that the lone lottery pick in that bunch — 14th overall pick Romeo Langford — would be the player most likely to muscle his way into early playing time. Instead, as the Celtics get early rookie contributions up and down their roster, Langford has logged a mere 14 seconds of NBA court time and, on Monday, the team assigned him to the Maine Red Claws of the G-League in order to get much-needed reps.

The news of Langford’s assignment was met with typical Twitter hot takes, including those eager to pronounce Langford a bust. There were James Young comparisons and familiar laments about how Miami sharpshooter Tyler Herro went off the board a pick earlier.

So let’s start the Mailbag there, with thoughts on Langford’s situation: 

Wherefore art thou Romeo?  Yeah, he's had knocks, but what's up with this guy? — @tom_steely

Boston’s wing depth always made it likely that Langford was going to be brought along slowly. An assortment of injuries made that an easier decision but Langford’s crawl has left him in the crosshairs of Celtics fans eager to see more immediate production.

Langford played his freshman season at Indiana with a thumb injury that likely contributed to him sliding to 14. Rehab from after-the-season surgery sidelined him for summer league, then a groin injury held him out of parts of training camp. In the preseason, Langford tweaked his knee during exhibition play and was still rehabbing at the start of the regular season. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted Monday how the Celtics utilized Langford as scout team Giannis Antetokounmpo last week before the team’s win over Milwaukee. He said the organization believes Langford is better served getting a solid week of practice reps in Maine rather than playing spot minutes on the team’s three-game trip.

The downside for Langford is that Jaylen Brown will miss his third straight game Tuesday and there has been an opportunity for a wing to help fill that void. Unfortunately, Langford's lack of reps before the season made it unlikely that the team could lean too heavy on him now.

It’s prudent to remember that Langford only turned 20 last month and it’s easy to forget how highly regarded he was coming out of high school given his injury woes. 

That said, it’s important that Langford maximize his time in Maine. No lottery pick wants to be stuck in the G-League but there’s a lot of parallels here with Avery Bradley during his rookie season. Bradley suffered a pre-draft ankle injury that contributed both to his draft-night slide and a slow start in Boston. The Celtics dispatched him to Maine in January 2011 and he came back with newfound confidence

It still took Bradley another season before he really kicked in the door. But it’s a reminder not to judge players too early. But Langford has to go to Maine looking to assert himself and not lament the time in the minor league.

Do you think that the small ball lineups relying on speed and disrupting passing lanes is sustainable over the course of the season? — @porasidecirl0

I’m not sure the Celtics have much of a choice. If six of the team’s best players are all 6-foot-8 and under, it’s small ball or bust. The question, of course, is just how small can you go?

With Enes Kanter and Robert Williams sidelined early in the year, the Celtics have been OK with lineups that have either 6-foot-6 rookie Grant Williams or 6-foot-8 Jayson Tatum operating as the “biggest” player on the floor. Is that sustainable? If the Celtics find themselves in the mix at the top of the East in February, it might encourage them to beef up the center spot given potential playoff matchups — but some of that could hinge on the development of their younger bigs.

Right now, Stevens has no choice but to play small and implore his perimeter defenders to be extra aggressive. That’s translated to an opponent turnover rate of 18.1 percent — fifth best in the league after lingering at what would have been historic rates at the start of the year.

It might help the Celtics long term to crank the pace a bit more than their currently plodding ways (19th in pace at 101.6) but it hasn’t stopped them from posting the NBA’s best second-half offensive rating (122.7) despite playing at a slower speed.

Out of these four guys rumored to be potential trade targets for the Celtics, which do you think is most likely: Steven Adams, Clint Capela, Tristan Thompson, Draymond Green. — @RebornDeadeye

I’d lean towards none of the above. Adams is making $25.8 million this year and is on the books for $27.5 million next year. A deal would likely have to send out Gordon Hayward, too. Thompson’s salary is a bit more agreeable as an expiring at $18.5 million but the Celtics are not going to bundle Marcus Smart and pieces to make that happen. The Warriors will just throttle down Green and reboot for next year. Capela’s name comes up an awful lot for a team that doesn’t have much motivation to sell off pieces. Plus, we’re convinced that you’ve got Capela 2.0 in your system. Which is a good segue to … 

The first couple of games, Brad ran a few insane lobs for Lord Robert Williams III. It's clear C's know he needs to step up for them to contend, but what's his ceiling this year? And if he hits it, is there another ceiling for this team in a wide-open year? — @MarvelousMarks

You hear that? In the distance? It’s the Robert Williams Hype Train! And as conductor, I can tell you that steam whistle will be getting louder starting as early as Tuesday night in Cleveland.

Williams has been very good in limited minutes. He’s got the best net rating on the team at plus-18.2 with the Celtics putting up solid ratings on both offense (116.7) and defense (98.5) during his 61 minutes of floor time. The team’s pace has been cranked with Williams on the floor and Boston is plus-23 in his time (best number on the team behind only Jayson Tatum at plus-53).

Has Williams been perfect? No. But his passing abilities and rim-running ways make him a really intriguing fit in Boston’s wing-heavy lineups that can spread the floor. If Williams can develop more defensive consistency and learn when to chase those highlight-worthy blocks, then he might just emerge as a key contributor.

The caveat here: The Celtics have picked their spots with Williams. He didn’t play with Joel Embiid on the court against Philly and spent 8 seconds on Antetokounmpo. He’s got strides to make to be a starter-caliber big man but he has all the tools to get there.

Not sure how much it pushes up Boston’s overall ceiling because some of that hinges on Boston’s ability to defend the likes of Embiid and Antetokounmpo but certainly having a young improving center as part of this core would be important for the Celtics in the long term.

LIGHTNING ROUND!

Who’s next to get a haircut? — @Spitfire_988

The Celtics don’t have a lot of players with choppable hair at this point. Gordon Hayward would be the most shocking but our money would be on Marcus Smart buzzing his hair at some point this season. One hair certainty: I’m not buzzing off the fauxhawk any time soon.

Who had the best hair, pre-cut? Jaylen Brown, Carsen Edwards, or Semi Ojeleye? — @niravbarman27

Brown in a landslide. Sure, that flat top wasn’t always flat — and old friend Isaiah Thomas made sure Brown knew as much with his repeated barbs — but the Kid N’ Play look was dynamite and I’m still getting used to Brown not having it. We’ll miss Edwards’ dreads bouncing around on the court.

If Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart were somehow both out for a game, who's your starting point guard? — @KJHcomedy

Brad Wanamaker is the obvious choice here but I’m going off the board. In a super-shorthanded situation, I’d like to see the Celtics recall Tremont Waters and give him a chance to run the NBA offense. Brian Scalabrine is convinced Waters could win the G-League MVP with his pick-and-roll skills and it’s clear the second-round pick operates at a different speed than most rookies when he’s probing for opportunities.

If Kemba Walker averages 26/5/5 and the Celtics win 60 games, is he the MVP? — @TroyYacy11

No, but he’d get some consideration, especially if the Celtics finished ahead of Philadelphia and Milwaukee in the East. During Isaiah Thomas’ MVP-consideration season in 2016-17, he averaged 28.9 points and 5.9 assists. It was also the way he dominated fourth quarters that upped his stock. Walker would probably have to be closer to that 30-point mark to really make voters consider him.

Red Panda every halftime? — @RyanBenharris

Wouldn’t fight it. But I think I’d need a bigger rotation. Maybe Panda and The Amazing Sladek split the majority of regular-season games. Then we work in some others. Just not the guys who fling paint and make a messy picture of one of the team’s stars. Literally like watching paint dry.

Are we bringing back the Big Baby Glen Davis #ChargeWatch for the three-headed monster of GRANT, Smarf, and Kemba? — @pbernazzani7

Considering it. I’m not sure the Celtics have ever had this many willing charge-takers on one roster. It’s not like Kevin Garnett was taking a charge during the Big Baby days. I think a #ChargeWatch Leaderboard will be a steady feature given the way these guys could fight to be among the team leaders.

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Habershow Podcast: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on Luka Doncic, politics

Habershow Podcast: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on Luka Doncic, politics

When did Mark Cuban know Luka Doncic could be a franchise player?

The Dallas Mavericks owner sat down with Tom Haberstroh in a hotel lounge at NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago to discuss scouting, drafting and building around the 20-year-old All-Star.

Plus Cuban revealed what he learned talking basketball with Barack Obama and Donald Trump, as well as his own political aspirations. 

2:22 — When Cuban knew Luka could be a franchise player

8:53 — Why Cuban follows certain players on social media

11:34 — The need to monetize NBA highlights

24:12 — Will Mark Cuban run for president?

25:22 — Talking basketball with Obama and Trump

LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE:

 

Celtics' post-All-Star break storylines: Health, help, and Timelord

Celtics' post-All-Star break storylines: Health, help, and Timelord

The Celtics reconvene in Boston on Wednesday night for their first post-All-Star practice before heading out west for a four-game trip.

Two-thirds of the 2019-20 regular season is already in the rear-view mirror but there’s a lot for this team to figure out in the final 28 games.

Here are eight things we’ll have our eyes on over the final eight weeks of Boston’s 82-game schedule:

1. Can the Celtics get — and stay — healthy?

Boston’s preferred starting five of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Daniel Theis has played a mere 17 games (16 starts) and 188 total minutes together this season. That's an absurdly low number when you consider a team such as Cleveland has had its starting group together in 41 games and 649 total minutes.

The good news for Boston: Among lineups with at least those 188 minutes, Boston’s starters have the seventh-best net rating (plus-12.8) and the best overall offensive rating (121.1). The question is whether those numbers are sustainable, particularly against elite competition. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Last we saw the Celtics, Jaylen Brown was out with ankle sprains, Enes Kanter re-aggravated his hip injury and Robert Williams was still out due to his own hip issue (more on him in a bit). The Celtics could really benefit from a sustained run of decent health, especially while trying to assess whether they need to roll the dice and explore the buyout scrap heap. Speaking of which ...

 

2. Can the Celtics find surefire help on the buyout market?

Despite Boston’s 38-16 record amid their health woes, there’s still a lot of fans — and media bloviators — stomping their feet about Danny Ainge’s inactivity at the trade deadline. Don’t try reasoning with them about how there weren’t any moves that made sense for Boston; they’d prefer Ainge spend recklessly for a marginal upgrade.

They might still get their wish for an addition.

Ainge and his staff will comb through the bargain buyout bin to see if there’s a veteran piece capable of helping this team down the stretch and into the playoffs. Boston desires size but that’s not necessarily a center (though there will certainly be interest if the changes in Cleveland lead to Tristan Thompson shaking free). If healthy — a big “if" with this team — the Celtics are well-stocked on the perimeter but additional frontcourt size would help considering the sort of big-man talent they will almost certainly encounter in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Ainge said last week that there wasn’t anything available at the moment that Boston was lusting after but the team will have to think harder about what’s available as the March 1 deadline for playoff-eligible additions approaches. Adding a player would force Boston to waive someone on its 15-man roster, but the team is willing to swallow a contract for the right addition.

3. What becomes of Robert Williams?

Williams, the second-year big man out since early December with a lingering hip issue, is scheduled to engage in his first full-team practice activities on Wednesday night. Ainge has said the team is eyeing a return to game action around March 1.

Especially if Kanter’s hip soreness lingers with the recent aggravation, the Celtics have an obvious need for Williams. Even at full strength, Kanter has noted the Voltron-like possibilities for Boston’s diverse group of centers including starter Theis and rookie depth option Vincent Poirier. "If you combine us all together like Power Rangers we can go out there and pretty much do offense, defense, rebound, everything,” said Kanter.

Williams, though, gives the team an athleticism it simply can’t get elsewhere. He can run the floor, throw down lobs, and use his springiness to protect the rim. The question is how much rust is there after a two-plus month layoff? And can Williams shore up some of the inconsistencies that existed even before his injury?

If Williams can carve out a rotation role again, it limits Boston’s need for a potential buyout addition. And it gives coach Brad Stevens the chance to trot out mix-and-match lineups that could potentially aid matchups where Theis and Kanter might struggle. 

4. Will Kyrie Irving ever play against the Celtics?

Two weeks before the Nets' last visit to Boston, old friend Kyrie Irving has already been ruled out indefinitely with shoulder concerns.

Anyone taking bets on whether he’ll play March 21 when Boston makes its final regular-season visit to Brooklyn? It will be fascinating to see if Irving shuts it down, particularly with the possibility of a Celtics-Nets matchup in the playoffs.

Speaking of potential postseason pairings… 

5. Will Boston make a run at the No. 2 seed?

With 28 games remaining, Boston sits 1.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors for the No. 2 seed in the East. Being the first runner-up to the conference-leading Bucks means two things: 1) A likely more favorable first-round pairing and 2) homecourt advantage in the East semifinals. 

If the season ended today, Boston would earn the No. 3 seed and would draw sixth-seeded Indiana, a team that’s nine games over .500 and just getting back one of its best players in Victor Oladipo. A first-round victory would likely send Boston to Toronto for the East semis. 

Shimmying up to that second spot would likely mean a first-round pairing with a team such as Brooklyn (three games under .500 and possibly Kyrie-less) or Orlando. It would also mean potentially having homecourt in Round 2.

A trip to Toronto on March 20 should go a long way towards helping shake out the top of the East seedings, with Miami lingering behind Boston. It could also be a reminder of just how valuable that No. 2 spot could be.

The Celtics weren’t able to make up any ground on Toronto as it ripped off a 15-game winning streak before the break. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index projects Toronto to finish a game ahead of Boston, the Celtics hindered by the tenth-most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA per BPI (the Raptors have the 19th most difficult).

On the flip side, will the Celtics prioritize late-season rest if their seeding comes into focus before the finish line?

6. What is Boston’s closing time lineup?

Which five players are the Celtics going to lean on in close games? Boston’s most-used fourth-quarter lineup this season has featured Walker, Brown, Tatum, Theis, and Marcus Smart. Alas, that group has only played 22 minutes together. 

Boston’s so-called “best five” lineup — sub Hayward in place of Theis — has played only 15 minutes together in the final quarter in six games this season (and has a minus-0.8 net rating in that tiny sample).

Can the Celtics go super small and get away with it? Better health will be needed to find out over the final 28 regular-season games. 

7. Which rookies show progress?

The end of Boston’s bench is filled with first-year players, many of whom have played bountiful minutes with the team’s depth thinned by injury this year. The question is whether Stevens can trust any of those rookies when the postseason arrives.

Grant Williams has made encouraging progress, including some solid overtime minutes in the first-half finale against the Clippers. His playoff role could hinge on just how much confidence Stevens has in him by the end of the regular season.

If the Celtics are not at full health when the postseason arrives, Williams could see a good chunk of minutes on a big stage.

8. Can Jayson Tatum maintain his march to stardom?

Fresh off his first All-Star appearance, Tatum’s challenge is maintaining his two-way impact through the finish line of the season. Praise has come from all corners and Tatum has undeniably earned it with a recent impact that goes far beyond an increased scoring output. 

The question is whether Tatum can be the sort of player to take over late in a game on the playoff stage. He certainly showed himself capable of big moments in the postseason run in his rookie season, but it’s clear that even with all of the Celtics’ current talent, much of what this team accomplishes hinges on Tatum’s ability to continue to be a go-to option.

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.