Celtics

East wide open in 2020? James Ennis says 76ers will 'walk' to NBA Finals

East wide open in 2020? James Ennis says 76ers will 'walk' to NBA Finals

The Philadelphia 76ers should be the favorite to win the Eastern Conference and play in the 2020 NBA Finals, and one of their players is pretty confident that's going to happen.

Sixers guard James Ennis III, who recently re-signed with Philly, told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer that his team will "walk" to the NBA Finals next season.

That's a bold statement from Ennis.

The 76ers figure to be a tough out next season after re-signing Tobias Harris, Mike Scott, Ennis and acquiring Al Horford from the rival Boston Celtics in free agency. And let's not forget the 76ers' two-best players, center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons, should also continue to improve next season and beyond.

The East, as Ennis notes, really is wide open, however.

The Milwaukee Bucks, led by reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, will be a force again. The Bucks lost Malcolm Brogdon via trade this summer, but they are expected to return much of the same team that finished with the East's best record during the 2019-20 regular season. The Boston Celtics also will be a tough out, and no team understands that better than Philly. The C's lost Horford and Kyrie Irving in free agency, but they signed Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter, and also should see improvement from young wings Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. The Indiana Pacers made a few shrewd offseason moves, too, and likely will again be a top-four team in the conference.

There are question marks surrounding the 76ers themselves. Embiid hasn't been able to stay healthy and/or in shape for a lengthy playoff run. Simmons still can't shoot from the outside and Horford is 33 years old and has battled through injuries the last two seasons. Philly's bench still doesn't have enough talent or depth, and the roster as a whole needs more 3-point shooting.

Being the favorite on paper also doesn't mean much. Many fans and experts believed the Celtics would march to the NBA Finals last season with LeBron James out of the conference. Boston instead fought through a massively disappointing season and exited in the conference semifinals. 

Ennis and the 76ers have a long way to go before they reach the conference finals for the first time since 2001, but in fairness, they do have plenty of reasons to be confident in their chances next season.

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Kemba Walker ready to adjust his role and share the scoring with his new Celtics teammates

Kemba Walker ready to adjust his role and share the scoring with his new Celtics teammates

Celtics point guard Kemba Walker admits that, in order for his new team to maximize its potential, he needs to alter his offensive approach. Fresh off inking his max contract, the eight-year veteran said he’s on board with deferring to the new talent that now surrounds him.

“[My role] does [need to change], and I’m looking forward to it,” Walker said on the latest Celtics Talk Podcast. "It’s something new. It’s not as big of a burden, I feel like, on my back. It’s like, I had to be perfect every night in Charlotte. Had to be. I had to have a great game, offensively, if not, it will be a struggle for us to win. Like I said, with the personnel, we have on this team and the way these guys can score, it’ll be different.”

The Celtics landed Walker on a four-year, $141 million deal. With the Hornets, Walker was forced to shoulder much of the scoring burden and sometimes even big outputs weren’t enough to will Charlotte to wins (Walker had seven games of 40-plus points last season and Charlotte lost six of them, the only win coming against Boston).

Walker ranked ninth in the NBA in usage rate last season at 30.8 percent. That was one spot ahead of ball-dominant Russell Westbrook and two spots ahead of Kawhi Leonard. Which is to say that Walker is used to finishing possessions but seems on board with giving it up more. Kyrie Irving ranked 17th in the NBA in usage at 28.6 last year.

Walker cited young players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as reasons he wanted to come to Boston and he’s eager to use his talents to get them scoring opportunities. A healthier Gordon Hayward is going to demand more possessions as well and the team can lean on his ball-handling skills, especially when Walker isn’t on the court.

Walker said he’s excited about the potential. 

"I think there will be a lot of space. I’m a willing passer as well. I’m very unselfish,” said Walker. "I love to score, don’t get it twisted. Whenever I have an opportunity to score, I’m going to score. But, when I draw defenders and see open guys, I’m going to get rid of that thing. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to kinda changing my game as well, just giving the ball up a lot more.”

Coming off a season in which Irving’s missteps as a leader contributed to friction with younger players, Walker’s arrival begs the question of whether he can maximize their talents. While he’s expressed a desire to help those players grow — while also suggesting that he yearns to learn from them and their playoff experiences -- Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge remains staunch that Walker simply needs to be the best version of himself.

"I don't really look for other people to draw out anything from anybody,” said Ainge. "I expect him to be at his best, that's all. Work hard and be who he is. He doesn't have to try to draw anything out from any of the other guys...It's not anybody's responsibility to draw the best out in every other player.”

Added Ainge: "I see Kemba as a good fit with anybody. He's a really good player. He's smart and is experienced and wants to win. He's accomplished a lot of things individually and he just really hasn't been able to accomplish the team goals since winning the national championship in college. But I think that's what he is hoping for. He's at the stage of his life where that's all that matters.”

Walker landed on the All-NBA third team this past season. He averaged a career-best 25.6 points per game but has shot just 41.8 percent from the floor from his career and 35.7 percent beyond the arc. The Celtics are hoping that with more skill around him, Walker can ratchet up his overall efficiency. He averaged 5.9 assists per game last season and that number could spike if Tatum, Brown, and Hayward elevate their offensive output this season.

It is, of course, easier to say you want to morph your game in July than it is to actually do it on the court in October. But Walker has repeatedly stressed a desire to win after limited playoff exposure in Charlotte. Given some of the losses on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the frontcourt, it’s imperative that the Celtics play with high efficiency on the offensive end. Walker’s ability to maximize opportunities for himself and his teammates could be key in Boston’s success in the 2019-20 season.

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NBA Rumors: Clippers offered Marcus Morris large contract at start of free agency

NBA Rumors: Clippers offered Marcus Morris large contract at start of free agency

It's been a tumultuous offseason for Marcus Morris.

The former Celtics forward stirred up some controversy when he backed out of his agreement with the Spurs to sign with the Knicks in free agency. San Antonio offered Morris a two-year, $20 million deal, but he ultimately chose New York's one-year, $15 million offer instead.

That decision led to Morris parting ways with his agent, Rich Paul, and the Spurs reportedly being "pissed" about the 29-year-old's change of heart.

Apparently, San Antonio's offer wasn't the only one Morris turned down. According to Frank Isola of The Athletic, he also declined a three-year, $41 million offer from the Clippers at the start of free agency.

Isola writes:

Morris, however, lost out on a much more lucrative contract with the LA Clippers, who were prepared to pay him $41 million over three seasons. A Clippers source said the three-year deal included a provision for Morris to receive 50 percent of his salary on Oct. 1.

Morris was hoping to earn $40 million over two years but the Clippers couldn’t offer that deal if they wanted to sign Kawhi Leonard to a max contract. Once Morris took that stance, the Clippers moved on and acquired Portland’s Maurice Harkless in a four-team trade that included Jimmy Butler signing with the Miami Heat. Harkless will earn $11 million next season, or $2 million less than what Morris would have made with the Clippers.

The Clippers certainly aren't losing sleep over Morris declining their offer. They went on to sign superstar Kawhi Leonard and trade for another star in Paul George.

As for Morris, he might regret overestimating his market value early in the offseason. Fortunately for him, he'll get another shot at it next July with a new agent.