NBA notebook: Popularity or producing wins? Which matters more in All-Star Game?

NBA notebook: Popularity or producing wins? Which matters more in All-Star Game?

BOSTON -- When it comes to makes an All-Star team and who doesn’t, the fault lines of disagreement often exist with one side wanting players rewarded for popularity, the other for production that impacts winning. 

Muddying the waters even more so this year in the East has been the number of likely All-Stars (Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Victor Oladipo and Blake Griffin to name a few) who would normally be All-Star no-brainers, who have missed most if not all of this season due to injuries. 

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And let’s not forget All-Stars from the East who took their talents out West -  Kawhi Leonard (Los Angeles Clippers) and D’Angelo Russell (Golden State Warriors).

Still, as much as we know that there will be a notable change coming to this year’s All-Star Game and its entrants from the East, there’s a clear and undeniable divide as to who the new faces added to the mix will be. 

You can pretty much bank on Atlanta’s Trae Young getting his first All-Star nod this season and likely as a starter. He has been the leading vote-getter among East guards in each of the first two voting returns. 

The Celtics have a couple of prominent talents who have played their way into the conversation in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. 

In Indiana, Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon will get strong consideration as well. 

Don’t forget about Philly’s Tobias Harris, Miami’s Bam Adebayo, as well as high-scoring players on struggling teams, such as Chicago’s Zach LaVine or Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie. 

“I don’t envy the coaches having to pick the reserves this year,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “There’s always a bit of splitting hairs with that, but it just seems there’s even less separation this year.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has consistently said he puts a premium on what players add to a team’s success when he's picking his All-Star reserves. 

For his sake and the Celtics, he better hope other coaches feel the same way. 

When asked specifically about Brown versus Tatum, the executive said, “getting both of those guys in, is a big problem for Boston. Because they are so close, both might wind up not getting in; that’s a definite possibility.”

But the executive pointed out, “That’s called a good problem right there. The fact that your guys are even in that conversation means that they’re doing a lot of the right things in games and the team, obviously, is winning.”

He added, “That’s a problem most teams would love to have, for sure.”


San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has often been viewed as the load management originator for how he has paced his core guys in terms of minutes played and resting them dating to when Tim Duncan was on the team.

Since then it has become the rage of NBA teams who won’t hesitate to shut down one of their best players for a night to get him some rest; even if it’s a nationally-televised game or there's no injury of note that they are recovering from or soreness that they are dealing with for that matter. 

Popovich has seen its use expand and finds it “silly”, adding that he doesn’t deserve the credit for the popular rationale used these days by teams to rest their best players. 

“I didn’t do any kind of load management,” Popovich said. “If there’s credit in that, I don’t deserve it. If there’s the opposite, I don’t deserve that either. I did it because I wanted those guys to have longer careers. I never did load management.

Popovich added, “I never took out a sheet of paper and said, “He’s going to do this. He’s going to do that.’ Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker played more minutes than anyone in the world, when you count what they did in the summers for so long and when they started to play pro ball. It was just logical to try and watch their minutes. Tim Duncan, the second year he hurt his knee and I kept him out of the playoffs. He could have probably played but I kept him out. From that day on, I wanted to make sure he was going to be healthy. So whenever I could, I gave him some rest. If that’s load management, so be it. Load management today is kind of farcical to some degree.”


As the Feb. 6 trade deadline approaches, more names will begin to surface as players who might be on the move. 

One of the more prominent names being bantered about lately is the Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond. 

With Blake Griffin recently undergoing knee surgery and listed as being out indefinitely (multiple league sources anticipate Griffin won’t return to playing this season), moving Drummond for future assets will at least ensure they get something in return with Drummond expected to opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent in 2020. 

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Any team making a deal for Drummond will do so with the intent of re-signing him to what would likely be a max or near-max contract which is a huge commitment to a young, talented big who doesn’t stretch the floor akin to most of today’s big men. 

Among the teams talked about as a possible suitor is Boston. The Celtics would likely have to include Gordon Hayward in such a deal as well as a first-round pick. 

Because like any team that takes on Drummond, the same concerns exist with Hayward, who can also opt out of the final year of his contract and become a free agent this summer. 

Boston has resisted giving serious thought to moving Hayward for a center in part because of the solid play - most nights at least - of Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis. 

But a three-game losing streak has in some respects exposed the Celtics on multiple levels, including their lack of frontcourt size. 

Another player to keep an eye on is Jrue Holiday. 

Considered near-untouchable before the start of the season, the struggles of the Pelicans may result in New Orleans shipping the former All-Star out this season. 

And remember, they have Lonzo Ball, Frank Jackson as well as former Celtic E’Twaun Moore, who can also slide over and run the offense in a pinch. Holiday is owed $25.4 million next season and can opt out and become a free agent in the summer of 2021.

I’m told to keep an eye on the Denver Nuggets, who are playing better of late and have established themselves as one of the better regular-season teams out West. 

Still, for them to take that next step towards being an elite club in the playoffs, they could benefit greatly from the addition of Holiday whose two-way talent would be an upgrade in their quest to go deep into the playoffs. 


The on-the-floor tiff between Jimmy Butler and Indiana’s T.J. Warren was mildly entertaining. 

But Butler’s postgame comments on the incident? Priceless. 

It was the kind of braggadocious banter that you rarely hear players say for public consumption. 

“It’s tough for him because I can guard him and he can’t guard me,” Butler told reporters. “At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. 

Butler added, “You have to watch your mouth in certain situations. There’s some (expletive) you don’t say as a man. He gotta see me the next time. Because I feel like what he said was truly disrespectful and it’s all good because … I ain’t scared of nobody. He talking about, ‘oh, we gonna fight, this-that, this-that, it is what it is to me. He’s soft. He’s not even in my [expletive] league, nowhere near me. If I were his coach, I would never put him on me, ever again.”


The fires in Australia have been raging on for quite some time now, with financial assistance coming in from all corners of the globe - including the NBA. 

Nine players with Australian ties, a list that includes Aussie and ex-Celtic Aron Baynes, have partnered with the NBA Players Association Foundation and the NBA and committed $750,000 to the relief and recovery efforts. 

According to CNN, 27 people have died nationwide due to the fires, with thousands of homes having already been destroyed or damaged since the brush fire season began this past summer. 

The fellas from Down Under aren’t the only ones making a difference in the lives of those in their community. 

Hawks guard Trae Young has teamed up with the non-profit RIP Medical Debt to cancel more than $1 million in medical debt for families in the Atlanta area. 

“The city of Atlanta has welcomed me with open arms,” said Young. “Giving back to this community is extremely important to me. I hope these families can find a bit of relief knowing that their bills have been taken care of.”


  • Victor Oladipo says he will be back in the Indiana Pacers lineup on Jan. 29, almost a year to the day (Jan. 23) that he ruptured his quad tendon.
  • Zion Williamson continues to trend towards a return sooner rather than later. He’s now back to practicing with the New Orleans Pelicans, who play the Celtics in Boston on Saturday night, and could be activated at any time. When he does return, New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said the top overall pick in last June’s draft will play limited minutes.
  • Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Beilein and the brouhaha over his “thug” comment seems to be on pace to die a quick death. But as they look to bolster their roster going forward, league executives wonder if this incident will make an already difficult task of recruiting free agents to Cleveland, even more daunting.
  • The Sixers are 4-4 without Joel Embiid this season.
  • There’s still a lot of season left, but Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Houston’s James Harden are still viewed as the front-runners for MVP. 
  • Celtics rumored to have monitored Gallinari as trade target

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

Celtics Mailbag: Underperforming Celtics bench lets team down vs. Lakers

Celtics Mailbag: Underperforming Celtics bench lets team down vs. Lakers

The Boston Celtics traded haymakers with one of the league’s best on a national stage Sunday and nearly stole a win despite playing without their All-Star point guard.

From this vantage point, there was a lot to be encouraged by, not the least of which was 21-year-old Jayson Tatum being the best player on the floor in a game in which LeBron James was on the other sideline.

Yet, when we pulled the drawstrings on the Celtics Mailbag on Sunday night, there was a whole lot of angst. Most of the venom was directed at the officials — more on that in a bit — but poor Brad Wanamaker and his bench brethren found themselves in the crosshairs of angry fans, too. So let’s start this week’s edition there:

THE BENCH!!!! It’s a serious problem and, honestly, what does Stevens see in Wanamaker?!?!? — @ccsilva32

Danny Ainge needs to get these guys a legit bench. … You stood up for Ainge and his hoarding of picks, it's sickening you have to run starters into the ground for wins. — @nocap757

If anything frustrates me about this team, it’s a complete lack of a decent bench. Do they have potential? Sure, but that and $3 will get you a plain coffee. How far does this team go in the playoffs given 95% of their scoring is on the shoulders of the starters? — @cbrown4405

Bench scoring is a bigger weakness than size, IMO. What will the playoff rotation look like to deal with this issue? — @Tron731

Sunday wasn’t a banner day for Boston’s bench. Marcus Smart got elevated to a starting role in Kemba Walker’s absence; Enes Kanter played limited minutes given matchup troubles; Wanamaker had a rough night (0-for-4 shooting, 3 turnovers); and Boston’s five-man reserve unit ultimately went 3-for-11 with 11 points over 58 minutes of floor time.

For those who have clamored for a bench upgrade since the trade deadline, Sunday’s loss was another chance to scream, “See!” And news that the already deep Lakers were adding Markieff Morris off the buyout scrapheap only led to more consternation.

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Maybe the biggest question mark with the Celtics — beyond whether they can stay healthy when it matters — is who exactly is their 8th or 9th man in a playoff rotation? Can the Celtics lean on Wanamaker on a big stage? Can Robert Williams return and bolster the Voltron frontcourt with Daniel Theis and Kanter? Do the Celtics have to think harder about a buyout upgrade, and is there even anyone out there that can fill the team’s need for shooting in what could be a very limited role?

We’re intrigued to see more of rookie Romeo Langford, but he plays a wing position where Boston is already well-stocked. Still, his ability to create his own shot and play strong defense leaves us wondering if there’s enough time to build the trust needed for Stevens to lean on him in playoff minutes. It’s asking a lot for a rookie to contribute in the postseason, which is what’s working against guys like Langford and Grant Williams.

Ultimately, I’m not certain there’s a buyout addition currently available that would alter the trajectory of the Celtics’ season. As the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks swoop up some of the more intriguing names, the Celtics might ultimately have to roll with what they’ve got and cross their fingers on health, all while hoping their rookies don’t shrink on a big stage.

Isaiah Thomas solves a bench problem. Wanamaker is not an answer to any question anyone has. If they are afraid of a circus, it's up to management to manage it. He could have been useful tonight. — @turkued1

With all the usual qualifiers, including that Thomas and the 2016-17 Celtics were the most enjoyable bunch to chronicle in my career, I just don’t see the fit with this team. Celtics fans romanticize the notion of what Thomas was and his ability to thrive on a team centered around his offensive exploits. But that opporutnity isn’t there now, and defense would be a major concern. Thomas still has his moments, but the Celtics don’t have the minutes or touches for him to truly thrive.

DeMarcus Cousins a possibility? Could the Celtics just claim him? — @c0_nun_drum

Even if Cousins gets healthy for the postseason, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect him to be able to contribute — coming off two major injuries — with zero in-season reps with his new team. 

What happened to Javonte Green? Seems to have fallen out of favor. — @Tantamount1

When the Celtics are healthy on the wing, it’s simply harder to find minutes. Stevens leaned on Semi Ojeleye initially and Romeo Langford Sunday for those wing minutes and Green is more of a depth option when the Tatum/Brown/Hayward combo is all healthy. It could also leave him vulnerable if the Celtics ultimately elect to seek a buyout upgrade (remember that Vincent Poirier has multiple years on his deal, making it tougher to swallow). 

Danny has no plan and has no interest in making this team a championship contender. — @DattilioBilly

Yup, beyond drafting two franchise cornerstones, hooking two All-Stars in free agency, and keeping the draft-pick surplus intact to ensure a long-term run as a contender, he certainly has no interest.

We can tell y’all are angry. Go ahead and vent on the officials:

Wyc should file a grievance — @KembaWalkerCBT

I’m not sure there’s a greater waste of time — and money — than filing a protest of an NBA game. But if Mark Cuban wants to spend $10,000 to make a point, so be it. Grousbeck and Co. should probably save their money.

Three things: 1. Ball out of bounds off AD with every announcer and fan seeing it but not the refs; 2. Jaylen called out of bounds when it wasn’t even that close so ref just made that up; 3. A clear goaltending is called, then reversed, because LBJ complained. That’s 2 points and 2 possessions. — @BobbyDlight14

Counter argument: 1. I didn’t think any of the views were conclusive enough to overturn the call on the court and only the back angle seemed to suggest Davis tipped it out; 2. Referee probably figured if he was out of bounds and Brown was bumping into him, he had to be out, too, but this was a tough whistle; 3. Brown appeared to goaltend defending a layup attempt after a whistle so it might have evened out there.

That last 2 minute report will be interesting. Certainly don’t expect it will make Celtics fans happier. — @rlbyrne29

:: sigh :: Totally forgot we’re going to have to hear all this complaining again Monday if the league admits any of the late-game calls were incorrect.

Let’s see what else people are angry about … 

Can Hayward not miss game-clinching layups? Or is it too much to ask from a $30 million per year player? — @stamosd308

Hayward did make a somewhat curious decision to push the ball up the floor in transition with Boston up 2 after a stop with a minute to go. If Kyle Kuzma doesn’t two-handed shove his way through a Daniel Theis seal to contest the layup, Hayward might have locked up the game. To his credit, Hayward admitted Boston would have won if he hadn’t “smoked a couple bunnies.” Let’s remember that Hayward has been maybe the team’s second best player behind Tatum in this stretch where Boston has won 12 of 15. 

Why did Stevens sit Tatum for so long to start the fourth? He scored 35 points in the previous two quarters. Ride the Hot Hand. — @ChrisKelleyUSA

Stevens rode the hot hand in the third quarter and tried to buy some extra rest early in the fourth when Boston had the lead. Not sure it mattered all that much. The Celtics didn’t do a great job adjusting to the Lakers blitzing Tatum late and that has to be a focus if teams do it more often.

Now, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, and some readers shared our glass half-full outlook.  A few to balance this thing out: 

I’ve never felt better about a loss. We just went toe-to-toe with arguably the best team in the West and lost a close game, which we could’ve/should’ve won without our starting point guard. — @WBrown1984


Honestly I’m just psyched for the future of one Jayson Tatum. — @john9668

(nodding emphatically)

Beyond the obvious Tatum growth and Jaylen never shying in big moments regardless of outcome, I’m loving the defensive efforts I’m seeing from Langford. — @dangrant75

It’s easy to see why the Celtics were bullish on Langford even as he navigated all those early season injuries. He could be a big-time contributor in future seasons.

Number 0 going up in the rafters in 25 years? — @iss_a_joke

Probably more like 20 years. They don’t wait around these days. But even in 2040, Deuce Tatum will be a fourth-year veteran for the Celtics when his 41-year-old father’s jersey becomes the first since Garnett to go to the rafters.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Trail Blazers, which begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Grant Williams describes meeting Bill Russell at Celtics-Lakers game

Grant Williams describes meeting Bill Russell at Celtics-Lakers game

Any time the Boston Celtics play in Los Angeles, there are bound to be celebrities in the crowd. The Celtics and the Lakers have arguably the greatest rivalry in NBA history, after all, so watching them square off is a must-see event when both teams are good.

But on Sunday afternoon, there was one famous person in the crowd that caught the attention of Celtics rookie Grant Williams. That would be Celtics legend and 11-time NBA champion, Bill Russell.

Russell appeared at the game to watch the Celtics in action, but also wore a jersey to honor the late Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. And evidently, Williams took some time to talk to Russell at halftime.

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After the contest, Williams communicated what his message to the NBA great was.

“I just wanted to thank him for everything he’s done for the game,” Williams said per Tom Westerholm of MassLive.com. “I said I was thankful, because he was so impactful. He was a dude who was one of the best players in the game, a historic Boston legend, and honestly it was just good to see him in person for the first time. You see all the celebrities in LA and all this stuff, but I was more focused on Bill Russell than anybody else. Denzel was there, all those other guys, but Bill was special.”

And Williams also communicated that getting a chance to play in a Celtics-Lakers rivalry game in front of one of the best players of all-time was "really cool".

“It was really cool, especially a game of that magnitude and intensity,” Williams said. “Lakers vs. Celtics, something that one of the biggest rivalries in sports and playing against LeBron, it was fun. It was a competitive environment. Hopefully he enjoyed it.”

It's really nice to see that Williams truly appreciates NBA history and one of the greatest Celtics of all-time. He will surely remember this moment for a long time.

During his rookie season, Williams is averaging 3.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.0 assist per game while playing 15.5 minutes off the bench. The 2019 first-round pick could play a key role as a small-ball center for the squad as they gear up for a playoff run.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Trail Blazers, which begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.