BOSTON -- Before the season began, there were questions about whether the Celtics needed an upgrade in the frontcourt.
And now, even after a strong 11-3 start, those questions persist.
That’s because the calculus for this Celtics team has changed in the minds of many.
Instead of a team that’s viewed as one with players still feeling each other out, Boston looks more like a team that’s one difference-maker in the middle away from being a title contender this season.
And while the idea of pursuing a talented big man is appealing, there are two significant obstacles that will make that a difficult move to pull off.
First, they have to find a team willing to part ways with a big man they like.
Most of the big men thought to potentially be on the move, i.e. Houston’s Clint Capela or Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, are playing well, as are their teams.
The other factor is the impact a new face would have on the team’s chemistry, which is exceptional right now. Boston knows all too well how even the most well-intentioned players on a roster can have difficulty in playing well together, resulting in a squad that falls short of expectations.
One must also consider any move made has to be an upgrade over the current bigs-by-committee group.
If Boston wants to acquire a big man, their best shot might be to play the waiting game and hope one becomes on the waiver wire. Another school of thought is if 7-5 Tacko Fall continues to improve in the G-League and makes the most of his limited opportunities with the Celtics, he could provide the interior presence defensively that Boston is looking for.
And there’s always the Chinese Basketball Association whose season ends in time for their best players to potentially latch on with NBA teams looking for more depth on the eve of the playoffs. You can expect the Celtics will keep tabs on the standout bigs in the CBA (we’ve got one in mind actually; see below in FAST BREAKS) who could come in and contribute.
LUKA FOR MVP?
The “Luka-for-MVP” crowd is growing by leaps and bounds, as it should.
The NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year is off to an unprecedented tear that has the Dallas Mavericks looking like a playoff team after they fell short the past three seasons. After 14 games, Doncic is averaging a near triple-double of 29.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 9.4 assists.
More than his scoring, the 20-year-old has provided hope and optimism for a Mavs franchise that’s still adjusting to life without Dirk Nowitzki, the face of the franchise for the better part of the last 20 years.
THOSE SPUTTERING SPURS …
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the San Antonio Spurs come out to start the season playing their worst basketball. But this time around, well, it feels different. In the past, the early struggles were easy to explain away because of injuries, a brutal schedule or just plain ol’ bad luck.
This time around, none of those factors have contributed significantly to why San Antonio has one of the worst records in the NBA at 5-10.
Their roster, no matter how you want to look at it, simply isn’t on the same level as the top teams in the NBA. And when you throw in lots of inexperience coupled with competing in a conference that’s only getting stronger, you have a season like this. The Spurs are looking like their streak of 22 playoff appearances dating to 1998 (the longest in any major North American professional league) may be finally coming to an end.
FULTZ BREAKING THROUGH ‘BUST’ LABEL
It is fair to say that Markelle Fultz has not lived up to the expectations most NBA fans have for a No. 1 overall pick. Still, it appears a change of scenery is a good look for Fultz who, now in Orlando, is showing signs of being the player many thought he would be when he came into the NBA.
Through his first 14 games, Fultz is averaging career-highs in scoring (10.2), assists (3.1) and maybe most important, minutes played (23.7). Again, none of the stats Fultz are putting up compare favorably to Jayson Tatum, who was Boston’s pick-up in the trade with the Sixers, who selected Fultz No. 1. But at least now he’s being given a shot at playing, which was something that didn’t happen in Philly.
HONORING A LUV-A-BULL PLAYER
There won’t be a bust coming to the Naismith Hall of Fame of Luol Deng’s likeness anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean the 15-year veteran didn’t have a good NBA career. Most of his time was with the Chicago Bulls, an organization that recently honored Deng, who ranks among the franchise’s top 10 in a number of categories.
"It's what made sense," Deng told reporters when he was honored at a halftime ceremony recently. "Chicago means a lot to me when you look back, just at my career as a basketball player coming here as a young man, 19, but it's a lot of history here and I wanted it to end the right way. The best way to do it is with familiar faces and people that know me very well."
As much as one can focus on Deng’s basketball career which included a pair of All-star selections, Deng’s commitment to bettering the lives of those around him is what really set him apart and showed he was so much more than just a basketball player.
His humanitarian efforts across the globe have won him praise from all corners of society and earned him the rare distinction of winning the NBA’s sportsmanship and citizenship awards in his time in Chicago.
It has even caught the eye of world leaders, including former President Barack Obama.
"In a world rife with conflict, one of our most important obligations is to look after the innocent victims,” President Obama said in 2015 upon a visit to the White House by Deng. “And few understand this better than Luol Deng. His dedication to bringing hope to millions is an inspiration, as is Luol's own life itself. Both on and off the court, he sets a standard of excellence and service that all Americans can look to for inspiration."
*Don’t look now, but here come the Milwaukee Bucks. After a sluggish 2-2 start, they have since won 10 of 11, including their past six in a row, and at 12-3 find themselves a half-game ahead of the Celtics for the best record in the East.
*Portland plans to waive Pau Gasol, but they don’t want to totally get rid of him. Both sides are working out the details that would allow the six-time All-Star a role on the bench as an assistant coach. The goal was to have him help on the floor this season but both sides sense that’s not going to happen with his foot healing slower than anticipated. So, the next best thing for both sides would be for him to contribute in the role of an assistant.
*Ex-Celtics guard Rajon Rondo is back in the mix with the Los Angeles Lakers after missing the early portion of the season with a calf strain. In his first four games back, all Lakers wins, he has averaged 7.0 points and 6.0 assists per game.
*If the Celtics let the trade deadline pass without doing a deal for another big man, don’t be surprised to hear Kenneth Faried’s name come up. He’s playing in China with the Zhenjiang Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he’s doing what most former NBA players do in the CBA and that’s put up video game-like numbers. In his first three games with the Lions, Faried is averaging 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds which includes a 26-point, 14-rebound performance in a 115-106 win over the Shanghai Sharks.
Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nuggets, which tips off tonight at 8 ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.