Celtics

What's Greek for MVP? Could be Giannis Antetokounmpo

What's Greek for MVP? Could be Giannis Antetokounmpo

MILWAUKEE – After the Bucks’ practice, Tony Snell, ex-Celtic Jason Terry and coach Jason Kidd were having a 3-point shooting contest.
 
In between them taking shots, you would find Giannis Antetokounmpo knocking down mid-range jumpers from the corner and then taking a step back to drain corner 3’s.

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There was a level of focus and seriousness to his after practice routine that served as a reminder as to what this season is about for him – daily improvement.
 
Despite being just 22, Antetokounmpo is the undeniable face of the franchise.
 
And while the Bucks have played just four games this season (they're 3-1), he has been the pacesetter in the NBA this season when it comes to the MVP race.

“It’s a big compliment, but I have to keep doing what I’m doing,” Antetokounmpo said. “I have to play hard, help my team win...it’s a long season. I can’t even think about that right now. By playing hard and by winning, everything will take care of itself.”
 
Antetokounmpo will look to continue on his MVP-esque pace Thursday night when the Bucks host the Celtics (2-2), who come in having won two in a row.
 
The Greek Freak has been flat-out dominant this season, averaging a league-best 36.8 points per game, which includes a 37-point-in-37-minutes performance in Milwaukee’s 108-100 win in Boston last week.
 
Kidd, who was a runner-up to Tim Duncan in the MVP race in 2002, knows better than most the challenge awaiting Antetokounmpo if he continues to put up major numbers and the Bucks steadily rack up victories.
 
But such talk, Kidd says, doesn’t mean much considering how early in the season things are currently.


 
“It’s only game four; I think we played four games,” Kidd said. “Anything that’s talked MVP is way too early. For him, he has a job to do. Up or down, he has to go out and execute the game plan and he’s doing that right now. We’ve talked about, there’s going to be a time when the ball doesn’t go in the basket, but you can do other things. It doesn’t change his game. He’s gonna play both ends. It’s kind of what we need him to do. He’s playing at a very high level.”
 
In Milwaukee’s 113-110 victory over Portland, he tallied 44 points but, more important, he came up with a huge block, steal and dunk in the final minute.
 
One of the keys to Antetokounmpo’s growth as a player has been his never-ending desire to get better. He came into the league with a scrawny, stick-like physique.
 
Today?
 
He’s ripped from head to toe, which has enabled him to rip apart defense after defense due to the conundrum his size, length, athleticism and improved strength presents on a nightly basis.
 
Just a shade under 7-feet, he’s too long and athletic to put a guard or even a small forward on him full time. And bigs don’t have the mobility or lateral quickness to defend him adequately.
 
It’s adding up to video game-like numbers for Antetokounmpo.
 
“As a team, we’re playing hard, we can get a lot better,” Antetokounmpo said. “Of course, get better get to the next level. For me, just try to play hard. I expect before the season to play hard and I just play hard.”
 
And it is that mindset that will guide the Greek Freak to positions of prominence in the NBA that few envisioned would be forthcoming to Antetokounmpo.
 
The game will be played at “the Mecca”, where the Bucks played from 1968-88. Some of the greatest games ever between Boston and Milwaukee occurred on the same floor that the current players will play on Thursday night.
 
As much as folks love the idea of taking a stroll down memory lane, it is Milwaukee’s present that should have fans excited.
 
He comes into the game having scored at least 30 points in each of Milwaukee’s first four games. The only Bucks player who has done that more than Antetokounmpo is Marques Johnson, who did so six times in 1978.
 
Antetokounmpo has fully embraced the history of the building and the flooring which both he had his coach talked about being ahead of its time as far as arena flooring is concerned.
 
And he has his own idea of how to pay homage to the greats that came before him, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“I’m going to try and do what Kareem did; get buckets,” said Antetokounmpo, with a chuckle.

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Blakely: Even with Kawhi in Toronto, Celtics still the team to beat in East

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Blakely: Even with Kawhi in Toronto, Celtics still the team to beat in East

BOSTON -- The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is nearing an end with reports that the estranged San Antonio star will be traded to the Toronto Raptors for a package centered around the Raptors’ all-time leading scorer, DeMar DeRozan
 
As good as DeRozan has been for the Raptors, acquiring a healthy Kawhi Leonard makes them a better team on several levels. 
 
But that improvement isn’t enough of a power shift to move Boston off the top of the Eastern Conference food chain. 

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Leonard is the best two-way player in the NBA right now, a perennial All-Star when healthy. But his health is one of the many questions out there. He missed all but nine games last season, primarily because of a quad injury. 
 
He's a significant upgrade defensively for the Raptors, which would more than compensate for whatever they lose in terms of offensive punch with DeRozan’s departure. 
 
Toronto's addition of Leonard still doesn’t change the fact that Boston has the deepest roster in the East, headlined by a triumvirate of All-Stars (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Al Horford) with an emerging cast of superstars led by Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum, who finished third in last season’s Rookie of the Year voting. 
 
Throw in a solid bench with strong coaching and a connected front office, and it adds up to a team that has every reason in the world to believe it’ll be the last one standing in the East, regardless of what moves are made by others. 
 
More than anything, Toronto getting Leonard makes the East far more interesting in addition to providing the Celtics with yet another legitimate challenger in the conference. 
 
Philadelphia, by all accounts, looks to be the next best team in the East this season, with Indiana, Milwaukee and the Raptors not too far behind. 
 
Adding Leonard to the mix gives Toronto hope of separating itself from that crowded middle class. But it still leaves the Raptors short of being on the same level as Boston. 

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 For starters, Toronto is adding a player who -- for now, at least -- doesn’t want to be there. 
 
The only assurance they will have is that he’ll be on the roster for this upcoming season. He hits free agency in the summer of 2019 and has reportedly been leaning heavily towards returning to his California roots and playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, who signed LeBron James earlier this month.
 
One of Toronto’s strengths has been the chemistry between DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. There's no guarantee that can replicated by swapping out DeRozan for Leonard. 
 
Also, Toronto has a new coach in longtime assistant Nick Nurse. His strength in the league has been that of a good development coach, which is more in line with a team that's rebuilding rather than one trying to re-tool for another run towards Eastern Conference supremacy. 
 
Regardless of this trade, the Raptors were going to head into this season with lots of questions after getting swept by Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs and then firing Dwayne Casey (who was named the NBA’s Coach of the Year shortly after his dismissal).
 
There’s no denying Leonard’s talent makes a deal like this palatable to many, but the Raptors did more than just trade away a talented player. 

DeRozan was arguably their first star, and at no point in his career did he even hint that he wanted out of Toronto. It was, in fact, just the opposite: DeRozan made it clear, both publicly and privately, that he wanted to spend his entire career with the Raptors. 
 
But that’s not going to happen now. 
 
If Leonard stays healthy and plays at the level we've grown accustomed to seeing him at in the past, the trade makes Toronto a better team on many levels. It certainly closes the gap some between the Raptors and the Celtics.
 
But Boston is still the team to beat in the East, a position that no one trade -- not even one that lands Kawhi Leonard -- is going to change. 

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Report: Spurs poised to trade Kawhi Leonard to Raptors

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Report: Spurs poised to trade Kawhi Leonard to Raptors

Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio and apparently he's getting his wish.

However, he's not too excited about where he's going.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Haynes reported early Wednesday morning that the Spurs "are finalizing a deal [to send Leonard to the Toronto Raptors] in a trade package that includes All-Star DeMar DeRozan." And, according to the report: "Leonard and DeRozan are both aware that an agreement could be imminent, and neither is expressing enthusiasm for the deal, league sources said."

Leonard's well-documented frayed relations with the Spurs led to San Antonio pursuing potential deals for the perennial All-Star, but his desire to sign with the Lakers (or, failing that, the Clippers) as a free agent next offseason depressed the trade market. The Celtics were interested in Leonard -- and, in fact, made an offer to San Antonio at last year's trade deadline -- but, knowing there was more than a good chance he'd be a one-year rental, were reportedly unwilling to part with with any of their key players. Nor were the Sixers, another rumored landing spot for Leonard. According to sources, both Boston and Philly made offers that were built around draft picks and not current talent, which didn't interest the Spurs.

With this rumored deal, San Antonio gets an All-Star who'd be under team control for a while: He has three years and $83 million left on his contract, including an Early Termination Option for the 2020-21 season. And Toronto, which finished with the best record in the East last year but was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, now muscles its way back into contention for the Eastern Conference title, which was assumed to have become a two-team battle between the Celtics and 76ers.

At least for a year, anyway.

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