Max Lederman

The flat truth about Kyrie Irving’s future in Boston

The flat truth about Kyrie Irving’s future in Boston

A lot has been made, and will continue to be made, about Kyrie Irving’s vague response to questions about his long-term future with the Celtics. The star point guard said, “Contractually, financially, [an extension] just doesn't make any sense,” when asked about potentially signing an extension with the Celtics this summer (Irving would make approximately $80 million more if he opted out of his contract and re-signed with the Celtics next summer).

A lot has also been made, and will continue to be made, about Irving’s vague response to questions about his opinion on the shape of the Earth. The 26-year-old was vexingly ambiguous on the topic in an interview with the New York Times' Sopan Deb last week.

Not enough has been made about the connection between the two topics: Kyrie’s feelings about his future with the Celtics and his skepticism about the shape of the planet.

Alex Moshakis recently wrote about a Flat Earther conference for the Guardian and made a few observations about the type of people in attendance that reminded me of Kyrie.

A distrust of the establishment, or “them,” is necessary for anyone who doubts the scientific consensus we’ve held for thousands of years. Now, I don’t know Irving (although I did say hello to him at Media Day last fall) but I could see why he might have trust issues. The Cavaliers signed him to a max extension in the summer of 2014, releasing a statement in which they called him “firmly at the core of our Cavaliers team and family for years to come." just days later they signed LeBron James. 

Fast forward to the summer of 2016, when word reportedly gets to Kyrie that the team has had internal talks about what they might receive in return for him in a trade. Irving hit the arguably the biggest shot in NBA history in Game 7 of the 2015 NBA Finals, helping the Cavaliers overcome a 3-1 deficit against the 73-win Golden State Warriors...and they’re thinking of trading him? 

That’s when the next common trait of Flat Earthers comes into play. Moshakis notes that many of the people he spoke to at the conference were in search of control over their life. They don’t want to just swallow what scientist tell them because it’s what everyone else does, they want to decide for themselves, and that a rejection of the establishment is a “bid to reclaim personal agency.” Irving’s request for a trade was a way to regain control of his career … just like unrestricted free agency will be next summer.

Harry Dyer, a lecturer at the University of East Anglia was also at the Flat Earth conference. His write up on Live Science  focused on the attendees' skepticism “of existing power structures and their tight grasps on knowledge.” Irving’s appearance on ESPN’s First Take last fall was a clear example of his refusal to accept social norms. He doesn’t care whether he was “supposed” to want to stay with LeBron James, the best player on the planet. He wanted to leave and didn’t care what NBA society thought about it. It’s honestly refreshing.

That’s why reading into Kyrie’s comments, one way or the other, about his future with the Celtics are just conjecture. Conventional wisdom says he should want to stay in Boston, where he will make the most money, play for a prestigious franchise with an elite coach surrounded by young players with star potential. But conventional wisdom means nothing to Kyrie. He’s told us that with his words and actions. Kyrie has earned the right to control his career, and that’s exactly what he will do next summer. Let’s hope he decides this city is the best place on Earth, whatever shape it may be, for him to grow in.


Which Celtics would make the best barbershop quartet?

Which Celtics would make the best barbershop quartet?

It was National Barbershop Quartet Day on Wednesday (duh)! So, wouldn’t it be fun to honor our favorite type of musical foursome by figuring out which Celtics players would make the best Barbershop Quartet?

Of course, it would!

Since audio clips of the players singing are hard to come by (other than Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier) I decided to take a more scientific approach and break down the Celtics best four-man lineups this season. 

The Celtics four-man unit that hit the highest notes this season (scored the most points per 100 possessions) was the ensemble of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart (but, but, he can’t shoot?!) and Al Horford. They boasted a 115.4 offensive rating this season, which was good for 31st in the NBA. But what good is a tenor without a baritone?

The Celtics quartet that hit the lowest notes this season (allowed the fewest points per 100 possessions) was the grouping of Irving (but, but, he can’t defend?!), Brown, Horford and Aron “All of Australia” Baynes. That unit had a 94.8 defensive rating, which was fifth in the NBA this season. Baynes was the Celtics true Basso Profondo this season, as he is a member of the Celtics' four best defensive four-man units. In other words, he’s really put together.

But isn’t a great Barbershop quartet all about harmony?

The Celtics best four-man unit that both hit the high notes and brought the bass was the quartet of Brown, Jayson Tatum, Horford and Baynes. That group had a 111.5 offensive rating, a 96.2 defensive rating which gave them a stellar 15.3 net rating, which was 18th in the NBA this season.

So, there you have it. A scientific answer to the age-old question “which Celtics would make the best Barbershop Quartet?” Let’s hope they can keep it humming into the playoffs.



Turning down the heat on your Al Horford takes

AP Photo

Turning down the heat on your Al Horford takes

Let’s start with a few disclaimers:

1.    I will not be naming the people whose takes I will be addressing. It’s not because I care about their feelings, it’s mostly because I’m not in that poor of a mood right now.

2.    I think it’s completely fair to criticize the performance of professional athletes, but I also think it’s completely fair for me to criticize your criticism. And you can criticize my criticism of the criticism if you feel like it in the comments below. Got it?

Let’s start with this tweet from earlier this week:

“When you're paying someone almost 30 million a year and he absolutely sucks against the teams you have to eventually beat to get out of your conference or even win a championship you have real problem!!!! i wish KG could turn back time and come back.”

Aside from the obvious -- KG’s not walking through that door -- this take got me thinking. Does Al Horford suck against the teams the Celtics will eventually need to beat to get out of the East? So I looked it up. 

Here are Al’s numbers vs the teams currently in playoff position in the Eastern conference compared to his overall regular-season averages.

As you can see his numbers are pretty close, and in most cases better,  against the East playoff teams, although averaging 0.2 rebounds fewer vs those teams probably means he’s mentally weak.

In the spirit of fairness, Al has only averaged 10.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 5 meetings vs Toronto and Cleveland combined this season. Those are lower than his season averages; however, saying he sucks vs them is a bit of a stretch when you consider only 12 players in the NBA are averaging 10-plus points, 6-plus rebounds and 4-plus assists this season.

The part about his salary is comical because that’s what the cost of signing a max free agent was in the summer of 2016. You don’t get Horford if you don’t pay him. Max contracts are based on percentage of the salary cap, so as the cap goes up (like it did that summer) the salaries do as well. Max deals signed the summer before Horford’s will be less because the cap spike from $70 million in 2015 to $94 million in 2017. Context matters folks.
Moving on, this was in an article that was published by the Big Lead on Wednesday: 

"He’s the 11th-highest paid player in the NBA, but is the 105th in points per game (12.8), 36th in rebounds (7.5), 36th in assists (4.9)"

What my friend fails to mention is that, while those statements are true about his per-game averages, Horford is one of just nine players in the NBA to average 12-plus points, 7-plus rebounds and 4-plus assists this season. He’s also fifth in 3-point field goal percentage, third among centers in assists per game, fifth in Defensive Win shares and seventh in Defensive Box Plus/Minus. In basketball there really isn’t one stat to rule them all, so when making statements about a player’s worth it’s best to look at a broad swath of relevant categories.

My argument is the same about the money. Context matters, and that was the cost of signing the biggest free agent in franchise history (at the time).

And finally, my favorite take of all from a tweet I received on Wednesday:

“…the truth is he can't guard any good centers, being abused by elite centers, can't protect the paint, soft as [inappropriate non expletive]. He's trash if we talk about highest paid player.”

This one blew me away. Say what you want about Horford’s lack of aggression on the offensive end, or even his rebounding, but saying he can’t guard any good centers or that he gets abused by elite centers is just factually inaccurate. Take this for data:

Of the eight other bigs named to the All-Star team this year, Karl-Anthony Towns (62.5%) and Andre Drummond (69.2%. . .  nice) are the only two to shoot better than their season FG% when defended by Al Horford this season.

I understand that trolls are gonna troll, but it’s this type of lazy trolling that led to the sinking of the Titanic (google it). 

It’s fair to criticize players for poor performances, and Horford himself admitted he hasn’t been playing up to his own standards lately, but can we please keep the hot takes reality based? 

If you stumble upon any outrageous takes that seem a little too hot please drop me a line on Twitter @max_lederman.