Tagged: Joel Embiid

It Was Fun While It Lasted, Markelle

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Since the Boston Celtics won the NBA Draft Lottery a few weeks ago, I had been watching a lot of Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz highlights on YouTube. When Ball refused to work out for the Celtics–and when his father insisted the UCLA point guard would play for the Los Angeles Lakers–I focused much more heavily on Fultz, who had far less video available because he played for a bad Washington team that did not make the NCAA Tournament. What I did see of Fultz, however, was exciting. The kid is a great athlete with a pretty-looking shot and the wingspan of a seven-footer.

With the news that the Celtics have traded the #1 overall pick to the division rival Philadelphia 76ers, my pre-draft video attention will be shifted to Josh Jackson of Kansas, Jayson Tatum of Duke, and De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky. In exchange for the top pick, the Celtics get this year’s #3 pick from the Sixers and either the Lakers’ 2018 pick (if it falls between #2 and #5) or the Sacramento Kings’ 2019 pick (unprotected). While it is underwhelming right now to go from having the top pick, and dreaming of a guy who has been described as a “right handed James Harden,” a “taller, more defensively stout Damian Lillard,” and a “6’4″ Tracy McGrady” as the next great Celtic, it keeps Boston’s options open for years to come, rolling over the window to built through the draft. And again, Danny Ainge is operating from a point of power, and channeling his inner Bill Belichick.

By trading down and allowing the Sixers to draft Fultz, Philadelphia has a Baby Big Three in Fultz, 2016 #1 overall pick Ben Simmons, and 2014 #3 pick (who was the consensus top prospect but fell when he broke his leg days before the draft), and after years of tanking finally appear to be building a team, something Philly fans and NBA fans as a whole have waited far too long to see. 

The Sixers were tanking way back when the Celtics were still tanking in 2014. The second round playoff between the Sixers and Celtics, featuring Doug Collins, Jrue Holiday, Andre Igoudala, Elton Brand, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo may have been in 2012, but it feels like a million years ago, considering how different the two teams have become. After the Sixers traded Igoudala to the Denver Nuggets and acquired Andrew Bynum in the disastrous Dwight Howard Trade, and after Ray Allen signed with the Miami Heat and the Celtics were eliminated in the first round by the only good New York Knicks team of the last 15 years, both teams were headed for a rebuild in the summer of 2013. Collins retired and Holiday was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans, while the Celtics traded Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers, and traded KG and Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets.

Both teams took the long view in hiring their next coach, with the Sixers hiring longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant Brett Brown, and the Celtics hiring Butler University coaching wunderkind Brad Stevens. Both teams spent the 2013-14 season vying for top position in the Draft Lottery, only for the Cleveland Cavaliers to land the #1 pick as well as the ultimate lottery by convincing LeBron James to come home. This is where the similarities between the Sixers’ rebuild and the Celtics’ rebuild end.

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Philadelphia drafted Joel Embiid and Dario Saric in the 1st round of the 2014 Draft, but neither played in an NBA game until 2016. Former 76ers GM Sam Hinkie called it “The Process:” the method of drafting high-upside prospects, even if they will miss years due to injury or due to playing in Europe, and keeping the present-day 76ers team as bad as possible, staying in the lottery and increasing the chance of landing a franchise-changing superstar. 

The Celtics, meanwhile, drafted Marcus Smart with the #6 pick in 2014, and continued to incrementally build their team. In 2015 and 2016, they made the playoffs, and in 2017, made the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics had their own version of The Process, but it was built on Brooklyn tanking for them, free to compete within the conference at the same time.

While it makes me nervous, on one hand, to trade the top pick and a potential superstar to a team in the division, I’m not about to doubt Danny Ainge. He did, after all, trade my two favorite Celtics of all time to division rival Brooklyn, and that turned out pretty well. While Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz are loaded with tantalizing potential, they also haven’t done anything yet. Philly’s Baby Big Three have played a combined 31 NBA games, with Simmons (another #1 overall pick whose college team missed the tournament) missing the entire 2016-17 season with an injury. As a fan of the NBA, I want there to be more good teams and more great players, and I want the Sixers’ young core to compete, but at some point they have to play. Embiid and Simmons have been highly anticipated, but the Celtics are giving their young players valuable experience. Ben Simmons hasn’t played a game yet, and Embiid has 31 games played in the three seasons since getting drafted, but Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Jaylen Brown have won playoff rounds.

Going forward, the Celtics still have one more Brooklyn pick, and have the ability to tank vicariously through the Lakers, Kings, Clippers, and Memphis Grizzlies. Danny Ainge was willing to gamble and pass on Fultz, even if it means being mocked in the short-term. This is guy who pulled the trades for Allen and Garnett, sold off Pierce, Garnett, and Rivers when their values were still quite high, and turned the Boston into a franchise that is in as good position as anyone in the East to wait out LeBron’s prime. He didn’t turn stupid overnight. As much fun as rooting for Markelle Fultz might have been, I have trouble doubting Ainge’s plan right now.

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As Durant Goes, So Goes the NBA

 

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The 2016-17 NBA season has been the Year of Kevin Durant, ever since all of basketball, from the front offices to to the players to the fans to social media, held its collective breath last July 4th weekend as he decided to sign with the Golden State Warriors. For a weekend, The Hamptons was the center of the sports universe, and everything since has been in reaction to KD joining forces with a team that won a record 73 games last year.

  • Russell Westbrook is playing out of his mind this season because he’s mad at Durant.
  • The Boston Celtics made their biggest free agent signing ever with Al Horford because they missed on Durant.
  • What are the Washington Wizards supposed to do now that they had hoped to sign Kevin Durant, being the team from his hometown and all, but could not even get a meeting with him?
  • How far have the Lakers really fallen now that they could not get a meeting with Durant, and they get meetings with everyone because they’re the Lakers?
  • The Oklahoma City Thunder had three of the five best players in the NBA (Durant, Westbrook, and James Harden, with the other two top-five players being LeBron James and Steph Curry) at the beginnings of their careers, and now only have one. Are they now officially this generation’s version of the Shaq and Penny Orlando Magic that were super fun for a few years, but were gone before we could appreciate them and never won a title?
  • Sure, the San Antonio Spurs will be good because they are always good, but in their first year without Tim Duncan, do they even have a chance against this Warriors team?
  • Sure, the Houston Rockets will be interesting because they own the statistical darlings corner of the NBA and are the Oakland A’s of basketball, and the collaboration of GM Daryl Morey, newly hired head coach Mike D’Antoni, and star James Harden (who made the conversion from shooting guard to point guard this season and got even better) might even make them great, but can they hang with this Warriors team?
  • Given the last two bullet points, are we destined (or doomed, depending on how you look at it) for a third straight Warriors/Cavs NBA Finals and the other 28 teams are merely bystanders in this inevitability?

That last bullet point was occupying my mind when I wrote about Durant-to-the-Warriors last July, and that still may very well be the end result of the Year of Durant, but the second tier contenders have been compelling this regular season (particularly Boston, Toronto, Washington, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and Utah) and even teams that are not competing this year are made compelling by the bountiful crop of young talent in the Association from Kristaps Poszingis in New York, to Joel “The Process” Embiid in Philadelphia (whom the Sixers shut down for the rest of the season after appearing in just 31 games, but it was an unforgettable 31 games), Nikola Jokic in Denver, to Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota to Jabari Parker, Thon Maker, and Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee. The NBA is doing just fine, even if the end result feels inevitable. But just like everything else this season, when a post-trade deadline injury sent shock waves through the NBA, the injury in question was Kevin Durant.

A couple nights ago, playing against the Wizards in his hometown of Washington D.C. for the first time since he deliberately made it clear he did not want to play for his hometown, KD hurt his knee when he collided with teammate Zaza Pachulia. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Durant could be out for the rest of the regular season, and perhaps longer than that. All of a sudden, things are not as certain as they seemed.

It’s impossible to write the Warriors off completely. They still have Steph Curry, they still have Klay Thompson, and they still have Draymond Green. They still have Steve Kerr as their coach. Those guys made The Finals each of the last two years without Durant, including coming back in a seven game series against Durant and the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals last spring. Even without Durant, their high-end talent in this high-end talent-driven league should make them better than most teams on any given night, but without him, their margin for error narrows significantly. Golden State also lacks the depth they enjoyed in previous seasons. In order to make room for Durant, the Warriors jettisoned Andrew Bogut (whose injury in the Finals was the straw that broke their collective back against Cleveland last spring), Harrison Barnes, and Festus Ezeli. The team they have is still very good, but the relative lack of depth was the risk they had to take by adding Durant to what could already be considered a super-team.

Durant’s injury also gives the Spurs and Rockets a better chance of crashing the party. I am not saying they are absolutely going to knock off the Warriors now, but this could make Golden State’s road that much more difficult. The Warriors currently sit at #1 in the Western Conference, with a 50-11 record. The Spurs are two and a half games behind them, at 47-13. If San Antonio could steal the #1 seed from Golden State, it would mean the Warriors potentially having to play the Rockets and the Spurs in order to get back to The Finals instead of the Rockets and Spurs having to play each other in the second round, as would happen if the standings remain the same. For Golden State, the possibility of Durant coming back and playing his first minutes in months in a second round playoff series against Houston, who could already pose as a touch match-up for them, is something that would scare me. The Warriors would much rather have San Antonio and Houston cancel each other out and only have to face one of them before their rubber match against LeBron and the Cavaliers. 

I do not wish injury on anyone, and I am also not one to hold it against Kevin Durant for leaving OKC and joining the Warriors rather than beating them, but I have to admit this second half of the NBA regular season is more interesting than I expected, all because it is the Year of Kevin Durant.

Celtics Get Smart and Get Young

After nearly a year of speculation, the Boston Celtics held onto their picks at #6 and #17 and drafted two adjectives: Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State University and James Young of the University of Kentucky. The Celtics do not have a championship roster yet, but they have more talent than they did last week, and it’s a step in the right direction.

Marcus Smart is a sophomore point guard who could have been the #1 pick in last year’s Draft (though probably not because the Cleveland Cavaliers had the top pick, already had a #1 pick point guard in Kyrie Irving, and botched the pick with Anthony Bennett), but decided to go back to school for another year. The 2014 NBA Draft was much deeper than 2013 was, and Smart was overshadowed by talented freshman prospects like Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins (picked #1 by Cleveland) and Joel Embiid (picked #3 by the Philadelphia 76ers), Duke’s Jabari Parker (picked #2 by the Milwaukee Bucks) Arizona’s Aaron Gordon (picked #4 by the Orlando Magic) and Kentucky’s Julius Randle (picked #7 by the Los Angeles Lakers), but the Celtics did not see a second year of college basketball as a red flag the way other teams do. Nate Silver had an interesting article about drafting sophomores and how the Celtics are smart to do so. Just two years ago, the Celtics drafted a sophomore power forward from Ohio State with injury concerns named Jared Sullinger, and now he’s one of their better players.

Smart makes the questions about Rajon Rondo’s future in Boston all the more glaring. The team is saying they could play together, but I think at some point they’ll have to make a decision one way or the other. The Celtics could do some interesting things with their collection of quick, athletic guards they now have which could create some interesting mismatches with bigger slower teams. I don’t know if we’ll ever see Smart, Young, Rondo, Avery Bradley, and Phil Pressey all out on the floor at the same time, but it would be really entertaining for a few minutes here and there.

In James Young, the Celtics drafted a young player with plenty of upside. He will not turn 19 until August, but he turned a lot of heads in his one season of college basketball, where he helped the Kentucky Wildcats reach the NCAA Championship Game. He’s athletic, a good shooter, and he’s still growing into his body. The Celtics had him ranked as the 11th best player in the Draft, but he was still on the board at #17, so they think it was a steal. The other interesting thing about James Young is that his star teammate Julius Randle was picked by the Lakers at #7. If the Celtics and Lakers ever meet in the Finals again with Young and Randle, that will certainly be an angle that ESPN will talk about until we’re all sick of it. I don’t think we’re all that far off from the next exciting chapter in the Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry being written, and Smart and Young could play a big part in it.

The team is young and getting younger. This is why the Celtics hired Brad Stevens. Drafting college players and trying to determine how good they will be in the NBA is random and nearly impossible to predict unless it’s LeBron, Shaq, or Tim Duncan, but with a former college coach in Stevens, guys like Smart, Young, Phil Pressey, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk have a better chance of being better players in the NBA. When Stevens was the head coach at Butler University, he was the master of getting the most out of his roster, and made it to two NCAA championship games with inferior recruits than the teams that ultimately won. Smart and Young are better than any of the players Stevens coached at Butler, and I would not be surprised if the C’s make a run at the playoffs with the roster as it’s currently constituted.  The Eastern Conference is flat enough that anything is possible… especially if LeBron lands in the West.

While I was listening to the NBA Draft and analysis of the Celtics’ picks on 98.5 The Sports Hub at work the other night, Celtics play-by-play announcer Sean Grande brought up some interesting points. The anticipation among Celtics fans was that this rebuild would be quick. Danny Ainge was able to turn the fortunes of the organization overnight in 2007 when he pulled off the trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. With rumors trending all over the Internet about Kevin Love getting dealt to Boston, we as fans thought that the summer of 2014 would be more like the summer of 2007, when it’s really more like 2005 or 2006. They’re heading in the right direction, but their assets are not stockpiled quite high enough to light those kinds of fireworks…at least not on Draft Night like the Ray Allen Trade was. Al Jefferson had twice as much NBA experience under his belt as Jared Sullinger when he was the cornerstone of the Kevin Garnett Trade. They not only collected assets, but they took time to develop them before flipping them to form the New Big Three. The Celtics have not created a championship team, but they’ve increased their options.

The picture is slightly more clear than it was before the Draft, but there are still many, many directions this could go. For all I know, the Celtics could pull off a blockbuster trade tomorrow and the team will look completely different, but one thing is for sure about the 2014-15 Celtics season: there will be more to talk about than tanking the season for next year’s equivalent of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid.

2014 NBA Draft Preview

This is the most interesting NBA Draft I can remember. It has the right combination of depth of talent, unknown commodities, and intriguing teams at the top of the draft, and that was before Joel Embiid broke his foot. There are a thousand different things that could happen on Thursday, and it has the potential to be a landmark day for the Boston Celtics. Here are some of the storylines to follow:

University of Kansas center Joel Embiid was a lock to get picked #1 by the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now his injury has teams second guessing their draft strategy. Now, teams like the Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers (the NBA’s two most successful franchises who have only missed the playoffs in the same year twice hold the #6 and #7 picks, respectively), who did not think Embiid would be available to them are back in play to land the talented Cameroonian big man. The foot injury is concerning for sure. Bill Walton’s career was derailed when he broke that same bone in his foot. Same thing with Yao Ming. On the other hand, Michael Jordan broke that bone and was fine. Jordan was at least six inches shorter than Walton, Yao, or Embiid, but Embiid is younger than any of those guys, so who knows?

Even without foot and back (which kept him out of the NCAA Tournament in March) concerns, Embiid was a high risk with a potentially high reward. Every draft selection has risk, but it seems that big men have the greatest chance of going bust. Remember Greg Oden? What would the NBA landscape look like today if the Portland Trail Blazers had taken Kevin Durant at #1 instead? Just because Embiid has the ceiling to be the next Hakeem Olajuwon or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, doesn’t mean he’ll get there. For the Celtics and the Lakers, that’s still a risk worth taking. If he reaches his potential, he could be the next great big man in the NBA, and those guys are hard to find. Dwight Howard and Roy Hibbert have yet to prove that they can carry a team to a championship, and while Tim Duncan just won his fifth career NBA Title with San Antonio last week, and he’s one of the all time greats, he’s also 38 years old and it’s safe to say he has more years behind him than ahead of him. One thing I really like about Embiid (and Andrew Wiggins, not that there’s any chance of him being available at #6) is that he played for the Kansas Jayhawks. The greatest Celtic I ever had the pleasure of watching, Paul Pierce, was also a Kansas Jayhawk. I would love to see the next great Celtic come out of Kansas, if it’s not one of the many kids with New England roots that keep making it into the Draft.

With Embiid falling in the draft, the Milwaukee Bucks, will likely take either Jabari Parker from Duke or Embiid’s Kansas teammate Andrew Wiggins at #2, whichever one doesn’t get picked by Cleveland. Before Embiid’s injury, it looked like Milwaukee was locked in on Parker and the Philadelphia 76ers would take Wiggins with the #3 pick. This puts the Philly in a tough spot. The Sixers made perhaps the most blatant attempt to tank the 2013-14 season and improve their draft standing, and they were rewarded for their efforts with the #3 pick. Going into the 2013-14 college basketball season, Wiggins was the most talked about prospect and he appeared to be falling into Philly’s lap. Embiid wasn’t as appealing to the Sixers because they used a lottery pick last year on a big man in (and Everett, MA native) Nerlens Noel. Wiggins was supposed to be the piece they could add to Noel and (Hamilton, MA native) Michael Carter-Williams and make a real effort to compete this year. Without Wiggins, the might be back in the lottery again next year. This has draft pick implications for the Celtics, too. Because of a previous trade, the C’s could get Philly’s 2015 1st round draft pick, but only if the Sixers make the playoffs. It’s going to feel weird, but Celtics are going to be rooting for their longtime division rivals to make the playoffs to add another pick to their stockpile.

Depending on who is still available when the #6 pick comes around will have a lot to do with what the Celtics decide to do. They might keep the pick and come home with Embiid, or Arizona’s Aaron Gordon or Indiana’s (and Haverhill, MA’s) Noah Vonleh, or Kentucky’s Julius Randle. They might trade that pick to the Minnesota Timberwolves along with some combination of draft picks (the Celtics have this year’s #17 pick from the Brooklyn Nets as well as Brooklyn’s 1st round picks in 2016 and 2018, all thanks to Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce) and players on their roster (Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger seem the most likely since they’re young, still have high upside, and are both power forwards) in exchange for All-Star power forward Kevin Love. If they Celtics land Love, they could also try make a trade for Omer Asik, but if they can’t get Love, Rajon Rondo might get traded out of town and the rebuild through the draft will continue. Danny Ainge has plenty of options, and we will have a much clearer idea of what the Celtics will look like going forward this time next week. Who knows? Maybe if the C’s look like a contender again, free agent former captain Paul Pierce might make a return to Boston.

The speculation will continue until the night of the Draft. For all I know, a big name might be coming to Boston that nobody has mentioned yet. Nobody was talking about the possibility of Ray Allen coming to the Celtics until he was traded there on the night of the Draft in 2007. Once the Celtics had Allen along with Paul Pierce, it was easier to convince Kevin Garnett to go Boston. All I know is that something big will happen, it’s just a matter of time before we know what that is.

 

No Luck in Boston

The Boston Celtics have gone into the draft lottery with a chance at the #1 overall pick three times in my lifetime. In 1997, they went all in to be as terrible as possible for a chance to get Tim Duncan, but ended up with the #3 pick. The C’s ended up drafting Chauncey Billups, who ended up being the second best player in the draft, but Rick Pitino, in his infinite wisdom, dealt Billups in the middle of his rookie season, but at least they were able to snap this picture first. In 2007, it was Kevin Durant that they wanted, but they ended up with the #5 pick. The Celtics took Jeff Green, only to package him up in the Ray Allen trade, but Green ended up coming back to Boston in 2011 in the Kendrick Perkins trade, which still makes makes me mad. This year, Celtics fans had to suffer through a bad season with the hope of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, or Joel Embiid, as they ended up with pick #6. As it turns out, the Celtics just don’t have luck trying to get high picks. At least the Lakers (#7) aren’t very good at it either.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have the #1 pick in the NBA Draft for the third time in four years. It’s also important to note that they’ve had three #1 picks since LeBron James took his talents to South Beach in 2010. That’s a dynasty of terribleness. No wonder he left. That team couldn’t build a championship contender if David Stern and Adam Silver gift wrapped one for them, and it looks like that’s what they did. Cleveland was actually trying to make the playoffs this year, and didn’t because they’re losers in a weak conference. This year, Cleveland had less than a 2% chance at the top pick, but they got it. Initial reports project the Cavs taking University of Kansas center Joel Embiid with that pick. I’m not sure that’s enough for them to not be back in the lottery next year. Only in Cleveland.

Now, the Celtics have to set their sights on lower tier draft prospects and trades to be made this summer. The sixth pick was the one that got them Larry Bird once upon a time, and got Portland Damian Lillard two years ago, but those players aren’t in every draft. The draft is tricky that way. Sixteen years worth of hindsight shows us that the Dallas Mavericks (#9) and Celtics (#10) were the real winners of the 1998 NBA Draft, selecting Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce who led their franchises to championships. Maybe Aaron Gordon or Haverhill, MA native Noah Vonleh could be the diamond in the rough this year that falls to them.

I wrote earlier this week about the possibility of trading for Kevin Love. I have a new theory that a Love trade is Danny Ainge’s second choice…and that newly crowned MVP Kevin Durant is the real prize. Oklahoma City is going to have to make tough decisions about the future regarding their young stars Durant and Russell Westbrook. The Celtics have assets to burn, and if they really wanted to, could make dealing one of the two best players in the NBA a little easier to swallow for OKC. This is a franchise that traded away James Harden too early, and anything short of a Title this season could cause them to overreact. Love would be nice, but Kevin Durant in a Celtics uniform, after we all collectively pined for him in 2007, would be a dream come true.

There is still a long way to go before the Celtics are really competing again, but knowing what pick they have makes the picture a little clearer going into the summer.

It’s Almost Over, and Just Beginning

Don’t worry Celtics fans, the 2013-14 season will be over soon enough. The Celtics were bad this year. I mean, really bad, but things will get better. The wins may not have come enough to make the playoffs, and the losses may not have come frequently enough to acquire Jabari Parker, or Joel Embiid, or Andrew Wiggins, or Julius Randle in this upcoming NBA Draft, but there’s hope for the future. There are a lot of ways the Celtics can turn this around, and the same can’t be said for a lot of NBA teams. Danny Ainge knows what he’s doing. He may not know exactly what he will do to turn the Celtics around, but there are many ways they can go about it, and it doesn’t all have to happen this summer, but the process will start. They could be the Knicks, or the Nets, or the Cavaliers, or the Timberwolves, or the Bucks, or the Sixers. They could be stuck in a bad situation and need to rely more on luck than anything else, and it could always be a lot worse.

There is a lot to like about the young talent on the team. Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are two intelligent young big men who play well off each other. Phil Pressey is an elite passer who went undrafted because of his lack of height but the Celtics gave a chance since they saw him play high school basketball in Massachusetts and they know what he’s capable of. None of them are superstars, but they do have a lot of potential, and are nowhere near their ceiling.

It’s nice to see the growth the team has shown over the course of this losing season. A lot of teams would coast once they fall out of the playoff picture, but the Celtics compete every night. Olynyk, Sullinger, and Pressey have all grown immensely this season, and they did not let early season struggles get them down, and they learn from head coach Brad Stevens and veteran point guard and team captain Rajon Rondo. The Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks think they can compete in the future by tanking game after game this year to get a top pick in this draft, while the young talent on their roster learns some bad habits and doesn’t improve themselves the way the young players on the Celtics have been this year.

Brad Stevens deserves all the credit in the world for getting the young players and veteran players alike to keep showing up an playing hard as the season has gone on. He hates to lose and this season must be driving him crazy, but you’d never know based on his expression. He came to Boston with big shoes to fill after Doc Rivers departed for the Los Angeles Clippers, but he’s shown why Danny Ainge wants him to be the coach of the future. He’s patient with young players, having been a college coach at Butler University, and he’s smart enough to earn the respect of the veterans like Rondo, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Kris Humphries. Stevens is the wrong coach if you want to lose as much as possible and have the highest chance for the highest pick, and the Celtics know that one draft pick isn’t what will win championships. Cleveland tanked for LeBron James, but they didn’t build a good enough team around him to win a championship and he took his talents to South Beach when he got the chance. Stevens is building a winning culture with lesser talent, so when the greater talent arrives, the real winning can happen.

The Celtics have more draft picks than they know what to do with over the next few years, and they also have plenty of assets that can be packaged together in a trade for a superstar. They could trade for Kevin Love, or they could find and develop the next Kevin Love through the draft. I can’t pretend to know what they’re going to do, but they have plenty of options, and the sooner the season ends, the sooner we will have a better idea of what the next great Celtics team will look like.

Upset Weekend

It didn’t take long for my chances at a billion dollar bracket were destroyed. I picked the Duke Blue Devils to beat Michigan State in the National Championship, but Duke couldn’t even get past Mercer University, who I had to Google to find out is located in Georgia. It’s anyone’s tournament at this point, and it’s a reminder that basketball is at its best when played as a team. That’s the beauty of the NCAA tournament: the unexpected happens, and it’s virtually impossible to pick the outcome. It’s a fun tournament and in a lot of ways is better than what the NBA has to offer.

My bracket picks were by no means the most educated ones out there, but I wasn’t in the minority when I thought Duke would advance past the 1st round, or even past the Sweet Sixteen. Mike Krzyzerski is one of the best coaches in the history of college basketball, and has guided the Blue Devils to 11 Final Fours and four NCAA Championships since taking over the program in 1980. They’re the villain of college basketball, since they’re always good, and they carry themselves with an air of superiority. They’re what the Yankees are for baseball and the Canadiens are for hockey. It’s hard to pick against that kind of success. This year, Coach K had arguably the best player in college basketball in 19 year old freshman Jabari Parker. I saw maybe half a dozen college hoops games this regular season, but I was impressed with what I saw from Parker, and was hoping that my Boston Celtics would somehow land a high enough draft pick to get him this summer. My excitement over Parker sold me on Duke in the tournament, and it ended up costing me.

Parker had a bad game. Even the best players have bad games. It’s better if it doesn’t happen in the first game of the NCAA tournament against a team that you have no business losing to on paper, but that’s what happened. Paker scored 14 points, went 0-3 from the three point line, and had four fouls and four turnovers. Parker looked like a freshman playing against a team of seniors that weren’t afraid of taking shots, and had overcome adversity just to make the tournament. This is why college basketball players should stay in college. It’s a good place to learn these kinds of lessons. I understand the arguments for allowing high school seniors to enter the NBA draft. Kevin Garnett was ready for the NBA at 18. So was Kobe Bryant. So was Lebron James. But those are three of the ten best drafted into the NBA in my lifetime. Most kids that age could benefit from a few more reps in college before running with the big boys of the NBA. Allowing more time to develop in college would improve the quality of NBA players, and would improve the quality of these college games, too, if coaches don’t have to turn their rosters over every year. At the end of the day, a good basketball program should have a greater emphasis on the whole team, rather than putting so much weight on one 19 year old star. Coach K should know that. If it were up to me, high school players would be allowed to enter the draft, so the KGs and the Lebrons and the Kobes of the world can play in the NBA as soon as they have a diploma, but if you play college basketball, you must make at least a two year commitment, and players might actually learn a thing or two in class while they’re there.

Parker had such a good season that he might still get drafted with the #1 overall pick, but his early exit from the tournament opens the door for players like Julius Randle of Kentucky and Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid of Kansas to move up if their teams go on a run. They’re teenagers. The outcome of this tournament will not make or break their basketball careers if they respond to it the right way. There have been plenty of college superstars who have gone bust in the NBA, but there have also been plenty who elevated their game at the next level beyond what anyone thought they could. Larry Bird didn’t wallow in despair after his Indiana State lost to Magic Johnson’s Michigan State. Instead Bird and Magic took their rivalry that revived college basketball to the Celtics and Lakers and reignited the best rivalry in this history of the sport. They combined for eight championships as players, and it may have been more if they had today’s advancements in sports medicine when their careers were declining 25 years ago. If these kids stay healthy, work hard, and learn from their failure, they will have a lot of basketball ahead of them. In the meantime, we get to sit back and watch some great games, hoping that one of these great young players will be wearing green and white this time next year.