Why the Nets-Celtics Trade Makes Sense for Both Sides

At first blush, the Nets-Celtics trade reported last night, which sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks and the Nets’ first round picks from 2014, 2016, and 2018, appears incredibly one-sided in favor of the Nets. And in some ways, it is. The Nets got the two best players in the deal, two future Hall of Famers for what amounts to a bunch of crummy flotsam from the Nets and 3 future first round picks. It’s easy to bash this deal for the Celtics.* The Celts got some picks that figure to be pretty low value in 2014, 2016, and a pick of more indeterminable value in 2018 and a bit of salary relief for two Celtics’ legends and guys who can definitely still play. That’s the bad part.

The more nuanced way to view this deal is that the Celtics had already determined they weren’t winning anything with their aging group and Rajon Rondo recovering from ACL surgery and they’ve now totally blown up their roster. In the NBA, the worst thing you can be is mediocre. So the Celtics got what they could for their guys, and they are now pretty clearly tanking to try and position themselves the best that they can for what is being touted as the best draft class since the fabled 2003 draft that brought LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony into the league.

Celtics fans would be forgiven if they weren’t thrilled with that plan, given what has happened to them the last two times they brazenly attempted to tank for top picks in the 1999 draft (targeting Tim Duncan) and 2007 draft (targeting Greg Oden or Kevin Durant). The plan, however, remains the C’s best bet to return to relevancy. They need to be bad before they can become good again. They’re accumulating assets, hoping to get a great draft pick in next year’s draft, and then hoping Danny Ainge can pull of another amazing set of trades like the ones which brought the Big 3 together. Ainge got absolutely the most value he could get from his current situation, make no mistake about that. Garnett seemingly wasn’t waiving his no trade clause unless he was dealt in tandem with his buddy Pierce. The only team nuts enough to trade for both Garnett and Pierce, at their advanced ages, given what they’re owed, was the Nets. Ainge found the only trade partner who he could realistically get to take those two deals and got the most value from them he could get. It will be interesting to see how things shake out for these Celtics, but Ainge has, rightly, blown up the Ubuntu Celtics and managed to come out of it with 4 future first round picks (including the one he received from the Clippers for Doc Rivers’s services) and the Celtics themselves will be one of the worst teams in the league next year and will have good odds of a top pick in next year’s loaded draft. Good on Ainge for making a hard choice and pulling the trigger, and kudos to Mikhail Prokhorov for being willing to spend, spend, spend to try to make his team a viable contender.

*I’ve seen some people try to bash this trade for the Nets, which I just don’t understand. The Nets made immediate improvements to their team and gave up picks that will likely now not be worth a whole heck of a lot in 2014 or 2016, who knows about 2018? But people saying they’ve mortgaged their future have it exactly wrong. They didn’t have a future, they just lost to half a Bulls team in the first round(!), now they’ve firmly ensconced themselves in the tier of contenders beneath the Heat. If Dwyane Wade has an off series next year or suffers more knee pain or an injury, it’s totally conceivable that the Heat could fall and the Nets will be as well positioned as anyone to take advantage of such a situation. 

Thoughts ahead of tomorrow’s NBA Draft

I wanted to get some quick thoughts down on the record ahead of the draft tomorrow night. I always enjoy the draft; in year’s past, when my Bulls were bad to mediocre, draft time was my favorite time of the year. This year has a lot of room for intrigue, as some teams at the top of the draft have cap space (Cleveland, Orlando, and Charlotte) and the talent at the top is considered relatively weak. It’s possible that there could be a lot of trades of top picks for established players, as teams try to unload large salaries and add cheap production on rookie contracts, adjusting to the new, harsh reality of the CBA’s more restrictive salary constraints, or we could see little movement as no one finds deals they like (to me, always the more likely scenario). In any event, this draft will still have some productive players in it. A lot of the success of the players drafted tomorrow night will depend on their situation and their work ethics, but I do believe there will be a fair number of contributors in this draft, if not any stars.

Players I Like A Lot:

Victor Oladipo (SG, Indiana)

Oladipo is a player who scouts appear to believe in quite a bit, according to Chad Ford’s Secret Big Board.  Oladipo is believed by many scouts to have the highest floor in this year’s draft, and I have to say looking at his production, it’s hard to argue. He rebounds the ball very well for a guard and gets a lot of blocks and steals per-minute (demonstrating NBA-level athleticism). In watching him, you can see how hard-nosed a defender he is and how hard he competes. On offense, he has a tendency to float and not assert himself enough for a player of his talent and his left-hand dribble drive is quite weak. All in all, though, Oladipo was incredibly efficient as a scorer, a ferocious defender, and a great guard rebounder. I think there’s basically no chance he’s not a starter in the league, and might be a bit better than that if he improves his outside shooting.

Otto Porter (SF, Georgetown)

Porter basically ticks all the major boxes for a wing prospect coming into the NBA. He’s got the size and length to be a pro, and similarly, but to a lesser extent, his numbers in college indicate that he has the baseline of athleticism to be a successful pro. He can also shoot from distance and is a smart defensive player with the length to do the job on the NBA level. He should be a solid pro.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG, Georgia)

KCP scored over 22 points per 40 minutes (pace-adjusted) on good efficiency, despite playing with absolutely awful teammates. He shoots it well from outside, and under duress, and he has good athleticism and has the length to be a plus defender in the league.

Cody Zeller (PF, Indiana)

Zeller scores efficiently and a lot and he improved his rebounding significantly over his freshman season where it was a bit of a red flag. He’s not a paint intimidator, but he gets a good number of steals for a big man, and he has active feet and could be a plus defender in a system like Tom Thibodeau’s where active, mobile big men with good defensive footwork on the perimeter are prized. As a traditional big man defender, he would be a negative, but since the league seems to be going away from one on one defense in favor of team defense, Zeller gets a boost.

Players I Don’t Like

Anthony Bennett (PF, UNLV)

Bennett is a fantastic offensive player, who didn’t play defense worth a lick. That’s a pretty big problem and I don’t like betting on guys who don’t even bother with defense in college where they have physical advantages to suddenly become positive defensive players in the pros.

Shabazz Muhammad (SF, UCLA)

Muhammad appears to have been very overhyped coming into college, and he turned in a very mediocre season. He was a pretty inefficient scorer, he didn’t have rebounds, steals, and blocks numbers that pointed to elite athleticism, and he also lied about his age. When confronted about the lie in an interview with Grantland, he shuffled the blame off on others. Too many red flags make Muhammad someone I wouldn’t draft no matter where I was on the draft board.

Michael Carter-Williams (PG, Syracuse)

MCW is a big PG who stinks at shooting, turns the ball over A LOT, is about to turn 22, and got outplayed in the tournament by Trey Burke. Now some people are projecting him to be drafted ahead of Burke. Um, what?

Thoughts on what My Bulls might do at Pick #20

The Bulls have a decent track record of picking late in the first round  (see: Butler, Jimmy; Gibson, Taj; Mirotic, Nikola) but they have made some mistakes (see: Teague, Marquis; Johnson, James). I feel pretty confident that they can get someone useful with their selection, whether that’s a wing or a backup big man. What I don’t want them to do is to trade the #20 pick for Thomas Robinson, a player who is 21 years old and showed nothing at all in his tumultuous rookie season. Unfortunately, the Bulls have been linked to the Rockets for just such a trade.  Ugh. Count me out on that deal.

This Year’s NBA Finals and the Pointlessness of ‘Narratives’

Gif via Grantland.com

Last night, and to a lesser degree in Game 6 on Tuesday, LeBron James and the Heat shook off the questions that have dogged them these playoffs and became back-to-back “champeens” (thanks, Commissioner Stern, for that). During his speech accepting the Finals Most Valuable Player trophy, LeBron made a point to say that he couldn’t worry about what people off the court say about him. He even dropped a Lil’ Wayne reference, saying simply, “I ain’t got no worries.”  If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice this is something of a theme for LeBron. He really, really doesn’t care about what the media and others, including fans, say about him. That’s an attitude he shares with Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. Pop does not have time for silly media narratives and when he gets a silly question, he generally will embarrass the media member asking the question.

There’s a good reason these two men, at the top of their respective positions within the NBA, have this attitude. It’s because media narratives are BS.  This year’s NBA Finals should make that abundantly clear, once and for all. The grizzled veteran Spurs lost a Game 6 that they had within their usually vice-like grasp. Did they choke? No, they did not choke. They were beaten by a series of events that could have easily swung their way. (Zach Lowe, of Grantland, broke this down in wonderfully great detail over the last couple days). They put themselves in a position to win and didn’t make enough plays down the stretch to complete the job.  That sounds like coach-speak cliché, but it is also indisputably true. There’s a reason coaches, who generally know more about the game than any media member, say these things. They are actually being quite insightful, despite it sounding like they are dodging a “tough” question about their team’s mental makeup. It is not a problem of “mental toughness” that Kawhi Leonard missed that foul shot at the end of Game 6, which opened the door for Ray Allen’s amazing corner three pointer. He just missed. He’s an 80% foul shooter for his career, which means that his odds of making both free throws was only 64%. Those are good odds, but simply because he ended up in that other 36% of the time when he DOESN’T make both shots and the Spurs had the misfortune of giving up an open look off of a loose ball scramble doesn’t make the Spurs or Kawhi mentally weak. These are the same Spurs that they’ve always been. Just as tough-minded as ever. Just as dangerous. The fact is someone had to lose this series. If you had these teams play 100 games, they’d probably split them 50-50. It was that close.

Are you going to tell me that Tim Duncan’s legacy suffers or that he’s no longer the best player of his generation, because he missed a 3 foot hook shot over Shane Battier and the subsequent tip-in, by a few measly inches? Some people will say crazy things like somehow Duncan is lesser for having missed that shot. Those people are idiots. Don’t listen to them. Tim Duncan is still the best player of his generation. What he did at 37 years old was nothing short of amazing. What he’s done since he entered the league is quite simply to have the most sustained record of success since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Tim Duncan is still clutch. He’s still amazing, and he’s still one of the greatest big men to ever touch a basketball. He was simply unlucky to miss a shot he’s made so many times before.

That’s not to take any credit away from Miami or LeBron James. The Heat and LeBron took advantage of the opportunities that they were presented with. But don’t think for a second that LeBron is all of a sudden clutch. He already was. He always was. Clutch is such a troubling, nebulous concept that it warrants its own separate conversation, but basically, it’s like this: the best players are the best players all of the time and what they do in a limited sample of “clutch” time makes no difference in that calculus. LeBron is showing you why, now. He has always had these flashes of dominance in important games or “clutch moments” (ask the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, and Boston Celtics about it) from very early in his career. And why is that? It’s because he’s the best damned player on the planet and has been for 5 years running (Derrick Rose’s MVP, notwithstanding). LeBron has had moments where he hasn’t played his best in so-called “big” moments, but so has every player who has ever laced up sneakers. More often than not, he has been freaking great in those moments, though. He did it again last night and that should finally put to bed the notion that LeBron isn’t “clutch” or he’s “mentally soft” or whatever other garbage people have wanted to say about him over the years.

The point of all this is: the supposedly infallible, unflappable Spurs lost twice with great opportunities to win their 5th NBA title, and the supposedly mentally weak LeBron-led Heat pulled out two hard-fought close games to win their second title in as many years, proving that all of that noise about both teams was always lowest-common denominator #analysis by cranks and blowhards. The truth is these were two great, great teams, either team could have taken this thing, and the outcome doesn’t change that essential truth at all. What a great season, capped by an incredible playoffs and finals. Man, I love this game. Now, on to the Draft!