Sunday night at the Garden was amazing.
I've been to dozens of Celtics games, and hundreds of sporting events, and never have I ever felt so much love in a stadium. The bond between both Pierce and Garnett and the city of Boston is one of the most special this city has ever seen, with a ridiculous amount of respect and loyalty going both ways.
But I'm not going to lie, about halfway through the 2nd quarter — after both video tributes were done and I was sitting there watching a not-so-good Nets team play a terrible Celtics team — it hit me.
That era is now 100% dead and buried. And we're staring down the barrel of a rebuild with what amounts to a bottom five roster and no ability to draw free agents.
I'm not going to lie — it was a little depressing.
But then I took a deep breath and remembered a few things:
1. The Celtics have Danny Ainge, and while he's not perfect, his single greatest strength is rounding up assets. And assets are at the center of every rebuild (except for those jerks in Miami and LA that can rebuild in about six hours if they have enough cap space.
2. KG and Pierce's last gift to the Celtics organization was agreeing to be traded to the Nets (technically Pierce had no choice..but he could have made it a lot harder by making a stink about it). And my god did Ainge fleece Brooklyn. While nothing is guaranteed, the Nets are going to need a major roster overhaul to avoid being pretty bad in 2016-2018, a time period in which they owe the Celtics two unprotected first-round picks (plus Boston can swap picks with Brooklyn in 2017 if they so choose). And I'm not sure how they're going to manage a major roster overhaul with only one first round pick in the next three seasons and no cap space. They're stuck.
3. The Cs lottery position for the loaded 2014 draft gets better by the day.
Number three is the one that continues to keep hope alive for many Celtics fans during this first year of the rebuild. Boston has now lost 17 of 20 games, slowly but surely climbing all the way to the #4 spot in the lottery standings. Despite a better than expected start to the season, the Cs are now in position to potentially pick up a franchise altering star on a rookie contract this summer. And that's exactly what is necessary to kick this rebuild into high gear.
And that's why we now start to slowly turn our attention back from the amazing reunion that took place two days ago, and put it back on the task at hand:
Getting back to 'Pierce/KG era' levels of greatness.
And that means turning out attention back to Wiggins Watch. Per usual we'll start off by catching up with the top four collegiate prospects, and how they've fared of late.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: 15.8 PPG, 6 RPG, 1.6 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 45% FG, 34% 3 PT
Jabari Parker, Duke: 18.7 PPG, 8 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1 SPG, 47% FG, 39% 3 PT
Julius Randle, Kentucky: 16.6 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 1.7 APG, 0.8 BPG, 0.3 SPG 54% FG, 73% FT
Joel Embiid, Kansas: 11.2 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 2.8 BPG, 1.4 APG, 0.9 SPG, 67% FG, 65% FT
Despite not living up to the hype as an 18-year-old Freshman, I like Wiggins more every time I watch him. He had a good week, averaging 22/6/3 in two Big 12 games, shooting 55% from the floor and going to the line an impressive 22 times. He's explosive, with speed that actually may be better suited for pro ball than college. I know that sounds weird, but zone defenses and a closer three-point line neutralize speed in the college game to a certain degree, as everyone is packed closer together. Once Wiggins gets to the pros, there's going to be a lot more space. The downside is that there are much better athletes at the NBA level, only Wiggins is such a ridiculous athlete that that won't be a problem.
Fellow Jayhawk Embiid had an interesting week, spraining his knee in an awkward fall against TCU, but returning in time to foul out in 19 minutes of action. Thankfully Embiid's knee is fine, but the foul problem continues to be his one major red flag.
Embiid has now fouled out of four games, and has picked up at least four fouls (remember, in college five fouls and you're out) in 12 of his 19 games this season, which has impacted his playing time a lot. As talented as he is, his 5.7 fouls per-36 minutes pace is a concern. Not enough to make him fall very far come draft night, but a concern nonetheless.
As for Parker, the scoring drought is over (averaging 19 PPG in his last 4 games), and he continues to rebound at a phenomenal rate for a SF. For the season he's averaging eight boards per game in 29 minutes, and he has been even better lately, grabbing 40 rebounds in his last three contests. Parker continues to be the guy that Chad Ford has the Celtics picking if they get the first pick, and there are even some mocks with the ESPN lottery tool that have the Cs getting him at #4 (their current slot). I still think Wiggins has the higher ceiling, but Parker is a fairly safe bet to become an NBA All-Star barring injury. And that's tough to pass up for any GM.
Finally we have Randle, who seems to be lumped in more with Marcus Smart and Dante Exum in the 4-6 range than he does with the other three guys at this stage. But that does not mean this guy is not someone who will make an NBA team really happy. Randle is a bull, beating teams on the glass and in the paint. He's a high effort guy who seems to get fouled constantly, as he shoots 8.4 free throws per game, and shoots 73% from the line. Thanks to his foul shooting he's able to average 16.6 PPG on less than 10 shots per game, efficiency that should translate to the NBA game.
Now that we've caught up with the prized possessions of this year's draft, let's catch up with the teams leading the charge to draft them.
Note: The rankings are in terms of record, but I also will list the Hollinger lottery odds, former ESPN columnist (and current Grizzlies front office executive) John Hollinger's simulation system which predicts teams records based on their season thus far and upcoming schedule. The number you see after the Hollinger lottery odds is what place they rank in his system.
1. Bucks, 8-36 (Hollinger lottery odds: 24.4% - 1st)
At some point we have to stop wondering if the Bucks are merely the worst team in the NBA, and start wondering if they're one of the worst teams in recent NBA history. They're on pace to finish 15-67, and their -9.8 point differential is the 2nd worst since 2000, only ahead of the record setting 2011-12 Bobcats (who finished 7-59).
Milwaukee is in fantastic shape to snag the #1 lottery position, leading the "2-seed" Magic by 3.5 games. Hollinger's odds give them a 24.4% chance of snagging the #1 pick, which is insane considering the worst team only has a 25% shot at doing so.
While there is still over 40% of the season to go, the Bucks are the clear line leaders. Good luck catching them.
2. Magic, 12-33 (HLO: 14.5% - 3rd)
Orlando has been showing signs of life recently, winning two of their last four after losing ten straight, but still sit in the 2-spot in the tank standings. The biggest culprit for Orlando's terrible record? Road games. This young Magic team has been completely incapable of winning on the road, as their 3-19 record away from Orlando makes them the worst road team in the NBA.
While the Magic are in good shape to out tank everyone but Milwaukee, they're far from a lock. If the team decides against trading Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis, and Nikola Vucevic comes back from his concussion, they have enough young talent to warm up a bit.
3. 76ers, 14-31 (HLO: 16.9% - 2nd)
Due to a scheduling quirk, the Celtics and Sixers have not met yet, and will meet four times over the next 35 games. With the two teams separated by just 1/2 a game in the tank standings, these games are going to take on quite a bit of meaning.
The Sixers have been able to retain pole position over the Celtics by losing 10 of their last 12, giving them a slight lead over their long time rivals. But there are some signs that say that Philly is a much worse team than Boston.
Philly's -8.6 point differential is the 2nd worst in basketball, and their "expected won-loss" with that point differential is 11-34..three games worse than they actually are. This means they are pretty "lucky" to have 14 wins so far.
The Sixers are also equally terrible on offense (they're 29th in the league in offensive efficiency) and defense (they're 29th in defensive efficiency too), making them the only team in the bottom-three in both of those categories in the NBA.
Hollinger's odds have been adamant all season that this is the 2nd worst team in the league, and the Sixers are slowly making that prediction seem spot on.
4. Celtics, 15-31 (HLO: 5.8% - 7th)
Remember when the Celtics were 12-14 and looked like a legitimate playoff contender? My god that seems like a long time ago.
Boston is just 3-17 since their surprising start, falling apart in every possible sense. The Cs are just 2-8 at home and an even worse 1-9 on the road since December 18th, managing to tumble from the 4-seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, to the 4-seed in the lottery standings.
But if Boston is going to maintain their suddenly rosy standing in these rankings, they're going to need to up their game as their schedule hits it's weakest spot of the season. Check out the next seven games:
@ NYK (17-27)
vs PHI (14-31)
vs ORL (12-33)
@ PHI (14-31)
vs SAC (15-29)
vs DAL (26-20)
vs MIL (8-36)
Five of seven at home, six of seven against teams 10+ games below .500, and five of seven against the four worst teams in the NBA besides themselves. Talk about a cakewalk.
The Celts are also getting healthier, with Rajon Rondo continuing to play more minutes, Jerryd Bayless returning tonight, and Avery Bradley getting closer by the day. Of course, good health is a good thing. But it hurts the team in the tank standings.
With three weeks to go until the trade deadline, Danny Ainge would be well served to dump either Brandon Bass or Kris Humphries if a deal for expiring contracts + a sweetener comes along (even if that sweetener isn't all that great).
5. Kings, 15-29 (HLO: 3.2% - 10th)
Q: What happens when an already pretty bad team loses it's two best players during a brutal stretch in the schedule?
A: They lose seven of nine games, and crash back into the top five in the Wiggins Watch
Two weeks ago the Kings were looking like a team on the upswing, sitting at 13-22 and having won five of their previous nine games.
But the the young team went out on a six game road trip, and right as they were ready to come home they lost both DeMarcus Cousins (ankle) and Rudy Gay (achilles) to injury.
The good news is that both guys are expected back soon, which should allow the Kings to get back on track. They're not anywhere close to a playoff team, but the trio of Cousins, Gay and Isaiah Thomas had proven itself capable of outscoring even the best teams in the league (Sacramento is 12th in the league in offensive efficiency, 7th overall since acquiring Gay).
T-6. Lakers, 16-29 (HLO: 7.2% - 4th)
With a -5.3 point differential (26th in the NBA) and the always difficult Western Conference-heavy schedule ahead of them, the Lakers are currently Hollinger's "favorite" to finish with the West's worst record (and 4th worst overall). But I think that that is unlikely barring a trade, for a couple of reasons.
1. The Lakers have played 26 road games compared to 19 home games. This means they have 22 at Staples and only 15 on the road from here on out, which should provide them a boost.
2. Kobe is close to returning. At 35, and with two serious injuries under his belt since April, it's always possible that Bryant gets hurt again or simply is a shadow of himself on the court. But the Lakers are taking a conservative route with his latest injury, and if Kobe is even 75% of his old self when he returns (probably next week), he'll win this team some games.
3. Pau Gasol is playing out of his mind. With the Lakers out of the national spotlight, Gasol's play of late has slipped between the cracks, but the Big Llama is playing at 2010 levels right now. Since Kobe went out, Gasol has averaged 19.8 PPG, 11.4 RPG, 4.1 APG and 1.8 BPG while shooting 50% from the floor (in 17 games). All-NBA type numbers. It seems like Mike D'Antoni has finally figured out how to use Pau (only took him 13 or so months..nice job Mike!), and it should help the Lakers prospects of winning a few more games.
I know it seems weird to be happy about that, but I've stated this before: we should all be rooting for the Lakers to win more games (as long as it doesn't get out of control).
Would you rather they get moderately "hot" and win 35 games, missing the playoffs and avoiding a great draft pick, or have them bottom out and win 25 games, picking up a top five selection? No brainer.
T-6. Jazz, 16-29 (HLO: 5.9% - 5th)
Break up the Jazz!
Utah is now 15-15 since their 1-14 start, causing them to tumble from the #1 spot in these rankings all the way down to a tie for sixth. Ouch.
The Jazz' young core continues to develop on the floor, which is simultaneously making the future look brighter in Utah, and moving the Jazz further away from a top pick in this year's draft.
Over the next week and a half the up-and-coming Jazz will really be put to the test, as the team plays five consecutive playoff teams (GState, Clippers, Raptors, Mavs, Heat). If Utah is able to come out of this stretch with two or three wins, we may see them completely off this list before too long.
8. Cavaliers, 16-28 (HLO: 5.9% - 6th)
There's a few ways to look at the Cavs 4-5 record since acquiring Luol Deng.
One of them is as a disappointment. After all, Deng was supposed to make them a sure fire playoff team, yet the Cavs remain two games out of the final playoff spot in the East. The Cavs have also gone just 1-3 at home since the trade, with their only win coming vs the Bucks. Not so good.
The other is "let's give it some more time". Sure, the Cavs are only 4-5, but five of those games were on a Western Conference road trip, and five of them have come vs legitimately good teams. Also, the Cavs have moved from three games out of the last spot, to two. So while they haven't caught fire, they've also not hurt themselves in the playoff race.
Cleveland needs to get it together soon, but I still think they're a better bet to make the playoffs than the Bobcats or Pistons. The 8-seed seems to be between them and the Knicks, unless the Bulls really fall off (which could still happen, only it probably won't because Thibs is a magician and would win 35 games with a WNBA roster).
T-9. Pistons, 17-27 (HLO: 5% - 8th)
What a predictable disaster this season has been in Detroit.
You can't just ignore shooting in the current NBA and expect to win, no matter how athletic you are. Yet, the Pistons thought they could pull it off.
In terms of pure athletic talent, their front line of Josh Smith, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond may be the best in the NBA.
But all three guys thrive in the paint, which leaves Detroit's offense incapable of finding the right amount of spacing.
So far, the "solution" has been to have Smith shoot the most threes of his career. Which is probably the worst solution ever. J-Smoove is on pace to put up 300 treys this season — and hit only 24.1% of them. That would be the worst number in NBA history.
At some point the Pistons are going to need to trade one of their bigs (likely Monroe) for a SF or SG who can both run the floor and shoot the basketball. You know, a guy like Jeff Green. C'mon Detroit..you know you want to do it!
Don't believe me? Check out Green's game vs Washington. You can expect this kind of effort at least six times per season!
T-9. Nuggets, 22-21 (also own the 17-27 Knicks' pick) (HLO: 2.7% - 12th)
If there's anything that sums up the Eastern Conference's ineptitude this season - it's this:
The 17-27 Knicks are currently projected by Hollinger's system to finish 34-48..and make the playoffs.
New York has seemingly already quit on their coach twice this season, and now have won a few in a row to seemingly set up a 3rd go at getting Mike Woodson fired in a few weeks if they crash back to Earth.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets (who own the Knicks unprotected 1st), no matter how hard the Knicks try, the East seems to be just too bad for them to fall to the bottom of it. Eventually their talent level (far from great, but still decent) catches up to them and they win a few games in a row. Tonight we'll see if they can finally beat the Celtics, who've absolutely had their number this season.
Teams to keep an eye on: Hornets, 18-25 (HLO: 3.3% - 9th), Bobcats, 19-27 (HLO: 2.9% - 11th)
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Michael Dyer 1/28/2014 06:20:00 PM Tweet