Brad Stevens Make a Good Celtics Team Very Dangerous

Rewind to opening night in the NBA. Gordon Hayward had the latest gruesome leg injury and the Cleveland Cavaliers ruined Kyrie Irving’s Celtic debut. With Hayward out for the year, many immediately left the Celtics for dead and were ready to name the Cavs Eastern Conference champions yet again. After that, Boston lost to Milwaukee to drop to 0-2 and it looked like Hayward’s absence would indeed be missed this year.

All Brad Stevens and company did from there was rattle off 12 straight wins and now own the best record in the NBA. And while their opening night opponents are still struggling to find their identity, Boston seems to have theirs figured out. One large reason why is the man on their sidelines.

Say what you want about the top coaches in the NBA. Greg Popovich has been a mad genius for years. Steve Kerr and Golden State have lost just 24 games in two seasons. You can mention Thibodeau, D’Antoni, and Spoelstra. None of them have been as impressive as Brad Stevens has so far this season.

Imagine winning the Eastern Conference last season over the mighty Cavaliers. Then imagine trading your best player, who was the heart and soul of your club. Imagine trading away your defensive specialist on the perimeter. You replace them with two all-stars, but you lose one of them on opening night. You now have one all-star, who grant it is one of the best players in the league, and a back court of young, unproven players. Couple that with a thin front court. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for sbest record in the NBA.

Now I know that is exaggerated to an extent. The cupboard is not empty in Boston. They do have Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and two lottery picks in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. It’s not that they are winning that is the impressive part. It’s how they are winning. They come from behind (see their game against Oklahoma City). They win the close game (25% of their wins have been a one possession game). And they’ve even won at less than full strength (Irving and Horford have each missed games).

Brad Stevens has this team competing. He has them playing very balanced and serving their roles. Irving is the team’s leading scorer, but six other players are scoring 10 points plus a game, if you include Marcus Morris’s 12.2 in just five games. Horford leads the team in rebounding, but league sophomore Jaylen Brown chips in almost seven a game. Aron Baynes, the definition of a role player, adds six a game as well. Their assist leader? Marcus Smart. The guy everyone was worried would lose his place on this team. He also adds 1.67 steals per game, second to Kyrie’s 1.92.

Top to bottom Stevens is getting production from their guys on the floor. And the result is win after win. That’s the biggest thing a coach can do in the NBA; Get his team to buy into their roles and play as one, cohesive unit. Not bad for a guy that many thought would flame out after a couple seasons, as most college-to-NBA coaches do.

I’m not crowning the Celtics 2018 NBA Champions three weeks into the season. I’m not saying give Brad Stevens the Coach of the Year award yet either. There is far too much season. The Pistons are legit and the Cavs will be scary come playoff time when they get their point guard healthy. A lot can still happen. But right now it doesn’t seem to matter who Boston throws out on the court. Brad Stevens has them winning.

Kyrie to the Celtics Changes NBA East

Boston wants to dominate the 2020s.

Ainge knows that while LeBron remains in Cleveland, he shouldn’t sell the farm for a short term upgrade.

Boston is saving their assets for a true superstar – think Anthony Davis.

Ainge knows Golden State is unbeatable for the next 2-3 years.

These were the refrains we heard for the past few years. Boston had the most coveted assets in the league after fleecing Brooklyn out of three first round picks. They were rumored to be potential destinations for all of the stars on the trading block for the past few years, but they continued to pass on players such as Demarcus Cousins, Paul George, and Jimmy Butler. It frustrated fans, but it made sense. Why trade young players and picks now when they almost certainly can’t put you past LeBron or the Warriors?

Celtics GM Danny Ainge stayed the course, even when public pressure to make a move mounted. The ping-pong balls rewarded his patience when the Celtics won the draft lottery in May 2017. After moving down, they still got their guy – Jayson Tatum – and added him to a roster with talented prospect Jaylen Brown. With Tatum, Brown, young superstar coach Brad Stevens, and Brooklyn’s first round pick in 2018, the Celtics were in incredible position to field a dominant roster in the 2020s.

By now, you already know that the Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and Brooklyn’s 2018 first round pick for Kyrie Irving. The move makes sense on some levels. As well as Thomas played last year, he is simply not as good as Irving. The Celtics were leery about paying a 5’8”, 29 year old point guard a max contract in the summer of 2018. Crowder has been a contributer, but his absence frees up more minutes for Brown and Tatum. But the offseason addition of Gordon Hayward may have tipped the scales more than any other factor in favor of making this trade. He too plays the same position as Crowder. But more importantly, Ainge thinks Boston can make the Finals this year.

The Celtics are positioned for the 2020s, but they are pretty damn good right now. Hayward, and to a lesser extent Al Horford, give the Celtics All-Star caliber players in their prime (the back end of Horford’s). Adding Irving makes the team better this year. All reports indicate that LeBron’s relationship with Cleveland ownership is shattered. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where he mentally checks out like he did during the 2010 playoff series versus the Celtics and the 2011 Finals versus the Mavs. If so, the Celtics are poised to take advantage. Then Boston is one injury of a key player on Golden State away from winning the Finals. It’s unlikely, but only the Warriors, Spurs, and Cavs still have a better chance of winning the 2018 Finals than the Celtics do. That has to count for something.

At age 25, Kyrie is right in the “sweet spot” where he can help the Celtics make the Finals this year and can still contribute long term. Horford will be a dinosaur by the time Boston’s teenagers (and future picks) are ready to contribute, and Hayward will be getting long in the tooth as well. If they can lock Kyrie up long term, he can be the point guard of the present and the future. Ainge took a big risk by finally dealing one of the Brooklyn picks. If it ends up as the top pick in what is shaping up to be a top-heavy draft, he may come to regret it. Marvin Bagley in particular has been called a once in a generation talent.

Boston payed a hefty price for a player who had to be traded. But they gave up players who were ultimately expendable for them, either this year or next. Giving up the Brooklyn pick definitely hurts – especially after George and Butler were acquired for so little – but Boston undoubtedly got better this year, and draft picks can be uncertain. Check back in about fifteen years to see who won this trade. Maybe the Celtics will have multiple Larry O’Brien trophies to show for it, or maybe Marvin Bagley will be remembered as the greatest Cav of all time.

R.J. Barrett Reclassifies to 2018

rj barrett

R.J. Barrett is looking to get to college, and ultimately the pros, a year sooner. Just days after Marvin Bagley, the #1 player in the Class of 2018, filed papers to re-class into 2017, Barrett followed suit. He announced he would be re-classing from 2019 to 2018. Barrett said the decision came after evaluating his play this summer. The move does not come as a surprise, as anyone who has seen Barrett play knows he is ready for the next level.

If his play this summer was the deciding factor, then I can’t imagine the decision took very long. Barrett was a monster this summer. You probably heard his name mostly during the U19 FIBA Games. Barrett not only dominated Team USA, but took home tournament MVP, while leading Canada to the gold. At only 17 years old, Barrett was outshining players who are signed, and enrolling into colleges in the Fall. Despite the age gap, Barrett was the most outstanding player by far. He has shown he has nothing left to prove at the high school level.

He has been touted by some as the best Canadian prospect ever, as well as the best high school player in the nation as a sophomore. With accolades like that, it is no surprise that Barrett is currently being recruited by all the major powerhouses. Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon and Michigan were all listed as schools working hard for him. Expect Kentucky to make a hard push after John Calipari got a front row seat to Barrett’s torching of theUSA U19 team in Egypt.

The bar has been set high for R.J. Barrett. Playing at a school that has produced lottery picks Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid & D’Angelo Russell, and for a coach who coached Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist prior to joining Montverde, Barrett could be the best of all of them. And we are now a year sooner to finding out.

Kyrie Irving – A Superstar Taking a Gamble

kyrie irving

Shockwaves were sent throughout the basketball world just a few days ago when it was announced that Kyrie Irving is looking to be traded away from the Cleveland Cavaliers – furthermore, outside the large shadow of LeBron James.

Various reasons have been thrown out: a beef with James and trying to get ahead of the King’s exit in 2018 have been the prominent ones. The deeper you get into NBA Twitter, the thicker and foggier the smoke gets. Regardless of the reason, or the time-table in which that is discovered, this move signals that Irving is ready to go all in on himself as the man to deliver a franchise to the promise land. Kyrie was the man in Cleveland before LeBron, but asking a 19-22 year old to deliver a franchise deep into the postseason is an unfathomable weight to hoist onto the shoulders of any NBA player. Even Lebron himself could only do as well as a 4-0 sweep in Finals in his first stint in Cleveland.

Do Lebron and Kyrie Have Beef?

With LeBron, Kyrie has been a great sidekick for James, being able to shoulder scoring and ball handling duties that relieves pressure for the NBA’s best player. With one ring, three Finals appearances and a championship clinching shot, Kyrie has continued to blossom. Now he feels that he is ready to be the ball dominant player on a team, and lead said team to the postseason.

The rumors of his possible landing spots is a fairly decent list: San Antonio to team with Kawhi and a return home to New York seem to be the hottest two rumors of the last few days. Kyrie has also been mentioned as a candidate to land in Minnesota, Miami or even as a replacement for CP3 in LA . Regardless of where he lands, Kyrie has stepped up to the plate, and is going all in on himself to thrive away from Lebron. As Jason Concepcion notes in his article for The Ringer, “Kyrie is courting failure on a scale that should command our respect.” Regardless of where you see Kyrie in the pantheon of NBA players, specifically Point Guards, he is willing to potentially buck the trend of superstars joining super teams to preserve their legacies with rings.

While the results of Irving’s gamble remain to be seen, it takes a lot of guts for someone to bet on themselves. Salute to you Uncle Drew, I’ll always pull for the person who is willing to gamble on themselves.

Damian Lillard: Who Wouldn’t Want to go to the Finals Every Year?

One #HGAlum is taking a shot at another. In the midst of all the NBA trade drama surrounding Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers, Damian Lillard weighed in with his two cents in an interview with Sports Illustrated. “Who wouldn’t want to go to the Finals every year?” Lillard spoke. “I think they’ve been to the finals the last three years. I would love to do that.”

The comment came following the reports that Irving told the Cavs’ front office he wanted to be “the guy” on an NBA team. According to the SI interview, he cited Lillard and Wizards point guard John Wall, as examples. When asked if he would ever ask for a trade while playing alongside Lebron James, Lillard slyly eluded answering by “I don’t know I have never played with Lebron.”  He did go on to point out that from an outsider’s perspective, Lebron seems to make things so easy for those around him.

Lillard certainly has a point. Every NBA player’s goal (for the most part) is to win an NBA Championship. It’s why we often see aging players take veteran minimums on title contenders. After all the money is made, a ring outweighs a contract to a player with limited years left. However, it is unfair to judge Kyrie from the outside because we simply do not know  what it’s like as Lebron’s sidekick.

Kyrie IrvingSure, everyone wants to go to the Finals, but is it worth a player in his prime, who already has a ring, to undergo the scrutiny of Lebron James on a daily basis? This is not a knock on LBJ, MJ was nasty too. Players with that competitive edge tend to be. Fact is, Lebron is getting older and his hunger for another championship is still growing. He’s holding those around him accountable, and has no problem doing it publicly. This is it for him, his window is minimizing, and he’s taking control. And let’s not get started with the rumors of a departure for LA after next season.

It’s easy to sit on the outside as a player and say he’s crazy for giving up his current situation, but maybe there’s a bigger picture. Maybe it’s more than just wanting to be the guy. I mean, Lebron apparently wants to fight Kyrie now; maybe that relationship reached its tipping point. Lebron has said he has no ill-feeling toward Kyrie, but who can we believe at this point. Whatever the case may be, there seems to be something a littler bigger than spotlight. Trips to the Finals or not, you can’t blame Kyrie for looking out for himself. After all, isn’t that what Lebron has done going from Cleveland to Miami and back to Cleveland?


Follow all NBA, NCAA and High School Recruiting News at Hoop Group Insider.