NBA PM: Ray Allen Gone, Forgotten?
There was a time when the Boston Celtics were one of the deepest, most talented teams in the NBA. The squad that featured Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Kevin Johnson and Robert Parish was, in fact, one of the most dominant teams in NBA history. The more recent iteration, which made it to the NBA Finals twice in the last five years, had some impressive names, but starting point guard Rajon Rondo says this year’s team is much deeper.
“This team is very unselfish. We have a lot of talented guys – the most talent we’ve had since I’ve been with the Celtics,” Rondo said via the Boston Celtics’ Twitter feed.
As much of a stir as Ray Allen’s departure to the Miami HEAT caused, the fact is the Celtics rebounded nicely. Not only are they younger and deeper in the back court, there is an argument to be made that they are better, too. Courtney Lee is a better defender than Allen is at this point in his career, and Jason Terry represents a threat off the bench that Boston has not had since perhaps the days of Danny Ainge. Terry’s toughness and his championship mentality will serve the Celtics well. It doesn’t hurt that he has a flair for the dramatic that will instantly make him a fan favorite in The Garden.
The Celtics would have liked to see Ray Allen compete for a championship with the core group that won one in 2008, but since he decided to move on, the team did, too . . .and in a big way.
The backcourt isn’t the only place where the Celtics will be much deeper in 2012-13. Jared Sullinger played so well in his first preseason game, recording 16 points, eight rebounds and a block, that head coach Doc Rivers started him the second time out. Starting at center against Milano, Sullinger recorded nine points, seven rebounds and a block, and the Celtics were +14 in his 18 minutes of action.
They were +29 in Terry’s 28 minutes.
Darko Milicic will also see minutes at center, and while he is not a major scoring threat, he is a reliable shotblocker and rebounder. Jason Collins rounds out the center rotation, which will also include Kevin Garnett at times and possibly rookie Fab Melo. Collins is a solid veteran, and at the very least he can use up some fouls when facing the likes of Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard.
Returning to the team is Jeff Green, who will add scoring punch all the way out to three-point land. He played 25 minutes against Milano, scoring 17 points on 5-of-9 shooting. The Celtics have a forward rotation that starts with All-Stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, but with Green and Brandon Bass coming off the bench they’re in good hands when the second unit takes the court.
In fact, when you consider a likely second unit rotation for Boston includes Terry, Green, Avery Bradley, Bass and Sullinger, it seems Boston has a second unit that could challenge most NBA starting fives.
The loss of Ray Allen was a blow, to be sure, but the Boston Celtics are deeper, younger, and better. They might even be deep enough to throw up a road block to Ray Allen’s championship hopes with the Miami HEAT.
New “Bad Boys” in Brooklyn?
Few head coaches in the NBA this season will face the pressure that is perched solidly on the shoulder of Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson. The fiery coach led the San Antonio Spurs to their first championship as a player and then took the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals in a year that saw him win Coach of the Year. Johnson was paid to sit and watch for a couple of years, but when the time came for him to get back into the coach’s seat he took on the aggressively rebuilding Nets.
Injuries plagued the team last season, but with Brook Lopez and Deron Williams healthy and Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace in place, Johnson expects his team to wreck some havoc in the NBA this season.
“The main thing is it’s about putting together a team, and that’s something that Billy (King) and I talked about, putting together a team,” Johnson said in an interview on Mike’d Up with Bruce Beck early Monday morning. “If you look at the 1989 Pistons, they were a team. We feel we have that type of player in Joe Dumars and the Dennis Rodmans, guys like Reggie Evans that can do the dirty work … but, again, you look at teams, we’re trying to be the best team. … We don’t have to be the best individuals.”
The hype will surround the All-Star core, but as always, championships are won by the best supporting casts as much as by the stars. The Nets hope that players like Evans, who is a real x-factor on the defensive end, Kris Humphries, who is an underrated defender and rebounder, and Andray Blatche, who feels he has a lot to prove this season, will help push them to the Eastern Conference’s upper echelon.
The only problem for the Nets as they embark on that quest is that the most likely contenders – Miami, Boston, Chicago and Indiana – have all added depth and toughness over the offseason as well. It takes a while for chemistry to develop both on and off the court, and going up against teams that have had their core groups in place for a couple of seasons could prove to be more than the Nets are able to combat.
They look good on paper, however, and we know they head coach is ready to mix it up with any team that dares oppose them. It will be interesting to see if the latest team to compile an star-studded lineup can get out from around the theoretical contenders.
Phil Jackson, GM?
Former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson may not be in the league right now, but there is a very real sense that he will be back in some capacity in the near future. For now he’s happy to offer analysis of his former Lakers team, which is one of the most talked about teams in the NBA heading into the 2012-13 season. As impressed as he is with Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, he thinks Pau Gasol could be the key piece in the equation.
“I think you left off the oil that’s gonna kind of make everything work,” Jackson said in an interview with ESPN Chicago. “That is Pau Gasol. He is a guy that can kind of make it easier for Howard to be a player inside. As Pau can move around in the post and move up to the high post and he can be an outside defender, that can help out in a variety of screen-roll activities that maybe Howard might get himself in foul trouble having to defend all the time. So they’ll be able to do a lot of things with a more mobile and quicker Pau Gasol. This is a team that you have to find an offense that is gonna work and include everybody because Kobe dominates the ball and Steve Nash dominates the ball and then you’ve got players that need to get the ball in good spots to work for their offense. That’s Gasol, obviously, in a couple spots, low and high post. Howard really is a low-post player; he needs that ball in the post. From what I understand, they’ve gone to some form of a Princeton offense, which is a system similar to the triangle. So they can kind of get them into an automatic response, so they don’t have to call plays or get realigned and they can just kind of get their flow game back again. I think Nash is going to be really good at it. I think he’ll be good in the offensive transition and then looking for those lobs or screen rolls in transition that he can help out either Pau or Howard in getting to the basket. Then he’s a savvy player. Big effort is gonna be their defense, obviously they are an older team and that is usually where things fall apart as your defense starts to get limited.”
Jackson can relate to the challenge facing current Lakers head coach Mike Brown heading into the season.
“It’s finding a role that each player can move towards and be comfortable in,” said Jackson. “I think that’s how you want to feel. You want Steve to have the ability to have the ball with confidence that he is doing the right thing and feeling like he can run the team. And getting the ball to Kobe in critical situations is important because that’s what his best role is, standing out in the moments of crisis or the moments that are critical, and the inclusion that you have to have to make Howard feel a part of it. So all those guys have to find a little role. As I mentioned, Pau Gasol can fit any of those roles, so he doesn’t have any trouble fitting that role and he’s not identified with just scoring, so he’ll be all right, whatever they try to run. I think that is going to be the key. The other thing is this is an older team. Outside of Howard, who is the youngster on this team, who just had back surgery this past season, all these players are in their mid- to upper-30s and they gotta watch the wear and tear that goes on because the end result is what counts. It’s not the first 100 yards of the season, so to speak.”
Jackson, of course, coached Shaquille O’Neal during his time with the Lakers, and so has become accustomed to cleaning up after ill-advised things Shaq might have said to the media. In this case, Jackson couldn’t quite agree with Shaq’s statement that Dwight Howard is the third-best center in the NBA behind Philadelphia’s Andrew Bynum and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez.
“Brook and Andrew are guys who have good touches,” said Jackson. “They’re good scoring players and they have good offensive game. With Shaq, there is a lot to what he says. Dwight is a guy that has that amazing athletic ability but the overall game — rebounding, defending, blocking shots, running the court — this is a guy that runs with the wolves, so to speak. He can get up and down that court as quick as any of the guards and forwards because of his athletic ability. Both Brook Lopez and Andrew Bynum are more plodders as players. They have trouble in their transition game in both directions. There’s a big difference in play of those guys. Dwight’s learning the post-game and I think he has improved over the last couple years with his left hand. It looks like he’s shooting the ball a lot better. He used to be a guy that you felt like you had to keep out of the lane. If you could do that, he was going to be limited in his scoring. Now he’s developing some of the offensive game.”
As for his own future in the NBA, Jackson is fairly certain that he is physically beyond being able to be a head coach. The idea of running a team, however, holds a certain allure.
“(If) there’s a chance to build a culture and put a team together and figure out how to mesh players, coaches and you’ll get the scouting group together that can do the job,” said Jackson. “I think that’s something that intrigues me and would be the only type of job that I would consider. I think I am by the physical aspect of getting up and down that court with those players in a scrimmage and being a coach on the floor. Those things I love and appreciate, but I think physically right now is beyond.”
HOOPSWORLD Season Previews
The 2012-13 NBA season is rapidly approaching and there are plenty of early storylines emerging.
Can the Miami HEAT repeat their championship quest from last season? Is this the final championship run for the aging Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs? Will Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks finally put all of their talent together and join the league’s elite? Can the new-look Los Angeles Lakers, now boasting Dwight Howard and Steve Nash unseat the Oklahoma City Thunder as Western Conference champions? Is this the year the Minnesota Timberwolves reach the playoffs behind All-Star Kevin Love? Likewise, the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors are poised to make playoff runs of their own, but can they seal the deal? Are the Dallas Mavericks toast, or will their new group of hungry veterans surprise us all?
The HOOPSWORLD team has these questions and more all covered and you can find season previews for all 30 NBA teams by following this LINK.
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