Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
It’s only Wednesday, but this has already been a rough week for the Celtics and their fans. On Sunday, they shockingly flubbed away a win in Phoenix, then on Monday got obliterated by a late-game 41-14 Clippers run. Al Horford sat out both those games with a mysterious elbow injury, and Avery Bradley and Jonas Jerebko missed one each with other ailments. Isaiah Thomas capped off the two-day fiasco by complaining about Brad Stevens’ lineup decisions.
Meanwhile, the Celtics missed a chance to gain on the conference-leading Cavs, who’ve lost two straight, while also allowing the Wizards to close to within one game of the East’s second seed. About the only thing that went right is Danny Ainge didn’t sign Andrew Bogut.
In the Boston sports atmosphere that demands winning, a crap-fest like this brings out the worst in the fans and media. Sports talkers, opinion writers and much of Celtics Twitter feast on failure like Joey Chestnut at a hot dog-eating contest.
One of their favorite targets has been Horford. A segment of fans/media just can’t get over Al making maximum contract money but not producing a nightly 20 and 10. They don’t or can’t see his other contributions, such as what’s spelled out here:
So far this season, the results have been incredibly positive with Horford in tow. Without Horford on the floor, the Celtics are just a +0.6 points per 100 possessions. Put Horford in the game, and that net rating rises to +5.4 per 100 possessions. The numbers from Horford won’t blow you away; it’s not like he joined the Celtics and it unlocked another individual level for him. Horford averages his lowest scoring rate in five seasons, shoots his lowest effective field goal percentage since his rookie year and has his lowest usage rate since the lockout-truncated season.
What his presence on the team does, though, is add a threat to the floor that helps open things up for Boston. Last season, the Celtics finished with the 13th-best offense in the NBA despite being 24th in effective field goal percentage. A lot of that was the fact that they never turned the ball over (tied for fourth) and they lived at the rim (sixth-highest percentage of shots). This team couldn’t shoot from outside, though, and it truly hurt their ability put pressure on a playoff defense.
This year, the Celtics don’t do a whole lot of wrong on offense. Boston is 8th in offense, tied for 5th in turnover rate, and 8th in effective field goal. They’ve gone from 28th in three-point percentage to 12th. Horford is a big part of that. With Horford on the floor, the Celtics shoot 3.5 percent higher from the field and 5.9 percent better from deep.
Horford is shooting about the same from deep he did last year (34.4 percent to 34.3 on one more attempt), but it’s the spacing and ball movement he provides that has helped their shooting that most. Last season, Jared Sullinger was in the Horford role (not as many minutes). Teams weren’t scared of his spacing the floor at all. In fact, they welcomed him shooting from outside. But with Horford out there, he’s a legitimate threat for a center, and he makes great decisions with the ball.
John Karalis defends Horford regularly on Twitter, pointing out that the Cs are not only second in the East but fifth in the league; sent their coach to the All-Star Game; possess the Nets’ draft pick that could be No. 1; and have preserved salary cap flexibility to go after free agents this summer.
And then there’s this observation from our friends at CelticsBlog:
But for some people, Horford’s production is never going to be good enough unless Banner 18 goes up in the rafters. And maybe not even then.
On Page 2: Let’s talk
Despite any issues with Stevens’ rotation, the fringe MVP candidate could have handled his frustration privately. Sharing those thoughts with the media — even if they’re completely valid (which they were) — didn’t just throw Stevens under the bus, but did the same to all the players in the aforementioned lineups. It created a headache the Celtics don’t need and possible tension where it’s unnecessary.
One can understand Thomas’ obvious pain after the loss. The Celtics have now earned back-to-back brutal losses; their margin for the Eastern Conference’s second seed is dwindling and could shrink further with an upcoming meeting against the Golden State Warriors. In a way, the star’s give-a-(bleep) level is admirable. As someone in the Celtics front office told me when Jae Crowder snapped earlier this season over cheers for Gordon Hayward, it’s much better to have a guy who cares that much.
Even if it appears to be a pompous stance, Thomas’s anger and disappointment is understandable. He turned 28 last month. This is his time. He is totally invested in pushing the Celtics back to prominence.
He has become the face of the franchise. He remembers his heroes such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant cementing their legacies by winning championships, and each were hard on their teammates and coaches. There were occasions they challenged their coaches.
It’s fine for Thomas to call out his coach or question a decision, as long as it’s done in a respectful manner. Of course, Stevens and Thomas should meet to discuss team issues. Thomas has to understand Stevens was limited in his lineup decisions because Horford (elbow) and Jonas Jerebko (flu) were out.
As long as Thomas holds himself accountable — he missed a key free throw and lost an in-bounds pass that led to the Suns’ winning 3-pointer — he has the cachet to demand the same of others. This is a different generation; authority figures are questioned, coaches are called out.
Brad Stevens says he wasn’t bothered by Isaiah’s comments. In a normal world, that would settle it, but we know Boston isn’t normal. We’re demanding, intense, and rarely satisfied. IT always takes grief from people who are upset he’ll never be taller than 5-9, but this episode caused even some of his defenders to turn on him. (Amazing that he scores nearly 30 points per game, yet still needs defenders.)
Isaiah perhaps smoothed things over slightly by doing a podcast with Bill Simmons on Monday and a Twitter Q&A last night (“What’s the best thing about playing in Boston?” “The fans!”). The best thing he could do now, however, is lead the Cs to a win at Golden State tonight. Winning solves a lot of problems.
On Page 3: Zip it, Dad
But even outside of a face-to-face meeting, there will be plenty of homework done on Ball and his father.
“Every team puts a lot of work into that,” one scouting director said. “I mean, there is a lot of investment in a guy, especially when you’re making a high pick. We are going to talk to coaches obviously, but also assistant coaches and trainers and the secretaries at the athletic facility, all of that. And some of that information gets shared between teams. So we’re going to have a pretty good idea how a player like Ball handles the noise that comes from the outside. Even his dad’s noise.”
Sporting News – Is Lonzo Ball’s dad hurting his draft stock? NBA execs weigh in
Why does everything have to be complicated? Depending on the lottery, Boston might be in position to select Ball, who draft experts are calling a future star. When I heard that his father said he wanted his son to play only for the Lakers, I thought, “then he can go f___ himself.” This article calmed me down – but Ball’s dad is still one big reason to hope for Markelle Fultz.
On Page 4: Plays of the Week
And finally: Whut?
The Rest of the Links: