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.
But the team many expected to contend with the Cavs this season, fourth-place Toronto, has traded Terrence Ross and a first-round pick to Orlando for Serge Ibaka, which addresses their greatest need. In doing so, they automatically get back in the hunt for the top spot in the East.
There was a report the Celtics shunned an Ibaka deal because they didn’t want to trade Terry Rozier. While a league source indicated that the Magic did, in fact, have internal discussions about a potential deal with Boston that would have included Rozier, multiple sources contacted on Tuesday said that Orlando’s preferred deal for Ibaka for the last several weeks has been to acquire Ross and a first-round pick.
And from the Celtics’ perspective, giving up Rozier, Amir Johnson (most likely) and one of their two upcoming picks from Brooklyn just didn’t make a lot of sense since Ibaka who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
So where does this leave the Celtics?
While they are playing great basketball right now, they could benefit from having one more rebounding/defensive frontcourt specialist to the mix.
But adding such a player likely means trading away a couple of players from the current roster, which has been successful despite an assortment of key players being out with injuries and illnesses all season.
There are two types of Celtics fans: those who want a trade sooner than later, and those who are willing to be patient. There was a lot of noise yesterday from the first group: “What? We could’ve had Ibaka for Terry Rozier? Why wouldn’t Ainge do that?”
First, we don’t know this is true. Second, the trade would not have been straight up for Rozier. Third, Ibaka would probably walk after the season because signing him would ruin Boston’s salary cap flexibility to pursue bigger trades or higher-level free agents.
Fourth, Ibaka is good but not great. He now blocks about half the number of shots that he did when he led the league a few seasons ago. This season, he’s averaging 6.8 rebounds per game. (Al Horford, who many fans complain isn’t a rebounder, is averaging 6.7.) And here’s another comparison:
The thought of trading Rozier plus another young player and/or first-round draft picks reminds me of 2002, when the Celts dealt Joe Johnson, a couple of role players and a first-rounder to Phoenix for two good-but-not-great players, Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk. The swap helped the Cs reach the Eastern Conference finals, where they lost to Jason Kidd’s Nets, who then were swept by Shaq’s Lakers. Johnson became an all-star; Rogers signed elsewhere as a free agent; and Delk played one more season in Boston before being traded to Dallas with Antoine Walker. Short-term help, long-term loss.
People can talk all they want about how Danny Ainge needs to do something, but that’s not so. Unless you think Serge Ibaka was the key to Banner 18.
Cousins, Butler, George, Griffin – these are the impact players who could make the Celtics legitimate title contenders. If any of them ever becomes available, we should all expect Ainge to drop the hammer. For anyone less, the short-term gain is not worth disrupting the long-term potential. And that potential is getting closer every day.
Related: CSNNE – Report: Celtics Passed On Giving Up Rozier In Potential Ibaka Deal | NESN – NBA Rumors: Celtics Didn’t Want To Part With Prospects For Serge Ibaka | Boston.com – Did Danny Ainge blow it by not trading for Serge Ibaka? | Chicago Tribune – Will Celtics follow Raptors’ aggressive lead and bid for Jimmy Butler? | Yahoo – Kevin Love, Serge Ibaka and the day the East got a lot more interesting
On Page 2: Go fourth
The good news for him is that Celtics coach Brad Stevens, the Eastern Conference’s head coach, will be the one passing out playing time.
“He’s got to put me in in the fourth,” Thomas said, smiling. “He’s got to.”
Last season there was no chance for anyone to provide fourth-quarter heroics, as the Western Conference stormed to a lopsided 196-173 victory. This season, Thomas wants to have more of an imprint late in the game.
“Hopefully it’s more serious,” he said. “In my time watching the All-Star game, the fourth quarter always got serious. Last year, it wasn’t. Hopefully this year it becomes a little competitive late.”
Last year, IT finished second in the Skills Challenge on Saturday, then was mostly just happy to play in the All-Star Game, where he scored a ho-hum nine points in 19 minutes.
This year, his sights are set much higher. Isaiah is apparently favored to win the Skills Challenge. And would any of us be surprised if The King in the Fourth goes off down the stretch of the ASG? I’m really hoping this happens – not just for the entertainment value, but to provide another boost to his confidence and more evidence to the hoop world that, even at 5-foot-9, he is legit.
Related: Boston.com – Doc Rivers’ All-Star Game coaching advice: Keep your enemies happy
On Page 3: Slowing down the hype train
With the Cavs dealing with injuries to Kevin Love, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith, the top spot in the East is certainly attainable if the Celtics continue to play the way they’ve been playing. It nothing else, it will force Cleveland to keep their foot on the gas rather than take the occasional break.
The NBA Finals? That’s a bit premature. While the defense has improved, it’s still far from where the Celtics want to be. Though they may be able to pass the Cavs in the standings, but beating them in a best-of-seven series is a whole different story. Not to mention they’d have to win two rounds to get to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, which is no small task for a team that’s been ousted in the first round the past two seasons.
Boston has won 23 games since mid-December, and they’re back to playing like the team we all fell in love with during the regular season last season. But as we saw last year, it’s when the Celtics start to puff their chests a little too much that they fall back to earth in a big way. Five of the next six games (with the All-Star break sandwiched in) are against Eastern Conference playoff teams, a stretch that will provide a much clearer picture on what the team is made of.
CBS Boston – Celtics Can’t Let The Growing Hype Get To Them
There’s plenty of truth in this plea for caution. The Celtics are on the way to their best season since 2011, when they were 56-26. And yet, they haven’t won a playoff series in the past four years.
Despite injuries, they are winning now, but not easily: of their 36 Ws, only seven have been by more than 10 points. And when they fail to compete hard, it can be ugly (homes losses to Denver, Detroit and New York come to mind).
The Cs had better show up tonight. The first game back after a long road trip is usually a challenge. Tonight’s opponent, the Sixers, has won three straight. On Philly’s last visit to Boston, the Celts needed a fourth-quarter comeback to win. No doubt Brad will remind them. Let’s hope they listen.
Related: Herald – Isaiah Thomas after Celtics’ win: ‘My sights are set on Cleveland’
And, finally: Tweets of note
1. Plays of the Week
2. Tommy Heinsohn must be smiling.
3. From Monday night: Marcus in a nutshell.
The Rest of the Links:
The Ringer – We’ll Never See Another Rajon Rondo