Boston Celtics

Atlantic Notes: Celtics, Russell, VanVleet, Hardaway

Despite being in the midst of a 15-game win streak, the Celtics aren’t satisfied, reports Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com and Chris Forsberg of ESPN. While arguably sporting the league’s best defense, head coach Brad Stevens doesn’t believe his team’s offense is where it needs to be. “We got a lot to improve on [offensively],” Stevens said.

The Celtics shot only 32.9 percent from the field in their win against the Warriors, and while they have leaned on a league-leading defense giving up a mere 95.4 points per 100 possessions, the C’s are currently 27th in the NBA in FG%. We haven’t played well enough to consider this win streak to be valid, in my opinion,” Stevens said. “We’ve figured out ways to win games (but) we’ve got to be better, and we know that.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • According to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston, one way the Celtics can create more offense is to play Marcus Morris more with the second unit. Morris scored 14 points in Saturday’s win against Atlanta.
  • The Nets are trying to remain positive and maintain a “next man up” mentality after losing D’Angelo Russell to a right knee injury for the foreseeable future, writes Anthony Puccio for NetsDaily.com. The Nets also lost Jeremy Lin to a right knee injury after he suffered a ruptured patella tendon in the season opener, but head coach Kenny Atkinson is confident in the players being called on to step up. “We have a good group of wings, and guards,” said Atkinson. “I think we’ve developed sufficiently enough to withstand injuries.”
  • After going undrafted following a successful four-year college career at Wichita State, second-year guard Fred VanVleet is finding his niche with the Raptors as a fighter on the defensive end of the floor, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star“He’s a grinder, he’s a survivor, he’s a worker, he’s had to fight for everything he’s ever gotten in his life,” says head coach Dwane Casey. “He gets into the guys, he’s a little pitbull from that standpoint. He brings everything to the table that you need.”
  • Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek believes that Tim Hardaway Jr. is suffering from something similar to plantar fasciitis in his left foot, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. Hardaway Jr., who removed himself from last week’s loss to Toronto and sat out of yesterday’s practice, plans to play through the pain in spite of the risk. “It could help if he rests,” Hornacek said. “But Tim wants to play. He’s a tough kid. He’s a competitor. He feels that he’s got enough for us that he can go.”

Aron Baynes Steps Up In First Year With Boston

  • Among the numerous players stepping up for the Celtics this season is offseason free agent addition Aron Baynes, Nick Metallinos of ESPN writes. Baynes provides toughness and leadership for a Boston team that lacked size last season.

Celtics Notes: Monroe, Okafor, Irving, Kerr

The Celtics could become an option as Phoenix tries to find a taker for Greg Monroe, according to Chris Mannix of The Vertical. The Suns acquired Monroe in the Eric Bledsoe trade, but don’t have any long-term plans for the 27-year-old, who is on an expiring contract. Boston is getting by with Aron Baynes and rookie Daniel Theis at center, but the team might view Monroe as a better alternative.

Mannix says the decision will come down to a choice of keeping the chemistry that has propelled the Celtics to a league best 13-2 record or going after a proven scorer and rebounder. There’s also the question of what Phoenix might want in return for Monroe, who hasn’t played since the trade was finalized. If he winds up agreeing to a buyout with the Suns, the Celtics have an $8.4MM disabled player exception that might be enough to bring Monroe to Boston.

There’s more Celtics-related news this morning:

  • Boston’s preference is to hold onto the DPE through the buyout deadline to see which players become available, Mannix adds in the same story. That means the Celtics wouldn’t use it to acquire benched center Jahlil Okafor from the Sixers, although they remain interested in Okafor if he gets bought out.
  • Following a summer of change for Kyrie Irving, the star point guard is trying to prove to the league that he made the right choices, writes Chris Forsberg of ESPN. In addition to asking for a trade away from LeBron James and the three-time Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers, Irving switched his number to 11 and adopted a vegetarian lifestyle. The early results have been promising as he ranks third in the league in clutch-time scoring. “I feel absolutely amazing,” Irving said. “My energy, my sleeping patterns, just my intellect and everything that I’m awake to now — I’m very much aware. My awareness is a lot better now that I’m not eating all the GMOs and pesticides and all that they put in our food, man.”
  • The Celtics’ young talent has caught the attention of Steve Kerr, whose Warriors will be in Boston tonight, relays Chris Haynes of ESPN. The game is being hyped as a possible preview of the NBA Finals, and Kerr suggests that the Celtics could be in that position for many years to come. “It sure looks like Boston is the team of the future in the East,” he said, “with the assets that they still have and their young talent and their coaching, and Kyrie is amazing. “That looks like a team that is going to be at the top of the East for a long time to come. Whether their time is now or the future, that’s to be determined, but they sure look like they want it to be right now.”

Jazz Notes: Hayward, Gobert, Favors, Johnson

The Jazz recognize that there’s no easy way to make up for the loss of Gordon Hayward in free agency, writes Chris Mannix of The Vertical. After winning 51 games last season, Utah bet heavily on its chances to re-sign Hayward and didn’t have a way to replace him when he left for Boston. Hayward was the leading scorer for the Jazz last season at 21.9 points per game and averaged 15.6 over seven years in Utah.

“There is always an optimism at the beginning of the season,” said coach Quin Snyder. “And I’m not saying there isn’t that now, but it’s tempered a little bit with the personnel changes. … There isn’t a silver bullet. What there is, though, is a challenge. That’s something you can really embrace and enjoy.”

There’s more tonight from Utah:

  • The rebuilding effort has been slowed by a tibia contusion that has sidelined center Rudy Gobert. The league’s leading shot blocker, who will miss at least four more weeks before being re-evaluated, told Eric Woodyard of The Deseret News he hasn’t lost faith in his team’s ability to remain a contender. “Like I said, starting the season I’m confident that the team is going to win games even when I’m not here and I’ll be back stronger,” Gobert said. “It’s like an All-Star break before the All-Star break. So everything is good, I’m confident and nothing’s changed. No team goals. No individual goals. Everything’s good.
  • The loss of Gobert will bring changes as the Jazz try to get by with a smaller lineup, relays the Associated Press. Derrick Favors will move from power forward to center, with Thabo Sefolosha, Jonas JerebkoEkpe Udoh and Joe Ingles all seeing time at the four spot. Joe Johnson will be added to that mix once he returns from a wrist injury. “Every substitution pattern changes the makeup of the team,” Snyder said. “Some more dramatically than others. Obviously, Derrick playing with Thabo or Joe Ingles at the four, there’s a different style of attack. It’s something that Derrick’s capable of doing and doing well.”
  • Johnson will be out at least two more weeks with tendon instability in his right wrist, Woodyard writes in a separate story. He talked with a hand specialist and is showing some improvement, but there’s no timetable for his return. Johnson played just seven games before the injury.

2018 Salary Cap Outlook: Atlantic Division

NBA rosters will undergo some changes over the course of the 2017/18 season, particularly around the trade deadline, and those changes may have an impact on teams’ cap sheets for future seasons. Based on the NBA’s current rosters, however, we can identify which teams are most or least likely to have cap room in the summer of 2018, which will dictate the type of moves those clubs can make in the offseason.

We’ll be taking a closer look at each of the NBA’s 30 teams by division over the next week. Today, we’re starting with the Atlantic division. With the help of salary information compiled by Basketball Insiders, here’s how the summer of 2018 is shaping up for the five Atlantic teams:

Toronto RaptorsValanciunas vertical
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $124,628,430
Projection: Over the cap and into the tax

The Raptors have nearly $125MM in guaranteed money on their books for the 2018/19 season, easily the most of any Atlantic teams. If Toronto can’t clear any of that money of its cap, the club would almost certainly surpass the tax threshold, based on the latest cap projections from the NBA.

The most obvious way for the Raptors to create a bit of breathing room would be to find a taker for Jonas Valanciunas, who is due a $16.5MM salary next year. Still, Toronto has reportedly explored potential Valanciunas trades before and hasn’t found any viable options, so it won’t necessarily be easy for the Raps to move his salary. And even if they do, it would take more than that to get under the cap.

Boston Celtics
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $104,650,766
Projection: Over the cap

The Celtics currently project to be a little over a $101MM cap, and they’d go even further beyond that threshold if they want to re-sign Marcus Smart or Aron Baynes, or retain non-guaranteed players like Daniel Theis. Even if Boston is willing to let those players go, there’s no obvious path to carving out a chunk of cap room, so the C’s figure to be an over-the-cap team.

Brooklyn Nets
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $68,601,762
Projection: Up to approximately $28MM in cap room

Our cap projection for the Nets assume that the team hangs onto Spencer Dinwiddie, who has a non-guaranteed salary. However, it also assumes that Jeremy Lin will turn down his $12MM+ player option. Considering Lin will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, there’s actually a good chance that he’ll play it safe and pick up his player option rather than taking his chances on the open market. In that scenario, Brooklyn’s cap space would be cut nearly in half.

New York Knicks
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $68,004,397
Projection: Up to approximately $12MM in cap room

Why do we have the Knicks projected to have far less cap room than the Nets, despite both teams having nearly equal guaranteed salary? We’re assuming that Enes Kanter will exercise his $18MM+ player option for next season, as was reported back in August. Of course, nothing is official yet, and a big season for the Knicks could change the landscape for Kanter. But for now, it seems unrealistic to expect him to opt out.

New York’s projected cap room will be reduced further if Ron Baker and/or Kyle O’Quinn exercise player options of their own, which are worth about $4.5MM and $4.3MM, respectively.

Philadelphia 76ers
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $56,928,155
Projection: Up to approximately $39MM in cap room

Even if we count on the Sixers exercising team options for T.J. McConnell and Richaun Holmes, the team should have a ton of flexibility. A Robert Covington extension would cut into that flexibility, but should still leave up to about $25MM in cap room. If the 76ers want to create enough space to sign a player to a maximum salary, finding a taker for Jerryd Bayless‘ expiring $8.6MM contract would likely be the first step.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Irving Will Return With Facemask

Kyrie Irving won’t be sidelined long by a facial fracture he suffered Friday night, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical. Irving is doubtful for Sunday’s game, the Celtics announced today, but he plans to get a facemask and resume playing as soon as possible. Sources tell Charania that Irving should need the mask for about two weeks.

The injury, which is being called minor, occurred early in Friday’s game when Irving was accidentally elbowed in the face by teammate Aron Baynes. Irving has emerged as an early MVP candidate, posting 20.3 points and 5.2 assists per night while helping the Celtics rise to a league-best 11-2 despite the loss of Gordon Hayward.

  • Unexpected contributions from several players have helped the Celtics remain successful after the loss of Hayward, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. Rookie Jayson Tatum and second-year player Jaylen Brown have taken on more responsibility, while Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis have become valuable role players. “We’ve been preaching next man up forever,” Rozier told Chris Forsberg of ESPN. “Lately, our team is dropping like flies. You just gotta be ready. Shane did a great job, stepping up, coming in [Friday]. Like you said, you just never know in this league when your number is going to be called. We did a good job handling that.”

Celtics Better Than Ever On Defense; Morris Called Upon To Play Larger Role

Despite losing two of their most notable defenders over the course of the offseason, the new-look Celtics boast an imposing defensive front thanks to returning defensive quarterback Al Horford and new addition Kyrie Irving, Chris Forsberg of ESPN writes.

In fact, if the NBA season were to end today, the Celtics would have the highest defensive rating (95.9) of any team since the 2004/05 Spurs. That’s a franchise improvement of 9.6 points over last season, a fact even more impressive when you consider that in addition to the new faces, the club also heavily features youth in their lineup, starting both 21-year-old Jaylen Brown and 19-year-old Jayson Tatum.

As Forsberg writes, the Celtics may have lost defensive skill over the summer but they gained length. By replacing Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder with Irving, Brown and Tatum, the club gained more than a foot in height.

  • While the plan was to keep Marcus Morris on a minute restriction following his return from a knee injury, injuries to other players have impacted that strategy. A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston writes that the newly acquired Celtics forward has been called upon to play 22-25 minutes but that they’ll see how his body responds on a game-by-game basis.

Gordon Hayward Already Back In The Gym

Trade Notes: Suns, Bucks, Bledsoe, Monroe, Okafor

Major early-November NBA trades are rare, but the Suns and Bucks are on the verge of completing one, having agreed in principle to a trade that will send Eric Bledsoe to Milwaukee. Greg Monroe is heading to Phoenix as part of that deal, along with the Bucks’ 2018 first-round pick and 2018 second-round pick.

Gery Woelfel of The Racine Journal Times (Twitter link) expressed some surprised that Tyson Chandler wasn’t involved in the trade, since he’s a good friend of Jason Kidd, who has wanted Chandler on his roster in the past. However, Chandler is earning $13MM and is under contract next year as well, so the Bucks would have had to add another substantial salary to the deal to make that happen.

Meanwhile, Chris Haynes of ESPN observes (via Twitter) that the Suns finalized the agreement just when Bledsoe was about to return to the club’s facility to work out, which was either a fortuitous coincidence or a sign that the team really had no interest in having him around.

Here’s more on the Bledsoe trade:

  • Monroe and his $17MM+ contract appear to be functioning primarily as salary filler to complete this deal, but the Suns have yet to decide whether to keep, trade, or release him, tweets John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7. If Phoenix buys out Monroe, the big man would be an “obvious candidate” to sign with the Celtics or Thunder, says Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post (Twitter link).
  • After trading Monroe, the Bucks look like a match made in heaven for Jahlil Okafor, argues Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype.
  • While Bledsoe didn’t have a strong preference for where he ended up, Milwaukee was at the top of his wish list, according to Gambadoro, who says the point guard is looking forward to playing with Giannis Antetokounmpo (Twitter links).
  • Because today’s trade is a one-for-one swap in terms of players, the Suns will still have to open up a roster spot within the next month in order to convert Mike James‘ two-way contract to a standard NBA deal, notes Bobby Marks of ESPN (Twitter link).
  • The acquisition of Bledsoe doesn’t come without a good deal of risk for the Bucks, given the point guard’s injury history, writes Sean Deveney of The Sporting News.

Bulls, Hawks Most Likely Suitors For Okafor?

The Bulls and Hawks appear to be the most likely landing spots for Jahlil Okafor, according to TNT’s David Aldridge, who cites league sources in his latest report at NBA.com. However, the Sixers continue to hold out for “at least a draft pick,” Aldridge writes.

While it’s not clear if Aldridge is referring to a first-round pick or just a decent second-rounder, his report sounds similar to one from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski last week. Wojnarowski indicated that the 76ers remain committed to acquiring some sort of “asset” in exchange for Okafor, who has asked to be traded or bought out.

[RELATED: Jahlil Okafor confirms he wants trade or buyout]

The Bulls and Hawks are both very much in rebuilding mode, with just two wins apiece so far this season, so a move to acquire a 21-year-old with Okafor’s pedigree would make sense for either team. However, both clubs figure to maintain a tight hold on their draft picks, and – like Boston – would almost certainly be unwilling to part with a first-rounder for Okafor.

Although the former third overall pick still has plenty of potential, his contract situation makes him a tough sell. Because his fourth-year option was turned down, Okafor will be an unrestricted free agent next July, and the team carrying him as season’s end won’t be able to offer him a contract with a starting salary higher than about $6.3MM, the amount of his declined option. So if Okafor were to be traded now and then enjoyed a breakout year with his new team, that club may not be able to re-sign him.

Okafor would like resolution sooner rather than later, but as Aldridge notes, it’s possible that the Sixers will hang onto him as insurance against a potential Joel Embiid injury, or in order to use him as a salary-matching piece in a deadline deal.

The 76ers don’t want to take on any extra salary in a potential Okafor trade, since they want to have the flexibility to renegotiate Robert Covington‘s contract after November 15 and to retain cap space for next summer, says Aldridge. Philadelphia is also reluctant to buy out Okafor, according to Aldridge, since they believe it would take the division-rival Celtics “about 30 seconds to scarf him up.”

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