Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah Thomas’

Celtics stick to their own formula for turnaround

VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas has been critical to the Celtics’ turnaround

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The playoff berth, the turnaround, the return to relevance, if you will, sans a superstar after the end of the Big 3 era.

It wasn’t supposed to happen overnight for the Boston Celtics.

Danny Ainge‘s current rebuilding project is the model for doing it without the saving grace of a marquee superstar. And that’s fine by Brad Stevens, the coach Ainge plucked from the college ranks to guide these surprising Celtics through this process.

Ainge sold Stevens on a long-term vision, signing him to a six-year deal in 2013 that made him the youngest coach (36) in the NBA at the time, that included a transformation of the culture for the winningest franchise in league history. The days of leaning on future Hall of Famers like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to lead the way was over.

And in the early stages of the third year of this new era, the Celtics appear ready for prime time. They face off against the Atlanta Hawks tonight (8 ET, TNT), the first of seven national TV games they’ll play this season after just one last year.

Their 20-9 finish last season led to that playoff berth, where they went after LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a first-round sweep and served notice that planning for the future didn’t necessarily mean drowning in the misery of the typical rebuilding plan.

Winners of six of their last nine games, the Celtics have shaken off a 1-3 start and gotten back to the ways that led them to the playoffs last season.

Built on a bedrock of defense, depth, player development and shared sacrifice, the Celtics are on to something. With a starting lineup that includes three second-round picks and roster dotted with as many journeymen as high draft picks, Stevens has molded this group into one of the scrappiest crews in the league. And to a man, they point to their young coach and his measured ways as the key to their success.

“His approach is everything, he’s always prepared no matter what the situation, be it in games or practice and that says a lot about a coach in this league” said Isaiah Thomas, the veteran guard who leads the Celtics in scoring (21.6) and assists (6.5). “You never know if he’s happy or mad because he’s so even-keeled. He won’t show it. And that’s how this team is. He’s always talking about looking to the next play. He’s instilled that in us and it’s really defined us as a group. We’re a next play team, no matter what the situation.”

In an environment where basically half of the league is rebuilding perpetually, Stevens has made sure to avoid discussing anything of the sort with his team. Why bother with the obvious, when just talking about it won’t speed up the process?

“We’ve never once talked about it as rebuilding,” Stevens said. “We’ve talked about it as building, growing and improving. We’ve got a lot of young guys. We’re still super young. And we have to take every opportunity as a learning experience. We have to say, there aren’t any excuses in being young and not having that extra experience. That means we have to watch more film, we’ve got to put more time in the gym, we’ve got to shoot more on our own and we’ve to be better to catch up.”

David Lee, 32, is the only player on the roster over the age of 28. He’s also the only former All-Star and he arrived via trade after winning a title with the Golden State Warriors last season. But he doesn’t hold a position above or beyond any of his teammates based on that body of work.

That’s not the way this group works.

“Young and hungry, that’s us,” said fourth-year center Jared Sullinger, the Celtics’ leading rebounder (8.8). “We’ve got a lot of guys who are still trying to establish themselves throughout the league. And we play as a team. On any given night it could be someone’s time to shine and we’re so unselfish. We feed off of that.”

Buying into the system was easy, Sullinger said, because of the collective understanding that none of this would be possible without the entire group diving in. Roles change on the fly, a starter one week could be a key reserve the next. Stevens has fostered an ego-free environment and instead mandated that guys serve the greater good and emphasize the team over all else.

It’s the backbone of any successful team, but particularly in today’s NBA, where the universal embrace of the pace-and-space style has changed the landscape. Stevens pointed to the Hawks and the way they busted out last season, winning a franchise-record 60 wins and earning a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, as the prime example of a team whose success shined a light on what the Celtics are trying to create.

“Offensively, they are who they are. They are outstanding moving the ball,” Stevens said of the Hawks. “They are very intelligent. Their team savvy is off the charts. They are just really organized but still play with a lot of freedom. And they are just fun to watch … I thought it was just awesome last year they got four All-Stars because it talked about what was most important, and that’s the team winning, and all of those guys were playing great off of each other.”

The Celtics might not have four All-Star ready talents just now, but the players are convinced that the foundation and the culture for that kind of success in the future is in the works.

“I always say guys don’t play with each other, they play for each other,” Thomas said. “And on this team, it feels like a college team, for the most part. Guys aren’t running around with big egos, everybody just wants to see each other succeed. And that’s hard to find in the NBA. I think we’ve got a great group of guys and it starts with our coaching staff. Everybody has an equal opportunity to be themselves. And that’s what works for us.”

Morning shootaround — Nov. 24

VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 23


LeBron: Warriors are ‘most healthy’ NBA team he’s ever seen | Ainge pleased with Celtics’ direction | Spurs keep chugging along

No. 1: LeBron: Warriors are ‘most healthy’ NBA team he’s ever seen — The topic of good fortune often comes up when discussing the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, a point some use to illustrate the squad was lucky to win the title for a variety of reasons. Wherever you stand on that point, one thing that is true in terms of Golden State’s good fortune is the team’s health during its championship era. Few player games have been lost due to injury and really, only coach Steve Kerr (back) has been out for a prolonged time. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who was defeated by the Warriors in the 2015 Finals, knows all too well how the Warriors’ health has helped them.’s Dave McMenamin has more:

LeBron James says there is a not-so-secret ingredient — beyond a talented roster that features reigning MVP Stephen Curry — to the Golden State Warriors’ success: avoiding injuries.

“I think it comes with a lot of health,” James said when asked about the Warriors tying the all-time mark for best start to a season at 15-0. “They’ve been healthy. They’ve been the most healthy team I’ve ever seen in NBA history, and they have great talent. Those guys all play for one common goal and that’s to win, and that’s all that matters.”

James said that continuity in the lineup has led to consistency in their play.

“They’ve just been consistent,” James said. “I think the most impressive thing is the way they just they’ve been playing at a high level, man, for so long.”

The Cleveland Cavaliers, meanwhile, are down four of their top eight rotation players at the moment with Kyrie Irving (left knee), Iman Shumpert (right wrist), Timofey Mozgov (right shoulder) and Mo Williams (right ankle) all sidelined.

“I’d much rather be on the other side and having guys in the lineup, having guys healthy,” James said. “I’ve always heard that saying of, ‘Is it a blessing that guys are out and guys can step in?’ I think it’s good for some of the guys that don’t get to play as much — they get an opportunity. But at the same time, I’d much rather be full and know what we’re going to have and play at a high level for most of the year so we know what we can fall back on at the end of the season.

“But that’s one thing you can’t control. You can’t control injuries. The one thing you can control is what you’re doing out on the floor, how well you’re playing, how hard you’re playing and how much you’re sacrificing and giving to your teammates.”

VIDEO: LeBron James talks about how health has aided the Warriors’ success

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One Team, One Stat: A Boost from Isaiah

VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Boston Celtics’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Boston Celtics, who got an offensive boost with a deadline trade.

The stat


The context

20151021_bos_basicsAfter the Celtics acquired him in a deadline trade, the difference between their offense with and without Isaiah Thomas on the floor was like the difference between having a top-3 offense or a bottom-10 offense.

A bottom-10 offense is what the Celtics had before the All-Star break. Brad Stevens is a good coach who did his best to create pace and space within the Celtics’ offense. But the team lacked any kind of go-to guy to create things on his own.

Thomas became that guy when he arrived. He played just 26 minutes per night off the bench, but he gave the offense a big lift when he entered the game. The Celtics didn’t shoot that much better when he was on the floor, but he helped them cut down on turnovers and get to the line much more frequently.


Thomas was almost solely responsible for the free-throw-rate increase. Among players who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season, he ranked fourth in made free throws per 36 minutes. And his FTM/36 was much higher with the Celtics (7.8) than it was in Phoenix (5.6).


The Celtics haven’t had a league average offense since the 2009-10 season. They still lack perimeter shooting, but David Lee‘s playmaking at power forward should give them a lift on that end of the floor.

A full season (and a few more minutes per game) from Thomas would help even more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

One Team, One Stat: Offensive Regression in Phoenix

VIDEO: Schuhmann’s Advanced Stats: Phoenix Suns’s John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2015-16 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the Phoenix Suns, who took a big step backward after making some trades at the deadline.

The stat


The context

20151017_phx_basicsGoing from seventh in offensive efficiency before the break to 28th after it (finishing 14th for the season) is a hard fall.

It was the trades of both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas that precipitated the drop-off. Before the break, the Suns scored 106.3 points per 100 possessions with one or both of the lefty point guards on the floor. And they had at least one of them on the floor for 92 percent of their minutes. So when they were both traded, there was a big void in the Phoenix backcourt.


Thomas went to Boston and gave the Celtics’ offense a lift. They had scored 101.0 points per 100 possessions before the break, but scored 109.2 with Thomas on the floor after it. Dragic increased the pace in Miami and helped the Heat offense sustain it’s pre-break level, despite the loss of Chris Bosh.

Meanwhile, the Suns didn’t get as many opportunities in transition, turned the ball over more, and shot much worse, especially from 3-point range.


Phoenix got Brandon Knight from Milwaukee at the deadline, but he played just 11 games after that, dealing with a couple of different leg injuries. And the offense wasn’t very good (99.4 points scored per 100 possessions) in the limited minutes (just 235) when Knight and Eric Bledsoe shared the floor.

The Suns added some shooting this summer, but Devin Booker is a rookie and Mirza Teletovic shot just 32 percent from 3-point range before missing the last three months of last season.

Tyson Chandler‘s rolls to the rim will open things up on the perimeter and Alex Len should see more improvement in his third season.

But the Suns are basically starting from scratch. And they have to hope that last season’s regression was more about them going through changes than it was about what they lost.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning shootaround — Oct. 3



‘Holdout’ turns screws on Thompson, Cavs | Cuban ‘gets’ Chandler’s barbs | Greater Heat depth brings minutes challenge | Clippers still counting on Wes

No. 1: ‘Holdout’ turns screws on Thompson, Cavs — If there’d been a statue of Tristan Thompson outside of Quicken Loans Arena, it would have been lassoed and pulled to the ground as happens when banana republics undergo regime change. Instead, the Cleveland Cavaliers had to settle for scrubbing their backup power forward/center’s likeness from signage around the Q and purging any merchandise specific to Thompson from the team’s arena and online stores. Why? Thompson officially is a “holdout,” now that the deadline for him to sign either the Cavs’ one-year qualifying offer or a long-term deal passed at the end of Thursday. Thus the dicey business situation moved into a new phase Friday, as detailed by’s Dave McMenamin:

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ message on Friday, considered the first official day that Tristan Thompson’s contract standoff with the team escalated to a “holdout” situation, was loud and clear:

If you are not going to be present for training camp, you are not going to be weighing on our minds.

“Right now, my thoughts are just about the guys that are here and how hard and how well they are working and no specific expectation otherwise,” said Cavs coach David Blatt when asked for his reaction to Thompson letting the Cavs’ one-year, $6.8 million qualifying offer for this season expire at 11:59 p.m. ET on Thursday without accepting it. “Just happy to see our guys working as well as they are.”

With the qualifying offer off the table, negotiations will shift to both sides focusing on a multi-year agreement. Thompson’s agent, Rich Paul, recently vacated a five-year, $94 million max contract demand for his client in favor of a preferred three-year, $53 million deal, per league sources. The Cavs have already tendered a five-year, $80 million offer to Thompson, according to sources.

Friday was the fourth consecutive day of camp that Thompson missed, however Blatt was adamant that the big man’s absence has not caused a distraction as his team readies itself for the regular season.

“We got a veteran group,” Blatt said. “We got a very professional group of guys going about their business and going about their jobs the way that they should. The team is working and we are going to continue to do so.”


No. 2: Cuban ‘gets’ Chandler’s barbs — When Clippers center DeAndre Jordan reneged on his agreement to sign as a free agent with Dallas, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban chose some of his words carefully but didn’t exactly hide his displeasure. More recently, it was Tyson Chandler‘s turn to vent about the turn of events and Chandler – the former Mavs center who kind of got squeezed to Phoenix when Dallas targeted Jordan at the start of free agency this summer – came out strong in support of his fellow big man re-upping with L.A. Well, Cuban didn’t bristle at Chandler’s human, understandable reaction, writes Tim McMahon of

“He does have the right to be salty,” Cuban said during an appearance on 103.3 FM ESPN’s “Dennis and Friedo” on Friday.

Chandler, a hero during Dallas’ 2011 title run, has now twice been given second-fiddle treatment by the Mavs’ front office in free agency. The big man was blunt when asked this week about DeAndre Jordan’s decision to renege on his verbal commitment to replace Chandler as Dallas’ starting center. Chandler considers Jordan’s choice to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers a better-late-than-never, wise decision.

“I thought it was crazy,” Chandler told reporters during media day with the Phoenix Suns, his new team. “I never thought that DeAndre was going to sign with the Mavs, to be honest. I thought he was leaving a great situation back in L.A. Clearly, their roster is very talented and they have an opportunity to contend, so I didn’t understand it to begin with. Him going back on it, I actually thought that he got a good look at the picture.”

It’s not the first indication that Chandler — who informed the Mavs that he was heading to Phoenix minutes before their July 1 meeting with Jordan started — is a bit miffed about being disrespected by Dallas. His peace sign/sun combo was an underrated tweet during the comical emoji battle that unfolded while Jordan snacked on chicken with his Clippers pals and ignored Cuban’s phone calls while waiting to officially sign his deal with L.A.

Cuban said a year ago that he had “learned his lesson” from letting Chandler leave and intended all along to keep him … until he learned that the Mavs had a legitimate shot to add an NBA rebounding leader who was just entering his prime.

“I didn’t think it would get to that point,” Cuban said of the 33-year-old Chandler’s departure from Dallas. “We actually tried to have discussions right at the start of the year about an extension and it kind of just died on the vine. His agent didn’t really take it anywhere, and I was the first to say ‘If you don’t want to take it right now, we’ll try to figure something out at the end of the year,’ because I realized that by waiting that gave Tyson an extra year.

“Then the opportunity for DeAndre came along and we were pretty straightforward. Tyson or his agent gave us the ultimatum before the decision was made. He said he wouldn’t wait. That’s his decision. It is what it is. He does have a right to be salty, because I really did suggest to him — and it’s exactly the way I thought — that he’d be here for a long time.”



No. 3: Greater Heat depth brings minutes challenge — The deeper the NBA roster, the greater its flexibility and the more varied its looks in butting heads with the league’s 29 other teams. But “deep depth” brings with it some hard math for a lot of players: Divvying up the 240 minutes of a typical game by 10 or 12 players means less playing time than a guy could expect in a tighter rotation of eight (assuming he’s one of the eight). That’s what the Miami Heat will face this season and that’s what the Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson wrote about:

The upshot of adding skilled veterans Gerald Green and Amar’e Stoudemire and 10th overall draft pick Justise Winslow, along with the return of Josh McRoberts from knee surgery, means the Heat’s second unit — which could potentially include those four and Mario Chalmers — is “obviously a big upgrade from what we had last season coming off the bench,” [Dwyane] Wade said.

But Wade also cited this potentially uncomfortable flip side of adding depth: fewer minutes for players unaccustomed to that.

“Everyone talks about how excited we are about our depth, but you’ve got to understand at times the depth will get in the way of your playing time,” Wade said. “How are we going to get past that? Those are the things people don’t look at that affect teams. We’ve got to be able to get over that hump.”

Two players who stand to be most affected by that: Chris Andersen, who played in 60 of the 65 games he suited up for last season, and Udonis Haslem, who played in 46 of the 77 that he was available for.

“It takes a special person to do that,” Haslem said. “When it takes a hit on playing time, it takes a hit on your ego. My job is to walk guys through who haven’t experienced it. I can instill a positive influence, keeping guys engaged in practice.”

Erik Spoelstra said the Heat does research to make sure it doesn’t sign players who are likely to complain about playing time. Asked about the six power rotation players, Spoelstra said all are selfless.

“This type of situation might not be for every veteran player,” Spoelstra said. “We try to over-communicate that early in the process of recruitment. When we sign them, we over-communicate the role. With any great team, it’s necessary you have talent and depth.

“But you have to be willing to sacrifice to leverage all of that depth. We haven’t gotten to that point yet with [defining] roles. It’s not about minutes, it’s not about shots, it’s not about opportunities. It’s about an opportunity to come together and do something special.”


No. 4: Clippers still counting on Wes — Hey, there was an NBA preseason game Friday night! The Clippers led by as much as 21 points en route to beating Denver at Staples Center, with Cuban’s pal Jordan contributing 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in 26 minutes. But much of the focus for the Clippers was on the small forward spot, where Matt Barnes is the only starter missing from last season and where veteran All-Star Paul Pierce and underachieving Wes Johnson figure to time-share. Beat writer Dan Woike of the Orange County Register stayed up late in filing this roster update:

Barnes, one of the faces on the banners last season, is now with Clippers rival Memphis, and while the team feels it has upgraded on the wing, there’s still a loss to be dealt with.

“There’s no question we’re going to miss Matt,” Chris Paul said. “Matt brought a lot to our team – leadership, toughness. I don’t know; Matt was one of a kind. Replacing Matt, it’ll be a lot of different guys.”

It was never going to be one guy; at least that wasn’t the plan for Coach Doc Rivers and the Clippers over the summer.

“I just think the guy in that spot is going to have success because those other four guys are really good, so he’s going to get shots that you don’t get on other teams because of that,” Rivers said. “One of the things I really wanted was an athlete in that spot, a guy that could make shots and finish at the rim.

“From afar, Wes (Johnson) has the ability to do that. He has not done it yet really in his career, but you know he can, or at least you believe he can. And then you want a veteran as well, and so that’s where Paul (Pierce) came in.

“We went into this with a plan.”

They had a plan for who they would sign. But who will start [in the regular season]? That’s still up in the air.


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Boston’s Isaiah Thomas hasn’t been jacking up shots with his usual carefree frequency lately – but he’s quick to assure Celtics fans it’s not a permanent alteration in his game. … The Chicago Bulls still seem committed to a Twin Tower lineup using Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in a league going smaller and smaller. … The better your team, the easier its schedule – because it doesn’t have to play itself, right? breaks down some of the schedule disparity on tap for 2015-16. … In case you missed it, National Basketball Players Association executive director Michele Roberts gets the Q&A treatment in Cosmopolitan magazine. … LeBron James voiced his displeasure with the too-many recent shootings across the land and has his foundation working on getting kids away from the guns-and-violence culture.

Blogtable: 2015-16 All-Bench Team

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Thoughts on new playoff seeding? | 2015-16 All-Bench Team | First woman coach or president?

VIDEO: Best of Finals MVP Andre Iguodala

> Finals MVP Andre Iguodala will come off the bench again next season for the Warriors. So give me your 2015-16 All NBA Bench Team.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comIguodala is a starter on any All-Bench team, so to speak. The reigning Sixth Man winner, Lou Williams, still merits a spot despite switching teams (Toronto to Lakers). Boston’s Isaiah Thomas finished second and seems a perfect instant-offense option to solidify his role. It’s a little more crowded now on the Clippers’ depth chart, but Jamal Crawford knows how to make an impact in whatever minutes he gets. Then I’ll take Chicago’s Taj Gibson, who was a Sixth Man favorite for a lot of us a couple season ago before post-contract extension pressure and injuries knocked him off track.

Fran Blinebury,

G – Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams
F – Taj Gibson, David West
CBoris Diaw

Shaun Powell, NBA.comIguodala, Lou Williams, Jamal Crawford, Isaiah Thomas, Tristan Thompson. All had major roles with their teams, and in the case of Thompson, he got better once elevated to the starting lineup once Kevin Love was done. Still stunned that the Suns gave up on Thomas, who has a very team-friendly contract and gets buckets.

John Schuhmann,

Point guardIsaiah Thomas (the only above-average offensive player on the Celtics)

WingsCorey Brewer (important role player for Houston) and Andre Iguodala (still one of the most complete players in the league)

Bigs – Ryan Anderson (should flourish — offensively, at least — in Alvin Gentry‘s system) and Tristan Thompson (eater of glass)

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAndre Iguodala headlines the 2015-16 All- NBA Bench Team and is joined by Tristan Thompson of Cleveland, Jamal Crawford of the Clippers, David West of San Antonio and Lou Williams of the Lakers. They could all be starters somewhere, but they’ll serve as super subs for their respective teams. And if Thompson continues the work we saw from him in the playoffs, he might be my frontrunner for Sixth Man of the Year on a loaded Cleveland squad that deploys a healthy Kevin Love as its starting power forward.

Ian Thomsen, Lance Stephenson is listed by the Clippers as a guard, but he’ll be spending a lot of time at forward when they go small:

C – Steven Adams, Thunder
F – Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers
F – Lance Stephenson, Clippers
G – Andre Iguodala, Warriors
G – Isaiah Thomas, Celtics

Lang Whitaker,’s All-Ball BlogWell, Iguodala is on there, for starters. (OK, not for starters, but you know what I mean.) Manu Ginobili should always be in any conversation about the best bench players. I’ll also go with Ty Lawson in Houston, Tristan Thompson in Cleveland, and I’m not sure who else is coming off the bench for the Clippers, but Jamal Crawford is a perennial Sixth Man of the Year contender, to me.

Blogtable: Recruiting target for Celtics?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Can LeBron pass MJ? | Your view on Dellavedova | Recruiting target for Celtics?

VIDEOIsaiah Thomas’ highlights from his season in Boston

> Boston’s Isaiah Thomas says he wants to be the free-agent recruiter for the Celtics. To whom should he make his first call, and what should he emphasize in his pitch?

Steve Aschburner, Kevin Love. I’m not sure Thomas has any “in” with the Cavs’ power forward but if he does, he needs to work it. Love might be persuaded to make a change, based on this awkward postseason experience – Cleveland thriving despite his absence – and the way Tristan Thompson has solidified his standing with LeBron James, the team and the fans. What’s to like in Boston? A coach (Brad Stevens) who rapidly has earned respect around the league. A solid roster in need of a couple stars. A winning tradition for a fan base that keeps management’s feet to the fire to stay competitive. And the opportunity to play with, not against, Kelly Olynyk, who can arm-bar all the league’s other power forwards besides Love.

Fran Blinebury, DeMarre Carroll is a two-way player who would help Celtics at both ends of the floor while fitting in as a veteran presences in Boston.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHe makes the obligatory runs at Jimmy Butler, DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Love, but the first real call, the call that has a chance of mattering, to Tobias Harris. Harris has a long future ahead at small forward, making him a good fit in Boston. The others on the phone list will be getting max offers from their current teams and, they will all note, teams that are far ahead in the standings and have championship credentials. Harris could get more money, a bigger role and more wins from the Celtics. In return, one of the underrated players of the league will make them better.

Shaun Powell, I’m not understanding how Thomas can be a recruiter. No offense to the guy, who has carved himself a nice niche in the league, but he’s not a franchise player and therefore probably lacks the clout to sweet-talk LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love or any other difference-maker. Anyway, the person who should pick up the phone is Danny Ainge. It’s his plan. 

John Schuhmann, The Celtics need shooting and rim protection. There are lots of centers on the market, and maybe they can steal Danny Green or Marco Belinelli from a Spurs team that has its initial free agency efforts focused elsewhere? Brad Stevens has built himself as a great coach, so the recruiting efforts could start there. This is a young team that, with the right additions, could make a decent jump in the standings next season.

Sekou Smith, I hope Isaiah has unlimited minutes on his phone plan, because his first call should be the first of many. If he’s looking for blue-collar guys that will fit into the culture coach Brad Stevens is crafting, his first call should be to Hawks swingman DeMarre Carroll. The “Junk Yard Dog” would be a great fit on that Celtics team. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett saw it a few years ago and suggested the same thing to Danny Ainge, before Carroll showed us what kind of player he is. I know the Celtics think they need big-dollar superstars to get back to where they were with the Big 3, but this is not the summer to play that game. Instead, it is time for Boston stockpile the right pieces to get it to that next level. The Hawks, of course, will want to keep their star free agents (Paul Millsap and Carroll). But I’d make them choose which one they’re willing to pay to keep.

Ian Thomsen, Michael Jordan, the greatest of all players, has never recruited a top-flight free agent. Larry Bird, the only man to be awarded as the best player, coach and executive in NBA history, has never recruited a top-flight free agent. The Celtics, who are the winningest franchise in the history of basketball, have never recruited a top-flight free agent. All I can say to Isaiah Thomas is good luck with his recruiting.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: “Hey, Kevin Love? Hey man, it’s Isaiah Thomas. No, the other one. Right, the Boston one. No, no, wait, wait, don’t hang up! OK, first, just know that whole thing with Kelly was an accident. He was trying to keep you from getting the ball and he honestly wasn’t trying to hurt you. Just like Dellavedova — he’s not dirty, he just plays hard. That said, we need you in Boston next season. You can be a third wheel in Cleveland and stand in the corner and shoot threes, or come here and play the way you’re used to playing. Brad Stevens is great, people here will love you, and Tommy Heinsohn will give you so many Tommy points you won’t believe it. So what do you say, interested?”

Morning shootaround — May 26

VIDEO: Highlights from Game 4 of the Western Conference finals


LeBron better than Jordan? | No additional discipline for Horford | Warriors breathe sigh of relief | Thomas ready to recruit for Celtics

No. 1: James’ teammates: LeBron closing in on Jordan as greatest ever — The long-standing, never-ending debate over which player in NBA lore — take your pick from any legend, mind you — is the greatest ever is one that will never die. In modern days, the argument seems to settle on who is better: LeBron James or Michael Jordan? Like any debate, the answer is subjective. But according to James’ teammates on the Cavs, LeBron may not be that far from passing Jordan. Chris Haynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group has more:

After willing his team to a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals at The Q on Sunday night with an exhilarating performance, a long soak in the cold tub followed.

It took his 12th career postseason triple-double of 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists to place the Atlanta Hawks on the brink of embarking on an extended vacation. He became the first player in playoff history to produce a stat line of at least 37 points, 18 boards and 13 dimes.

His greatness, his dominance can no longer be brushed to the side. There are those who believe his time has almost come.

Michael Jordan’s long-coveted slot as the supreme basketball player in the history of the game is in serious jeopardy of being dropped down a peg.

“The only thing that he’s missing is a couple more championships and then it’s a wrap,” Kendrick Perkins told Northeast Ohio Media Group. “Right now we have arguably the best player to ever play the game. I’m just saying man. I’m not taking anything away from Jordan, but all (James is) missing is titles. A couple of more titles and that’s it.”

Perkins has played with some of the greats in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He grew up watching Jordan play.

“That’s one hell of a debate. Honestly, in my opinion, if it’s not Jordan then it’s him,” J.R. Smith told NEOMG. “It used to be no question. It was a landslide. It was Jordan. Now, you have to consider my boy.”

“Just think about it, truthfully, if he wanted to, he could win the MVP every year,” Perkins said. “Think about that. He averaged 25 [points], 6 [rebounds] and 7 [assists]. That’s absurd, and people are like ‘he had a down year.’ That’s crazy talk. When it’s all said and done, he’ll probably be the best the game has seen.”

VIDEO: Relive LeBron James’ Game 3 triple-double vs. the Hawks

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Numbers preview: Cavs-Celtics

VIDEO: The Starters: Cavs-Celtics preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — LeBron James‘ quest to bring a championship to Cleveland begins again this weekend. James has been here before, but teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have not. Game 1 against the Boston Celtics on Sunday will be the first playoff game of their careers.

The Cavs have looked like the favorites in the Eastern Conference over the last couple of months, going 33-10 after James returned from a two-week break in mid-January. Their offense has been off the charts at times, and their defense has been improved with the additions of Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert.

The Celtics had their own renaissance by getting rid of two of their three highest-paid players. They traded Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green and finished the season on a 23-12 stretch. Two of those wins came against the Cavs, but James played just 26 minutes of the April 10 meeting in Cleveland and four of the Cavs’ starters sat out the April 12 meeting in Boston.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Celtics, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)

Pace: 94.8 (25)
OffRtg: 107.7 (4)
DefRtg: 104.1 (20)
NetRtg: +3.7 (7)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Boston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Cavs notes:

  • Had the league’s best offense against its top five defenses, scoring 107.9 points per 100 possessions over 14 games against the Warriors, Bucks, Spurs, Grizzlies and Wizards.
  • Ranked 25th defensively through Jan. 11 (the end of LeBron James‘ two-week break), having allowed 106.0 points per 100 possessions. Ranked 16th defensively (102.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) after that. Overall, 20th is the lowest any James team has ranked in defensive efficiency, and no championship team has ranked that low in the 37 seasons since the league started counting turnovers.
  • Isolated on 11.4 percent of their possessions, the highest rate in the league, according to Synergy.
  • Kyrie Irving scored 1.09 points per possession on isolations, the best mark among players with at least 100 isolation possessions.
  • In his 24 games with the Knicks, 36 percent of J.R. Smith’s shots were 3-pointers. In his 46 games with the Cavs, 67 percent of Smith’s shots were threes.

Boston Celtics (40-42)

Pace: 98.4 (5)
OffRtg: 101.7 (20)
DefRtg: 102.1 (14)
NetRtg: -0.4 (18)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Celtics notes:

The matchup

Season series: 2-2 (1-1 at each location)
Pace: 99.2
CLE OffRtg: 100.6 (17th vs. BOS)
BOS OffRtg: 105.1 (15th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: Ready for an East upset?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?

VIDEOGeorge Hill lifts the Pacers to a big win over the Wizards

> The Pacers, Celtics and Nets are all battling for the last two seeds in the East. Which of those teams has the best chance to pull off a first-round upset?

Steve Aschburner, Indiana, of the teams you’re offering, has the best chance of a first-round upset – and it’s itty-bitty. I like the Celtics the best of that bunch but there is no way they’re getting past Cleveland in the 2-7 showdown. If Brooklyn gets in, that’s it, they’re done – while they have some big-name players who might ordinarily give Atlanta or potentially anyone else some tough challenges, there’s a lack of spine or fortitude in that team dating back to its Game 7 loss at home to undermanned Chicago that still is an issue, in my view. That leaves Indiana, which couldn’t crack 100 in its double-overtime slog vs. Toronto Wednesday but would have to keep up with Atlanta’s high-octane attack. So yeah, Pacers, itty-bitty.

Fran Blinebury, The Pacers because of their roster loaded with veterans who have been through the playoff wars and because they are capable of playing elite level defense.

Scott Howard-Cooper, The actual answer is “Nobody.” But if I have to pick one, it’s the Pacers. They’re playing well now, the return of Paul George has been an emotional lift as well as an additional scoring punch despite struggling with his shot, coach Frank Vogel on the sideline is always a good thing, and defense, rebounding and playoff experience is a good place to start building an upset scenario.

Shaun Powell, The easy answer is “none of the above” but if I must choose, then it’s the Pacers. At least their core players know what playoff basketball is about, and there’s the Paul George factor. The basketball gods could repay the Pacers for all they’ve been through with George and take it out on the Hawks, which of course would confirm Atlanta’s status as the choking dog of all sports towns.

John Schuhmann, None of them will win more than a game from the Hawks or Cavs, but Indiana is best suited to put a scare in ’em. They’re the best defensive team of the group, so they can keep games ugly and close. They’ve been the best team of the group (in regard to point differential) since the All-Star break and have gotten a boost from the return of Paul George. That being said, I don’t know if they’re even going to be playing this weekend, because they’ll need to win in Memphis on Wednesday to edge out the Nets for the No. 8 seed.

Sekou Smith, These teams are doing whatever they can to claw their way into the playoffs and you want to talk about upsets? Actually, the Pacers have the best roster to pull an upset. They’ve got experience and size, decent depth and a star (Paul George, even on limited minutes) capable of going on a tear in a playoff series. They appear spent physically, which is not uncommon this time of year for a team that has been fighting uphill just to stay in the playoff chase. So they’d have to find a way to rest and recharge within the framework of the playoff schedule to even think about pulling off an upset. But again, for teams crawling into the postseason, an upset tends to be more pipe dream than reality.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLet’s start by acknowledging that the Nets and Pacers won’t be able to run or execute with the Hawks, who went 7-0 against them this year. The Celtics are going to have problems of their own finishing close games against Cleveland, but their small lineup, quickness and ball movement could scare the Cavs for 42 minutes. What coach Brad Stevens has done with young role players over the last two months (23-12) is no fluke: He has been doing for the Celtics what he did for Butler.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: None of them? Honestly, I don’t think any of those teams really have a chance to win a first round series against Atlanta or Boston. But if I had to pick one, which I guess is what you’re saying, I’ll go with the Celtics. Boston has played Atlanta pretty well this season, even beating them once just before the All-Star break. And they beat Cleveland (resting players) twice recently. Adding Isaiah Thomas has given the Celtics another scorer and ballhandler. Is he enough to help the Celtics beat the Hawks or the Cavaliers? That’s a horse of a different color. But what the heck, let’s give them the nod.