The Boston Celtics were named the first seed in the Eastern Conference after posting a 53–29 record during the regular season. This year though, Boston fans shouldn’t be rejoicing the fact that their team regained the throne in the East.
Traditionally, the first seed is supposed to have the easiest route to the Eastern Conference finals. We’ve seen LeBron James do it numerous times when his team had the first seed and made it to the finals. We’ve also seen Stephen Curry‘s team in the past years take advantage of the same situation. However, it’s not going the same way for the Celtics so far.
Entering the playoffs Boston drew the Chicago Bulls in the first round because of playoff seeding. The Celtics had a 72 percent chance of winning this series. After the Bulls exposed Boston in the first two games of the series, the Celtics chances went down to 27 percent of winning the series, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Two games into the first round and Chicago reminded the Celtics why they should have made transactions during the trade deadline. Not only did the Bulls remind the Celtics they should regret not trading for anyone, but they refreshed Boston’s memory about having a bright future as well.
With everything that comes with winning over the first seed, Boston screwed things up before they entered the playoffs.
Boston is a team that’s in the middle of putting their final touches on their mini-rebuild and becoming genuine contenders. One thing about the NBA, you cannot be in the midst of anything. You either are ready to compete, or you’re just getting playoff experience for your non-playoff appearances players.
The Celtics are a team that relies on one player to handle the business on offense. That’s not what head coach Brad Stevens wanted, but that’s how the team portrayed themselves the entire season.
We saw Lebron James carry his 2003–2009 Cleveland Cavalier teams plenty of times to the NBA Finals. However, we haven’t seen James win the finals with no help on his team.
Isaiah Thomas is the star I’m speaking of who has been carrying the Celtics all year long. The Celtics have been relying on IT since game one of the season. Yes, it worked in the regular season.
During the regular season Thomas averaged 28.2 points. However, in the playoffs, it’s a different ballgame. The playoffs have a nasty, aggressive, emotional, pure heart and sweat atmosphere. There’s nobody in the NBA that can carry their team to the finals and win.
During the offseason, General Manager Danny Ainge signed Al Horford to a four-year $113 million deal to lend some help to IT. Horford averaged 14 points, a career-low 47 percent shooting percentage, and career low 6.8 rebounds.
Stevens wasn’t aware of how poorly Horford was going to play this year, but Stevens could have taken manners into his hands during the trade deadline.
Around the time of the trade deadline, Boston knew what type of players they need to at least make a deep run in the playoffs.
The Celtics knew that Horford and the team were having problems on the glass. This video is an example of a play where three players had a chance to grab the rebound. However, Dwyane Wade grabbed the board for an easy bucket.
Boston knew that trading for a real center and moving Horford to the power forward position was ideal.
The Celtics knew putting Amir Johnson, and Kelly Olynek next to Horford wasn’t the key to rebounding. Here’s a video example of the Chicago Bulls Center abusing Johnson, Olynek, and Horford on the boards and rebounding.
— Bulls Talk (@CSNBulls) April 17, 2017
Boston knew that IT was the only player who could average 18 plus points on the team. Lastly, the Celtics front office should’ve known that one star isn’t enough for the league right now and for the future.
Plays like this are exactly why the Celtics need another star/leader on the team, so this kind of play won’t happen in the playoffs.
Another example of needing another player who can score consistently with the ball in their hands instead of creating contested three-point attempts.
The Celtics were in several rumors about trading for Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and Nikola Vuveic. All four players except for Melo could’ve helped the team win now, and win for the future.
Butler, George, and Melo could’ve helped Boston’s scoring problems. As we see now in the playoffs with just two games in, Boston has problems scoring consistently. Every team’s game plan in the playoffs is to find a way to shut IT down and let their role players try to beat you.
To get those players, all three teams of the targeted players wanted the Boston Celtics (Brooklyn Nets) draft pick. The Celtics didn’t want to give up their draft pick because what was at stake in this draft. However, they could’ve given up the Nets 2018 draft pick.
Boston is suffering from not giving up the Nets 2018 draft pick. Only if Butler, Melo or George were on the team, Chicago would’ve been the team down 2–0. As of now, the Celtics are looking like the worst number one seed in history.
The Celtics will be a better team post-trade deadline if they upgrade at the Power Forward position. Their starting PF is Amir Johnson who almost contributes nothing to the offense, nor rebounds.
Johnson is averaging 6.5 points and 4.6 rebounds. They can upgrade the PF position by moving Horford to an ideal position for him, and that’s PF. They are still regretting on not trying to offer the Orlando Magic more to get Vucevic.
Trading for Vucevic could have established the plan of moving Horford to his true position, and add a real center to the team.
Vucevic averaged 14.6 points and 10.4 rebounds. Vucevic could have been the answer to the Celtics rebounding problem. Besides, the Celtics would’ve brought out Horford’s maximum potential.
Vucevic plays at a high level for the center position on the offensive and defensive side. Here’s a video example of what Vucevic has done to one of the best big men in the game right now, Hassan Whiteside.
Now we see the Chicago Bulls bully Boston on offensive and defensive boards so far this series. Robin Lopez who is not known for his rebounds dominated Horford for the first two games.
Lopez average 6.4 rebounds this season, his career high was 8.5 rebounds in 2010. However, Lopez grabbed 10 rebounds in the first game and 8 rebounds in the second game. A majority of those rebounds came from offensive rebounds which lead to extra possessions for the Bulls.
For example, rebounds like this are unacceptable.
Robin Lopez doing some serious work on offensive boards in this series pic.twitter.com/q7SyDvqxP7
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 19, 2017
General Manager Danny Ainge knows that his team will possibly be in the headlines for the rest of the summer if his team loses this series. But at least he still has a future; No matter how you put it, the Celtics weren’t up to win the finals. Boston’s future is still set up to be even better next year without trading any players in the middle of the season.
The Celtics hold the Brooklyn Nets 2017 and 2018 first round draft pick. The Nets had the worst record in the NBA. It’s possible that the Celtics will have the first pick this year depending on the lottery balls fall.
This year’s draft infested with talented guards who can bring offensive help as soon as they are on the team. One player in particular who potentially is sky high is Markelle Fultz. He’s a point guard that averaged 23 points on 47 percent shooting, and 5.9 assists.
Fultz would definitely help Boston out in the future regarding offensive help. As of now, the Celtics have problems with players scoring consistently with the ball in their hands. Fultz can contribute to addressing that issue.
Fultz is 6’5 with shoes on and has a massive 6’10 wingspan. The future first rounder has been compared to James Harden on some occasions. DraftExpress said Fultz ranked as the second most efficient prospect in college basketball in pick and roll situations, both as a passer or scorer, according to Synergy Sports Technology. His ability to create his shot and score on anybody could help the Celtics be more of a threat on the offensive end.
The problem is can IT play in the offense where Fultz is in the starting lineup with him? Yes, Thomas played in a combo guard offense when he was playing in Phoenix. The Suns ex-head coach Jeff Hornacek put in two point guards at the same time for a majority while Thomas was there.
Let’s say if they want to start Fultz in the backcourt with IT next season. Then it’s possible that they would have to involve Avery Bradley in a blockbuster deal. Boston still has rights to the Nets 2018 draft pick. Brooklyn is most likely going to have the worst record again for the next two to four years depending on what the Commissioner of the NBA Adam Silver does about the Nets team to make them better.
The Celtics can get Nikola Vuecvic during the off-season by trading them Bradley or giving the Magic the 2018 draft pick. If that trade does not work out, they can call Indiana about George or the Bulls about Butler. I’m sure the Pacers and the Bulls would give up either player for Bradley, Crowder and the first round draft pick. Both teams are in the middle of a rebuild while they are still holding on to players that are value pieces.
This is why the George trade didn’t happen.
Sources: Boston pulled out of Paul George deal after Pacers wouldn't lower asking price. Also weren't confident George would sign long term.
— Mike Ortiz Jr. (@xOrtiz4x) February 23, 2017
Let’s fast forward to the offseason or next year around the trade deadline. Boston could trade Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Crowder and 2018 first round draft pick for George.
Same for Butler, the Celtics could have traded for the two-way player. Boston didn’t complete the deal because they did not want to give up Crowder and the 2017 draft pick according to David Aldridge of TNT.
Two games in the playoffs and Boston should know what they could have done and what they should do next season to be successful.
Boston still controls their future, but as of now, they are regretting not trading for a key player in the trade deadline.