By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
The Celtics find themselves in danger of falling to 0-2 as they commence their TD Garden slate for the 2019-20 season against the defending champion Raptors Friday evening. Toronto won their opener Tuesday night, beating New Orleans (without Zion Williamson) 130-122.
The Raptors rely on emotion to match their execution. They just extended point guard Kyle Lowry, the embodiment of that statement.
It’s in Boston’s best interest to remind Toronto that past is past and deliver a post-Kawhi rude awakening to their neighbors to the north. With the Eastern Conference muddled as it is, the last thing the Celtics need is a Raptors squad growing into their new skin and resurfacing as an emboldened playoff pest come springtime.
Who else felt weird watching that ring ceremony on Tuesday? When was the last time the team’s best player was absent? You have to go back to the post-lockout 1998-99 Bulls to find something that compares, and that was a perfect storm of strange. Michael Jordan retired, Phil Jackson stepped away, Scottie Pippen was traded, Dennis Rodman was traded – the only remaining Bulls the following year were Toni Kukoc, Ron Harper, Bill Wennington, Dickey Simpkins, Randy Brown, Keith Booth and Rusty LaRue. The organization opted not to do a ring ceremony to avoid the awkwardness.
With the NBA host to more frequent player movement than ever before, you can probably expect more awkward ring ceremonies in the future.
Gordon Hayward scored 25 points in his season debut and looked good doing so. By comparison, the veteran reached the twenties just six times during the entire 2018-19 regular season.
Perhaps testing his limits and feeling out his role in the offense, Hayward eschewed threes (zero attempts) in favor of drives to the basket. While he’s never been a prototypical speed demon, he has the handles and vision to pick apart the defense off the dribble. He had a couple of nice dishes to post players and, perhaps most importantly, was able to turn corners to create those options in the first place.
It’s worth monitoring how Hayward follows up this performance, as the wing did his damage with Jaylen Brown (eight minutes) stapled to the bench in foul trouble.
The fit and function of the starting unit will be something to monitor in the early going. While nobody expects them to have it all figured out at this juncture, one has to wonder if there are enough opportunities for Hayward, Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker to coexist. The answer probably lies in ball movement, resulting in fewer isolation possessions for everyone involved.
Just Got Paid
I find it interesting where Jaylen Brown’s extension ranks among his 2016 Draft peers. It’s not in the stratosphere of Ben Simmons or Jamal Murray’s matching five-year, $170 million pacts, nor is it as high as Pascal Siakam’s four-year, $130 million max deal. But Brown got more cash than Buddy Hield (four years, $86 million, with incentives), Malcolm Brogdon (four years, $85 million) and Domantas Sabonis (four years, $79 million, with incentives). Not to mention Caris LeVert (four years, $52.5 million from the Nets over the summer).
One could argue that each one of the aforementioned players have had similar, if not more success compared to Brown over their NBA careers. And yet the Cal product outranked them in guaranteed money. However, none seem to boast his ceiling, either. Hield is older, Sabonis’ defense is questionable, former second round pick Brogdon is just now getting a chance to step out from under Giannis’ long shadow, and LeVert is stuck doing Kyrie’s science homework the next several years.
Will Brown hit his ceiling while both Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are wearing green? Odds are that he won’t. But the C’s are better going forward with Brown than without him.
Despite the oft-mentioned speculation that not a lot of teams will carry significant cap space into the offseason, all it takes is one. And with the thin free agent class, a team looking to make any kind of summer splash would have to consider the promising wing.
Brown’s deal was also a make-good for the Celtics in the wake of an Isaiah Thomas trade that had everyone from Adam Jones to Anthony Davis’ dad buzzing about Danny Ainge’s business ethics.
With their cap space mostly filled, save for a presumed Jayson Tatum extension roughly 365 days from now, these are your Celtics for the next few years. Unless, of course, Ainge pulls another blockbuster trade.
The NBA’s new coach’s challenge has gotten its first regular season reps, and, like everybody else, I’m less than thrilled. I mean, who enjoys taking a game that’s fragmented enough between the foul shots (there were plenty of them Wednesday) and time outs, and adding more commercial breaks?
I appreciate the spirit of the thing. Making the right call is important. But this doesn’t just apply to out-of-bounds calls, as in tennis, where the chair umpire can quickly consult the computer image of whether a ball was in or out. The review of fouls is akin to the NFL review process, where movements need to be dissected to come up with what remains a judgment call, just one with the benefit of more time.
And to what end? If the NBA finds that challenges improve officiating accuracy, will they add more opportunities for review in the future? If I want to watch officials wrestle with a tax code rulebook to everyone’s confusion, I’ll turn on any one of the NFL’s multiple prime time offerings.