Even after over a year removed from the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals that saw the Heat eke past a depleted Celtics team in seven games, there's still a bit of snarkiness between the two teams that extends even to its bloggers and I love it. Maybe it's just me, but tell me if you guys pick up on it in this Q&A:
Hot Hot Hoops: The Celtics are just...not very good this season. What is management's long term plan to get back to the top of the mountain?
CelticsBlog: It's a little unfair to say that they're not that good. More accurately, they've actually been very good at some things (defense) and very had at others (offense). They're great through 36 minutes of play, but awful in closing time. Despite the record, the glass is certainly more than half full. Long term, it's anybody's guess. Teams have proven (Thunder, Pacers, Warriors) that if you can have successive smart drafts, you can build a young team that can be very competitive. Mark Deeks at SBNation NBA took a very good look at how important young, cheap talent can be in a longer title run. With nine first round draft picks in the next five years, Ainge is primed to go that route. However, there's always the Big Three option that he pulled off in 2007 and the Heat copied to some extent in 2010. The Celtics have a franchise player in Rondo at a very affordable contract and young talent in Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and Avery Bradley that could be flipped for stars. I'd prefer to go the longer road of developing our guys and drafting smart, but you never know with Trader Danny at the helm. My gut tells me that giving Brad Stevens a six-year deal and with the number of expiring contracts of good role players coming off the cap in the next couple of years, he'll be patient rather than look for the next Ray Allen or Kevin Garnett.
Personally, I can't get myself to forgive Ray Allen for turning his back on the Celtics, but I'm sure Heat fans have a totally different opinion. You're not defending back-to-back champs without his clutch three. What has been his reputation in the Miami locker room and do you think he sticks around past 2014?
Hot Hot Hoops: I can understand the lingering resentment but, from everything that's been said about that Celtics locker room, it seems that Ray just wouldn't be able to thrive in Boston any longer. It seemed as though he was forced out and, as a lock to make the Hall of Fame as well as seemingly-positive locker room presence, that seems inexcusable.
His reputation here has been exemplary. He has been the consummate professional and even among other exceptional talents like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, he leads by example. The care he takes with maintaining his physical conditioning, his wealth of experience, and how he never seems to take his career or his success for granted, are all sources of inspiration.
As for the 2014 season, I personally do not see him sticking around. Ideally, a third consecutive Heat championship (second for Ray), would be the perfect way to league's best sharpshooter to ride out into the sunset.
CelticsBlog: El Hombre Indestructible has been an absolute diamond in the rough. He had been playing pro ball in Spain for the last eight years and it shows. He doesn't seem to have the yips and jitters that most rookies suffer early in the season. What I've been most impressed with is his attitude. When asked at Media Day how he'd describe his game, he said, "I like to fight." That may have been lost in translation a bit, but he shows that mentality on the floor. He hasn't shied away from contact and he understands positioning very well. With Olynyk, people have compared him with Kevin McHale and Dirk Nowitzki, but I actually see more Larry Bird in him. He's not the quickest or strongest player on the floor, but he's smart and understands angles very well. His assimilation to the NBA hasn't been as quick as Vitor's, but he's come along in the last two games. I'm surprised Pressey wasn't drafted. Sure, he's small, but he's got a great handle and so far, he's played mistake-free basketball. Like any pure point guard, the game changes when he's on the floor. When you have players that can dribble out of pressure and alone break his man down, it makes it so much easier on his teammates. It'll be interesting to see how he performs against Miami's aggressive double-teaming.
Hot Hot Hoops: Not be as important a factor as you might think. Beasley, in particular, might not even crack the rotation at all, unless he can continue to show professionalism and a commitment to defense, mainstays of Miami Heat culture. It's a credit to the Heat roster that even someone as talented as Beasley has barely played this season. However, his brief appearance in the recent victory of the Toronto Raptors showed he can be a great offensive boost of the bench. The jury is still out whether he can continue to contribute in all facets of the game.
Now Greg Oden...that's an entirely different story. Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra has maintained all along that there's a clear rehabilitation schedule that's in place for Oden and that Greg is exactly where he should be at this point in the season. The implication is that Oden's contributions are more about a "big picture", and nothing's bigger or more important for the Heat than winning a championship. Greg will likely be a factor in the playoffs, particularly against teams that create height mismatches like Indiana and Brooklyn.
Jordan Crawford clearly looks like the best player on the team. Why is he only on the floor for 20 minutes per game?
CelticsBlog: Did Steez tweet you this question word-for-word from the Drew League? He's been good, but it'd be hard to call him our best player so far. For what it's worth, my vote would go to Brandon Bass. Yes, his average right now might be 20 mpg, but it's going up and it'll probably be around 25 until Rondo comes back. I've been impressed with his makeover. He's got such a bad reputation around the league as a pure gunner, but so far, he's played the point very well. Avery Bradley said yesterday that he enjoys sharing the back court with him because there's a certain swagger that he brings to the game. In years past, that might have gotten Jordan Crawford in trouble, but in Boston, he's been able to channel that ego into being a fairly affective playmaker. When you watch him now, you get a sense that he'd rather make the great pass than the long jumper.
Indiana is off to a great start and Bird really bolstered their bench this summer. They've played you guys tough the last two post-seasons, but something tells me that Brooklyn might actually pose a bigger threat. OK, you got me. It's not "something." I'm a homer and I want to see Paul Pierce and KG take down LeBron. Do you think the Nets' size and veteran savvy could pose a problem in your run for a three-peat?
Hot Hot Hoops: Absolutely. (Side note: I find it interesting that it seems that Boston fans like yourself seem to be giving up on this season completely and are looking forward to the ex-Celtics keeping James away from a third ring. The Celtics, Patriots, Bruins and Red Sox have all enjoyed great success...share the wealth!)
It might not be the popular opinion as Indiana improved a team that really gave the Heat a run for their money and Chicago is currently the media darling. But in our matchups against Brooklyn this year, their height and experience certainly pose a problem for the Heat. Media pundits seem to discount Brooklyn as a serious threat but I do not. Having said that, I think James and Wade have a little something extra saved for the Celtic castoffs and they'll be able to win a tight series against the Nets.
It wouldn't hurt if they meet the Pacers in the semifinals and beat each other mercilessly before advancing to take on Miami.
When do you expect Rajon Rondo to suit up again, and how is the coaching staff covering his absence?
CelticsBlog: I think he's closer than expected. During the preseason, the party line was that Rondo would return in the fall/winter and my guess is that he'll suit up late November, early December. There's a stretch of games in the second week of December where the Celtics face the Nets and the Clippers back-to-back and I wouldn't be surprised if he makes his return then. I don't think he has any ill will towards Doc, KG, or Pierce, but I'm sure he wants to prove to them that he's back. Replacing him has been a patchwork of shooting guards playing point. Bradley and Crawford have taken turns at initiating the offense, but Stevens has run more motion than Doc ever did so it really hasn't mattered. However, everybody's curious what the offense will look like when RR returns. Rondo ran the show under Rivers and handled the ball a lot, but there are so many good passers on this team, I'm not sure if that will be necessary anymore.
We're dealing with a young coach in Brad Stevens and a rebuild that could last years. You guys went through similar circumstances with Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley's master plan? Any advice for our fans?
Hot Hot Hoops: I don't think Miami fans saw Spoelstra's early teams as "rebuilding" efforts. We had Dwyane Wade, at that point a top-5 player in the league. The team still made it to the playoffs every year and we didn't advance past your Celtics because Jermaine O'Neal couldn't maintain his pathetically-low points per game average up in the playoffs.
Now, there was a "master plan" of building the team around Wade with short-term deals in order to lock up the best free agent class in NBA history, a plan that did and still does work. But I don't see Boston's situation being anywhere near the same. There's no superstar in place to attract other players and I'm not sure that the City of Boston itself draws players as much as other glitzy metropolises do. But Stevens does seem like a bright, eager coach and so the future might be brighter than we realize. At the end of the day, whether they're established superstars or not, the guys on the Boston roster are NBA athletes and they're going to continue to compete. The popular thinking is that they'll do poorly but it's key for them to not develop a loser's mentality.
Advice for the fans? Stick it out, support the local team and focus on the little things because it might be a while before the Celtics enjoy championship success.
CelticsBlog: I'm always curious how fans become fans of young franchises. How'd you become a Heat fan? Who did love to watch when you were growing up?
Hot Hot Hoops: I have been a Heat fan since the very beginning. My dad actually had season tickets their first year and got me interested in the game. The players on that roster may not have been other-world talents but they were gutting it out and it was fun to watch. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy watching the Showtime era in Los Angeles, or Jordan's great years with the Bulls, but the Heat has always been my team.
The misconception about Miami is that all the fans are bandwagon jumpers that have "followed" the team since the formation of the Big 3 era. While there is certainly a large contingent of fans that fit this category, this is only a part of the fanbase (a part that probably exists in every city once a team achieves sudden success). South Florida actually has a number of transplants from your neck of the woods, so there are thousands of fans that enjoyed watching Bird's Celtics and the great Knick teams of the 70's before becoming Miami fans. Ultimately, I think every team has its great fans and its fair-weather followers but, despite some evidence to the contrary, there are plenty of die-hards that bleed red-and-black as part of the Miami Heat Nation.
A hypothetical question: Boston wins tonight - how did it happen?
CelticsBlog: Defense, defense, defense. As of right now, the Celtics boast the 2nd best defense in the league, allowing only 93.4 points a game. A lot of that is pace and opponent, but it's become clear what Brad Stevens has focused on in terms of attacking NBA offenses. Boston is one of the best teams at defending the three and forcing opponents to shoot in the mid-range. They haven't been great at protecting the rim, but as long as they can run Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Marion Chalmers off the three point line, they might have a chance to steal one at AAA. They'll also lean heavily on Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Gerald Wallace to slow down LeBron. If they can limit his penetration and make him a shooter, I'll be happy with Dwayne Wade trying to create for the rest of the team against Avery Bradley.