CelticsBlog: When I watch the Timberwolves, sometimes I feel like I'm watching the cast of He-Man protecting Castle Grayskull. Let me explain: like the Masters of the Universe, I get the sense that many of the key rotation players for Minnesota are specialists. Outside of a five-tool player like Kevin Love, your roster consists of a bunch of Mekanecks and Moss Mans. JJB is the-little-guy-that's-great-off-the-pick-and-roll. Derrick Williams can jump out of a gym and scale a wall, but right now, his skill set hasn't caught up with his athletic ability. And don't get me started on Pek's strange resemblance to Ram Man. Are you concerned that Khan is just trying to collect the entire set of action figures or do you think Minny can win with this kind of talent?
Canis Hoopus: I love the He-Man analogy. We refer to it as the "Island of Misfit Toys", but it's basically the same concept: a bunch of ill-fitting parts who have been forced together. Fortunately, Kevin McHale was able to swindle Memphis for Kevin Love before he was fired. Of course, the one piece that hasn't been mentioned yet is the Spanish Unicorn, Ricky Rubio. Although he went down this year with a torn ACL and LCL, Rubio had a tremendous impact on the Wolves this season when healthy.
As for your question...David Kahn knows next-to-nothing about professional basketball. The only good decisions he has made in player evaluation are when there is only one player to choose from: i.e. picking Williams as the #2 overall pick, since he was basically a consensus at that spot; and taking Rubio at #5, where it would've been madness to pass over him. When he's had a choice, he's passed over guys like Stephen Curry for guys like Jonny Flynn.
If the Wolves can solve their wing problems this offseason - a big if - they can win with this talent. Love is already a top-10 player, Rubio and Pek appear to be legit and Williams, for all his faults, can provide good production off of the bench. Now we just need a player who can consistently make a three pointer...hey, you guys don't need Ray Allen anymore, do you?
Canis Hoopus: Did Danny Ainge luck out from two big trades or is actually a talented GM? What is your take on his performance thus far?
CelticsBlog: I wouldn't call Danny "lucky," but it does help to have GM's that are willing to trade with you. For example, I'm in a fantasy basketball league with my brothers. We all do pretty well, but I have to attribute a lot of our collective success to our willingness to trade with each other versus trading with our stingy friends. Now, I'd slit their throats if it came down to first and second place, but there's a brotherly understanding that if we can help each other out, we'll do it. If you look at Danny's trading record, his biggest moves have been with Sam Presti and his ex-teammate, your ex-GM Kevin McHale. I'm not discounting his ability to assess the NBA landscape and collective bargaining agreement, but I don't know if those trades get done if he's dealing with Isiah Thomas.
At the top of Ainge's resume should be the hiring of Doc Rivers, the yin to his yang. It's ironic really because they're polar opposites. I always thought that if Danny wasn't an NBA general manager, he'd make a great doctor. He is without sentiment and only cares about the health of the team. He famously (or infamously, depending on where you stand) said that Red should have traded Bird and McHale for Chuck Person/Herb Williams and Detlef Schrempf/Sam Perkins respectively. Sometimes I wonder if that's just bitterness born out of being shipped out to Sacramento for Joe Kleine and Ed Pinckney, but nonetheless, Danny's proven to be ruthless when it comes to player loyalty. Winning the championship in 2008 bought him some leeway when he traded Perk, but he'll be tested over the next two years when rival GM's inquire about Paul Pierce.
With Ainge's reputation as this unsentimental general manager, his style seems to work directly in contrast with his head coach's. Where as Danny would trade a young prospect for firewood and lawn chairs, Doc is a players' coach that stresses teamwork and accountability. It's such a careful balance but they've made it work; Danny has been very good in finding high character guys in the draft to fit Doc's philosophy. He's discovered gems outside of the lottery in Rondo, Perkins, Al Jefferson, Baby Davis, Tony Allen, and Avery Bradley. Those guys haven't only been good Celtics, but some of them have moved on to take leadership roles on other teams.
Recently, George Karl compared Love to Larry Bird. It's a high bar to set for a player, but I think Love is absolutely capable of reaching it. But as great as an all-around player as Larry was, his biggest strength was his leadership. I get the sense that Ricky Rubio brings a lot of fun and excitement to the team, but as Minnesota matures, who's going to be the leader in the locker room? K Love now has the contract, but RR is going to be the floor general.
Canis Hoopus: Kevin Love is becoming the leader of this team, on and off the court. You can see it in the locker room, you can see it on the sidelines. Love's biggest fault is that he has a bad habit of arguing with the refs after calls and not getting back on defense as a result. It's very annoying, and at times, undermines his leadership. I remember a specific instance in this past Sunday's game against Denver where Love literally shoved Martell Webster towards the other end of the court, propelling him to get back on defense. Yet, after pushing Webster, Love stood underneath his own basket and watched the Nuggets play 5-on-4. It's a strange behavior.
Love has the respect of most in the locker room, even if there is an occasional flare up (like the time J.J. Barea and Love had to be separated on the sideline). As he matures - Love is only 23 - I think he'll start to outgrow some of his bad habits.
Opinions of Rajon Rondo have quite a range around the NBA. I've heard some say he's a top-5 point guard. I've heard others say he's tremendously overrated. What is your take? How good is Rajon Rondo?
CelticsBlog: I always think of Rondo as that guy that shows up at the park with short shorts and spends a good five minutes stretching. He seemingly has never played basketball in his entire life but inexplicably drops seven buckets in a game to 13. When he's supposed to go left, he goes right. Scoop shots and fall away jumpers that shouldn't go in, go in. Everything seems so unorthodox and on accident. That's Rondo.
He's a basketball savant. People who have played basketball at any level know that it's a choreographed dance; when you give someone a pick, you can either roll, slip, or fade; when someone cuts to the basket, both offense and defense shift to correct the spacing on the court. Like a chess master, Rondo knows all this and knows everybody's tendencies, offense and defense, and does what you least expect. Watch him on a fast break: instead of trying to throw a fake and jab stepping in the opposite direction, he drives it right into the defender's chest because that's the least likely option. Actually, it's not even an option to begin with but Rondo makes it so. He's not trying to draw a foul (yes, I'll give you that he's a poor free throw shooter). He's just trying to play outside of the box.
People can argue that Paul, Westbrook, Rose, and Williams are better and they'll qualify it by saying that Rondo is a "pure point guard" but I hate that comparison because that's just a nice way of saying that Rondo can't shoot and he makes up for it because he's just really good at passing. That's hogwash. Compared to those guys, what makes Rondo a great player--and puts him in a class unto himself--is that he actually makes his teammates better by amplifying what they're already good at. I think with those other players, they make the game, for lack of a better word, easier for their team. Kevin Durant doesn't have to score as much on his own because Westbrook will pick up the slack. Blake Griffin and Carlos Boozer will have a little more room to operate because Paul and Rose attract so much defensive attention. But with Rondo, he works in spite of those conventions: he doesn't score a lot of points and he rarely commands a double team. Doc calls him the smartest player he's ever coached and I believe him. What Rondo does is manipulate the entire court so that his teammates can excel at what they're best at. Sometimes it's as subtle as shifting his shoulders so that the defense thinks he's going in one direction or as deliberate as cupping the ball with his giant hands and faking out his defender, the help defender, and the guy selling hot dogs in the third row. Watch him tonight, especially in transition. He's got a very distinct voice and you can hear him orchestrate every play on both sides of the ball. He may not be a franchise player, but I think he's definitely a guy that franchise players want to play with.
Odds are, you guys aren't bringing back Michael Beasley next season. Before the trade deadline, there were rumors that he have become a Celtic. If Boston makes a run at him this summer, what can we expect? Is it purely an attitude thing or are there limitations to his game?
Canis Hoopus: Michael Beasley...he's a terrific guy off the court and one of my favorite players to cover. On the court, however? He's very frustrating. He'll have the occasional 27-point game off of the bench for us where we all stop and say, "hey, this guy was a #2 overall pick," but those are few and far between. Beasley is a below average defender, he is a ball-stopper on offense and, for some reason, he has not been able to rebound very well in the NBA, despite being a very good rebounder at Kansas State.
His biggest asset is giving a scoring punch, especially off of the bench. But his limitations make it too difficult to keep him on the court for too long, given that he doesn't contribute in many other areas. He's certainly not worth an $8 million qualifying offer.
What is your opinion of Ryan Hollins thus far?
CelticsBlog: He's exactly what I expected: an active body with a good motor in limited minutes. All I had to hear were the ringing endorsements from Pierce and KG (who worked out with Hollins during the lockout) and I was sold. But even before that, I always liked him. In his time in Minnesota and more recently, Cleveland, I always thought that he played with some fire and a chip on his shoulder. He's never been that skilled offensively, but I think he can get close to maybe a Tyson Chandler ceiling. He's obviously got a ways to go, but if he gets invited back next summer, there's some potential there. In the few games that he's played, he's been a favorite target of Rondo's alley-oop passes and he's done a decent job on the defensive rotations.
What's the general attitude in the Twin Cities about Kevin Garnett? Last night, he said that "it's always special to come back to true fans and your foundation, but as far as that franchise, I have nothing positive to say. So I'll just let it be that. I think Kevin Love's playing at a high level, I think he's rejuvenated the city as far as basketball goes. Other than that, nothing else." This is probably just hyperbolic rhetoric from KG before a game, but what do you expect from the Target Center faithful tomorrow night? Garnett has played it very close to his fist-pumped chest when it comes to questions about his future, but seeing as this could potentially be his last game in Minnesota, do you see him getting a standing O?
Canis Hoopus: Two years ago, Kevin Garnett was still a demi-god here. But now? Attitudes are pretty split. I'd say 40% still love him, 40% have grown to hate him, and 20% view him simply as another opponent. I expect a smattering of boos at tonight's game, but I also expect to see a bunch of green Garnett jerseys, too. I definitely don't see a standing O.
You can hardly blame him for being mad at the organization. They failed for years to surround him with adequate talent and then, after the Wolves traded him, our own Glen Taylor came out and accused him of tanking. Garnett is still the best NBA player the franchise has had, but with Kevin Love making the leap, a new era is starting and fans are beginning to make the transition.
With the "Big Three" window coming to a close in Boston, what do you see as the future of the Celtics in the next couple of years? Are your young players (Bradley/Johnson) good enough to help the team compete moving forward with Rondo?
CelticsBlog: There is no surprise what Danny's plan has been for this summer. With the cap space created by the expiring contracts of Garnett and Allen, he was going to go after Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Deron Williams, or some combination of the two. With Paul and Howard locked in for one more season in LA and Orlando and Deron either staying in New Jersey or potentially landing in Dallas, the free agent class of 2012 is not as star-studded as he expected, but the rebuilding process doesn't seem that daunting either. Danny had planned on the championship window being closed this summer, but time and time again, this team has shown resiliency. If this season has proven anything so far, it's that 1) the Big Three can still play and 2) Doc is a great coach. The Celtics are tied for the Atlantic Division title despite the shortened schedule and season-ending injuries to three main rotation players in Jeff Green, Jermaine O'Neal, and Chris Wilcox. Their defense still ranks at the top of the NBA with major contributions coming from second-year Avery Bradley and undrafted rookie Greg Stiemsma. Doc is doing all this with basically duct tape and spare parts. Next season, with a full complement of players, a pre-season, and practice, Celtic faithful have to believe that they can make another run in 2013.
Moving forward, I like the young guys we have (Rondo, Bradley, Johnson, Moore), but we definitely have to find players this summer. In order of priority, this is ideally what Danny needs to do:
1. RE-SIGN GARNETT AND ALLEN TO REASONABLE TWO-YEAR DEALS. Honestly, I don't think either of them are going anywhere. If they're playing anywhere, it's going to be in Boston. It's just a matter of how much and if those guys want another chip, they know they'll have to sacrifice a little money to bring in reinforcements. Give them player options in the second year so if they both choose to retire with Pierce, the three of them can go out together.
2. RE-SIGN GREEN AND BASS. I lump these two guys together is because I see them as Celtics long term, at least 3-4 years.
3. RE-SIGN PIETRUS AND STIEMSMA. One's a vet and the other is a rookie but they've been so vital to this year's run that I think they deserve two-year deals above the minimum. They've shown a commitment to defense and that always scores in Doc's book.
4. FREE AGENTS. This is where it gets tricky. Danny has said that they won't spend cap money just for the sake of spending. He has to be really careful because if he intends to make another run next year, he'll have to again preserve flexibility for 2013. There isn't a max contract guy out there, so I see him going after quality role players that will help the team immediately and make them more attractive to free agents in the future. Reaching for top shelf players like Hibbert and Gordon would be pie in the sky, but more reasonable targets will be Mayo and Batum.
WILDCARD: THE DRAFT. Danny has never been charged with finding a potential superstar in the draft, but things could change this year. Outside of hitting with Al Jefferson at #15 and missing with Gerald Green at #18, he's never really had a chance at looking for that one guy that can turn a franchise around, but with two picks in what is considered a very deep draft, Danny could either decide to package them and move up for a lottery pick or find someone in the late teens and early twenties. Danny has traditionally drafted role players to complement the veterans. Conventional wisdom says that the Celtics are hurting for size and guys like Zeller and Plumlee should be available late in the first round. But what if a dynamic shooting guard falls out of the lottery? And what if that dynamic shooting guard just happens to be the son of your head coach? These are certainly transitional times for Boston and with an opportunity to hit a home run, I'll bet Danny takes a risk and swings for the fences.
Are you happy with Rick Adelman? His corner offense seems perfect for a young team like the T-Wolves.
Canis Hoopus: Rick Adelman, especially after suffering through 2 long years of Kurt Rambis, has been such a breath of fresh air for the Wolves. He actually runs the offense to the strengths of his players, instead of trying to force players into a weaker version of the Triangle. Adelman doesn't just gift minutes to players like Darko Milicic and Anthony Randolph, but has a short rotation and gives minutes based on effort and production. It doesn't seem like a radical concept, but for Kurt Rambis it certainly was.
And Adelman has significantly improved the Wolves' defense. The Wolves now do things like rotate properly, take away the three point line and play help defense. Again, not radical concepts, but Kurt Rambis didn't seem to grasp them.
The biggest argument in favor of Rick Adelman, in my opinion, is that he's actually gotten Michael Beasley to try on defense this season. That is a monumental effort.
Can the Celtics compete for a title this year?
CelticsBlog: Remember in the 1998 Three Point Contest when Bird walked into the locker room, asked everybody who was going to come in second place, and then raised his finger in victory even before the winning moneyball went through the net?
There's something very off-putting about your two-toned home court floor. Why not just go back to the parquet? All the great teams are doing it. I mean, if you could only make over one thing next season, which would you choose: the floor at the Target Center or Ricky Rubio's haircut?
Canis Hoopus: I'm gonna have to go with C) Kevin Love's beard. At first, his beard looked intimidating. Like he had just been branding cattle or chopping down trees. But now, it's starting to get a little mangy and looking more like a homeless man's beard. We can leave the floor and Rubio's mop-top alone.