BOSTON – Steve Kerr admits: He’s been keeping an eye on the Celtics. And why wouldn’t he? As the Warriors coach sizes up future NBA Finals opponents, Boston, with its franchise player, Kyrie Irving, in his mid-20s and a pair of budding stars, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, under 21, the Celtics loom as a future opponent.
“It sure looks like Boston is the team of the future in the East, with the assets that they still have and their young talent and their coaching, and Kyrie [Irving] is amazing,” Kerr said. “That looks like a team that is going to be at the top of the East for a long time to come. Whether their time is now or the future, that’s to be determined, but they sure look like they want it to be right now.”
Golden State will get its first look at the Celtics on Thursday, when the Warriors (11-3) will do something rare: Play a team with a better record. Boston (13-2) has not lost since the second game of the season and is riding an NBA-best 13-game winning streak.
For the Celtics, Golden State represents a barometer, a test to see how far they have come. It can also be educational. While Irving has three years’ worth of experience playing the Warriors in high-profile situations and Al Horford has been around the block, for Brown and Tatum, much of this is new. And they will be thrown into the fire, forced to chase around Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson on one end and expected to (sort of) keep pace with them on the other.
On Wednesday, the Warriors spoke glowingly about Boston’s young stars.
“Jaylen Brown has taken that next step,” Durant said. “He’s exactly where he needs to be in his second year in the league. And Tatum is another guy who is playing efficient basketball. For a rookie, that’s kind of unheard of.”
Records aside, the Celtics and Warriors are two teams on different levels. Golden State is a finished product, a two-time NBA champion without peer. Boston’s dreams of challenging for a championship this season ended when Gordon Hayward’s ankle snapped on the Quicken Loans Arena floor, and while the Celtics are a legitimate threat to win the East this season, it will be a year or two before they have the seasoning needed to compete with the Warriors’ juggernaut.
Still — that education. Brown, who has been prodded to become an elite defender since summer league, will test his mettle against a pair of the NBA’s best scorers, while Tatum will spend some of the game staring down Durant, himself once a stringy, offensive-oriented teenage forward with oodles of upside. A win may not be all Boston can gain from this one.
On to your email…
What are the odds the Cavs eventually trade Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson for future draft picks this season in case LeBron James decides to leave?
— Samir Navare
Here we go. This month we have already seen the “Can Isaiah Thomas save the Cavs’ season?” narrative introduced. Now we are ready to kick around trades that could turn it around. Look, trading Love isn’t a novel idea — he’s been on the trade block since he arrived in Cleveland. And the Cavs were perfectly willing, eager really, to ship Love out in a Paul George deal. Love still has value. For all of his flaws, he is a consistent 17/10 guy who will shoot the three in the high 30s. Thompson would need to find the right situation. He’s a savage rebounder and defender, but his offense has never evolved into much more than put-backs or lobs around the rim.
Trades also need to make sense. Right now there isn’t one out there. What the Cavs need more than anything is a young, springy swingman who can glide between the two and the three and defend both. That player isn’t on the market, unless Kent Bazemore does something for you. If that kind of player becomes available, Cleveland wouldn’t blink at tossing Love or Thompson into a deal. I think the Cavs would trade anyone but LeBron or the Nets pick, really. But the chances right now for a team-altering move are slim.
With Al Horford going down with a concussion last week, what are the chances that Danny Ainge uses that disabled-player exception soon? [The Suns’] Greg Monroe might get bought out. However, is there a way that Ainge communicates via backchannels and gets Tyson Chandler to ask for a buyout? He isn’t in Phoenix’s long-term plans, and we all know Robert Sarver would gladly jump at an opportunity to save $8.4 million.
— Sig Del Rosario, Winnipeg
That DPE is an interesting tool for Boston to work with. My understanding of the situation is that the Celtics would prefer to hold onto it until closer to the buyout deadline, when they can use it to entice a veteran on the market. They don’t want to use it in, say, a trade for Jahlil Okafor, though there is real interest in Okafor if he were to hit the free-agent market.
Monroe is interesting. Boston has been getting terrific minutes from Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis, both of whom have far exceeded preseason expectations. Baynes has been the perfect physical complement to Horford while Theis — a find several in the organization credit to Celtics assistant GM Austin Ainge — just outworks everyone on the floor. But Monroe is a proven commodity, a quality scorer/rebounder who could fit right in to the frontcourt mix. The risk is disrupting the obvious chemistry Boston has right now. But is it a greater risk hoping the Baynes/Theis frontcourt holds up over a full season?
Phoenix is trying to trade Monroe — and forget Chandler; Yahoo Sports’ Michael Lee reported that Chandler isn’t angling for a way out — and there will be interest, so this could all be a moot point. But if I were Boston, and Monroe were available, I’d make a hard run at him.
I know Utah’s season is probably lost. But how long is it going to take the Jazz to recover from losing Hayward? Do you see them tearing everything down and starting over? Trading Rudy Gobert? I’d hate to see a team that has come so far have to reboot the whole thing.
— Michael Wilson, Utah
A few things I can tell you about the Jazz after spending last weekend with them. First, there is little interest in a Sixers-style reboot. Utah will likely slip into the lottery — the Gobert injury is crippling, as it destroyed the Jazz’s chances of grinding out wins on defense, at least for the next month or so — and maybe that’s not the worst thing. The draft is already being touted as top-heavy, and Utah could find itself in position to draft a pretty good player next June.
Ultimately, that’s what the Jazz’s rebuild could come down to. Utah is overflowing with quality supporting players. Gobert is a defensive anchor, Rodney Hood is a terrific secondary scorer and rookie Donovan Mitchell has team officials excited about his potential as a two-way player. Plus, the Jazz believe coach Quin Snyder’s player-development machine will extract more out of Ricky Rubio. But there is no Hayward, no high-level scorer who can be relied on to create his own shot.
Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey has done a solid job drafting in recent years, and he is surrounded by one of the NBA’s deepest front-office benches, which includes Justin Zanik and David Morway. The challenge for them will be identifying the best player available in the Nos. 7-14 range. There will be a franchise player in that mix — there almost always is — and the Jazz need to find him. If they do, a reboot will become a retooling, and Utah will find itself back among the conference contenders in a few years. If they whiff, basketball purgatory awaits them.