Bulpett: Lots of Celtics topics to digest after storm
Stray Celtics thoughts as a late winter storm hits the coast and practice is canceled:
• Ah yes, the weather. Celtics players always seem to bring it up on trips to Phoenix and Los Angeles, and each time they do, it recalls what would be a basketball version of an old Richard Pryor joke. To wit: If you win a couple of rounds in the playoffs, you’ll find some really nice weather right here in Boston.
• But that won’t be easy. It doesn’t matter how high the Celtics finish in the Eastern Conference seeding, getting through an opening series will be no mean feat. Assuming Chicago continues its slide out of playoff contention, there is not a single potential matchup in which the Celts should have a walkover. They’ve had some tight games with all the clubs, and things will be even more intense when teams get to zero in on each other and build their defenses in a way you simply don’t in the regular season when you have three other games during the same week.
Remember, the 2008 NBA champion Celtics took their 66 wins and went seven games in the first round with 37-45 Atlanta.
• What’s interesting this time around is that even though this is just another steppingstone season for a team looking for much greater success, the Celts sort of need to win at least one series. I honestly don’t believe it will hurt their free agent pursuit of Gordon Hayward if they do not, but it’s important for a team that wants to be seen as on the rise to actually, you know, rise.
The escalating win totals are very nice, but it’d be helpful to translate some of that into the postseason.
Other reasons why going deeper in the playoffs is healthy: more revenue for the club — and more revenue for the bartenders and wait staff at the establishments around the Garden.
• Numbers sometimes lie, and that could easily be the case with the Celtics next season.
In a scenario that includes no major trades around the draft and going into next season with a very high pick (e.g. Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball) and Ante Zizic on the roster and in the rotation, it’s conceivable they could take a step back in terms of regular-season wins but be significantly better than now in the playoffs.
The scouting report on Zizic from Euroleague competitor (and former Celtics forward) Gigi Datome posted here three weeks ago noted the young big man should be able to contribute next season. But there is no doubt the 20-year-old will require an orientation period. If brought along properly — a fair assumption under a coach like Brad Stevens — Zizic could be significantly better by April 2018. Same for the high draft pick.
So if they get the playing time to develop, a few extra losses might happen while they’re finding their NBA way. But it has a strong chance to be worth it.
• With all due respect to those who live on the basic stats, there is little patience here for the Al Horford detractors. The way he has changed the offensive floor for the Celts should be clear in the improvement of others.
But having said that, I fully expect Horford to be more assertive with the ball in the playoffs. He acknowledged to the Herald last week, “I’ve been in a weird funk. It’s been weeks, and I really don’t understand it.”
What he understands is that he’s fixed the club’s spacing issues, but Stevens and the C’s want him to be more willing to explore his own scoring opportunities. He’s shot 61.4 percent from the floor in his past five games, hitting 6-of-8 on 3-pointers.
And as for Horford getting a max contract here, there are two things to keep in mind. First, that’s the price the market established for him. (If he didn’t get it here, he would have gotten it elsewhere.) And second, the hard push for Horford by the Celts was at least in part a corollary to the pursuit of Kevin Durant.
In other words, getting a Horford deal done with no guarantee of Durant was fairly bold in its own right. And even though the larger prize wasn’t secured, the Celts have made themselves a better team, a fact that should be even more clear as this season progresses.
• With the Minnesota Timberwolves on the Celtics’ menu tonight, don’t miss the opportunity to see Karl-Anthony Towns. He’s had 35 points and 14 rebounds and 39 and 13 in his past two games and is averaging 24.5 and 12.3 for the season.
And he’s 7-foot tall and 21 years old.
I know there are some great options out there, but if I were starting an expansion franchise next season and could have any player in the league, I’m taking Towns. Beyond his obvious physical gifts, he’s a bright kid who is fully engaged.
Sure he’ll be trying to lay waste to your team tonight, but try to enjoy him anyway.