Boston Celtics Rebuilding Quicker Than You Think

Everyone knows the Celtics are starting their rebuilding process going into the 2013-14 NBA season. They traded away their two franchise stats in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, along Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Gerald Wallace (with 3 years $30 million left on his contract), Kris Humphries, Marshon Brooks, Keith Bogans and 3 first round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018. From the outside, it looks as though the Celtics are starting from scratch. However, take a closer look at this team. Ask yourself: Do you see the Celtics losing enough to have a chance to get a lottery pick or even Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins in next year’s draft?

The Celtics are still without a coach at the moment. I am not so sure that this team won’t be able to get to the playoffs, yet alone make a run in the playoffs even without the likes of Pierce, Garnett and Doc Rivers. You might read articles talking about the rebuilding process and how next season is already lost, but you have to motivate your players to play the right way for the full 82 game season. Again, I am not so sure that the players on the current roster will believe that. I know they still think they can win. The Celtics got draft picks, which is what they wanted, but they also cleared cap space to even sign a marquee free agent, like a Josh Smith, Paul Milsap, or even Al Jefferson.

The Celtics have a very interesting team coming into this year and if they sign a coach like Lionel Hollins, I won’t be surprised if this year’s team does just as well as last year’s. With Hollins as a coach, this team will play strong, hard defense. This team will be one of the better defensive teams in the NBA, especially with Avery Bradley, one of the NBA’s elite defenders. If Rajon Rondo comes back to his form from two years ago, he can be that elite point guard. He is the player who the Celtics are building around for the future. Pair that back court together, with Courtney Lee coming off the bench and you have one of the best if not the best defensive backcourt in the league.

Let’s say the Celtics sign Hollins and sign Josh Smith. This team would be a fun athletic team to watch. With Jared Sullinger, Smith, Jeff Green, Bradley and Rondo, Boston would have a strong defensive unit that would be able to get up and down the court. The Celtics would transition to an athletic defensive minded team that would mainly be able to score in transition from easy baskets. Coming off the bench, Brandon Bass and Marshon Brooks will actually play defense under Hollins. Combine him with Kelly Olynyk, the Celtics first round draft pick, and you have guys who can stretch the floor that will thrive under this system. Again this is just one possibility, and there is only one guarantee I have for this year’s Celtics team: this team will be fun to watch.

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76ers Trade Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel

Kentucky's Nerlens Noel will hope to be the strong big man the 76ers have long needed.

Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel will hope to be the strong big man the 76ers have long needed.

It appears the new-look Philadelphia 76ers are getting another makeover. Philadelphia announced they would trade point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for center Nerlens Noel and a 2014 top-5 draft pick, whom the Pelicans selected with the 6th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

Holiday was the unquestioned leader of the 76ers last season, averaging a career high 17.7 points and 8.0 assists per game and earning his first All-Star selection. Holiday, who turned 23 on June 12th, was selected 17th ovrall in the 2009 NBA Draft. He recently signed a four year, $41 million extension with Philadelphia.

In return, the 76ers receive former University of Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, whom we projected to be the #1 overall pick in tonight’s NBA Draft. Instead, Noel fell to New Orleans at the sixth pick. Noel is the big, physical center the 76ers have long needed. Last year, they traded superstar Andre Igoudala away to acquire Lakers center Andrew Bynum. 82 games and $16.9 million dollars later, Bynum will likely leave Philadelphia without playing a single minute (he struggled to recover from offseason knee surgery and treatment). Philadelphia will also receive a first round draft pick in 2014 that is guaranteed to be a top 5 pick.

The trade of Holiday opened up the point guard role in Philadelphia, so new GM Sam Hinkie used the 76ers’ 11th pick in the NBA Draft to select Syracuse PG Michael-Carter Williams (ranked #8 on our big board). Carter-Williams and Noel represent a new class of young talent in Philadelphia (Williams is 21, and Noel is 19). With the additions of the two young talents, the 76ers have a projected starting lineup of Carter-Williams, Nick Young, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, and Noel. Last year, Noel and Carter-Williams combined for 22.6 points, 14.4 rebounds, and 9.0 assists per game.

One Pitch Wonder: The Journey of Mariano Rivera

Mariano Rivera's 634 saves are the most in MLB history. He will retire at the end of the 2013 season.

Mariano Rivera’s 634 saves are the most in MLB history. He will retire at the end of the 2013 season.

His statistics for this year are astonishing, having a 1.55 ERA and 26 saves in 32 games. His WHIP is 1.24 and he has 27 strikeouts. But the most incredible statistic of it all? Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is doing all of this at the age of 43. He has  done this over his 18 year career with his lethal cut fastball and his farewell season is almost halfway done.

Now with this being Rivera’s last season in the Major Leagues with the Yankees, there are some people calling for Mariano to start the MLB All-Star Game in July at New York’s Citi Field. As fans call for this as a show of respect, Rivera would love to just stay in his closer role in the bullpen, and I agree with Rivera.

Naming Rivera the American League starter would put the greatest closer in history out of his comfort zone. Who takes a career 2.20 ERA, 634 saves and a WHIP of 1.00 out of that role! I am from the school of thought that if it is not broken there is no reason to fix it. Rivera stormed into the spotlight beginning as a setup man; he took over the closer role the following year.  Also, starting Rivera in the All-Star Game would not be the right way to honor “The Sandman.” His All-Star stats show that his 0.00 ERA in 8 games and 8 innings is where he should stay. He is clearly the best closer to ever play the game so why would you take him from his position?

Not to mention his Hall of Fame post-season statistics. The numbers are incredible that despite the 2004 season if you heard Metallica’s Enter Sandman over the PA system the game was all but over. He has a 0.70 ERA over 141 innings in the playoffs.  Rivera has had an incredible body of work and he still has the final half of his season to go.

So when Enter Sandman comes over the PA system, bringing the fans at the All-Star Game to their feet, it should be in the 9th inning not the first. Honor the man the way we will honor him in Cooperstown; as the best closer to ever play the game of baseball.  So I give the tip of my cap to Mariano Rivera and hope he is honored as the closer of the All-Star Game and can go out on his terms running from the bullpen to get the save for the American League.

Philadelphia Flyers Buy Out Ilya Bryzgalov

The Philadelphia Flyers have announced today they will exercise their second compliance buyout on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren released a statement Tuesday to the media to announce the move. “This was a very difficult business decision to make for us and we want to thank Ilya for his time here and wish him all the best moving forward, Holmgren said.

Bryzgalov was the main piece of a major roster overhaul for the Flyers in 2011. Holmgren traded away captain Mike Richards and leading scorer Jeff Carter to clear cap space for Bryzgalov, who signed a nine-year, $51 million contract with the Flyers. Holmgren believed Bryzgalov was the superstar goalie the Flyers long needed to finally win the Stanley Cup. Bryzgalov showed some glimpses of greatness, but was far too inconsistent, especially in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In two years, Bryzgalov saved 90.5% of shots and allowed 2.61 goals per game. In 11 games in the 2012 playoffs, Bryzgalov was 5-6 with a 3.46 goals allowed average.

The move clears up valuable salary cap space for the Flyers, who will save $5.67 million in 2013-14. The Flyers will pay Bryzgalov $1.6 million over the next 14 years to buyout his contract. That leaves the Flyers with Steve Mason as the starting goalie. Mason, 25, impressed in his 7 games this year with the Flyers, saving 94% of shots with a 1.90 GAA. The Flyers are looking for a backup for Mason as well, and with more cap space, look for a move to be made soon.

Blackhawks Defeat Bruins 3-2; Win 2013 Stanley Cup

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Defenseman Johnny Oduya (#27) and Goalie Corey Crawford celebrate the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup 3-2 victory over the Boston Bruins in TD Garden in Boston. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

In a season where its fate came down to the wire and the NHL almost started digging its own grave, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Boston Bruins 3-2 Monday night in Game Six of an Original Six Stanley Cup match-up that featured some Stanley Cup Final theater that hadn’t been since in almost two decades.

Winning two of their five franchise Stanley Cups in the last three years, the Blackhawks–who won the President’s Trophy–got off to a roaring start without a loss in their first 24 games, concluding their season in TD Garden in Boston.  Giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead in the first period, 2011 Stanley Cup Winner Chris Kelly had a nice set-up from Tyler Seguin from the right circle at 7:19.  Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews, who missed the third period due to an undisclosed injury in Game Five, netted the first goal for Chicago in the first.  It was his second goal in the last three games.

The Boston crowd started chanting “We want the Cup!” after a Milan Lucic go-ahead goal with eight minutes remaining, but minutes later, the arena would be empty, clad for a few Blackhawks fans.  However, a flair for the dramatic–what defined Chicago’s season–would come around in the third period as Bryan Bickell would score at 18:44 with Dave Bolland giving the Hawks the 3-2 lead as the Bruins had just 59 seconds left until futility.

An afterthought in their 2010 season, Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford stopped 23 shots while his counterpart Tuukka Rask made 28.  For the series, the Blackhawks outscored the Bruins 17-15, and although the Bruins were hoping from overtime, as in three of the first four games, it ultimately would not come.

Of Chicago’s last 10 goals scored in the Final, Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara was on the ice for nine; after the game, Bruins coach Claude Julien admitted Chara “wasn’t 100 percent.”  Neither was Boston center and alternate Captain Patrice Bergeron.  Although playing Game Six, Bergeron finished the season with a broken rib, torn cartilage, and a separated shoulder.  Bergeron finished with four power-play goals for Boston in the playoffs, which is second best in Bruins franchise history.

Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane won the 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded to the Most Valuble Player in the Stanley Cup Final.  In Kane’s last eight games, Kane tallied seven goals, including an assist on Chicago defenseman’s Brent Seabrook overtime winner in Game 4.  In Game 5 against the Los Angeles Kings, Kane netted a hat trick.  The 24-year-old has a flair for the dramatic, including scoring the Stanley Cup-winning goal in Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Chicago out-shot Boston 31-25, while Boston had the edge in faceoff wins, 36-28.  Despite a champion now crowned, the NHL doesn’t have a long layover from the public spectrum as the NHL Draft kicks off in Newark at the Prudential Center this Sunday June 30.

Rafael Nadal Upset at Wimbledon

Rafael Nadal has just been upset in the first round of the 2013 Wimbledon Championships. Nadal, the #5 seed in the Genelemen’s Singles tournament, lost to unseeded Belgian Steve Darcis in straight sets, 6-7, 6-7, 4-6 on Monday afternoon in London. In Nadal’s nine Wimbledon appearances, he had never lost in the first round, and the Spaniard had never lost in the first round of ANY major championship.

Darcis, 29, had previously won only one of his three career Wimbledon matches. He last reached the second round in 2009, before losing to #22 Ivo Karlovic. Darcis, ranked #135 in the ATP World Rankings, now owns a career record of 73-80 with two singles titles. Lukasz Kubot of Poland awaits Darcis in the second round.

Nadal won the French Open last month in Paris, his eighth French Open title and 12th major championship. Still, questions were raised when the two-time Wimbledon champion was seeded #5, below Spainard David Ferrer, who Nadal defeated in straight sets in the French Open final this year. If Nadal had won out, he would have faced longtime rival Roger Federer in the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for Nadal, his time in London is over, and he will now have to regroup from the biggest loss of his professional career.

2013 NBA Draft Top Ten Players

Despite tearing his ACL in February, Nerlens Noel of Kentucky is the projected #1 pick.

Despite tearing his ACL in February, Nerlens Noel of Kentucky is the projected #1 pick. (Image Source: SI.com)

The 2013 NBA Draft is quickly approaching and sixty of the world’s best basketball prospects will hear their names called on Thursday night. Whereas past drafts have had clear-cut favorites to be selected #1 overall, this year’s draft class is very balanced, and many experts differ on who will be taken first by the Cleveland Cavaliers (or if the Cavs will even use their first pick). Here are the top ten players who should come off the board first in the 2013 NBA Draft.

10. Shabazz Muhammad, SF, UCLA, 6’6″, 220 lbs. 

Muhammad was the most highly regarded high school prospect in the Class of 2012, and expectations were high when Muhammad arrived in Los Angeles to play for the UCLA Bruins. But an NCAA investigation into Muhammad’s recruiting days found evidence of improper benefits, and the UCLA star was suspended before the season even began. Muhammad returned to the Bruins and was a solid player (17.9 points, 5.2 rebounds), but wasn’t the flashy star everyone thought he would be. Muhammad will still be good, but needs to improve his defense and outside shooting to be a true offensive threat.

9. Cody Zeller, PF, Indiana, 7’0″, 230 lbs. 

Like his brother Tyler Zeller (Cavaliers), Cody is a standout in the low post who has plenty of mobility as well. Zeller is also highly praised by scouts and coaches for his high basketball IQ and unselfish team-first attitude. He will be a good scorer and rebounder in the NBA, but might need to get a bit stronger to match up with the league’s best big men. Still, the 2013 Second Team All-American will make a solid NBA player and could start within a year or two.

8. Michael Carter-Williams, SG, Syracuse, 6’6″, 184 lbs. 

Carter-Williams showed his leadership potential during Syracuse’s run to the 2013 Final Four, and though his 12.1 points per game weren’t earth shattering, he also added 7.2 assists per contest. He is probably more suited to be a point guard and has better skills as a floor leader and playmaker than a scorer or pure shooter, but Carter-Williams will be a valuable asset to any team that drafts him.

7. Alex Len, C, Maryland, 7’1″, 255 lbs. 

Len is the most “experienced” player in the 2013 NBA Draft class; he played a season of professional basketball in his native Ukraine before attending the University of Maryland. Len is a big, strong post player who is one of the best forwards in this draft class. He showed offensive scoring prowess at Maryland, and has held prominent post players in check defensively. He isn’t the most athletic or mobile player, and he recently underwent ankle surgery in May, which will keep him sidelined until September.

6. Anthony Bennett, SF, UNLV, 6’7″, 239 lbs.

Bennett is a bit of a Swiss Army knife player; he can do a little bit of everything on the court. An adept rebounder and post player, Bennett is also highly effective as a shooter. This fits well into most NBA systems, because Bennett can play in both a pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop offensive system. One of the most well-rounded prospects in the draft, Bennett will fit in as a small forward or power forward.

5. Ben McLemore, SG, Kansas, 6’5″, 189 lbs. 

McLemore stormed into the spotlight in the 2012-13 NCAA season with the Jayhawks, earning Consensus Second Team All-America honors and being nominated for the Wooden Award. McLemore is known best for his shooting ability, garnering comparisons to NBA great Ray Allen. He shot greater than 50% from the field, and that makes McLemore an attractive prospect worth a top 5 pick.

4. Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana, 6’4″, 213 lbs. 

I believe very strongly in Victor Oladipo’s ability to become a star player in the NBA. He has all the tools for success, especially on the defensive side of the ball. He earned National Defensive Player of the Year honors last year and was a First Team All-American, scoring 13.7 points on 61% shooting. Some scouts have compared his skillset to those of Dwayne Wade and Michael Jordan. An aggressive and smart player, Oladipo is sure to be a top 5 selection on Thursday.

3. Trey Burke, PG, Michigan, 6’1″, 187 lbs. 

The reigning Naismith College Player of the Year is a lock for a top 5 selection in the 2013 NBA Draft. Burke was a true leader for the Michigan Wolverines, leading them to a #1 ranking and a National Championship Game appearance in 2013. He displayed elite shooting skills and lockdown defensive talents, yet some scouts doubt his ability to be an NBA superstar. After a strong NBA Combine performance, however, Burke proved he belongs among the draft’s best players.

2. Otto Porter Jr., SF, Georgetown, 6’9″, 200 lbs. 

Porter greatly improved from an already impressive freshman year at Georgetown, scoring 16.2 points per game last season. Many scouts love the intangible skills of Porter, most notably his athleticism, movement away from the ball, and high level of court awareness. College coach John Thompson III called Porter “the most prepared freshman I’ve ever coached”, and Porter’s skills only increased in 2013. He will be a physical, athletic player in the NBA, and will be a prime target for several teams that draft early.

1. Nerlens Noel, C, Kentucky, 6’11”, 206 lbs. 

When you think of Nerlens Noel, his hi-top fade hairstyle might be the first thing that pops into your mind. But Noel is also an extremely gifted basketball player who didn’t have a chance to fully showcase his talents last season. A torn ACL in a February 12 game against Florida sidelined Noel for the remainder of the season, but he proved he is a versatile, dynamic player (10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds in 24 games). He might be a bit of a risk with a history of injury (see: Greg Oden), but Noel is still the purest talent in the 2013 NBA Draft.