Fourth Of July Free Agency Wrap-Up

In a particularly dry free agency day, one piece of news immediately jumped out and turned the whole day on its head. Here are the major headlines from the Fourth of July:

Steve Nash Heads to Rival Lakers:

The biggest news of the day was Steve Nash’s decision to play with Kobe Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix’s biggest and most hated divisional rival. Although calling what the Lakers and Suns have a “rivalry” might not be completely accurate since Los Angeles seems to get the best of Phoenix every time these two teams meet, Nash’s decision quickly dissolved the happy memories of his time in Phoenix into outrage over his decision to put on the yellow and purple colors. Nash explained that the decision was influenced by his desire to be close to his three children in Phoenix and wished the Suns organization nothing but the best for the future, but there’s no question his departure for LA is still a stab in the back to the city of Phoenix. Nash signed a three-year deal with Los Angeles worth around $25 million, instantly turning Los Angeles into title contenders once again. How Nash and Kobe will function on offense remains to be seen, as both guards need the ball to be effective, but there’s no question that having a quality point guard like Nash increases a team’s pick-and-roll game and overall success. Suns management continued to baffle fans with this trade, as the Suns only got four future draft picks for their beloved marquee player who will now leave to join Phoenix’s hated rival. Phoenix received first-round picks in 2013 and 2015 and second-rounders in 2013 and 2014. Not bad overall, but certainly not worth Nash and definitely not enough to raise a fan base’s faith in their management, especially considering Phoenix’s history of wasting draft picks in exchange for cash considerations. To make matters worse for his former team, Nash will try and talk Grant Hill into joining him in LA. Hill said he would either join the Lakers or retire, but considering the fact that he went to Germany for a knee procedure (the same one that revitalized Kobe Bryant’s knee), it doesn’t seem that Hill is ready to retire just yet. If Hill does head to LA to join Nash, the Lakers could be looking at a potential lineup of Nash, Kobe, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum with Hill, Steve Blake and Jordan Hill on the bench. Not bad at all, especially since the Lakers could look into Dwight Howard either next year or in a trade for Gasol/Bynum. Overall, it was a horrible day for Phoenix fans and a glorious one for LA supporters.

Nash will be joining Kobe in Los Angeles, much to the chagrin of every basketball fan in Phoenix.

Suns Sign Dragic and Beasley:

In a feeble attempt to compensate for Steve Nash’s departure for LA, the Suns signed Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley. Dragic was signed to a four-year deal worth $34 million and Beasley was signed to an $18 million deal for three years. Dragic was a very good signing by the Suns, especially now that Nash is gone. Considering how Dragic thrived in Houston as a starter when Kyle Lowry sat out, the Suns are getting a quality player who deserves a better contract as a starting point guard. As an added bonus, Phoenix was always particularly fond of Dragic when he backed up Nash and will be happy to welcome his back. Unfortunately, the signing of Beasley won’t get many (smart) Suns fans excited. Beasley is a decent player at best and considering how many of those are already on the roster, this isn’t the kind of quality player Phoenix needs, especially with Nash and possibly Hill leaving.

Nash is gone, but the Suns got a consolation prize in potential breakout star Goran Dragic.

Houston Offers Jeremy Lin a Deal: 

The Rockets have offered Jeremy Lin a four-year deal worth around $30 million. The Knicks can almost match Houston’s offer (four years, $24.5 million), but have made it clear they would have to think hard about matching other teams’ high offers for the breakout point guard. After losing Dragic to Phoenix, the Rockets could use a quality backup for Kyle Lowry in Lin, but keep in mind that Lin and the Knicks both want a reunion. What offer New York puts on the table could decide where Lin ends up.

Could Jeremy Lin be heading back to the Houston Rockets?

Jason Kidd and Mavs Close to Signing Deal:

Jason Kidd and the Mavericks are closing in on a multi-year deal that will allow the Dallas veteran to end his career where it all began. The amount is unknown, but it will likely be a bit higher than Kidd would normally be worth after the Mavs were unable to bring Deron Williams or Goran Dragic to Dallas.

Jason Kidd will most likely be ending his career in Dallas.

Spencer Hawes Signs Extension:

Spencer Hawes will be staying in Philadelphia next year after signing a two-year, $13 million deal with the Sixers. Nothing much to report here other than the fact that the 76ers could be shaping up to be a pretty consistent threat in the playoffs for the next few years if they continue to keep so many pieces together (especially with so much youth).

Spencer Hawes will be staying in Philly after signing a two-year extension.

Thunder Add Hasheem Thabeet:

The Oklahoma City Thunder signed former number two draft pick Hasheem Thabeet to a two-year deal. Thabeet has never really panned out to be the quality player with potential he promised to be, with career averages of just over two points and two rebounds per game in his limited time on the floor. This is a questionable signing by the Thunder, especially because Serge Ibaka’s return to OKC is not guaranteed at this point.

The Thunder signed Hasheem Thabeet. For some reason.

Rajon Rondo Sinks Sixers, Leads Celtics To Eastern Conference Finals

With just over four minutes to play and nursing a three point lead, the Celtics’ leading scorer for the regular season fouled out and left his team’s hopes of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals looking pretty slim. Luckily for Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo had just what Boston needed to finish off the resilient Sixers at home and pull out an 85-75 victory in a decisive Game 7 to win the right to play the Miami Heat in the next round.

Rajon Rondo scored nine straight points for the Celtics with a barrage of highlights to turn their three point advantage into a 10 point lead and after Elton Brand cut the lead back down to eight, Rondo hit a pair of clutch free throws to give Boston an 80-70 lead. Rondo hit a long two followed by his first 3-pointer in five games to send TD Garden into a frenzy and scored 11 points in the fourth quarter to finish with a triple double of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. The Sixers stayed resilient until the end and kept the pressure on Doc Rivers’ squad throughout the night, but Rondo’s fourth quarter burst ended their playoff hopes and pulled his team within a few games of playing for yet another NBA title.

Rajon Rondo took over down the stretch and led the Celtics past Philly with a triple double.

Kevin Garnett had 18 points and 13 rebounds, Brandon Bass added 16 points and Pierce had 15 points, nine rebounds and three blocks before fouling out. Ray Allen, who missed his first five 3-point attempts, finally warmed up in the fourth quarter and nailed two shots from beyond the arc to shift momentum back in Boston’s favor. The Sixers were led by Andre Iguodala’s 18 points, and Elton Brand and Jrue Holiday each had 15. Unfortunately for Philly, the scoring stopped there. Lou Williams finished with just seven, Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner only had six apiece and Spencer Hawes could only manage four. The Sixers hit shots when they needed to to keep themselves within reach, but they never could never take the lead down the stretch as they shot only 35 percent from the floor and Boston answered the call every time with a big bucket to extend the lead. Boston lived up to their reputation of being the veteran squad by responding every time the Sixers came knocking on the door, but the most credit has to go to Rondo for his late game heroics that earned the Celtics a matchup with the Miami Heat.

As I said in my last Celtics-Sixers post, Philadelphia and its fans should be proud of what they accomplished this season. They did benefit from playing a banged up Celtics squad (after beating a Chicago Bulls team without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah), but they still took care of business and pushed an experienced Boston team to the brink before coming up short. They had a shot, but playing against this veteran team on the road didn’t bode well for them, especially considering the overall youth of the Sixers. Philadelphia should benefit from this experience and if they can get their hands on a few scorers, they could be competitive again next year. For the Celtics, this series lasted a lot longer than I anticipated, but they showed resilience and moxie by outlasting a young team with poise down the stretch despite being banged up and playing without Avery Bradley, their best perimeter defender. However it doesn’t really matter who advanced because the winner of this series gets the unfortunate challenge of taking on the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston stands a better chance than Philadelphia, but when all is said and done it’ll be the Heat that advance to the NBA Finals.

Andre Iguodala and the Sixers came up short but they shouldn’t hang their heads.

Brandon Bass Gives Boston 3-2 Lead

It wasn’t a member of Boston’s big three that beat the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5. It also wasn’t Rajon Rondo who gave the Celtics a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 tonight. But Brandon Bass’ breakout night helped the Celts pull away in the third quarter at home and get a huge victory at home that puts pressure on the Sixers to defend their home court. Bass scored 18 of his playoff career high 27 points in the third, which gave the Celtics a convincing win when combined with solid nights from Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rondo.

Garnett had 20, Rondo had 13 points and 14 assists and Pierce added 16 points. Ray Allen, who moved back into the starting lineup, only had five, but Bass’ big night made up for it. The Celtics also got a big boost off the bench from Greg Stiemsma, who had 10 points and three blocks. Avery Bradley did not play, missing the game because of his dislocated shoulder. Elton Brand led Philadelphia with 19 points but had no answer for Bass on the defensive end. Lavoy Allen had 12 off the bench and Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes all reached double digits in scoring, but the Sixers’ normally stifling defense allowed 101 points for the Celtics. Scoring has never been the Sixers’ strong point, so Bass’ explosion on the offensive end was more than enough to give the Celts a much-needed win.

Brandon Bass lifted the Celtics to victory with a big performance in Game 5.

With Game 6 tonight in Philadelphia, the pressure is now back on the Sixers to stave off elimination and force a decisive Game 7 in Boston. The Sixers have been great at home in the postseason as they find their arena filled with fans that didn’t make their presence well known during the regular season. However, Boston has the experience and knowledge of how to win playoff games, so Philly will have their hands full. Doc Rivers was a top candidate for the Coach of the Year Award and the Celtics should still be favorites to close out the overachieving Sixers tonight.

Philadelphia should be proud of what their team has accomplished this season, and hopefully fans will fill the Sixers’ arena next season after this. But as I’ve mentioned numerous times, Philly only made the second round by virtue of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah injuries in the first round. They gained confidence after winning the series and have battled with this banged up Boston team, but the Celtics are just too good to pick against. It’s going to take longer than the five games I predicted, but even if the Sixers defend their court and force Game 7, Boston should advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Sixers have their backs against the wall. Can they take Game 6 at home tonight?

Celtics Take 2-1 Lead In Philly

Despite being banged up and not playing well through the first two games, the Boston Celtics finally looked like themselves and dominated Philadelphia on the road in a 107-91 win in Game 3. Kevin Garnett and the Celtics took a 2-1 lead on the series after a dominant second quarter gave them a double-digit lead heading into the second half.

Garnett led the Celtics with 27 points and 13 rebounds, thoroughly dominating Spencer Hawes and the Sixers in the paint. Rajon Rondo looked much more aggressive on the offensive end from the beginning, driving in the lane and finishing with 23 points and 14 assists. And Paul Pierce, whose shot has been iffy in the playoffs, had 24 points and 12 rebounds despite 6-for-17 shooting as he got to the free throw line 14 times (and hit 11). So even though Avery Bradley put up a goose egg and Ray Allen only had 3 points, the Celtics were able to reach triple digits and make a statement on their opponents’ floor.

Rajon Rondo was much more aggressive on the offensive end and it paid off for the Celtics.

For the Celtics, losing this game surrendered the momentum they battled so hard for in Game 2. The Sixers’ offense was out of sorts and despite reaching 91 points, Philly wasn’t getting the right guys looks. Andre Iguodala, who was having a hot streak over the last few games, only got six shots and finished with 10 points. Evan Turner went 1-for-10 and he and Spencer Hawes only had four points each. Jrue Holiday led the starters with 15 points and Thaddeus Young had 22 off the bench, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Boston’s much improved offensive night. Jodie Meeks was a pleasant surprise with 13 points off the bench and Lou Williams also had 13, but unless the Sixers’ starters pitch in more points on the offensive end while limiting at least one of the Celtics’ biggest three threats (Garnett, Pierce and Rondo), they don’t have a chance of winning this series.

Boston already handled their business on the road by winning at least one game, but now Philadelphia has to be careful they don’t allow the Celtics to take another one. Iguodala was playing well before Game 3 and not getting him more shots is a mistake. If Young can duplicate his breakout performance and Philly can get anything out of their post players, the Sixers will be back in business. But Garnett has been a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court in this series and won’t give up anything easy. Looks like this banged up, aging Celtic team isn’t as vulnerable as we thought.

Philadelphia has their work cut out for them now after they couldn’t stop Boston at home.

Boston Squeaks Out Game 1 Win

Andre Iguodala and the Philadelphia 76ers gave the Celtics everything they could handle in the opening game of the second round, but Boston would not be denied at home in the fourth quarter and edged Philly in a 92-91 win. Kevin Garnett led the Celts with 29 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in a dominant performance that gave his team a 1-0 series lead despite a very impressive effort from the Sixers.

I predicted that Boston would win this series in five games, and I still stand by that prediction, but Philadelphia definitely played like a worthy second-round opponent in Game 1. Andre Iguodala led Philly with 19 points, six rebounds and six assists, while Evan Turner had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Hawes pitched in 15 points and eight boards of his own. I predicted that Spencer Hawes would not be a factor, that Avery Bradley and the Celtics’ D would shut down Philly’s streaking guards (Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams) and that Kevin Garnett would be dominant against Hawes. Two out of three isn’t bad: Garnett single-handedly led Boston to victory and Holiday and Williams combined for just 17 points on 7-of-24 shooting. And although Hawes was much more productive on the offensive end than I thought he’d be, as long as the Celtics duplicate their effort in Game 1, they should have few problems closing this series up quickly.

Kevin Garnett dominated Game 1. Can Philly stop him in this series?

The fact is, Iguodala had to put up quite a valiant shooting performance (especially from beyond the arc) to keep Philadelphia in the game. With Bradley limiting Philly’s guards, Iguodala became the Sixers’ primary scorer, and if he starts to take the majority of his team’s shots, we could see another performance like Game 5 against the Bulls, when he went 4-for-19. Iguodala is not a consistent 3-point shooter and the Sixers are not likely to out-shoot the Celtics from downtown like they did in Game 1 (Philly shot 5-for-14 from 3-point range while Boston shot a dismal 2-for-18). If the Celtics start hitting their 3-pointers, the Sixers won’t be able to keep up on the offensive end, even with their terrific team defense.

Kevin Garnett should continue to exploit his matchup on the offensive end, but keep in mind that Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo have stellar performances in Game 1 and the Celtics still got the win. Yes, Rondo had yet another triple double (13 points, 17 assists, 12 rebounds), but other than his clear ability to facilitate, it wasn’t the strongest triple double in the world and we’ve come to overvalue triple doubles these days anyway. But regardless, Rondo and Pierce can still score more if they shoot the ball better (Pierce was 3-for-11 and Rondo was 6-for-15). Credit Philadelphia’s defense for making it difficult on two of Boston’s three best players, but whether or not they can do it consistently over the course of a series with an early one game deficit remains to be seen. Philadelphia did win their last series after being faced with an early deficit, but it took a myriad of injuries to the Bulls for that to happen. Unless Paul Pierce’s sprained MCL develops into something worse and completely takes him out of the series, Boston is looking just fine despite the narrow Game 1 victory.

Andre Iguodala will need to continue to score for Philly to have a chance in this series.

Second Round Preview: Boston Celtics Vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Even though the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs isn’t over yet, second round action begins tonight with the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers! Here’s a quick look at the matchups to keep an eye on and my prediction for the series.

By virtue of a fortunate matchup with the injury-decimated Chicago Bulls, the Philadelphia 76ers have waltzed into the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against a veteran Boston Celtics team. Boston, on the other hand, overcame a one-game suspension to their star point guard, Atlanta’s home court advantage, Al Horford’s inspiring return and some minor injuries to key players to advance past the Hawks in six games. Philadelphia is no Atlanta. As happy a moment as it was for Doug Collins and his team to win their first playoff series since 2003, the only reason they got out of the first round was that Derrick Rose didn’t play after Game 1, Joakim Noah didn’t play a few games and the Bulls completely collapsed in the final seconds of Game 6. And even then, they barely got by. If Chicago doesn’t fall apart in Philadelphia, the series would have gone back to Chicago in a near-impossible-to-win Game 7.

This is still the same Philadelphia 76ers team that can’t score. This is still the same Sixers team whose leading scorer comes off the bench. And even though the Sixers convincingly beat Boston two out of three times during the regular season, that stat isn’t as impressive as it sounds; the first win was at the beginning of March when the Celtics were just 20-18 and hadn’t started playing good basketball yet and the second was when Michael Pietrus’ scary moment snapped Boston’s concentration and directed their focus to the well-being of their teammate. Notice when the Celtics started playing like they have been for the last month, they blew the Sixers out.

Kevin Garnett has a big advantage over Spencer Hawes and the Sixers.

Paul Pierce is incredibly difficult to stop at home and Ray Allen is back and shooting well. Then there’s Boston’s vast advantage in the post; Kevin Garnett is coming off a huge Game 6 and should have no problem outplaying Spencer Hawes, who was only effective in Philly’s first round series with Noah off the floor. And although Avery Bradley has been underwhelming on the offensive end still playing with a dislocated shoulder, his incredible perimeter defense should be perfectly capable in aiding Boston to shut down the recently productive Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams. So unless Philadelphia gets lucky again and the banged up Celtics face serious injury problems, Boston should have an even easier series and convincingly advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Sixers don’t have a truly elite scorer. In fact, they don’t even have a superstar (Andre Iguodala does not count as a star in my book. He’s definitely the heart and soul of this Philly team, but his numbers have been slipping each year since he entered the league). Boston has three players who can single-handedly take games over (Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett), a deadly sharpshooter off the bench (Ray Allen), and two developing young talents who are capable of outscoring anyone in Philly’s starting lineup on a given night (Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass). And as great of a coach as Doug Collins is, Doc Rivers deserved Coach of the Year considerations this year. You combine all of that with Boston’s experience and home court advantage and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sweep here.

Prediction: Boston over Philadelphia in 5 games

If Andre Iguodala can’t completely shut Paul Pierce down, the Celtics will advance easily.

Resilient Bulls Avoid Elimination

After looking like an injury-plagued team primed for a first round playoff exit, the Chicago Bulls went to battle in front of their home crowd and pulled out a 77-69 win over the 76ers yesterday to send the series back to Philadelphia. Chicago’s Game 5 victory put the series at 3-2 and helped the Bulls avoid elimination as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

In an extremely low scoring contest, no one really stood out on either side except for Luol Deng, who finally accepted his role as Chicago’s leading scorer with Derrick Rose on the sidelines. Deng led the Bulls with 24 points and eight rebounds after a few underwhelming performances that allowed Philadelphia to grab momentum and three straight wins. So even though Rose is done for the postseason and Joakim Noah sat out for the second game in a row, with Luol Deng taking the lead on offense and knocking down shots, the Bulls stayed resilient and did what they had to to win at home. Carlos Boozer chipped in 19 points, 13 rebounds and six assists, but other than that, it was pretty balanced scoring for the Bulls. Despite tweaking his ankle, Taj Gibson was actually Chicago’s third leading scorer off the bench with just eight points. Gibson left into the locker room but returned to action soon after.

Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer led the Bulls to a huge Game 5 victory.

Unfortunately for the Bulls, it’s going to take an even more resilient effort to get a Game 6 win on the road to send the series back to Chicago for a decisive Game 7. Philadelphia has been in complete control in the two games they’ve played at home and if Luol Deng can’t knock down shots like he did in Game 5 it could be all over for Tom Thibodeau’s squad. C.J. Watson can’t shoot 2-for-10 like he did last night. Richard Hamilton has to score more than six points. Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer, John Lucas and Kyle Korver all have to contribute something off the bench. In a low scoring series, every point you get from your reserves is crucial and could be the difference between extending the series and going home empty-handed. However, the good news is that Joakim Noah is hopeful for Game 6, which will almost eliminate Hawes’ production and provide an offensive boost for the Bulls in the paint.

Jrue Holiday led the Sixers with 16 points while Lou Williams had 13 off the bench. Spencer Hawes, who had been dominant against the Bulls with Joakim Noah out, met tougher defense from Omer Asik and Taj Gibson and could only muster 11 points. But the biggest killer for the Sixers was Andre Iguodala, who shot an abysmal 4-of-19 from the floor to finish with 11 points. If the Sixers want to close out the series, they’ll need him to shoot the ball way less. Game 5’s disappointing performance just proved that Philadelphia is not a legitimate playoff team, which is what I’ve been saying all along. Without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, the Sixers were able to seize momentum and a 3-2 series lead and even with that advantage they’re still not guaranteed victory here. The Bulls are resilient and have bounced back, putting some pressure on Philadelphia to close things out at home, which will be more difficult with Noah most likely taking the floor again. If the Sixers don’t take the series at home, they will face the incredibly difficult task of winning a decisive Game 7 with all the momentum going Chicago’s way in front of a rocking Bulls’ crowd. That is a nightmare scenario for the Sixers and if the series does go to a Game 7, you can almost be certain the Bulls will complete the improbable comeback and move on to the second round.

Andre Iguodala can’t shoot the ball 19 times if Philly wants to win.