The Sixers will kick off the 2018-2019 NBA regular season on Opening Night in an Eastern Conference Semis rematch against the Boston Celtics. While every Opening Night conjures immense anticipation simply due to a new beginning, next season’s opener seems to have a bit more at stake than your usual game 1 of 82. As the Celtics look to take hold of the East following LeBron’s departure, the up-and-coming Sixers wish to lay claim to the throne. For the first time in a long time, the rivalry between the two squads is beginning to resemble the promise of the same rivalry from decades past. Wilt vs. Russell. Dr. J vs Bird. And now, Embiid vs. Horford, Ben vs. Kyrie, Fultz vs. Tatum.
Given what seems to be the rekindling of rivalry, we’ve been chatting with our friends over at Celtics Blog. And in these talks, an idea sprung about: let’s have a little blog crossover discussing the history, the future, the matchups, the players and so on.
This week, we’ll be taking a look at all angles of the matchup between the Sixers and the Celtics with the folks from Celtics Blog. They have offered their insight and their passion so that we could put this project together, and we hope you enjoy. To start off, Jeff Clark of Celtics Blog threw a couple questions my way, and I returned a batch of my own. Below are his answers.
1. Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have a case for being recognized as the best GM and coach tandem in the Association. What makes the two so successful and who’s more important to the franchise and why?
You might as well ask me which of my kids I love the most (they are both my favorites). Obviously both men are brilliant at what they do, but they also have tremendous respect for each other and the staff that they surround themselves with. Ainge has been known to pick the brains of intern video editors and brain type specialists. Brad Stevens picks the brains of other coaches (in multiple sports) and borrows unabashedly from other teams’ playbooks. They work well together, but like any good team, they know their own strengths and weaknesses and let the other person do their job. They also have the commitment and support structure of a really solid ownership group. Bottom line: We’re really lucky in Boston and we try hard not to take that for granted.
2. The Celtics are the odds on favorite to win the Eastern Conference. Golden State is seen by many as being in a league of their own, but are the Celtics that far behind them? Could the Celtics be named 2019 NBA Champions? If not, what are the steps that need to be taken to win?
The Warriors should be the favorites until proven otherwise. They have earned that respect and nothing that happens before June should change that very much. That said, as Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and the rest of the Cavs proved in 2016 that anything can happen in a series. Now the Celtics don’t have LeBron and the Warriors did add that Kevin Durant guy since then, so the equation isn’t exactly the same. Still, if you were to design a team to take down Golden State, you would probably start with an elite defensive team and add dynamic shooters and scorers to an adaptable offensive scheme led by one of the best minds in the business. We have to see how all of this fits together and how much more young players like Tatum, Brown, and Rozier can grow. But let’s just say that the Celtics have the kind of ceiling that has room for more banners.
3. Straddling between “win now” mode and trying to build for the future is often a recipe for disaster, but the Celtics have successfully engaged in both. Is this the right strategy? Was trading for Kyrie the right move, or considering his alleged affinity for New York, would the Celtics have been better off using the Nets pick? Should Ainge have upped his offer for Kawhi, or is timing a post-Warriors run around the primes of Tatum and Brown the best route to a championship?
Clearly Danny Ainge has discovered the secret formula for success. I think the key thing for other teams to copy is to find a team willing to take your older stars in exchange for 4 future lottery picks and then watch that team unintentionally tank anyway. Obviously there’s an element of tremendous luck involved in this rebuild. However, Ainge still had to follow through with good picks and a proper implementation of the plan all along.
Remember that a key move was picking up Isaiah Thomas and making a run to the playoffs that year. Without that run, Al Horford probably doesn’t take Boston very seriously as a free agency destination. Without Horford, we might not have gotten Gordon Hayward the next year. The Kyrie trade was emotionally very, very difficult for a fanbase that grew to adore Thomas. However, in the big picture it was just another home run win for Ainge. As for Kawhi, there were so many question marks about his health and willingness to sign long-term that I was kind of relieved to see him headed elsewhere. I would have been fine giving up a stack of future picks for him, but I wasn’t excited about seeing Jaylen Brown included in any package going out.
I do like the way the roster is set up to compete for titles now and continue developing championship level talent to extend the window. I think the luxury tax rules will have a little something to say about that plan before all is said and done, but Ainge is still in a position of strength and we’ll see what moves he makes next.
Big thanks to Jeff for taking the time to answer my questions! We’ll be rolling out the rest of our collaborative efforts throughout the week, and I hope everyone enjoys. You can check out my answers to Jeff’s questions here on Celtics Blog.