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Arguing With Myself: Whither The Boston Celtics

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Indiana Pacers v Boston Celtics - Game Two Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Some folks think the Celtics are a serious contender in the East, perhaps even a true title contender, and that if they aren’t, it’s just a momentary pause before they return to dominance. Others say their world collapsed when Kyrie and Al Horford left. As so often happens, I am of two minds. Let the debate commence!

Blind Loyalty: The Celtics are the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked.

Randy Cohen: Really?

BL: No, I’m just being hyperbolic. But I do think they are kinda sorta doomed.

RC: Didn’t you say that two years ago?

BL: Yes, and I was right!

RC: Oh, come on! They almost beat leBron and reached the NBA Finals!

BL: I live in Boston, and I can tell you, these fans are spoiled. To them there are two kinds of seasons: championship seasons, and failures. Since I wrote my piece, “In Which We Prematurely Dance On The Graves Of The Boston Celtics,” it’s been two straight failures.

RC: But didn’t you say they would only win 41 games that season? Instead they were the #2 seed! And they did it despite losing Gordon Hayward for the year, something you certainly didn’t foresee.

BL: RC, have you been hitting the proton pump inhibitors again? That’s my brain you’re toying with! You know research suggests that class of heartburn meds may inhibit mental function!

RC: As soon as I saw the research I quit them.

BL: Then you should remember that, despite the accusations of furious C’s fans, I never said that Boston would go .500. What I said was that they were, as best i could tell from the evidence, fielding an average lineup. I noted that they might well finish far above .500 because a) they had a terrific coach in Brad Stevens and b) they played in the weak East.

RC: OK, but you certainly didn’t see them having the best record in the conference.

BL: Guilty as charged.

RC: So, what went wrong?

BL: I seriously underestimated how good Al Horford would be. He hadn’t played that well the year before, and I figured age had caught up with him. But with the benefit of two more years of data, we can see that he’s a phenomenal player who just had an off year in 2016-17, probably due to injury or scheme issues. Brown and Tatum also outplayed my expectations.

RC: You and your buddy Andy used to mock him and his contract by calling him “Al-batross Horford.” Shoe’s on the other foot now, eh?

BL: I have seen the light on Big Al.

RC: That, or you just like him now that he’s a Sixer! Did you get anything right?

BL: About that season specifically? I was right that Kyrie wasn’t the difference-maker folks thought he was; indeed arguably the team played better after he got hurt. Actually the Kyrie thing was really interesting given what’s happened. I argued that it was weird people saw the Celtics as potential conference champs, given that the talent on the floor wasn’t that special. I granted that Hayward was a fine player but, I asked, would anyone think the Hornets were contenders if they had been the team to sign Hayward? The response was that I was being silly, the Celts had Kyrie Irving, a superstar with the heart of a champion. I responded that Kemba Walker was a similar player to kyrie, about as good and probably better. And Celtics fans laughed! Oh, how they laughed! Kyrie, I was told repeatedly, was the second-best PG in the game, behind only Steph. No, really, go check the comment threads on LB and Celtics Blog if you don’t believe me! They all said I was nuts to compare little shrimp Kemba Walker to the great Uncle Drew.

As S.E. Hinton said, that was then, this is now. Now, even though Kemba will be 30 as he watches next year’s Finals on TV, suddenly the Boston-loving media has embraced Kemba-mania. Not only have they concluded that Irving never had the heart of a champion after all, they now say Kemba is superior on the court, a better defender and perhaps more efficient offensively. This despite the fact that Kyrie had by far his best season last year, by on-off measures, and the additional fact that Kyrie is now in the dead center of his prime. Confirmation bias is a hell of a drug!

RC: So now you think Kyrie is better? You just prefer whichever guy isn’t a Celtic?

BL: No, actually, I still prefer Kemba. Given the age difference they will definitely cross over at some point, and it could be as soon as next year; indeed maybe it happened last year! But if I could have one of them for next season it would be Kemba; I think the C’s fans were wrong then and right now. Better than being always wrong!

RC: So Kemba is terrific, Brown and Tatum are better than you thought, you’ve always been a fan of Hayward’s game... what’s the problem?

BL: In my series of articles two years ago, I made two core points:

1) The Celtics acquired a group of good and very good players who, in combination, used up the team’s available cap space

2) Many, many NBA teams have lots of good and very good players; having such players makes your team decent, not elite

I went on to point to teams such as the 2016-17 Pacers (featuring Paul George, Myles Turner and Jeff Teague) and Clippers (CP3, Blake Griffin and JJ Redick, among others). These were teams with very good talent and solid coaching, and they basically went .500. The teams that delivered elite results were possessed of superstar players like LeBron and Steph and Kawhi. Hell, the Clippers did have superstars and a ring-winning coach and still barely cracked .500!

Now, I understand the response that said Kyrie was in fact a superstar. I didn’t buy it myself, but it wasn’t crazy. But even though I prefer Kemba, it’s awfully clear that either Kemba is not a superstar, or else “superstar” now means something like what we used to mean by “star” or “All-Star.” Here are some point guards who are vastly better than Kemba:

Steph Curry
James Harden
Chris Paul

That’s kind of it for the superstar case, right? I mean, if you’re a superstar, there are by definition exactly zero players at your position who are vastly better than you are.

Here is a point guard who is not vastly better than Kemba, but who is pretty clearly superior:

Damian Lillard

Here are some point guards who might be better than Kemba and might not be:

Kyle Lowry
Kyrie Irving
Jrue Holiday
Russell Westbrook
Mike Conley
Ben Simmons
Eric Bledsoe

RPM had Kemba as the 10th-best PG in the league last year, and that seems about right; he’s pretty clearly not top 5, clearly is top 15, he’s probably right around 10th. He makes 30% of the salary cap.

RC: PG is probably the strongest position in the league.

BL: Agreed, the #10 PG may be the #30 player overall, not #50. I’m just saying, he’s a star not a superstar.

RC: What about Brad Stevens — look what he did with Isaiah Thomas; he wasn’t nearly as good as Kemba and Brad made him an MVP candidate!

BL: Let’s leave Brad for later; I don’t deny he’s a fine coach who will help the players as individuals and as a unit.

RC: OK, so kemba is “merely” a star. But he may not even be the C’s best player!

BL: True. Let’s say Kemba is likely a +3 player, adds 3 points to team net margin for every 48 minutes he plays, relative to an average player. Hayward was that good before his injury, and players always take longer to get all the way back from serious injury than we fans think they should. Maybe by this coming Spring he’ll be that good again.

RC: And what about Tatum? He’s a coming star, maybe superstar. Still only 21!

BL: Tatum and Brown are fascinating cases. After his age 19-20 rookie season, it looked like Tatum was a likely Hall of Famer, the new Paul Pierce Celts fans had hoped for. But it turned out that a lot of his value came from a record-setting percentage on corner 3s that didn’t recur in his second NBA season. Still, he was superb for a rookie, and darned good for a very young second-year player, he has a very bright future, even if long-run expectations have to be more modest now than they were a year ago.

RC: He’s already an above-average starter, which is rare for one so young.

BL: Absolutely. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t make multiple All-Star games. For this season, he’s probably a +2, but +1 or +3 or even +4 if he makes a leap are all in play.

RC: And what about Brown?

BL: Even weirder! He was awful as a rookie — promising of course, but tremendously ineffective. Then as a NBA soph he broke through and played very well, a huge leap forward. And then in his third year, he was kind of lousy again. Totally unexpected. His RPMs went something like -3, +1, -1. I used to do those puzzles where you figure out the next number in the sequence; but I can’t solve this one! 0? +1?

RC: Apparently his shooting hand was hurt early in the season; fans claim he played better in the second half. And he’s been good in the playoffs two years running, and that’s the real season, after all.

BL: Also a small sample. But, yeah, much as I’d like to, we can’t count Brown out.

RC: And the last starter is Enes Kanter. Remember that Christmas game where he took like 50 rebounds against us?

BL: I think you’re thinking of Wilt Chamberlain there with that 50-rebounds stuff. But, yeah, the Turk is good on the boards. Overall, though, not so much. He’s a negative on the court. It’ll take some real Brad Stevens Magic to turn him into a net plus. Meanwhile you skipped over another guy with a case as Boston’s best player.

RC: Marcus Smart.

BL: Score one for 538’s CARMELO model; they’ve been saying for years he was a star in the making, and now it’s coming true. Over +2 last year and still young. And the rest of the league was so blinkered they passed on the chance to make him a decent offer last season so Boston kept him for cheap. Idiots.

RC: You mean last offseason.

BL: To us blind guys, the draft, free agency, and the trade deadline are the season! The actual games are just exercises in seeing who gets the injury luck and the quadruple-doinks to go their way. I’m not playing the player game, or the coach game, I’m playing the GM game.

RC: Uh, sure, whatever you say.... Anyway: Jabari Parker said it, you don’t get paid for defense.

BL: Turns out you don’t get paid all that much anymore if your defense is as terrible as Jabari’s either! Back to Marcus: he has the D, the BBIQ, the attitude, can handle the ball... areally nice player. Seems very unpleasant to play against, but a friend of mine spent some time with him and says he’s a wonderful guy. If the C’s want to follow up their gift of Horford to us by sending Marcus Smart over, I’ll take him!

RC: And the shot seems to be coming around.

BL: Yeah, it gives hope to all us Ben Simmons fans!

RC: So isn’t that a heck of a team?

BL: Look, I won’t deny that if everything goes their way, the team could be very good. But you can say that about any team.

RC: Not about Charlotte!

BL: Yeah, I guess in the modern NBA we should say: of the half the teams in the league that are actually trying to win, virtually any of them could contend if they get lucky on every coin flip. Hell, you can turn $100 into $100,000 in Vegas, all that’s required is that you get 10 straight slightly-less-than 50-50 shots to come through, easy-peasy!

RC: So what do you expect?

BL: Let’s say +5 for Kemba and Smart combined, +2 for Tatum, +1 each for Brown and Hayward, 0 for the weighted average of the centers Kanter and Theis. So 40% +2 from the guards, 40%+1.25 from the forwards, 20% 0 from the centers, total +6.5.

RC: Isn’t that a really good team? +6.5 is better than either of the last two Sixer teams did.

BL: But that’s not the whole season! That’s their playoff rotation where only the good guys play! Across a whole season, you go deeper into the bench, you have load management, all that stuff.

Here’s what the starters plus sixth man plus backup center, the same group, looks like for the team that won the East last year; this is just my guess as to how good these players were entering the postseason:

C: Gasol +3
PF: Siakom +4
SF: Kawhi +8
SG: Danny Green +3
PG: Lowry +4
6th man: VanVleet +1
Backup C: Ibaka +0

See what I mean? that group is around +17, and that’s assuming Kawhi was a merely exceptional +8; it’s possible he was more like +12 in those playoffs! Boston is not just behind that team, they’re in a different universe.

RC: That Toronto team is gone now.

BL: Thank goodness! Looking at it now, it’s a miracle the Sixers were able to hang with them. Their fourth- and fifth-best players had RPM over +3!!! And they had Kawhi on top of all that. They’ll be remembered as a fluke that won because of Warrior injuries, but actually I think they should be seen as something of a superteam, just a short-lived one.

RC: But they’ve totally fallen apart.

BL: Are we sure? I mean, yes, obviously they’re not a superteam anymore. And maybe they’ll Blow. It. Up. But suppose they don’t, let’s compare them to Boston.

C: Gasol vs. Kanter? Big edge Toronto.

PF: Siakam vs. Tatum? Edge Toronto, arguably big edge.

SF: OG vs. Hayward? Edge Boston.

SG: Powell vs. Brown? Edge Boston, arguably even.

PG: Lowry vs. Kemba? Even (arguably edge Toronto).

6th: VanVleet vs. Smart? Edge Boston.

Pretty close, arguably Toronto’s lineup is better, though Boston has more young guys (recent first-round picks) who could break through for them.

RC: How about this year’s Philly team?

BL: Sure. Off the top of my head:

C: Joel +7 (he was almost that high last year, and he’s still young/improving!)

PF: Horford +4 (he was well over +4 the past two years, I cut it a bit for aging)

SF: Tobi +1 (hoping for +2 this year but hope is not a plan!)

SG: Richardson +2

PG: Ben +2 (like tatum he could break out, I’m treating them the same)

6th man: best of Scott, Ennis, Zhaire, Matisse +0

Backup C will be Al, or O’Quinn who’s around +0

That’s around +13; wow, really highlights how damn good that Toronto team was!

But it also highlights the huge gap between a legit contender like Philly and the Bostons; +6.5 for your playoff group is just not that impressive.

RC: Can Boston partly make up for it with superior deep-bench play?

BL: Not likely, since those guys get little if any run when the chips are down. A strong deep bench isn’t worthless of course, it enables you to rest your main guys so they are ready to play big minutes in the most important games.

But here’s the really weird part that no one is talking about: I’ve never before seen a team that’s trying to win that assembled a deep bench with no players who have proven they are capable of doing anything useful in the NBA.

RC: What about Semi Ojeleye?

BL: I suppose, but that sort of makes my point. The Sixers took a guy right around the same time in the same draft as Semi, Jonah Bolden, and he’s a year younger than Semi. Both are listed as PFs on ESPN and have similar RPM. You don’t see the Sixers just assuming that with JoBo in the house, we’re all set at backup 4 and don’t need any dependable vets there.

RC: We learned our lesson over the past two seasons.

BL: Well, The C’s learned a different lesson. The closest to a trusted vet the team has behind the front seven is a third-year, second-round pick, mediocre role player. Other than him it’s all rookies, second-year guys who weren’t good last year like Robert Williams, and... well, that’s actually all there is!

RC: But this is what makes the Celtics so dangerous. Everyone else needs to fill their bench with has-beens and never-wases, with the Washed and the Great Unwashed, with Jeff Green and Wilson Chandler. But Brad proved the year before last that he could do as well with Shane Larkin and Guerschon Yabusele. That gives them the ability to test and grow their young talent without sacrificing wins.

BL: Fair point. Let me say one more thing and then I’ll let you go to town talking about Brad Stevens.

People in Philly have been freaking out that the only backups we have at point guard are the highly competent Raul Neto and the unproven but exciting Shake Milton. But here are the Celtics, who you say are a contender, and their #1 backup is Brad Wanamaker, who is a no-name Euro-baller despite having the ultra-cool old-school Philly name “Wanamaker.”

(Editor’s note: this article was submitted before the Sixers signed Trey Burke.)

RC: For the benefit of our younger readers: John Wanamaker was an Old Philadelphian who opened a department store named for himself way back in the day. He is credited as the inventor of... the price tag! I guess before that you had to ask the price of everything, and part of a store clerk’s job was to squeeze as much money out of you as possible, checking out your clothes and stuff to estimate your willingness to pay.

BL: Philly Roxx! Anyway, my point is, though Wanamaker had an OK plus-minus last year, he’s barely played a meaningful NBA minute and it’s unlikely he’s any good — who goes to war knowing if Kemba goes down, BradWan is steering the ship? Why isn’t this a scandal?!

RC: Because the backup PG is Marcus Smart. Even Gordo can handle the rock.

BL: Sure, and Josh Richardson can play PG for the Sixers, and Al can back up at center. That didn’t stop us from adding solid backups like KOQ and Neto. Similarly we have young guns on the wing in Zhaire and Thybulle, just as Boston has Romeo and Grant. But we’re not depending on them, we hope they’ll be great but we re-signed Scott and Ennis in case they aren’t.

RC: As usual, you have a point, but you’re pushing it too far. It’s true the C’s bench is thin after their key guys, but that’s in part because they have one more very good player than the Sixers do. Out of Smart, Brown, and Hayward, one of them isn’t going to start. Let’s suppose it’s Marcus. Then the bench comparison isn’t Romeo to Ennis, it’s Smart to Ennis, and Boston wins that one by a mile. Then after that the Sixers have a lot more veteran depth, but we’re starting that comparison way behind because of Smart.

BL: I see your point, but I think I was fair: I did a “playoff rotation” where I gave Boston credit for being strong at sixth man. Now I’m saying that once you go past Top Six plus backup C, Boston is relying on players who are not only young, they were not drafted especially high and haven’t given much reason to think they’ll be good as early in their careers as this year.

RC: No reason?!?! Did you see Carsen draining three after three in Summer League?!

BL: Oy, here we go....

RC: We traded Grant Williams AND Carsen Edwards for just Thybulle!

BL: Now you’re just trolling me. You know that isn’t true.

RC: But everybody says it!

BL: It’s ridiculous. Boston took Williams with the 22nd pick. The Sixers picked 24th. We could have had Williams only by trading up, thus giving the Edwards pick and pick 24 in return for G-Will. But we couldn’t have had both Edwards and Williams, if we had stood pat at 24, Williams would have been gone, as would Brandon Clarke and, most think, Thybulle. So then whom would we have taken?

RC: Nice use of “whom”!

BL: You’re ducking the question.

RC: Yeah, I don’t know whom we’d have gotten then. And I do like Matisse. Maybe trading up wasn’t idiotic after all. But look: I know it’s just Summer League, but can you honestly tell me you didn’t feel a pang?

BL: I think Carsen will be a useful player over his career. I’d be happy to have him on the Sixers. But I’m not expecting him to be a difference maker ever, and I’m really not expecting him to be good this year. If he surprises me, I’ll tip my cap to him, and to Danny Ainge. Overall, I’d say the C’s have two maladies. The obvious one is that they lack superstar talent. And the non-obvious one is that they are shockingly thin for a team with Finals ambitions.

RC: Which brings us back to Coach Stevens. Hasn’t he proven to us that all he needs is athletic dudes who can shoot a little and who will DO Their JOB and he can produce a competent bench unit from guys who know one else thought could play.

BL: I’d like to argue with you, but I can’t. I followed the post-Kyrie-injury C’s in Spring 2018 very closely, and it was absolutely amazing. He would go into Portland or OKC or someplace. On the road, far from home, against a team desperately fighting for playoff position. And he’d run a bunch of jokers out there, no Kyrie, no Hayward, sometimes no Al either... and win!

RC: You know the research on this, right? The best coaches can add 10-15 wins a year, Pop for example, they’re as valuable as a superstar player like LeBron.

BL: Pretty amazing. You’d think others could just copy their plays or whatever.

RC: I guess it’s about motivating everyone to play hard and play as a team. Phil Jackson had the same kind of impact, and I don’t think it was because of the Triangle. He just got them all pulling in the same direction. And Stevens can do it, we’ve seen it.

BL: If we cobbled together a bunch of mediocre players, and need a coach to win as many games as possible with them, I think my current Mount Rushmore of that is Pop, Larry Brown even at age 80 or whatever, Brad Stevens, and Budenholzer. So, credit where due. And I’ll grant, if I were a C’s fan I wouldn’t worry too much about the bench; either Brad will get the young guys to produce, or he’ll bring up some G-Leaguerrs and they’ll play like 10-year vets for him. I won’t even troll you back by saying it was all Al Horford’s doing, though my Celtic-fan friends say that if you sit in the front row at the TD Garden and listen to Al teach the game to his teammates, it’s just unbelievable.

But after last year, isn’t there some concern that Brad’s magic works only on ordinary players, on college kids and scrubs who have to listen to him or bear the consequences, but not on today’s modern NBA stars who will simply demand a ticket out of Boston if they don’t get their way.

RC: In addition to his history of making the mediocre good, Brad has, many times, made good players play great. Isaiah we already mentioned. Jae Crowder had a monster year for him. Avery Bradley wasn’t good under Stevens, but he was adequate instead of awful like he usually is. Horford played his best ever for Stevens. Actually, despite all the drama, last year Kyrie had his best-ever plus-minus numbers!

BL: So you think he can get Brown and Tatum moving forward again?

RC: I do. He can turn Kemba, who might be +2.5 with a normal coach, into +4.5. He can turn -1 Enes into +1 Enes. He’s that good. And if Hayward is fully recovered by playoff time, watch out!

BL: You may be right, we’ll see. It’s asking an awful lot of a coach who has had one good year and one bad in the past two. But I admit, I can’t bring myself to count him out. On paper their team looks to me like they’ll need to battle to finish top-6 in the East so they can avoid losing to Milwaukee in the first round. But deep down my guess is they’ll beat Toronto or Indiana in the 4-5 matchup before facing us or MIL in the Conference Semifinals.

RC: And if it’s us, you’ll be nervous, admit it!

BL: Yeah.

RC: So why all this talk of them being doomed? Sounds like we agree they have a puncher’s chance this year, and then it’s off to the races with their young talent and draft picks.

BL: But that’s just it: the C’s future looks really problematic to me.

RC: Why?

BL: They’re at zero superstars, one star, and two good players now. To be a serious title contender you need something like two superstars and two stars, or one megastar and two stars and a good player, or something.

RC: What are you calling a “superstar” or “megastar” here?

BL: Lord only knows, but let’s say megastars are guys who have the ability to play up at the +8 or higher level, including players like Kevin Durant (or Kawhi last year) who elect to hold back in the regular season. The top 8 or so guys in the league, the group Joel seems to be moving into. Superstars are players around +5 or so, guys like Jimmy Butler and Damian Lillard.

RC: So the Sixers are at, what, megastar Joel, superstar Al, plus three good players?

BL: Yes; obviously Al is an unusual kind of superstar, but I’m basing this on overall contribution, not just fame and bucketzzz. I can’t yet put Ben at the star level, the Kemba level, of course I hope and kind of expect he’ll be there in a year, but Celts fans would say the same about Tatum.

RC: But isn’t that why the Celtics are in such great shape? They have coming stars like Brown and Tatum and Smart, potential stars like Langford, the Williamses, and even Edwards, plus Hayward may return to stardom.

BL: I guess I just don’t see a year where they have Finals quality. This coming year we’ve covered. But by next year’s playoffs, Kemba and Hayward will both be 31. I haven’t seen the proof, but if I’ve heard it said that small guards don’t age well once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Hayward isn’t good yet, by 31 his old injured bones may be aching. It seems like one star and one good player is somewhere between a fair and an optimistic take on how good those two will be by the year after next. Tatum will be only 22 so it’s unreasonable to expect him to be more than a star. For Brown “good player” is the fair expectation. Smart is on the borderline of star, I’ll give him “star the year after next. As to late picks in crappy drafts like Grant Williams, it would be foolish to expect them to ever be more than OK; I’m certainly not assuming stardom for Matisse Thybulle two years from now!

RC: Still, that’s a lot of stars!

BL: A reasonable expectation for the C’s the year after next is that they’ll have three stars and two good players, plus OK guys to fill in the ranks. Combine with an excellent coach and you have a good team, but not an exceptional team. Look around the league and you’ll see what I mean. OKC last year had PG13, who played like a megastar, Russell Westbrook, who was at least a star, plus lots of good players like Jerami Grant and Steven Adams. They went nowhere, and no one but Thunder fans thought there was any chance they wouldn’t go nowhere. Or look at the current Utah team, Gobert is a star or superstar (not megastar but that second level of star), Conley is a star, Mitchell may well be a star this year, and Joe Ingles has such good plus-minus numbers every single year that I think it’s obvious now he’s a star. People had a few days of “look out for Utah!” fun, but, seriously, no one thinks they’re making the Finals, right? Does anyone really think they’re as good as the Sixers? I doubt it.

RC: You’re monologuing.

BL: Sorry, it’s the professor in me! Anyway, I just don’t see it. Say they get lucky and Tatum is a superstar at 25. By then Kemba and Hayward will be old men. Where are they going to find all those other top players to put around Tatum and Smart? Of course they can hope Romeo is that guy, but as I believe was mentioned earlier, hope is not a plan.

RC: What about Brown?

BL: Brown is a nightmare scenario. I mean, maybe not. Maybe he’ll be superb this year and they’ll be in good shape. Or maybe he’ll be terrible and they’ll let him walk. But most likely he’ll be in the middle, say a +1 player. Now what do you do? The free agent class next year is pathetic, and some team is going to say a 23-year-old who’s a solid starter is worth a max or near-max offer. Boston would probably match. And now that’s it, you’re spending 100% of the cap on four less-than-superstar players, Kemba-Gordo-Smart-Brown. Give Tatum the max a year later and you’re at or near the hard cap while still not having a dominator.

RC: Aren’t you forgetting a gentleman by the name of Trader Danny?

BL: You mean the guy who fleeced and pwned and pantsed Elton Brand so badly that he got Carsen Edwards and a future Milwaukee pick in return for Matisse Thybulle and Al Horford?

RC: I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization of...

BL: The Danny who tried to trade four first round picks, including the Tatum pick, for one selection so he could take Justise Winslow?

RC: They sure dodged a bullet there; such a shame Charlotte was so desperate to take Frank the Tank. Look, no GM is right every time. But the Danny Ainge/Mike Zaren team has made some shrewd moves over the years. And they still have that Memphis pick, likely unprotected in a year. Don’t you think they can turn that and some of their other assets into a superstar to pair with Tatum?

BL: Actually I’ve been writing a piece on that. It’s harder than it looks.

RC: To write the piece, or for Boston to make the trade?

BL: Both!

RC: Tell me more. About the latter I mean, I don’t care to hear you whine about how tough it is to be a sportswriter!

BL: I work so hard to make my arguments ironclad, and then people simultaneously complain that I didn’t go deep on some tiny detail, and also that the pieces are too long!

RC: I said I don’t want to hear it.

BL: OK. Randy, remember whom you’re talking to. It’s your alter ego, Blindloyalty76. When i say I’m working on a piece on that, what I mean is, I am developing a 6,000-word deep dive on the subject.

RC: Oh. That doesn’t sound like it’ll fit into this already-lengthy dialogue.

BL: Right. So let’s cut this off for now; I promise more on the C’s future soon.

RC: OK. But can we reach any conclusion?

BL: You’ve persuaded me that the combination of Stevens’ excellence and the unusually large number of Celtics players who could in theory take a huge leap this year means the Celtics could easily be a scary playoff opponent for someone, including Philly.

RC: And you’ve convinced me the Celts have significant short- and long-run challenges that mean they’re going to need either tremendous luck or exceptionally skillful execution in order to be a real title threat anytime soon.

BL: Until next time, then, my friend!