As the Celtics-Wizards series increases in intensity, with Game 4 on Sunday in Washington, Turner Sports analyst Greg Anthony is still trying to figure out ways to describe the exploits of Isaiah Thomas.
Thomas has been arguably the MVP of the postseason for how he has led the Celtics, despite the tragic death of his sister. He scored a career-high 53 points in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Anthony, who was an NBA point guard for 11 seasons, has nothing but compliments for the Celtics star and said he could tell something special was occurring in a short conversation prior to Game 2.
“Isaiah Thomas is a truly great player, first and foremost, you’ve got to start with that,” Anthony said. “He is without a doubt one of the very best players in the league, and it’s not about size. His skill set is comparable to anybody who plays in our league. His mind-set is comparable to anybody who plays that position, and then when you factor in the circumstance, it’s mind-boggling.
“I got a chance to briefly tell him I was praying for him; just pat him on the chest and you tell he was still grieving, and who would not be under the circumstance. I think he said he’s using his sister’s motivation, he’s playing for her. That’s what the great ones thrive on, they find motivation where others may not be able to. That’s been so impressive with what he’s done and that game will go down as one of the best four or five that I have ever witnessed.”
What has fueled the Celtics-Wizards rivalry and their true dislike for each other is they are on parallel paths to success. One of them will prevail and likely meet the Cavaliers in the conference finals.
“There’s a healthy disdain for one another in this series and I think it’s great,” Anthony said. “It adds to the dynamic of the postseason. I think we all love that. We talk about the postseason, it’s more physical, and it has been. And the stakes are higher, and more importantly you also expect your best players to play better. We’ve also gotten that. So when you talk about the recipe for rivalries and contending, when you want to be a team that competes for championships, I think we have all the ingredients unfolding here. Really good coaching. Great chess match. And then it comes down to the mental side. Who’s going to be able to deal with the adversity best. Thus far, that’s been the Celtics.”
Anthony has emerged as one of the league’s best commentators, seemingly a natural for the position as opposed to some former players who are thrown into the role and struggle to describe the game for common viewers.
“The key is just be a fan of a game and not of a team,” Anthony said. “Because generally I’ve got friends on both sides, relationships on both sides, so I really go into it with the premise that being a fan and trying to get lost in the game. It’s a lot easier when the game’s great like Game 2. It’s kind of like playing, you spend a lot of time in terms in preparation, but even when you play the game, stuff happens for you which you didn’t prepare. It’s the same thing with what we do.
“I’m over there literally sweating, I’ve got adrenaline flowing through me, especially in the playoffs because I respect and appreciate the importance of the moment. As fans, this is as big for us when it comes to basketball.”
Anthony overcame his brief suspension from Turner Sports and CBS because of an off-court issue to reemerge as one of the most concise and thoughtful analysts in the game. He has flourished after his playing career and he said it’s because he has developed a love for his craft.
“It’s the same thing I talk to my kids about, it doesn’t matter what you do, just try to find something you are passionate about,” he said. “ For me, when I finished playing, I didn’t plan on broadcasting. It wasn’t something I studied or even thought about doing career-wise. It never crossed my mind. I thought I would maybe go to grad school, law school, but I fell into it and became passionate about it. And in some respects, more passionate than playing.
“When you play professionally for a long time, it gets hard physically and mentally. The body takes such a beating, it’s easy to lose a little bit of the love of playing. You don’t lose the love for the game. For me, I found something I’m passionate about that I really, truly enjoy. And I have a great appreciation for it.”
Goodwin would exit early again
ESPN’s “30 for 30” on John Calipari included the way he encourages his players to leave for the NBA after their freshman seasons if they are ready. There are three Kentucky one-and-dones — De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Bam Adebayo — in this year’s draft. Fox and Monk could be top-10 picks and Adebayo could go in the top 20.
There have been 21 Kentucky freshmen leave for the draft since Calipari became coach in 2009, and not all have had the success of Anthony Davis, John Wall, and Karl-Anthony Towns. Some are fighting to stay in the league, including Archie Goodwin of the Nets and James Young of the Celtics.
Goodwin averaged 14.1 points for the Wildcats in 2012-13, and the athletic swingman thought it was time to go pro. Goodwin was acquired by the Suns on draft night in 2013 and was considered a prospect, but that tag wore thin and he was waived just before training camp last fall.
Goodwin spent a short time with the Pelicans, then in the NBADL, before being signed to a pair of 10-day contracts with the Nets, who then signed him to a multiyear deal. Goodwin is 22 but fighting for his NBA existence. The primary goal for one-and-dones is to become stars, right? Barely clinging to rosters is supposed to be for former college seniors or players from mid-majors.
Goodwin, however, said he has no regrets. He wanted to be a pro and he owns his journey, even if it doesn’t result in All-Star Game appearances or sneaker deals.
“It just taught me to stay ready mentally,” he said. “Just being prepared for whatever comes my way. You know, this year has been a long one, it’s been one of the craziest years that I’ve ever experienced. So just being mentally strong the whole time and working and trusting God’s plan is the biggest thing.
Goodwin admittedly wasn’t happy with how things ended in Phoenix. He was part of a young group of players, including Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, and Alex Len, that was expected to grow together. But Goodwin got squeezed out in a numbers game.
“This is a business, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes with certain situations people just don’t do the right things,” Goodwin said. “But that’s just how the cookie crumbles. I guess certain organizations, they just don’t do things the right way. You can see differences in teams that are on the right track, and I’m just happy to be in a great situation that I’m in now [with the Nets]. They’re actually going to give me an opportunity and this summer is going to be a big, big summer for me. I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Goodwin said he would make the decision to leave Kentucky after his freshman season again, despite the uncertainty.
“I don’t live my life with regrets,” he said. “Whatever happens from here on is God’s plan. I’m just going to try to execute it. I don’t regret leaving early. I felt like I did what was best for me. If I go to a better situation [coming out of Kentucky], I wouldn’t even have been in the situation I am in now. Truth be told, I don’t feel like I should have went through that [in Phoenix]. It was just bad timing, when I was released by Phoenix.
“And then I went to a situation in New Orleans where I really shouldn’t have done that. That was my first time being released. I was so ready to get back into the league that I would have done anything. But that wasn’t the right situation for me.”
Goodwin signed a multiyear deal with the Pelicans two weeks after being released by the Suns, but he played only three games for New Orleans before his nonguaranteed deal was waived, leaving him relegated to the NBADL before Brooklyn called.
The Nets need young talent, so Goodwin has the opportunity to grow with their young core. General manager Sean Marks signed other organizations’ castoffs, such as Spencer Dinwiddie, K.J. McDaniels, Joe Harris, and Goodwin, hoping they can flourish with increased playing time.
“I can grow with this team, grow with the staff and organization,” Goodwin said. “It’s not disheartening if you’re mentally tough. I can get through anything. I’ve been through it all. I know what it’s like to be in the D-League. It’s takes a different person to get out of it because you can get lost down there.”
Goodwin said he watched the Nets extensively before signing with them.
“I told Sean Marks that I want to play there because they play hard and they play together,” Goodwin said. “That’s something I want to be a part of.”
Hawks shake up their front office
The Hawks have been on the verge of being serious Eastern Conference contenders over the past few years, but their first-round loss to the Wizards caused the organization to make some changes.
Coach Mike Budenholzer has been stripped of his duties as team president, while general manager Wes Wilcox has been reassigned. So, Atlanta is seeking a new GM, and the reason could be Dwight Howard.
Wilcox made Howard the highest-paid player on the team, signing the former superstar center to a three-year, $70.5 million contract. Howard averaged six shots and 26 minutes during the series against the Wizards. Not surprisingly, he complained about his role.
The Hawks need a franchise player, another Dominique Wilkins-type who defines the organization. But that’s difficult when marquee players don’t consider Atlanta a free agent destination.
“The truth is at the end of the season [Budenholzer] and [Wilcox] sat down with me and we had some very exhaustive discussions on how we could get better,” said principal owner Tony Ressler. “I would say as a somewhat attribute of both, both Bud and Wes thought this would be a positive for the franchise. I actually agreed with them after further evaluation. I felt after these in-depth discussions with both of them, it became quite clear we could be better.”
Wilcox, who is now a consultant to ownership, will be allowed to seek another job. The Hawks need a charismatic leader who can sell the organization. There is no reason why Atlanta shouldn’t be a vogue free agent destination. It has enough night life and activity for any NBA player, and the organization has been moderately successful over the past decade after a rough stretch.
“I asked them how we could be better as a franchise, how do we go to that next step? Are we doing everything we could be doing?” said Ressler, who is married to actress Jami Gertz. “I think each of them, neither felt we were operating to the best of our ability as a franchise. It became painfully obvious after discussions with each of them.”
Ressler said that former NBA standout Grant Hill, a part-owner of the Hawks, will not be a candidate in the GM search. He will remain in his current role.
“We have a sense of direction we want to go in, and for what it’s worth we don’t think this is slowing us down one iota,” Ressler said. “We want someone with experience but we also want someone who thinks out of the box. I don’t have a good answer to someone who we’re looking for today. We’re here to try to figure out how to become a championship team, we’re looking for a true leader in that effort.”
Wizards guard John Wall only compares himself to LeBron James in one way, the perceived lack of calls he gets when he drives to the basket. Wall said he doesn’t get respect from officials because of his physicality, although he was 13th in the NBA in free throw attempts during the regular season. “I think I get the same treatment as LeBron James when he drives,” said Wall. “I think I’m too big and physical and guys bounce off me and they think I’m just supposed to play through it, so I’ll just keep playing, and like coach [Scott Brooks] told me, don’t worry about it, just trying to finish plays without worrying about the fouls.” Wall is one of the league’s best at attacking the basket but it’s uncertain whether his objection will get him more calls in the remainder of the Boston series . . .
LaVar Ball, father of top prospect Lonzo Ball, released his Big Baller Brand shoe last week. The price? $495. Whether this will be a successful venture is uncertain, but Lonzo Ball could be the first player to enter the NBA with his own sneaker. LaVar Ball wants to attach Big Baller Brand to Lonzo’s shoe deal, but Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour all rejected the idea of sponsoring the brand . . . The NBA has been trying to build its draft combine into something as big as the NFL’s, but the NBA’s top prospects keep dropping out or passing altogether on the opportunity to participate. The combine is basically becoming a chance for college seniors and one-and-dones who may be overlooked to boost their stock. But a handful of prospects, including Ball, Malik Monk, Dennis Smith, and Josh Jackson are passing on the combine all together. In the past, top prospects who were likely top-five picks would participate in the medical and interview sessions but not the five-on-five or physical tests. Now they aren’t showing up at all . . . Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas will hold his annual basketball clinic on Aug. 5-6 (1-4 p.m. each day) at Boston University. Thomas will be present and the camp is open to boys and girls in grades 1 through 12. The price is $299.
Pulling the strings
John Wall was the catalyst for the Wizards in their 4-2 first-round series victory over Atlanta. The point guard became the fifth player since 1984 to record at least 170 points and 60 assists in a series.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.