These players could interest the Celtics on buyout market
While the Celtics were mostly onlookers at the NBA trade deadline, they are expected to be active in the buyout market with one open roster spot.
The Celtics were able to nab Greg Monroe last spring — with the help of the injured player exception for Gordon Hayward — and this spring they’ll be in the hunt for a veteran who could contribute in perhaps a small role.
The buyout market has become increasingly popular over the past few years, with veteran players involved in salary-cap-clearing deals, to players agreeing to having their contracts terminated for the sake of joining a more competitive team.
Poor teams don’t want expensive players. They simply want their salary slots. So most are receptive to buyouts because it creates opportunity for younger players to prove themselves.
There are a handful of buyout options that may entice the Celtics, but that player also has to accept a minimum deal since Boston is over the cap, and also understand that playing time could be limited.
There are likely to be some intriguing names on the buyout list, and here are some players that may draw the Celtics’ interest:
Markieff Morris, Pelicans — The former Wizard and twin brother of Celtic Marcus Morris, Markieff is a physical forward/center with solid 3-point shooting ability. Like his brother, he is a free agent this summer and the Wizards moved his contract to reduce their luxury-tax bill. Morris has been sidelined with a neck injury, but if he gets healthy soon he could be an asset defensively because he defend bigs in the paint at 6 feet 10 inches.
Aron Baynes won’t be back until after the All-Star Break, and while Daniel Theis is a solid backup, he struggles against bigger centers (i.e. Joel Embiid). Guerschon Yabusele and Robert Williams may not be ready for prime-time minutes. And the Morris twins on the same team could make the Celtics one of the more intimidating squads in the league.
Michael Beasley, Clippers — This would be a serious risk, but Beasley can score in bunches and if in the right environment he could be an asset off the bench. Beasley has had to deal with his mother’s death from cancer, affecting his tenure with the Lakers, but he’s gifted offensively and the Celtics’ bench has had its troubles in that department. It’s a long shot, but Beasley is a better person than he is perceived to be around the NBA.
Carmelo Anthony, Bulls — Anthony has been inactive for months, and it seems as if the Lakers are making a spot for him to join buddy LeBron James. How much does Anthony have left? Can he accept a 12-minute-per-game role? Is he a locker room problem? Does he still think he’s the old Melo?
In a league that emphasizes ball movement and 3-point shooting, Anthony has been essentially left behind because of his ball dominance and primary midrange game. He likely won’t draw the interest of the Celtics, but Anthony should return to the NBA this season.
Robin Lopez, Bulls — Remember when Lopez looked like Bill Walton circa 1977 in that playoff series against the Celtics two seasons ago? He is a capable, dirty-work player who can score around the basket and doesn’t need any plays called for him. While twin brother Brook Lopez appears to be allergic to rebounding, Robin loves the boards and loves defense. He’s sort of a poor-man’s Baynes, but there is room for him on a playoff roster.
Marcin Gortat, Clippers — It didn’t quite work in Los Angeles, but Gortat is a decent pick-and-roll center who can score at the basket. Again, these buyout players all have their limitations, and you can’t rely on Gortat to be a starter and play major minutes, but he could fill a backup role.
Enes Kanter, Knicks — In fantasy basketball, Kanter is a productive player. He posts double-doubles nearly every night and is a maven on the offensive boards. Kanter is a big personality, trash talker, and all-around fun guy, but he doesn’t play much defense, and that wouldn’t fit well with the Celtics. The question is whether a contending team could make room for Kanter in perhaps a backup role. He’s put up big numbers in New York, but they didn’t result in wins, and through no fault of his own Kanter got the reputation of putting up meaningless numbers. What would happen if he played on a winning team and his minutes meant something? He is looking for his chance to show he can play on the big stage.
Rebounding from Oladipo injury
The Pacers were deeply shaken by a season-ending knee injury to All-Star guard Victor Oladipo on Jan. 23, and the feeling was they would sink quickly in the Eastern Conference.
And indeed, Indiana lost its next four games. But behind the inspired play of Bojan Bogdanovic and Myles Turner, the Pacers entered the weekend having won four straight, including a 42-point victory over the Lakers and a 24-point decision over the Clippers.
Turner, a 22-year-old, fourth-year center, said the team needed some time to recover but has enough talent to make a serious playoff run without its leading scorer.
“We know the situation and we have to have a next-man-up mentality,” he said. “As far as me, I’m just going to do whatever’s asked of me. If I have to go out there and take more shots, I’m going to do it. If I have to go out there and guard the best player, block more shots, I’m definitely going to go out there and do it. Our team mentality is we can’t feel sorry for ourselves because no one in this league is going to feel sorry for us.”
Turner is leading the NBA in blocked shots at 2.7 per game and is a premium interior defender. He also is shooting a career-best 40.2 percent from the 3-point arc. He is part of the latest generation of centers, ones who who can do dirty work in the post and stretch the floor.
Pacers management approached Turner last year and asked him to get into better condition and challenged him to be the NBA’s best defensive center.
“The game is opening up for me and it came from a lot of hard work this summer,” he said. “I committed myself to that and it’s worked out quite well for me.”
Turner’s improvement over his four seasons has been key to Indiana’s rise to an Eastern Conference contender following the departure of Paul George. Taken 11th overall in 2015, Turner was overshadowed coming out of the University of Texas. He possessed the skill set but averaged just 10.1 points in his one season with the Longhorns. He averaged 10.3 points during his rookie season with the Pacers.
“When I got drafted and when Indiana took a chance on me, I went out there and just did it,” he said. “There’s only so much preparation you can do. There’s only so many things you can hear about. The veterans in my first year put me in the right position to be successful.”
But Turner said he wasn’t satisfied with just being a promising big man, he worked feverishly to refine his game.
“My main motivating factor is I want to win,” he said. “We had our early exit in the playoffs [last year] and I want to get over that hump and start taking the next step. You have the personal goals, you want to be an All-Star, you want to be first-team All-Defense, you keep that in the back of your mind, but you try to keep the team goals first. The biggest motivating factor is winning.”
The Pacers were one of the league’s surprise teams last season with the additions of Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, acquired in the George trade with the Thunder. Indiana had Cleveland down, three games to two, before losing Games 6 and 7 in the first round of the playoffs.
Indiana was off to another sparkling start, holding down the third seed for most of the season, before Oladipo’s injury. The Pacers are expected to sign former Dallas sharpshooter Wesley Matthews for the playoff push, meaning they won’t be pushovers in the final two months of the regular season.
“This is obviously a little bump in the road with losses here and there, but every team goes through this,” Turner said. “Golden State at the beginning of the season, they were losing. Boston a couple of weeks ago had a couple of stretches. These top teams, everybody goes through it. I just feel like we’re just going through some growing pains right now and we’ll get through it.”
LeBron continues to build résumé
In his 16th season, LeBron James is being asked often about how he wants to be viewed when his career is over. He will be considered a top-five player of all time at least, with Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Magic Johnson, and could finish as the game’s all-time leading scorer and in the top five in assists.
“I’ve never put a cap on how many years I want to be part of this league or play the game of basketball,” said the 34-year-old James, who was in Boston Thursday night with the Lakers. “The time will tell itself when I feel like it’s time for me to stop.”
James has three NBA championship rings, has appeared in the last eight NBA Finals, helped bring Cleveland its first professional sports title in 52 years, and is a sports and social icon. And while catapulting the Lakers back to prominence is now his primary goal, he said he really has nothing left to accomplish.
Is he still chasing Jordan, or does the new generation of fans who only know Jordan from his sneakers and YouTube consider James the greatest of all time? Opinions are split. There are those who believe James has eclipsed Jordan because of his all-around skill set, those eight straight Finals appearances, and his longevity.
“There’s nothing I need to do in this league that I don’t already have,” James said. “Everything else for me is like icing on the cake. I’ve competed every single night for 15 years to put my team in position to compete for championships, but there’s nothing I’m chasing that I feel like I need to end my career on.”
At this point in James’s career, he is past trying to please others. When he arrived in Miami in 2010 seeking a title, James said he was consumed with trying to please. When he returned to being himself and embraced his personality and standing in the game, his image soared, and he has eclipsed Kobe Bryant and others as the best player of his generation.
“I prepare to be the best every single day,” James said. “It’s not like I wake up every single day and go like, ‘If I don’t win a championship, if I don’t make it to the All-Star Game, then my career isn’t what I wanted it to be.’ Every moment I don’t take for granted. Every opportunity I get to play the game I play at the highest of my ability. I’m not in the fashion of if I can’t do this individually or can’t do this my career is a failure.”
Guiding the Lakers back to prominence has been difficult. With James missing five weeks because of a groin injury, the Lakers fell in the standings after having aspirations of being a top-four playoff seed. Then came the trade demand of Pelicans star Anthony Davis, whose target team is the Lakers.
That distraction affected James’s younger teammates, who sleepwalked through a 42-point loss to the Pacers on Tuesday, with James sitting by himself at the end of the bench during the fourth quarter. Two nights later, the Lakers played one of their better games of the season hours after the trade deadline in beating the Celtics.
The Lakers and Pelicans couldn’t come to an agreement on a Davis trade, meaning young Lakers such as Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart, and Lonzo Ball were staying put. The hope is that the newfound security creates more of a bond between James and his teammates, and that the Lakers can make a playoff push. Entering Friday, they were 1½ games behind the Clippers for the final spot in the Western Conference.
“If I’m healthy and we’re a collective group, I think we can make a push, and that’s all it’s about,” James said. “After the deadline they were able to relax and it just played a lot with their minds a little bit, and after the 3 o’clock deadline we all knew this is who we have and who we love to be around, so we were able to lock in.”
The Mavericks’ trade of Harrison Barnes to the Kings was one of the more controversial deals before the deadline because he was dealt Wednesday night during the Mavericks’ game against the Hornets. It was reminiscent of an Oakland Athletics game in 1992 when Jose Canseco was pulled out of the on-deck circle because he had been traded to the Texas Rangers. Barnes was informed of the deal after the Mavericks’ victory and appeared stunned. Just a year and a half ago, Barnes was the centerpiece of the Mavericks’ rebuild when he was acquired with Andrew Bogut from the Warriors, enabling Golden State to sign Kevin Durant. Now that the Mavericks have acquired Kristaps Porzingis and with the development of Luka Doncic, owner Mark Cuban is going in a different direction, having dealt Barnes, Dennis Smith, Wesley Matthews, and DeAndre Jordan, four of the five starters to open the season . . . Barnes could be the small forward the Kings have sought for years, and it’s a major indication that Sacramento plans on making a playoff push after enjoying its best season since 2005-06, when the Kings won 44 games. The Celtics own the Kings’ first-round pick in the 2019 draft (No. 1 protected), meaning the better the Kings do, the worse the pick will be for Boston. It’s poor luck for the Celtics that the year they do get Sacramento’s pick, the Kings are a playoff contender. The Kings also picked up former Jazz swingman Alec Burks, who played a stint with the Cavaliers. The Kings entered Friday one game back of the sinking Clippers in the West and will be the primary competitor to the Lakers for that final playoff spot . . . The Pistons are expected to release former first-round pick Henry Ellenson to make room for Wayne Ellington, who was waived by the Suns. It continues the downward spiral of those picked in the 2016 draft, which is filled with busts and underachievers. Ellenson, Wade Baldwin, Georgios Papagiannis, Brice Johnson, and Malachi Richardson are first-round picks from that year that are already out of the league. Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Skal Labissiere, also selected in the first round in 2016, will be free agents this summer because their options were declined, and Thon Maker, the 10th overall pick in ’16, was just dealt to the Pistons by the Bucks because he couldn’t crack the regular rotation.
LeBron James had kudos for the New England Patriots when asked about their sixth Super Bowl title: “All year, along the whole football campaign, everybody was talking about how great the offensive side of the ball was and the astronomical numbers put up by great quarterbacks and great receivers, and then you get to the last game of the season and we all know defense wins championships, and that’s a prime example of that, so congratulations to the Pats.”