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Bob Ryan

The Celtics are the most disappointing team this season, and other NBA thoughts

Kyrie Irving and the Celtics could pull together and have a rollicking playoff run.
Kyrie Irving and the Celtics could pull together and have a rollicking playoff run.(file/stan grossfeld/globe staff)

Let’s talk NBA.

ITEM 1

Your/our local professional basketball team is the single most disappointing team in the NBA this season. There is no way around it.

Some may argue that the winner/loser in this category is/are the Los Angeles Lakers. Not me. I had them slotted as battling for the eighth spot in the treacherous West. And they do have a reasonable excuse to be out of the playoffs. LeBron James missed 17 games with a groin injury. In those games they were a predictable 6-11. Hey, that actually might have been a good result under the circumstances. So many people reasonably assumed that since LeBron had gone to the Finals eight straight times the least we should have expected of his new team was that it would make the playoffs. But I really wasn’t so sure this time. Anyway, things aren’t really very rosy out there. Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka have a lot of work to do, especially considering the sobering fact that LeBron is finally showing signs of athletic mortality.

Now I think what’s happening here is not all that complicated. It was pretty much a given that Brad Stevens would face a new coaching challenge this season. It has been almost idyllic for him, as Danny Ainge has stocked him with eager young talents. It was kumbaya all around last season as the team pulled together despite the absence of free agent acquisition Gordon Hayward and the ridiculously gifted Kyrie Irving, advancing all the way to the Eastern Conference finals, where they ran afoul of LeBron’s virtuosity.

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But it was never a given that everything would magically fall into place this season. Roles were going to be altered. Did we not realize that reshuffling the deck to accommodate Messrs. Hayward and Irving might not be an easy task?

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Making that task much more difficult for the coach was the (pick one) shaky-halting-tentative-inconsistent play of Hayward, who, it must now be said, was given more playing time than he deserved. Believe me, I’m not dismissing him. I love his game. I think he’ll be fine — next year.

There is one thing I really believe about the NBA. The ideal circumstance for any coach is as follows: He has an unquestioned starting five. He then has a three- or four-man reliable core of subs. Among them there should be at least one quality two-position player, be it a 2-3, a 3-4 or a 4-5 guy. There should also be one player who specializes in something, whether it is shooting, rebounding, defending or running a team. At any rate, he should be someone who can have a game-altering effect. And then there should be one or two just plain solid NBA players.

Stevens does not have this situation. He has a loaded roster, with 10, possibly even 12, pretty darn good players. They all deserve to play. Yeah, good luck, Coach.

Oops, almost forgot Kyrie. Don’t be stupid. The very best Celtics team features a transcendent talent named Kyrie Irving. As for what happens next year, or in 2025-26, table that thought. And don’t be foolish enough to believe anything he says, because whatever it is he may contradict it tomorrow.

The summation is that the Celtics could pull themselves together and have a rollicking playoff run. They don’t need more talent. They just need a commitment.

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ITEM 2

Dirk Nowitzki attracted attention this past week when he became the sixth-leading scorer in NBA history.

Though he has not actually announced an official retirement when this season concludes, we all know this is his Farewell Tour. He deserves all the accolades he has been receiving.

At the very least, Nowitzki is the best European-born-and-bred basketball player who has ever lived. That alone is a significant designation. The only non-American I would place ahead of him would be Hakeem Olajuwon. I’d be happy to have that debate.

Nowitzki is truly a man of his times. As outside shooting has taken precedence over trying to score inside, he has helped set the tone. Thirty years ago he would have been forced-fed into being a low-post player. After all, he is 7 feet tall, give or take a skosh. But he always has been a magnificent outside shooter. His step-back jumper is a patented move.

He is also a throwback because he has spent every one of his 21 NBA seasons in a Dallas Mavericks uniform. There is something to be said for that.

One of the highlight moments of the NBA season hereabouts was the night a savvy, appreciative TD Garden crowd cheered him on as he tried to sink a farewell three in that building. It was a really nice show of appreciation and respect. He deserved it.

Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki missed his final 3-pointer at the Garden, despite the classy backing of the fans.
Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki missed his final 3-pointer at the Garden, despite the classy backing of the fans.(file/barry chin/Globe staff)

ITEM 3

There is no denying the fact that James Harden is a force of basketball nature.

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I’ll skip reciting the laundry list of his 2018-19 accomplishments. He has become so routinely spectacular that general manager Daryl Morey has declared him to be the greatest scoring force in NBA history. For Jordanologists, among others, that was a chalk-on-the-blackboard line.

All right. Here we go. Is it just me, or does anyone else out there find him, if not unwatchable, somehow annoying? I don’t think anyone ever felt that way about Michael Jordan when he was tormenting the league all those years. Michael was always breathtaking and totally admirable.

But this guy . . . there’s something about him that makes me want to look away. I’ve kidded that I wasn’t crazy about the shagginess of the beard, but it isn’t that. It’s a basketball thing.

Am I alone?

The play of Rockets guard James Harden is annoying, isn’t it?
The play of Rockets guard James Harden is annoying, isn’t it?(file/tony gutierrez/Associated Press)

ITEM 4

Check out the San Antonio Spurs. This may be the most amazing coaching job Gregg Popovich has ever done. In the current hierarchy of NBA coaches you start with him and then draw a line (I guess that’s not exactly an original thought, huh?).

The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich should be the runaway Coach of the Year.
The Spurs’ Gregg Popovich should be the runaway Coach of the Year.(file/eric gay/Associated Press)

Bob Ryan’s column appears regularly in the Globe. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.