Beyond their remarkable success despite losing Gordon Hayward on Opening Night, the Celtics are in a truly unusual situation. They still have a very strong collection of assets, both in the form of young players and future draft picks, some of which are significant contributors to this successful season. While Boston has limited salary cap flexibility moving forward �� and thus will not be major players for free agents other than by minimums and Mid-Level exceptions �� general manager Danny Ainge deserves credit for retaining the ability to acquire star talent via trade even after bringing in Kyrie Irving and Hayward this summer.
Ainge zealously kept Boston’s books clear of unnecessary contracts for years with the aim of bringing in an All-Star talent without having to pay a ransom to unload bad money. That worked out incredibly well over the summer when the front office only needed to clear a small amount of money to fit in a full max salary for Hayward.
It has been a strange and vaguely disappointing season for D’Angelo Russell. He has been injured for about half of it, and spent the other half shooting and missing a lot. Russell perked up Tuesday in Cleveland, but he has hit just 38 percent — and 27 percent from deep — since returning from knee surgery.
Russell has used 32.4 percent of Brooklyn’s possessions with a shot, turnover or drawn foul, fourth-highest among all rotation players, behind only James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid. That is a little much. His turnover rate is icky.
Golden State is coming off a championship season, and Steve Kerr’s squad didn’t meet much resistance throughout the 2017 playoffs. The Warriors currently have the best net rating (plus-9.6) and offensive rating (113.4) in the NBA, plus a top-10 defensive rating (103.8). They lead the league in assist percentage (70.2) and true shooting percentage (61.1) by sizable margins. This is a finely tuned machine and clearly the team to beat. How much better would James really make them?
The difference between then and now is that the team’s back is against the wall (no pun intended). Earlier in the season, Wall was at most out for a couple contests at a time. The team’s best playmaker would be back to help them compete another day, even if he was not at 100 percent.
Now, things aren’t so easy. When the length of Wall’s injury was first announced, the Wizards were positioned as the fifth seed, and dropping out of the East playoff picture was just a few losses away. Anything less than perfect wouldn’t do, and that’s what the Wizards have tried to become. With this recent stretch, the team has realized if they don’t move the ball around to create good looks, baskets won’t happen without Wall around to force feed them.