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Boston Celtics: What point guards should Cs target this off-season?

Boston Celtics are likely to part ways with their former All-Star point guard Kemba Walker. After his chronic knee injury cost them multiple wins this season to move up in the Eastern Conference standings, on top of him showing he just does not fit behind two scoring wings, it was to be expected Walker would be on the move this off-season. With that said, Walker is likely to net in return Al Horford from the Thunder which begs the question, who will replace Kemba?

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Boston Celtics are likely to part ways with their former All-Star point guard Kemba Walker. After his chronic knee injury cost them multiple wins this season to move up in the Eastern Conference standings, on top of him showing he just does not fit behind two scoring wings, it was to be expected Walker would be on the move this off-season. With that said, Walker is likely to net in return Al Horford from the Thunder which begs the question, who will replace Kemba?

In this article, I am going to throw out a multitude of names that could be suitors to take up the reigns of starting point guard on the Celtics, but I am also going to rule out a few popular suggestions. Let’s get started with who the Cs should target.

Mike Conley is the absolute best-case scenario for the Celtics if Kemba Walker is dealt and they do not net a point guard in return. After having one of the worst seasons of his career, Conley bounced back and returned to what the Jazz traded for.

He averaged 16 points and 6 assists with just 1.9 turnovers per game. Conley was tremendous off the ball as a shooter, hitting 40.6% of his 128 catch and shoot threes. He was one of the best facilitators in the league and was masterful in pick and roll with Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors, ranking 85th percentile as a pick and roll ball handler.

Even at 6’1, he is a positive defender that excels at navigating screens and making plays off the ball with his quick hands. At 33 years old and starting to pick up more and more injuries, it’s unlikely Conley receives max money in free agency but it will cost a significant amount to retain him. If the Boston Celtics were to get a meeting with Conley and his camp, I would expect Stevens to offer him a 2 year $50 million deal.

However, it’s unlikely the Celtics free up this kind of space, and even more unlikely Conley sets up meetings, seeing as he is likely to return to the Jazz.

Patty Mills should be at the top of the Boston Celtics’ list of priorities in free agency. He’s one of the most realistic free agents on the market for the Cs and he offers exactly what the Celtics need. He’s been in the league for 11 years now and has made a name for himself as one of the best shooting and off-ball point guards in the league.

He has one of the fastest triggers in the league and is an expert at moving between screens and coming off of pin downs with speed and balance. He’s not the passer the Celtics could hope for, but his movement off the ball and ball handling would be of great use to the Celtics’ stagnant offense. He’s 32 and is currently making around $12 million.

I estimate the Boston Celtics could offer him around 2 years $16 million and he would take it. They’d be using the full MLE but it would be well worth it seeing as they’d be bolstering their depth as well as bringing in some much-needed shooting.

The last option to take Walker’s place as the Celtics point guard is Lonzo Ball, but there’s a reason he’s last. Ball would bring some much-needed passing to the C’s backcourt while also providing some high-level defense at the guard position. He’s not undersized and he isn’t a ball-dominant scorer.

The eldest Ball brother can fling the ball all over the court and help get the Boston Celtics back to their ball movement-player movement-centric offense. He’s still got a little ways to go in terms of improving his shooting form and scoring, but with the Cs developmental staff, there is not a doubt in my mind that they couldn’t unlock his full shooting potential within a season.

However, with all that said Lonzo Ball is a restricted free agent, which means the Celtics could not just sign him outright unless they outbid everyone looking at him. And seeing as there are a lot of teams looking at him, that is extremely unlikely. The Boston Celtics would have to give up some serious assets to net Ball, on top of having to pay him more than they might like.

Reports say Ball is looking for a deal in the neighborhood of $20 million for multiple seasons. Being a former #2 overall pick who’s shown tons of promise his past three seasons, this price tag is understandable but it makes the chances of the Cs landing him extremely slim.

Not only would they have to find a way to come up with that kind of cap space, but they would also forfeit their chances of bringing back Marcus Smart the next off-season since he is likely to pursue the same deal. As palatable as a Smart and Ball backcourt may sound, it’s not nearly worth paying $40 million for. The only way I see the Cs moving for Ball is if they move Smart in another deal to net a star, which as I have said before, is unlikely.

Heading off the list of who the Boston Celtics should not target is Dennis Schroder. Much like Lonzo Ball, Schroder will be looking to secure a multi-year $20 million bag this off-season which the Celtics should not even consider paying. He’s one of the best bench creators in the league that can shoot and finish at the rim as well as defends his position at a high level.

However, he is not the passer that the Celtics need and his skill set is not what the Cs are missing. There is more than enough creation to go around between Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, Schroder will more than likely stunt their offense or his own if he was to come to Bean Town.

The second biggest no-no amongst point guards hitting free agency this off-season is Elfrid Payton. He has been a punching bag for Knicks fans all season and for good reason. He is not only a bad scorer but a detrimental one that ruins the flow of the offense.

He would bring the passing that Boston covets and his defense would be a plus but both pale in comparison to how bad of a scorer he is. The Boston Celtics want to be a competitive playoff team, to do that they’ll need guys that can be respected in the halfcourt come playoff time. Payton is not one of those guys.

He is a poor shooter, hitting just 28.6% of his 3s and shooting 37% from midrange as well as being one of the worst finishing guards in the league, shooting 56% at the rim. Teams will lay off Payton in favor of guarding Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum which will create a rift in the half-court that Payton won’t be able to bridge. He is not the guard the Cs want leading their offense.

There is a multitude of other options out there, but these are the guys I expect Boston to be in the mix for and the guys that I expect they will look to avoid. Mike Conley will likely stay in Utah and Lonzo Ball will likely end up in a place that can afford him, which leaves Patty Mills as the most realistic candidate to replace Kemba Walker.

Underwhelming? Yes, but take that statement with a grain of salt. Patty Mills won’t be replacing Kemba Walker in a literal sense; that would be Marcus Smart. Rather, Mills will come off the bench and play a similar role Payton Pritchard played last season. Don’t worry, Pritchard is not going to be cut from the rotation as he and Mills will continue to alternate between point guard and shooting guard like the Celtics did this season with Walker, Smart, and Pritchard.

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Red Sox Notes: Alex Cora Slaps Significant Label On Alex Verdugo

‘There’s a reason he’s hitting second’

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Alex Verdugo often can be overlooked as fans and media members alike fawn over the Red Sox offense.

This isn’t necessarily a slight of Verdugo. J.D. Martinez still is among the game’s best sluggers and Rafael Devers is on his way to becoming one of baseball’s most feared bats. Xander Bogaerts is, well, Xander Bogaerts.

But as Alex Cora explained after Friday’s walk-off win, Verdugo can do it all at the dish.

Verdugo’s latest thing of beauty with the bat: a game-winning knock plastered off the Green Monster that gave Boston a 6-5 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. The heroics prompted Cora to a shine a light on the dynamic young outfielder.

“…There’s a reason he’s hitting second,” Cora said on a video conference after the game. “He’s probably the most complete hitter that we have. He can go the other way, he can hit for average, he can hit for power, he works the counts, you know? That’s the reason he’s hitting second.”

Cora continued: “…I’m very impressed for young he is, the way he controls his at-bats. He goes to the dugout and he’s upset about certain things, but then he slows it down and goes to battle. In left field today he was great. He made some good throws. He played the wall perfectly. Like I said before, this kid — he’s a good one. We got a good one. We just got to keep working with him.”

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Bean: Why the Bruins have to move on from Tuukka Rask

Every year we have the, “is this their last run?” conversation, and every year the Bruins are back in the postseason. It’s clear they’ve got what it takes to get that far, but the current plan isn’t bringing them much more.

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Can’t believe you fell for that. In fairness, a lot of people scream “clickbait” at everything these days, so it’s about time someone actually did it. Anyway, let’s talk about that disaster of an end to the Bruins’ season.

It ended the way it was going to all along: by running into a team that could expose Boston’s lack of depth on forward and D. 

Someone was going to take advantage of the fact that the Bruins’ bottom-six and bottom-four were not championship caliber. That team should not have been the New York Islanders. 

So make it about Tuukka Rask all you want — he’s certainly part of the Bruins’ demise — but if you boil this season down to “Rask tailed off at the end of the series and now I get to say he’ll never win,” you’re dismissing why they actually lost. You’re also enabling the Bruins to stick to a roster construction that doesn’t work.

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Since the Bruins blew it against the St. Louis Blues, they haven’t had good enough teams to win. They were clearly a paper tiger when they won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2019-20. This year, they bridged the gap by picking up Taylor Hall and Mike Reilly, but they’d also lost Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara the previous offseason while adding Craig Smith. 

On the strength of star power alone, the Bruins should have been able to beat the Islanders before being dismissed by the Tampa Bay Lightning. New York’s roster is not better, but it’s deeper. Boston’s bottom six was terrible this season, so that group struggling in the series could at least be expected.

The lack of serviceable depth on defense is what ultimately did them in, though. Once Brandon Carlo went out of the series in Game 3, the B’s became a circus in their own zone. 

An injured Rask’s job became to make up for Boston only having one reliable defensive pairing, but Matt Grzelcyk’s performance in Game 6 bumped that number down to zero. Grzelcyk got his pocket picked at the blue line to give Brock Nelson a breakaway goal, then got mugged in front by Kyle Palmieri to give New York its fourth goal of the evening. 

Now, Rask was right there with the rest of his teammates turning the puck over, as his pass to Mike Reilly before the Islanders’ third goal was reminiscent of Cam Newton whipping a short pass off his running back’s hands.

But when you look at an injured Rask not bailing out his teammates and most of the Bruins’ roster being subpar, which one is the problem? Which is more likely to continue being the problem if you only address the other? 

It’s the roster construction, and it starts with Boston’s inability to draft impact players. Charlie McAvoy is a No. 1 defenseman and Carlo, if healthy, is an important piece. That’s about it for Don Sweeney’s drafting.

The B’s let Krug and Chara walk because they figured they’d drafted enough guys that one or two of them would grow into a big role. None of them did. The best result of the experiment was Jeremy Lauzon, who was only in the lineup by season’s end because the B’s didn’t have anybody else. 

The Bruins left holes on their roster and hoped for the best because they had enough stars to get them through a round or two. It didn’t work and it won’t work if they try it again. 

The “big three” for Boston as it relates to signing its own guys is Hall, Rask and Krejci. They’ll have the dough to sign Hall to a team-friendly deal, but who is his center? It would be consistent with their handling of the defense this year to just hope Jack Studnicka can be a No. 2 center, but the smarter play is to bring back Krejci for another year or two.

As for Rask? Depending on his health and his desire to keep playing, the smartest play is to sign him for a year or two at $5 million per. That gives you a strong tandem while you figure out whether Jeremy Swayman is capable of taking over. Just giving the net to a good young player can be risky; look what happened with Philadelphia this year.

But this offseason won’t just be about who stays and goes. Boston absolutely must beef up its defense. We can rule out them signing the top free agent (great player you may have heard of; name rhymes with Shmuggy Shmamilton), but they need a good second-pairing defenseman (and perhaps then some to make sure they don’t get a repeat of this year). Reilly is a fine third-pairing defenseman, but he might get overpaid on the open market because he played well late in the regular season for Boston. 

The B’s also badly need some stability in their bottom six. Charlie Coyle had a down year but is worth keeping given Boston’s questions at center. Jake DeBrusk and Nick Ritchie are both expendable. DeBrusk makes sense to be exposed in the NHL Expansion Draft, while Ritchie is a restricted free agent whose postseason (one point in the final seven games) says buyer beware. The Bruins shouldn’t just walk away from Ritchie, but they should absolutely be willing to use him in a deal to get something more reliable. 

Boston’s fourth line was a mess all season. Getting Curtis Lazar helped, but Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner had down years. Kuraly’s a free agent and Trent Frederic should be pushing for a full-time job. 

Every year we have the, “is this their last run?” conversation, and every year the Bruins are back in the postseason. It’s clear they’ve got what it takes to get that far, but the current plan isn’t bringing them much more.  

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Who are the early favorites to win the NFL rushing title?

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