Three-point Thursdays are a weekly column, where we ask our panel of experts three questions pertaining to the happenings in the NBA. Want your question answered? Leave a comment below or ask me on Twitter @RajPrashad.
1) The Celtics have won three-straight against top teams in the East. Are they back?
Jack Maloney- After a three game winning streak that includes wins over the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks, it would appear that the Boston Celtics are back on track. One reason for the Celtics’ solid play is their defense. In 4 games since the return of Avery Bradley, the Celtics are giving up just 94.1 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com. In the 30 games prior to Bradley’s return, the Celtics were giving up about 101 points per 100 possessions. Admittedly, Bradley’s return is a prime example of “small sample size theater.” It has only been 4 games, but the Celtics are a different team with Bradley playing meaningful minutes. Boston, however, still has a long way to go to be considered back in the race for the Eastern Conference crown.
Vytis Lasaitis- I wouldn’t say they are back quite yet, as they just climbed over .500 with these four-straight wins, and are only 8th in the East. The victory in New York was impressive and I like what I’m seeing from Paul Pierce. Avery Bradley is back, which certainly helps Boston moving forward. The Celtics have a 5-game home stretch coming up, 3 of which will be against teams with losing records. This offers the Celtics a great opportunity to continue moving in the right direction.
Bobby Krivitsky- The Celtics are beginning to emerge out of the pack of mediocre teams in the Eastern Conference. The return of Bradley has had a profound effect on the team and he deserves a lot of the credit for Boston’s resurgence. The biggest keys for the Celtics are health and consistency. Come playoff time, players such as Jeff Green, Jason Terry and Jared Sullinger will need to perform night in and night out.
Adam Lowenstein- With the return of Bradley, the Boston Celtics have entered into the second phase of their 2012-13 season and they are now “back” to their 2011-12 form. They were extremely successful last season with the Rondo, Bradley, Pierce, Bass and Garnett starting lineup, but that will not be enough to be the 2013 champions. Once they make a trade for a center, preferably a defensive one, the Celtics will make it to their third phase, the one necessary to raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy. With such a deep roster, they have expendable pieces like Brandon Bass to deal for a player like Marcin Gortat. Jared Sullinger has been a huge part of the Celtics’ recent success, lifting the team to ninth in defensive rebounding rate this season. However, the Celtics surely need a big man in the middle to prevent the opposition from easily making it to the hoop.
2) What does Frank Vogel’s extension mean for the Pacers and where they’re going as a team?
JM- After struggling through the quarter of the season, the Indiana Pacers have surged to the top of the Central Division with 21-14 record, including a 11-3 mark in their last 14 games. With a solid young core that includes Roy Hibbert and Paul George, the Pacers are in a good position for the future. The leader of the Pacers’ resurgence over the last few years is a fairly unknown coach named Frank Vogel. Vogel has been successful in his short time in charge, leading the Pacers to the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. Earlier this week, the front office rewarded Vogel by giving him a contract extension. With a good young coach in Vogel, and a solid young core, there is a chance for a bright future in Indiana. Unfortunately for the Pacers, their team, in its current construction is not quite good enough to contend.
VL- I like Frank Vogel as a coach, so I think extending his contract was the right move. Now, as to where they are headed, that is tough to predict. In Danny Granger’s absence, Indiana has looked impressive at home, and are 21-14 this season. Even with Granger in the lineup I don’t really see them being a major contender in the East. After signing that big contract in the offseason, Roy Hibbert’s numbers have declined, which is hurting the team. As of right now, the Pacers’ success will be dependant on how well Paul George develops as a player. While George has put up some impressive performances this season, he is still relatively erratic.
BK- Frank Vogel’s contract extension helps to insure stability for the Pacers. In two-plus seasons, Vogel is 83-56 with a .597 win percentage. His high-energy style of coaching is infectious and has rubbed off on his team. Indiana plays hard-nosed, physical defense, which can be directly attributed to the fiery nature of their coach.
AL- In his first head coaching job, Frank Vogel has a 83-56 (.597) career record for the Indiana Pacers. Since taking over for Jim O’Brien during the 2010-11 season, Vogel has improved this Pacers team immensely, especially on the defensive end. The extension means that Indiana’s organization wants Vogel to be at the helm as the team attempts to contend for a championship in 2012-13 and seasons to come. In addition, they are hoping to soon become one of the top teams in the league as Paul George continues to progress of one of the NBA’s young rising stars. After struggling out of the gate, George has averaged 20 points and eight rebounds per game while leading the Pacers to a 13-5 record in the last 18 games.
3) Where does Rudy Gay land, if he’s traded that is?
JM- Despite being one of the best teams in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies are looking to move Rudy Gay, probably the team’s most well known player. Gay is playing about as well as he has his whole career, averaging about 18 points and 6 rebounds a game. His shooting percentage, however, is down this year, hovering at about 40%. According to this report from USA Today’s Sam Amick, multiple teams are interested in acquiring Gay. The main issue that will make trading Gay difficult is his large salary, which owes him more than $50 million over the next three years. The Toronto Raptors, who are eager to acquire Gay, could offer point guard Jose Calderon and their young big man Ed Davis. This trade would give Memphis a very solid backup point guard and a talented big man with good upside.
VL- I definitely think that Memphis should move Rudy’s contract. Someone has to go and the Grizzlies proved that Rudy Gay is expendable during that surprising 2011 playoff run. His trade value is still quite high, so this would be the perfect time to get rid of his contract. I really like what the Phoenix Suns have to offer in return for Gay and a trade between the teams would make the most sense. Memphis like the reasonable contract of Jared Dudley and pretty much have the freedom to point and pick whoever they want on the Suns’ roster.
BK- In recent days, it has been well documented that Memphis is alerting teams that for the right price, they are open to moving Gay, who has three-years and more than 53 million dollars remaining on his contract. Toronto, Sacramento, Golden State, and Phoenix have all been reported as having discussions with the Grizzlies about the talented small forward. It is more realistic to see Gay moved over the summer. But if he is traded before the February 21st deadline, the Suns appear to be the leading candidate. In need of direction, they could offer Jared Dudley, Marcin Gortat and a first-round pick if necessary. This would satisfy the Grizzlies need for a three-point shooter and provide them with an impressive trio of big men, all while saving the team money.
AL- There are reports that Gay will be traded to the Phoenix Suns, so most likely Jared Dudley and a first-round draft pick will be heading to Memphis. This would benefit both teams because the Suns are in a rebuilding mode and the Grizzlies need a few tweaks to their roster. Phoenix needs a scorer to help their transition into the post-Steve Nash era. As far as Memphis goes, Dudley should fit better as a shooter than Gay did as a ball-stopper and defensive liability. Do you remember when the Grizzlies pushed the Oklahoma City Thunder to a seventh game in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals? Well, that was without Mr. Gay. Memphis, pull the trigger!