As Massachusetts readies for another Super Bowl appearance by its Patriots, the Boston Celtics are playing terrific basketball, guided by two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who turned in one of the most prolific scoring months in franchise history this past January. To help us praise IT and get to the bottom of swirling trade rumors and Boston’s defensive woes, Michael Pina is on the scene. Pina, who covers the Celtics for Bleacher Report, hosts The Big Three podcast and writes about the league elsewhere, delivers a frank, spirited analysis of the team. In addition, this wide-ranging discussion hits on how Al Horford is fitting with this squad, how Brad Stevens’ coaching enhances Marcus Smart’s game, what the Celtics see in 20-year-old Jaylen Brown and why the Cavaliers and Tristan Thompson pose very specific problems for the postseason Celtics, among other topics. Oh yeah…the longtime Patriots fan also provides his Super Bowl prediction. Enjoy some excerpts below:
7:38 - 8:04: While Michael acknowledges Isaiah Thomas' shortcomings on defense, he also highlights the diminutive point guard's many defensive strengths:
"For all the bad things about Isaiah Thomas' defense, I think his effort is always there despite the high offensive usage. He's extremely tough, extremely physical, he does not die on screens, he fights over them, and really makes ball handlers work really hard, and he knows where to be. He gets up into guys, even when teams force switches and he's up against a much larger player."
11:47 - 12:13: If Bostons is able to hold the East’s No. 2 spot through Sunday’s games, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens will be coaching this season's Eastern Conference All-Star squad:
"He deserves to coach an All-Star team. I think he's one of the better overall coaches in basketball, let alone someone who's that young, commands respect from everybody on the team. He's fair to the players, and they appreciate that. He's a great communicator. Since he was hired, he's done a fantastic job of putting guys in positions where they can succeed, not asking too much of his players."
16:38 - 17:52: Our skeptical guest explains why now would not be the right time for the Celtics to pull the trigger on a Jimmy Butler trade given the steep asking price:
"If you were to acquire Jimmy Butler, you would in all likelihood have to ship out valuable rotation players who have helped you get this far, who have built up continuity, who know their roles in Brad Stevens' system, and there is the potential for disruption with that if you were to bring in someone like Butler. And you don't know for sure...if that trio [Thomas/Horford/Butler] is [good enough] over the next couple years to dethrone LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. If you do trade both Brooklyn picks for Butler, your avenues for improvement are basically nil. You don't have the cap space...they have trade assets, and if they move those for Butler, then you're locked into that being your core."
25:45 - 27:18: With the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Danny Ainge surprised many by selecting a freshman out of Cal. Michael explains what the Boston front office loves about Jaylen Brown:
"Despite the poor shooting in college and the very, very worrisome advanced numbers that came out, I think the reason they took him is that he is a superb athlete, he works extremely hard in every area of his game, he's mature beyond his years, takes the game very seriously, he's in the gym...[and] the weight room constantly...His versatility and his size are something that the Celtics need. When you look around the league at who the best players in basketball are right now., the [Paul] Georges, Kawhi Leonards, Jimmy Butlers, these two-way wings who are extremely versatile and extremely athletic, who can guard multiple positions, score from all over the floor, that's what they envision Jaylen hopefully, maybe, one day becoming, and that’s why they took him."
34:43 - 35:37: Finally, our Celtics insider previews a potential playoff series against the defending champion Cavaliers:
"With the Cavaliers, I think this Celtics team is closer than Celtics teams in the past to toppling that LeBron-led team, but there are still too many holes in the ship for them to seriously compete. LeBron, the mismatches that he creates, are still so worrisome...There's no one on the Celtics, including Jae Crowder or Jaylen Brown, one-on-one who can stop LeBron and prevent help from creeping in from the three-point line, and that's exactly what LeBron wants."
Music: "We Like to Party" by Kevin MacLeod