The NBA trade deadline is in a couple of days, Feb. 6 to be exact, and the All-Star Weekend is two weeks away, that being the weekend of Feb. 14 through Feb. 16. With the just-after midseason break fast approaching, it is now more important than ever to take into consideration what point of the season the league is at, and in which position the teams we care about most find themselves. The season thus far has been anything but unentertaining, and while ratings may be down, the league is in a transition period that factors in a sense of uncertainty almost all fans would agree adds great excitement—if not now at least, then most certainly in the long run.
The Boston Celtics currently hold the fourth place spot in what is becoming an increasingly aggressive and deepened Eastern Conference. Still out in front of the pack in first place by at least eight games are the Milwaukee Bucks, and between the two teams still battle the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat for second and third. The Philadelphia 76ers are tied with the Indiana Pacers for fifth, but for the sake of what is about to be addressed, we will mostly be ignoring Indiana in this discussion, though they may not be out of the picture entirely. With the starters and reserves that make up the 2019-20 All-Stars being announced just this past week, it is time to look at the teams from which each player was picked, and which of them stack up the most representatives. Focusing on the Eastern Conference, the top five teams in the standings each have two All-Stars heading to Chicago to represent their franchises this season. As what was somewhat touted to be the season of dynamic duos this past summer, the NBA seems to be seeing to it that this holds true. The Milwaukee Bucks are sending Giannis Antetokounmpo & Khris Middleton; the Raptors are sending Kyle Lowry & Pascal Siakam; the Heat are sending Jimmy Butler & Bam Adebayo; and the Celtics are sending Kemba Walker & Jayson Tatum. The 76ers are sending Ben Simmons & Joel Embiid, and even the tied-for-fifth Pacers are sending Domantas Sabonis, after just getting Victor Oladipo back from injury, a previous year All-Star who, had he been playing all season, would likely be heading to Chicago himself as well.
It seems as if this is becoming the basis for teams across the league this season, having two All-Stars on the squad, and this being just in the Eastern Conference. The West is just more of the same, and while not as deep, still stacks up its dynamic duos with pairs such as LeBron James and Anthony David of the Lakers, and James Harden and Russell Westbrook of the Houston Rockets. The reason for bringing such an ever-becoming truth of the league to light is to bring actual focus to our beloved Boston Celtics, and emphasize that while on pace with the rest of the league, more must be done in order to distinguish the franchise as legitimate frontrunners for beating out the East in a run at the title.
The Celtics seem to need a mix of both an extra push and a stroke of right timing. The team is legitimately built as is, and while I feel they stack up well against almost all teams in the league, they face potential roadblocks to the finals, most notably in the Bucks with reigning MVP Giannis, that pose very serious threats. The Celtics are detrimentally small, and with this in mind, they could potentially work towards attaining a big man more dominant than those with which they run today. Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis are solid in their own respect, but certainly leave more to be desired in the front court. The Gordon Hayward conundrum is one deserving of its own article entirely. I oppose the idea of giving up on his potential just yet; however, with his high-priced contract waning and his high proneness to injury, if the right package for a price including him were proposed, I would argue that it would be deserving of consideration.
The specifics of what would constitute a worthwhile trade for the Celtics could be argued over for days, or maybe even longer, given general manager Danny Ainge’s unconventional history on the NBA free market. Fortunately—or otherwise, depending on your sense of urgency towards the situation—I don’t see a significant move being made by the team before the deadline of this season. Even if one happens, it is hard to see Giannis, a man on as great a mission as he is, being stopped from his shot at the title again. So long as he reigns in the East, there is no telling what it will take to beat the Bucks, or even the four other teams of dynamic duos in the conference. Walker and Tatum being selected as All-Stars is certainly a step in the right direction, though it feels just a little short of what this team needs to go over the top.
Author’s Note: I find it almost impossible as I sit here to write an article pertaining to the NBA, or even more generally the sport of basketball, without giving proper acknowledgment and recognition to the loss we as a whole world suffered just this past week. The passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the seven additional souls aboard the helicopter that crashed just outside of Calabasas, California, still does not feel real as I write this. It does not feel to be getting easier, or any truer, but as life continues and these past few days have gone on, the most apparent of things made clear to me is that it is real, true, and that my and many others’ feelings about the tragic and senseless loss still piercing so deeply is okay, and that coming to terms with such a truth is a process through which everybody works differently. Kobe, this feeling may never go away, but if you taught this world anything, it is the power of taking such a feeling and using it, transforming it and applying it towards being the best versions of ourselves. To not do so would be to not honor your legacy. From a diehard Celtics fan, goodbye Kobe. We miss you more than you know. Blessings to your family and all involved.
Rest in Peace to Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the seven additional souls lost in the tragic helicopter crash last Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. Blessings to his family and to the families of all involved.