DUMPSTER HOOPS: THE ALMOST ONE MONTH LEFT IN THE SEASON NBA POWER RANKINGS

Editor’s Note: Today is March 14th. The NBA season ends April 17th. So yeah, there’s pretty much a month left. Here’s the official Dumpster NBA Power Rankings heading into the final stretch of the regular season.

THE HOTTEST OF THE HOT

Miami (49-14)
I hate them, you hate them, we all hate them. But they’ve won 20 games, they own the best record in the NBA, and they’ve already clinched a playoff berth. I can’t imagine a scenario where the Heat aren’t in the NBA Finals.

NOT QUITE AS SCORCHING HOT, BUT JUST AS DANGEROUS

San Antonio (49-16), Oklahoma City (48-17)
No doubt in my mind that at least one of these two teams will be playing in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs certainly don’t excite your average fan, but they continue to win ballgames, regardless of their age and regardless of what you think. The Thunder, on the other hand, are David Stern’s golden child. They’re young, flashy, entertaining, and not hated by the general population! Long story short, they make the NBA a lot of money, so odds are they’ll be one of the last teams standing. Because that’s how this shit works.

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 WATCH OUT FOR THESE GUYS

Denver (44-22), Indiana (40-24)
Don’t look now, but the Denver Nuggets have won 10 in a row and are just 5 1/2 games behind the Spurs for first place. Simply put, if you don’t like watching this team play, you just aren’t a fan of the game. It is obvious that the Nuggets are having a blast right now. They boast an uptempo, run-n-gun offense, there’s no superstar, they’re 10 deep, everyone touches the ball, and they have Javale McGee for comic relief. What more could you ask for?

 The Pacers are the complete opposite of the Nuggets. They bring the pace of the game to a screeching halt. They grind out victories with defense and domination on the boards.  The biggest obstacle this team faced came early in the season, when Indy had to learn to play without Danny Granger. Judging by their 14-5 record over the last 19 games, it’s safe to say the Pacers are beyond that bump in the road. If there’s a team that can beat Miami in the East, this is it.

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I DON’T KNOW HOW THEY KEEP DOING IT, BUT I’M IMPRESSED

Memphis (44-19)
Wasn’t trading Rudy Gay supposed to be a death sentence for Memphis? Not so much. The cash-strapped Grizzlies shipped their best player (and his monster contract) to Toronto for role players and have not skipped a beat since. In fact, Memphis is 15-4 since dealing Gay, and own a ridiculous 14-1 record in its last 15 games. This team is loaded with flaws, but they continue to dominate defensively, and they continue to win…and that’s all that matters. Don’t be surprised if the Grizz make a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals.

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 I KNOW THEY KEEP WINNING, BUT I’M NOT IMPRESSED

Los Angeles Clippers (45-21)
I know they have Chris Paul…but something doesn’t seem right with the Clippers lately. As much as they’re capable of making a deep run in the playoffs, they’re just as capable of getting bounced in the first round. Maybe it’s the inconsistent defense, maybe it’s the lack of depth, but I’m not sold on Lob City just yet.

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 HEY GUYS, YOU’RE HEADING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION

New York (38-24), Atlanta (35-29), Chicago (35-29)
Carmelo Anthony is banged up with knee issues. Amare Stoudemire is gone for at least a month.  Tyson Chandler could be on the shelf indefinitely. THEY DON’T GUARD ANYONE. Cue New York’s inevitable free fall.

What about the Hawks? Not that any of us had grandiose plans for Atlanta this year, but after dropping six of their last eight and losing Josh Smith to yet another injury, I think it’s safe to say the Hawks are heading in the wrong direction too.

As for Chicago? Well, the Bulls have dropped 12 of their last 19, which included a 42-point drubbing at the hands of the SACRAMENTO KINGS last night, and it appears Derrick Rose will not be returning to the team any time in the immediate future. So yeah, Chicago isn’t going anywhere either.

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 QUIETLY CHUGGING ALONG

Boston (35-29), Brooklyn (38-27), Houston (35-30)
For starters, it’s amazing that Boston is even in this conversation after the rash injuries they’ve encountered this season. Are the Celtics going to win an NBA Championship? No. But much like Brooklyn and Houston, I absolutely would not want to face them in the first round of the playoffs.

These three teams, despite their obvious flaws, just keep doing what they do. For Boston, it’s riding the backs of two future Hall-of-Famers (Garnett & Pierce) and one future First Team All-NBA defender (Avery Bradley).  For Brooklyn, it’s resting on the hope that the inside/outside duo of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez can continue to dominate to its full potential. And for Houston, it’s throwing up a onslaught of three-point shots and praying James Harden drops 35 every night. Hey, whatever works, right?

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 STARTING TO FADE

Golden State (37-29), Utah (32-32)
The future is bright for both of these teams, but I highly doubt this is the year either team makes any noise. The Warriors can score with best of them thanks to a glut of talented guards, but have an obvious hole in the paint, where the likes of Festus Ezeli and Andris Biedrins can be found. As a result, Golden State is getting owned inside and has now dropped 12 of its last 19 games. The Jazz, on the other hand, might have the best frontcourt in the NBA, but possibly the worst backcourt in the league. Utah’s defense has gone into a tailspin and the team has recently dropped 10 of its last 15 games. Next year is probably better for both of these squads.

 DO WE REALLY HAVE TO TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY?

Milwaukee (32-31)

Ahhhhh, the Eastern Conference: where teams like Milwaukee have a chance to play in the postseason. Okay, I guess the Bucks aren’t that bad, and there is literally no one with striking distance of the Bucks for the eighth seed in the East, so I guess we do have to take them seriously for now. That is until they get man-handled by the Heat in the first round.

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THE ENIGMA

Los Angeles Lakers (34-32)
I mean, really, does anyone know what to expect from the Lakers down the stretch? They should be able to hold off Utah for the eighth seed in the West, at least. But then again, Kobe Bryant is out indefinitely after suffering an ugly ankle injury on Wednesday night. The Lakers could be much better without Kobe, or much worse. They could leap-frog Utah, Golden State, and Houston for the sixth seed in the West, or tumble out of contention altogether. Literally nothing would surprise me when it comes to this team. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

 ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN

Dallas (30-33), Portland (29-34)
I’ll give both of these teams credit for hanging around as long as they did. Unfortunately, the Western Conference is really fucking good. Not sure where Dallas goes from here, but then again, they have tons of cap room and a guy named Mark Cuban handling their finances, so I’m sure they’ll be fine. I’m shocked to see Portland do as well as it did this season after gutting its roster a year ago. They have Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, and LaMarcus Aldridge for a while, so they’ll be fine too. Maybe next year, boys.

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THERE’S STILL A GLIMMER OF HOPE

-Toronto (25-40), Philadelphia (24-40), Detroit (23-44)
At least I thought these three teams had a glimmer of hope about a month ago. Never have I been more wrong about anything in my life. 

 YOU SUCK, BUT IT COULD BE WORSE

Cleveland (22-42), Minnesota (22-40)
New Orleans (22-43), Washington (21-42)
Despite their awful records this season, all four of these teams have franchise player(s) to build around. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Anthony Davis, John Wall, and maybe even Bradley Beal. Not a bad little group. So, as much as this season sucked, there are certainly greener pastures ahead for these four teams.

 YOU SUCK, AND IT’S NOT GETTING ANY BETTER

Phoenix (22-43), Sacramento (23-43)
Orlando (18-47), Charlotte (14-50)

The Suns are a mess. The Kings don’t know what city they’ll be playing in next year. The Magic are still trying to pick up the pieces post-Dwight Howard. And the Bobcats are the Bobcats. Sure, they’ll all head into June with lottery picks, but that might not be enough to save these wretched franchises.

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DUMPSTER HOOPS: MEET AVERY BRADLEY, THE BEST DEFENDER IN AMERICA

Here’s a question for all the basketball lovers out there: Who is the best perimeter defender in the NBA? LeBron James, maybe? Could it be Tony Allen? Is it Andre Iguodala? Paul George? Nope. They are all good answers, but I put my money on Avery Bradley.

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I mean, is it official yet? Can we please just anoint Avery Bradley as the King of On-Ball Defense? Never have I seen someone play defense with such passion and such aggression. The way he blankets the opposing ball-handler makes something as simple as dribbling across half-court a challenge. The kid has endless stamina and seems to never tire out. There really might not be another player in the NBA that expends that much energy on defense. You might see it in college basketball, but that doesn’t exist in the NBA, anyway. It is unparalleled, unreal.

Sure, there are a full arsenal of long-armed perimeter players in the league who are elite defenders with freakish athleticism like Lebron, Iggy, Paul George, Iman Shumpert, etc. But guess what? All of those guys are at least 6’5″. Avery Bradley stands at just 6’2″. Yet, despite being undersized, Bradley is literally capable of taking on any player in the NBA one-on-one.

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The third-year combo guard out of Texas has shut down every top scorer he has faced this season, especially as of late. The night after Stephen Curry dropped 54 points at MSG, Bradley held him to just a 6-for-22 shooting effort from the field. Last weekend, the NBA’s soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard was held to just 5-of-16 shooting in a 12-point effort against Bradley. Last night, Jrue Holiday went just 6-for-17 from the floor with five turnovers in Philly’s loss to Bradley and the Celts. Different opponent, different backcourt, same results.

If you want fancy numbers to prove it, Bradley is second in the league in allowing a mere 0.678 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Furthermore, opponents generate points on a mere 31.4 percent of plays against Bradley, the lowest number in the league for players with at least 225 defensive possessions. Pretty good, eh?

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Do you know what it is that makes Avery Bradley’s defense so incredible? It’s contagious. Bradley’s presence on the floor has completely changed the outlook of Boston’s season. The C’s are back to their defensive roots despite being an aging veteran team without a ton of athleticism. They started the season so poorly on the defensive end of the floor, but since Jan. 2 rolled around and Bradley finally made his way back into the lineup, the Celtics have been one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. His intensity inspired the rest of the team to put forth the extra effort on defense. Yet, Bradley also makes everyone else’s job easier at the same time. Look, for instance, at how much he disrupts something as simple as the pick and roll.

Not only did the C’s win six of their first seven games upon his return, but they have been able to maintain the losses of Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, and Leandro Barbosa to injury. Since his return to the lineup, the Celtics are 18-11 with Bradley and have dramatically improved when it comes to points allowed and field goal percentage defense. I don’t want to say this sudden transformation is all because of one player….but yeah, it’s all because of one player.

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On top of all this, my favorite part of this developing story is how much Avery Bradley takes pride in playing the role of defensive stopper. Bradley is still a work in progress on the offensive end of the floor, so for now, he is completely content being known as the lockdown defender, and he handles that role as good as anyone in the league. Guys like Lebron and Chris Paul and Kevin Durant are exceptional defenders; but they are also simply exceptional basketball players, period. They do everything well.

In contrast, guys like Tony Allen and Bruce Bowen have carved out lengthy careers in the league because of their defensive prowess. Bradley is the next player to fall into that line. But then imagine if he develops a great offensive game to accompany that constant defensive pressure? That’s a thought that might just bring tears of joy to the eyes of Boston fans everywhere.

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In short, if Avery Bradley doesn’t earn All-NBA Defensive Team honors, it’ll be the farce of all farces. There is a reason why he was literally the only player on the Boston Celtics roster that Danny Ainge did not consider trading at the deadline. He is the building block of this franchise for a reason. He is a game-changer. He the best on-ball defender in the game, it’s as simple as that. It seems like this is the year the rest of the league is finally learning about Avery Bradley.

DUMPSTER HOOPS: TOP FIVE NBA PLAYERS WHO ARE MOST LIKELY TO BE TRADED THIS WEEK

ERIC BLEDSOE

With the NBA trade deadline looming this Thursday, the Los Angeles Clippers seem to the center of a lot of trade rumors. And almost all of those rumors feature Eric Bledsoe, who is one of their building blocks for the future. That being said, it’s been hard for him to pick up a ton of minutes playing behind Chris Paul, and the Clippers could use help pretty much everywhere but at the point guard position, where they also have wily old veteran Chauncey Billups.

Although another swingman to pair with Jamal Crawford makes sense, LAC would immediately benefit from bringing in a forward to play alongside Blake Griffin, and could also part ways with center DeAndre Jordan if need be. Given that they are third in a loaded Western Conference, the Clippers are without a doubt a legitimate title contender. But they have struggled at times though, so maybe it makes sense for LA to find that one final piece to the puzzle.

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VERDICT: The Clippers decide to take the leap this year and go for the immediate home run. Bledsoe is sent packing.

BRANDON JENNINGS

Although his name has been fairly quiet over the past few weeks, don’t be shocked to see Brandon Jennings shipped out of Milwaukee. After a fast start, the Bucks (8th in the East) are fading anyway, and word on the street is Jennings would be ecstatic if this were the case, because apparently he has had beef with the Bucks front office over their decision against offering him a contract extension. As a result, it appears that both Jennings and Monta Ellis are set to his free agency this summer, so until then, you would think that Milwaukee should try and get whatever they can for at least one of them considering it looks like they are both bound to leave anyway.

Ellis would be pretty hard to move given his reputation as a black hole, but there has to be a contender or two interested in grabbing Jennings for a playoff run, right?. The problem is that, even with all his potential, Jennings has been wildly inconsistent at times and isn’t necessarily considered the ultimate team player. Still, watch out for a team like Orlando or Dallas that lacks a franchise player and has the cap room to trade for Jennings and then promptly offer him a monster long-term contract.

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VERDICT: The Bucks decide to take their chances on re-signing one of their two polarizing point guards and refuse to sell Jennings for 50 cents on the dollar. Meanwhile, the rest of the league waits for the summer to swoop in on both Jennings and Ellis. Milwaukee, not considered a popular destination for free agents by any means, is once again screwed.

JOSH SMITH

Atlanta began its shake up of the franchise last off-season when it sent Joe Johnson out of town. Now, it might be time to part ways with Josh Smith too. The Hawks (6th in the East) are clearly not a title contender this season, even if they are in line for a playoff berth, and Smith has openly claimed he wants a “max contract” this summer, something the Hawks aren’t willing to give him. Somebody in this league will shell out a lot of dollars on Josh Smith in the off-season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that has to be the team that trades for him right now.

Smith would be the perfect playoff rental because he is such a unique player. It might be a little tougher for a team to “rent” a point guard like Brandon Jennings for a title run because it could negatively effect the chemistry of your offense. A player like Josh Smith who is so versatile and valuable at several positions could slide right in and play for any team in this league right now. As of right now, word is that the best offer on the table for Smith is from Brooklyn for Kris Humphries and Marshon Brooks. That won’t be hard to top at all, especially if you are a legitimate title contender that needs that one final push to put them over the top. Even if you are only getting him for four months.

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VERDICT: Mark it down, there will be a blockbuster trade involving Smith, and there will be a team, such as the Thunder, the Clippers, or the Spurs, that get a LOT better this week.

PAUL MILLSAP

So maybe it’s not the sexiest name on the trading block, but Paul Millsap gets shit done down low. He is a beast on the glass and solid on the defensive end, while adding some scoring touch at the power forward position as well. The Utah Jazz are, in my opinion, the most obvious shoppers of any team in the league. They have a glut of nasty big men (Al Jefferson, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, and Millsap) and absolutely no one in the backcourt. Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks are decent prospects, I guess, but at the same time, Jamaal Tinsley and Mo Williams are currently seeing the most minutes out of anyone at the guard position, so you do the math.

Odds are the Jazz won’t part ways with Favors or Kanter, making Jefferson and Millsap the most logical trade chips. Both Jefferson and Millsap are also set to be free agents this summer, but Big Al, in particular, has been playing out of his mind this season. I wouldn’t be surprised if Utah gives him a lot of money this summer, leaving Millsap as the most obvious trade piece. If the Jazz (7th in the West) want to get serious about a playoff push this season, they’ll make a move for a veteran guard. On the other hand, they could also ship Millsap out of town for a young prospect in the backcourt and give them one of the brightest futures in the league.

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VERDICT: Millsap is gone, quite possibly in a deal that sends Bledsoe to Utah and gives them a young point guard in return to pair with Favors and Kanter for the long run.

CARLOS BOOZER

This might come as a surprise to some considering how well the Bulls are playing without Derrick Rose, but much like the way Memphis dealt Rudy Gay in the midst of a successful season, Chicago may be forced to the do the same thing with Boozer because of the salary cap. Boozer is in the third year of a five year, $75 million dollar deal, which has become a burden for the Bulls. If they freed up that money, they would be able to get under the luxury tax threshold, something that pretty much every team in the league is trying to do. Paying the luxury tax in the NBA because you spent too much money on your current roster can set teams back more than you think.

More importantly, Boozer’s contract doesn’t give Chicago room to do much of anything as far as free agency and such going forward. He has been an instrumental piece to their success for the last few years, but again, with Rose out of the picture right now, this would be the time for the Bulls (5th in the East) to shake things up, despite their continued success.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors

VERDICT: There aren’t too many teams willing to take on Boozer’s contract. A Boozer for Andrea Bargnani deal has been discusses repeatedly, but I doubt that’s enough to sway Chicago into breaking up the current rotation. Boozer stays put for now.

Other possible trade chips to watch: Al Jefferson, Dwight Howard, Tyreke Evans, Evan Turner, DeMar DeRozan, Zach Randolph, Eric Gordon,  LaMarcus Aldridge, JJ Hickson, Danny Granger, Andrea Bargnani, Derrick Williams, Marcin Gortat, JJ Redick, Ben Gordon,
and of course, the entire Boston Celtics roster.

OLDEN POLYNICE, FOOTS WALKER, AND THE REST OF THE BEST NAMES IN NBA HISTORY

A collective grouping of the best names to ever play in the NBA.
Check out the full article here on SB Nation.

If you threw all nine of these teams in a tournament, who would take the whole thing? My money is on the “All-Animal Kingdom of a Name Team,” but I’ll let you be the judge.

All-NBA Nerdy Name Team

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PG-Vernon Maxwell

SG- Kennard Winchester

SF- Perry Worthington

PF- Clarence Weatherspoon

C- Olden Polynice

Just missed the cut: Pervis Ellison, Kenneth Wilburn.

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The All-NBA “We Barely Escaped Having Nerdy Names and Instead Have Quite Distinguished Names” Team

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PG- Russell Westbrook

SG- Lancaster Gordon

SF- Worthington R. Patterson

PF- Chandler Parsons

C- Channing Frye

Just missed the cut: David Vanterpool, John Francis Robert Pelkington Jr., Charles Shackleford.

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The All-NBA “Shouldn’t The Last Name and the First Name Be Switched Around?” Team

PG- Jarrett Jack

SG- Walker Russell

SF- Xavier Henry

PF- Kornel David

C- Joakim Noah

Just missed the cut: Randolph Morris, Elmore Spencer.

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The All-NBA Anatomical Name Team

 (Warning: this team plays extreme small ball.)

PG- Maurice Cheeks

SG- Jason Hart

SF- Luther Head

PF- Foots Walker

C- BJ Armstrong

Just missed the cut: Tim Legler, Shane Heal, Wiley J. Peck.

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The All-NBA Animal Kingdom of a Name Team

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PG- Rory Sparrow

SG- Rick Fox

SF- Larry Bird

PF- Bison Dele

C- Matt Fish

Just missed the cut: Jeremy Lamb, Joe Wolf, Brandon Bass, Brian Cardinal, John Salmons, Pig Miller.

LARRY BIRD

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The All-NBA Exploring the Wonders of Nature Team

PG- Royal Ivey

SG- Perry Moss

SF- Gene Stump

PF- Cherokee Parks

C- Tree Rollins

Just missed the cut: Scott Brooks, Bruce Flowers, Tyrone Hill, Austin Rivers, Loren Woods, Landry Fields, Rod Thorn, Derrick Rose.

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The All-NBA “Does My Name Make Anyone Else Here Hungry?” Team

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 (Warning: this team also plays small ball.)

PG- Von Wafer

SG- OJ Mayo

SF- DJ Strawberry

PF- Morris Almond

C- Glen Rice

Just missed the cut: Spud Webb.

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The All-NBA Most Colorful Names in the Game Team

PG- Jo Jo White

SG- Blue Edwards

SF- Norman Black

PF- Sidney Green

C- Stuart Gray

Just missed the cut: PJ Brown, Red Holzman.

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The All-NBA Inanimate Objects as Names Team

PG- John Wall

SG- Raja Bell

SF- Eddie House

PF- Cedric Ball

C- Greg Kite

Just missed the cut: Gene Rock, Gerald Glass, Randolph Keys.

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PICKING THROUGH THE WEEKEND TRASH: RONDO GOES DOWN

It was quite the weekend for Celtics fans. The beleaguered Boston Celtics, losers of six straight games, returned home on Sunday from a terribly disappointing overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night. That Friday night tilt would prove to be gut-wrenchingly painful in many ways, but the fact that the C’s blew a 27-point lead to a team that had previously lost 9 of its last 14 games says a lot as it is.

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Sunday wasn’t just any ordinary Sunday though. Not only were the hated Miami Heat in town for the first time all season in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but it was the return of Ray Allen! Story lines galore at the Garden! But wait, there’s more… After “tweaking” his knee on Friday (and playing through the pain), Rajon Rondo was surprisingly announced as inactive for Sunday’s game and was headed to the hospital for an MRI on his right knee. The Celtics would go on to play arguably their best game of the season without Rondo and upset Miami in double overtime! 100-98. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett combined to play 94 minutes! The Truth posted a triple-double! But all of that greatness was mired by an announcement that came in the middle of the action, sometime after 2 pm. It went something like this: RONDO TORN ACL. Ouch. Paul Pierce’s reaction says it all.

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So the Celtics, regardless of their awesome win on Sunday, are officially at a crossroads. With Rondo, they were a playoff team that, well, probably wasn’t going to win many games in the postseason. Maybe Boston was potentially the No. 6 seed with an upset shot of beating a team like New York or Indiana or Chicago in the First Round. Now, the problem is that, even without Rondo, the C’s are probably still a playoff team; but now it’s as the No. 8 seed with zero chance of beating Miami in a seven-game series. The Eastern Conference is so shallow, only the 76ers, Pistons, or Raptors have any chance of sneaking into the top eight. If the Celtics keep the roster as it is, even if they finish five games under .500, they probably finish higher than Philly or Toronto, once again keeping them out of the NBA Draft Lottery. So what does Boston want to do from here? Allow me to explain the options…

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KEEP THE ROSTER IN TACT
If you take a look at their roster, the Celtics have 10 players under contract beyond this season. Paul Pierce’s contract (15 million/year) expires at the end of 2014, while Rondo, KG, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry, and Avery Bradley are locked up until 2015. Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, and Fab Melo are under contract through 2016. The key behind all of this are the contracts of Paul Pierce and KG. You have to assume that they’ll retire at some point, right? This applies particularly to Garnett, who could be ready to hang up the sneakers after this season even though he’s in the midst of a three-year deal. That being said, I also doubt Pierce will have anything left in the tank when his contract is up. So if Pierce and KG are off the books at the end of next season (2014), that frees up over 27 million dollars for the Celtics, while leaving them with a handful of expiring contracts (including Rondo, Bass, and Terry) to use as trade pieces in 2015. Can that be the year that the Celtics make a run at a big name in free agency and/or make a move to get a top tier player through a trade?

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I know that fans don’t want to think that far ahead, but if they keep the roster as it is through the rest of this season and let Pierce and KG and Doc Rivers make one final playoff run together, it could allow the Celtics to have a lot more salary cap flexibility in the coming years. Not to mention that Boston could potentially suck ass in 2013-14 (especially if Rondo is slow to return to health and Garnett is gone), and could potentially move into the lottery of the 2014 NBA Draft, which could be the best draft in the last decade with guys like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins on deck. I know there are a lot of questions to be answered, but being mediocre for one more season might be the best way to ensure a quicker rebuilding process for 2014-2015. Plus, you have to think that KG and Pierce and even potentially Doc Rivers want to go out with pride, if it is in fact the end of their respective careers in Boston.

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MAKE A COMPLIMENTARY MOVE OR TWO AND WORK WITH WHAT YOU GOT
With the February 21st trade deadline looming over their heads, there are few types of moves the Celtics can make this season. Boston can beat any team on any given day because of two players: Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Even with their age and declining skills, we’re talking about two of the best players to ever play the game, although it’s obvious that neither is as spry as they once were. Meanwhile, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger are certainly nice pieces as well, but let me be blunt: the rest of the team is very much expendable. If the Celtics are convinced they can still win a playoff series without Rondo, they absolutely need to shake up the rest of their roster. So basically, we’re talking about combining some kind Jason Terry/Jeff Green/Brandon Bass/Courtney Lee package with one of the young trade chips (ideally Sullinger and not Bradley) and hoping to come away with a solid point guard and/or a rebounding presence in the paint.

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Kyle Lowry is certainly a name that comes to mind, especially considering that the Celtics lack a true point guard without Rondo. Lowry is talented and affordable and would provide a great combination of offense and defense, while being a potential trade chip going forward when Rondo comes back. He’s the perfect stopgap, if you will, and could be easily attained especially with Toronto aggressively pursuing Rudy Gay from Memphis. Other stopgaps in the backcourt include Andre Miller, Rodney Stuckey, Luke Ridnour, and Jameer Nelson. As far as the frontcourt is concerned, I’m sure Boston would happily unload Bass or Terry or the young Fab Melo for someone who can grab a damn rebound. The list of affordable, easily attainable stopgaps there include: Paul Millsap, Jason Thompson, and Dejuan Blair, among others.

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MAKE A BIG MOVE AND START REBUILDING, NOW!
Now, a smaller complimentary move like that would essentially be a move for this season only. That’s basically giving Pierce and KG and Avery Bradley another asset or two to work with without completely overhauling the roster and hoping for the best. But what if the C’s do decide overhaul the roster? There are two directions they can go. On the one end, what if the Celts decided to package all of their young talent and see what it reeled in? If Bradley and Sullinger were packaged together, along with maybe a draft pick and some other pieces (Lee, Green, etc.), the Celtics could potentially acquire a young superstar like DeMarcus Cousins and start the rebuilding process a little early. I know Cousins is going to be nearly impossible to attain, but it’s the idea of Boston mortgaging nearly all of their assets for one star player that just sounds so enticing… and awful at the same time. On a lesser extent, Tyreke Evans, Rudy Gay, and Al Jefferson are all available too! This idea I don’t like so much. Rebuilding around one good player and a bunch of trash is not really the way to go.

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Now consider including the likes of Pierce and KG into a trade to start the rebuilding process this season, and the idea becomes much more intriguing. Without having to surrender draft picks and, of course, Avery Bradley, the Celtics can go out and make a trade for the future with more ease. The only thing is that it would have to involve a contender. Garnett has a “No-Trade Clause” in his contract, so theoretically, he would probably say no to any destination other than maybe Miami, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, or the Clippers. None of those teams have much to offer besides draft picks, which is why the Thunder are the most intriguing counterpart of the aforementioned teams. Would Jeremy Lamb/Perry Jones and a Houston’s first-round pick be enough for the C’s to unload Garnett? That’s for Danny Ainge to decide, I guess.

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On the hand, it would be much easier to deal Paul Pierce, who becomes an expiring contract next season and doesn’t have a “No Trade Clause.” Pierce would be a huge boost to a number of playoff hopeful teams including: Golden State, Utah, and, once again, the Clippers. Would the Celtics pull the trigger on a deal that involved them receiving Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, or Eric Bledsoe? I would do it in a heartbeat.

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Barnes or Thompson would become expendable if the Warriors wanted to make a push to win now. The Jazz have a glut of talented big men on their roster and definitely could shop one to get a veteran swingman like Pierce. And Eric Bledsoe continues to play behind Chris Paul. All three teams could give up one of these young assets for Pierce, and although you have to respect Pierce’s best wishes in regards to where he wants to finish his career, if he is willing to be shipped to a contender, and if you feel like you have to make a deal to ensure what’s best for your franchise going forward, a deal that includes any of these five guys would definitely be worth it.

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THE NO LOVE TEAM: SIX NBA PLAYERS WHO DESERVE MORE RESPECT

STARTING LINEUP: STEPHEN CURRY

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After running away with the Rookie of the Year in 2008, it’s no secret Stephen Curry’s rise to stardom was derailed last season. Yet, after playing just 26 games a year ago due to ankle injuries, Curry has silenced his critics this season with a career year and is the main reason why the Golden State Warriors are a legitimate playoff contender in the Western Conference. Not only are the Warriors (23-13) on pace for their most promising season in 19 years, but their franchise player has (surprisingly) stayed healthy all season. As a result, Oracle Arena has sold out nine straight games, and it’s pretty much fucking mayhem in Oakland, a city that has been dying to support a winning basketball team for what seems like centuries.

Another big reason why Curry has bounced back so strongly this season? Monta Ellis and his ball-hogging ways are long gone, allowing Curry to be the focal point of this potent Warriors offense. The move to ditch Ellis has paid off for Golden State; Curry’s 20.5 points per game ranks eighth in the NBA, while his 6.6 assists per game rank right outside the top ten. Curry, who is second in the NBA with 113 threes this season, is clearly well on his way to becoming one of the all-time great snipers from downtown. He’s already buried 485 treys in just four seasons and is a 45 percent career shooter from long range. If he stays healthy for the remainder of his career, he could go down as the most prolific three-point shooter in NBA history. Ray Allen had 497 threes after his four years in the league, so Curry isn’t far behind the pace.

JRUE HOLIDAY

20111215_inq_sixr15-aThe 2012-13 campaign hasn’t been a banner season by any means for the Philadelphia 76ers, but if there’s been one overwhelmingly bright spot this year, it’s the emergence of Jrue Holiday. Change was imminent in Philly after the front office chose to swap Andre Iguodala for Andrew Bynum, but as we all know by now, the Bynum Era isn’t off to the hottest of starts in the City of Brotherly Love. Yet, even with the departure of Iguodala and Lou Williams, and the delayed arrival of Bynum, Holiday has made the most of what could have a disappointing season so far for the 76ers. The fourth year floor general is averaging a career-high 19.0 points per game, ranks fourth in the NBA in assists (8.8 apg), and is also shooting a much-improved 46 percent from the floor. He’s been given the keys to Philadelphia’s offense and has kept the underachieving 76ers in the playoff hunt; Philly (16-23) is just four games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for 8th place. So yeah, they aren’t out of the mix by any means. With the impending arrival of Bynum now estimated to happen around the All-Star break, the Sixers could get a boost when they need it most. But regardless of whether or not Bynum makes his long-awaited return to the court (I’ll believe it when I see it), Holiday is the reason that Philadelphia is the playoff hunt and continues to show why he should be a lock to win the league’s Most Improved Player award.

ANDRE MILLER

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Here are some quick facts about Andre Miller:
-He ranks 10th all time in career assists
-Nine different seasons he’s finished among the top 10 in the NBA in assists
-He ranks 46th all time in career steals
-Never has he averaged lower than 9.7 points, 5.4 assists, and 1.0 steals per game in a season
-He’s missed just three games in his 13-year career

Sounds like a pretty decent resume to me, but he’s also never been selected to an All-Star Game, he’s played for five different teams, he’s been traded like four times…and he’s never made it past the first round of the playoffs. You probably don’t even know what team he plays for right now. Call it bad luck, call it what you want, but unfortunately for Miller, he’s also never been viewed as a franchise player and has seemingly flown under the radar for years. Yet, at 36 years old, he’s taken on a leadership role with the Denver Nuggets and is still one of the more efficient point guards in the league, managing 9 points and almost 6 assists a game, despite getting less than 25 minutes as the team’s backup behind Ty Lawson. His best years may be behind him, but Andre Miller can still ball, and it looks like he’s still out to prove that he’s been one of the most consistent point guards of the last decade.

PAUL GEORGE

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Here’s a question for you: if LeBron James is taking the final shot in the Eastern Conference Finals, who do you want covering him? Think about it…it might just be Paul George. In his third year in the league, the Man with Two First Names is establishing himself as one of the top perimeter defenders in the game.  George stands at 6’9” (rumor has it he’s still growing), has a ridiculous seven-foot wingspan, and is athletic enough to guard four of the five positions on the floor. He’s quick enough to stay with the best guards in the game and strong enough to stand his ground in the paint. He has defensive instincts you simply can’t teach. Did I mention his arms? Stretch Armstrong long.

As witnessed in Boston with the return of Avery Bradley, defensive tenacity can become contagious. The Indiana Pacers, who have no shortage of athletic freaks like George, own the NBA’s top scoring defense and have shaken off an early season slump (without Danny Granger) thanks in large part to George’s work on the defensive end. He’s no slouch on offense either; he leads Indiana with 16.9 points per game and has also chipped in with 3.7 dimes per game. Not to mention the Pacers crash the boards better than any team in league (first in the NBA) and George (7.7 rebounds per game) is a big part of that. If the Pacers (24-16) continue their strong play behind the Man with Two First Names, they should be able to fend off the Bulls for the Central Division crown, and maybe draw a meeting with LeBron and the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.

LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Portland Trail Blazers

Did anyone honestly think that the Portland Trailblazers would be in the playoff hunt in January of 2013? But even after stripping nearly all of their assets from a year ago, and basically tanking to risk their future on a lottery pick, the Blazers stand at 20-19 and are just a half-game out of 8th place in the vaunted Western Conference. A lot of Portland’s success can be traced to the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Damian Lillard. However, a lot of Lillard’s immediate success can be directly attributed to having LaMarcus Aldridge on the floor with him. There’s no question that the one constant factor in Portland for the last few years has been Aldridge. After getting off to a rocky start as a rookie in 2006-07, Aldridge has emerged as a double-double machine in Portland and should be considered one of the best big men in the NBA. He ranks seventh in the league in scoring (20.8 points per game) and also stands in the top 20 in rebounds (8.8 rpg). More importantly, Aldridge is no longer a promising prospect from Texas. He’s the captain, the vocal leader, the heart and soul of the Portland Trailblazers; a team that really shouldn’t be in the playoff hunt. Yet, despite most likely finishing in the top 10 in scoring for a second straight year, and despite potentially carrying one of the youngest teams in the NBA to the playoffs, Aldridge will probably once again have to scratch and claw his way to the All Star Game in February. It’s a damn shame.

SIXTH MAN: ERIC BLEDSOE

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I couldn’t help myself. I had to find room for Eric Bledsoe in here somewhere. It’s too bad he’s stuck behind the best point guard in the NBA (Chris Paul), because Bledsoe aka “Baby Lebron” is ready to become a star. Although he’s still raw offensively, the Kentucky product might just be one of the best pure athletes in the league, and has the potential to be a Gary Payton-like lockdown, on-ball defender. Despite being relegated to the Clippers’ second unit, he’s making the most of his 19 minutes a game and is averaging nearly 9 points to go along with 1.5 steals. Sure, the Clippers have a lot of star power, but the bench has been a big key to their success too. Anyway, the point is that Bledsoe could start for the half the teams in the league. He’s that good. He’ll get his chance one day. Until then, we’re yelling “FREE ERIC BLEDSOE” in the Dumpster ’till the cows come home.

HONORABLE MENTION: Kemba Walker, Greivis Vasquez, O.J. Mayo, Arron Afflalo, Chandler Parsons, Nicolas Batum, David Lee, Zach Randolph, Serge Ibaka, Larry Sanders

GARBAGE, AND NOT THE GOOD KIND: A TRIBUTE TO THE ATLANTA HAWKS

The following numbers, believe it or not, are final statistics from an actual NBA box score…

1) 58 points on 29 percent shooting.

2) 24 for 82 from the floor, 2 for 14 from three-point land

3) Starters combined to score just 30 points on 12-of-42 shooting

4) 5 points in the 2nd quarter. 5. This is not a typo.

5) I repeat, 58 points on 29 percent shooting.

Still don’t believe me? Here’s proof. 

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Here in the Dumpster, we know garbage. And this, my friends, is not the kind of garbage we like in the Dumpster. Tonight, the Atlanta Hawks put together quite possibly the worst offensive performance in NBA history. I mean, how can you finish a game with only one double-digit scorer? And it’s not even any of your starters, it’s Mike Scott? Mike Scott?!?!?! I didn’t think it was feasible to play that poorly, but hey, the Hawks apparently like to strive for new lows.

They’ve lost seven of their last nine games, and judging by tonight’s display, it doesn’t look like things will be getting any better for these guys. Just wanted to take a moment to recognize some of the trashiest trash we here at the Dumpster have ever. Cheers to the Atlanta Hawks!