Spaceman's Pancakes

Steering towards the Weird since 2010


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Boston Celtics Off-Season: Marcus Smart and the Pedroia Principle


“I don’t care too much for money,
Money can’t buy me Love”
     – John and Paul
“I’m rich as  Rich-As-F#*K”
     -Dustin Pedroia

After an improbable run to the Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics enter the offseason with a future so bright fans might need to borrow a pair of Jaylen Brown’s shades. The team is young and talented and getting back two All-Star caliber players who were missing from the team that came within one game and approximately a thousand Terry Rozier missed threes away from ending Lebron James’s seven-year dominance of the East. Difficult decisions face the team this off-season, however, as an upcoming salary-cap crunch looms and threatens to push one of the darlings of this incredible 2017-2018 season out the door.

One player that could be gone by September is restricted-free-agent and human 5-hour-energy-shot Marcus Smart, a player I love and who probably symbolizes the ’17-’18 Celtics wonderful, flawed, cringe-inducing, joy-inspiring team better than anyone else. As a restricted free agent, Smart can sign with the highest bidder, but the Celtics will have the oppertunity match the offer sheet. Smart is looking for a payday that might not be realistic in a icy free agent market this summer, but he would probably be wise to look to another gritty icon of the Boston sports world and ink a deal that will keep him in Boston long-term at a discounted rate instead of going elsewhere. Marcus Smart needs the Pedroia Principle, (or how I learned to stop worrying and be Rich-As-F#*K)

For anyone who does not follow MLB free agency signings closely, I will lay out the Pedroia Principle, a creation of my own making, in its simplest terms-

Let’s start with the essential prior in all sports negotiations: Since teams feel no loyalty at all to players ever in ay situation (see Thomas, Isaiah) athletes should look to maximize their earnings and get paid when they can.

The Pedroia Principle states a unique exception to this universal truth: While a player should maximize their earnings, a change in team made to achieve that max salary is a risk- both to their image and to their career- and that risk should be heavily weighted against the difference in money between the current team and the highest bidder. If the end result is being “Rich-As-F#*K” either way, just stay where you are

The Pedroia Principle obviously takes its name from Red Sox second baseman and Professor of Gritology, Dustin Pedroia, who signed an eight-year, $110M deal in 2014 prior to hitting free agency. The deal was largely viewed as an extreme hometown discount and was certainly well-below market value for the four-time All-Star and Gold Glove-winner. At the time, Pedroia was regarded as the second-best potential option at the cornerstone behind then-Yankee Robinson Cano as his free agency drew near and Cano eventually signed with the Mariners for ten-years, $240M. Lazer show definitely didn’t leave all of $130M on the table but he didn’t get all of his money either. He laughed off the “discount” label, pointing out that he was not exactly a poor man with his trademark eloquence.

Whatever money Pedey left on the table wasn’t just lost, however. That cash went to cementing his legacy as an icon. It further nourished the image of the throw-back guy who eats, breathes and sleeps baseball and of the hard-nosed scrapper who puts his team first. It made him unassailable. As injuries tear away at his durability and performance- he played just 105 games last season and missed the playoff and just return to the lineup this season in late May-he has not become the pariah so many overpaid imports become after leaving the towns that embraced them on their way up. Maybe Pedroia had the unique foresight to know that the end would go down easier if it happened in the same town that saw him riding the duck-boats, or maybe he felt some loyalty to the town and the team that didn’t give up on him, but the reasons are less important than the results here. It is not hard to imagine a Pablo Sandoval or Carl Crawford late-career arch for Pedroia with the Mets or the Angels or some other team whose fan base was forced to go from hating the guy to rooting for him against their will.

More than any other athlete, Marcus Smart needs to embrace the Pedroia Principle. Celtics fans have embraced him despite his many glaring flaws. Will another team’s fan base laugh off his bricking ridiculous pull-up threes late in the fourth quarter with fifteen seconds left on the shot clock the way Celtics fans do? Probably not. On a rookie deal, it is easy to see those “winning plays” that are never actual points on the board, but those don’t easily sell you to a new fan base  when you get paid $18M and never score double digits, never dunk over other teams’ stars and never make the transition lay-up. Smarf brings so much more to the game then infurating short-comings but

Marcus Smart is our guy.  He is Smarf. He can’t buy this kind of love in another town regardless of how much he gets in free agency, but he can get it in Boston by staying and taking less. I don’t have a clue how to effectively monetize the love a fan base has for a player, but that value is greater than zero and players too often overlook that fact. I am not arguing that players should not look to get theirs or not fight for protection against the shitty treatment teams write off with the lines, “its a business,” (cough-IT-cough),* but signing for every last dollar has ruined players psyches and forced heel-turns on them so often that I am astonished that more players haven’t embraced the Pedroia Principle. I like Marcus Smart and I don’t like the future for Marcus Smart if he leaves the Garden as a free agent, so I hope he becomes one of the few who embrace it.

Hey, he’ll still be rich as “Rich-As-F#*K,” Right?

* Dustin Pedroia was given a no-trade clause in his deal, a practice much more common in baseball than in basketball


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Celtics lose the Isaiah Thomas/ Kyrie Irving Trade By Every Measure


last night, the Boston Celtics traded Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick for Kyrie Irving and in doing so they not only broke my heart, they also got further from their dream of another championship. It is a strange result to come out of an obvious go-big trade but there is no way to really come to any other conclusion.

In discussing the utter nihilism of this terrible deal in my more personal reaction, I wrote this after enumerating the  joys of Isaiah Thomas’ 2016-17 season-

“You don’t trade that easily. You certainly don’t trade that for a minor upgrade with an extra year of control.”

And that is certainly true. It is hard to imagine Red Auerbach looking at Larry Bird’s 1985-86 season and thinking, “hey that was a great season Bird just had, maybe we can deal him for Wilkens.” But what you really, really, never do is trade the kind of player who brings that one-of-a-kind-history-in-the-making-season to the table along with another chip-on-his-shoulder grinder, an international prospect and a projected top-5 pick for a guy who isn’t happy on a team that contends for the title every season, the very team that you can’t get passed in your conference and who now has that insanely-driven King-in-the-Fourth guy your fans love so much playing next to the best player in the game. When you do that, you lose in every possible way there is to lose.

The fan thing I wrote about in my first piece on this deal is fickle. I get that. Sure, Isaiah Thomas, IT4, King in the Fourth, titles, titles, titles… was a fan favorite, but fans don’t stick with guys who don’t perform and he was beaten to a pulp in the playoffs and too close to thirty to be worth the max deal it would take to keep him a year from now. We are all adults here. But while most of the basketball world* believes that Kyrie is superior, the cold hard numbers are not so sure. Win Shares prefers IT’s best seasons over Kyrie’s. By Box Plus-Minus, Thomas has been slightly better than Kyrie over the past three seasons. Irving hits three’s at a slightly higher percentage and has a serious advantage in assists, but Thomas is actually better per-100 possessions and has played a bigger role on worse teams without the advantage of Lebron James as a possible assist target. I’ll buy that Irving is slightly better and that being younger, he is a better bet long term, but the deal is just two years for one. With that reality in mind, it is impossible to see how Thomas-plus-Crowder doesn’t far out value Irving alone. Add in Zizic and the 2018 Nets pick and the math becomes unwinnable for Boston.

*Including Danny Ainge, apparently

The losing math on the trade might matter less if the deal wasn’t being made with the team that stands directly between the Celtics and any chance at the right to lose to the Warriors in the Finals. Adding IT to Cleveland is just about the worst thing Boston could do right now. As things stood, Boston was entering the season with a new star, a top draft pick and all the trade-deadline-buying power on earth. The Cavs were dealing with a team that wasn’t on speaking terms, had a star demanding a trade, no cap space and no tradable assets. Now they have replaced a malcontent with an equivalent player who runs on disrespect and just got his BALCO-grade B12 shot of the stuff, added a tough three-and-D guy, a rookie big and an asset they can trade at the deadline for just about anything available. I’m really going to enjoy watching Isaiah go for 40 on the Celtics for four games in the Eastern Conference finals while Crowder shuts down Hayward and LeBron just laughs at Kyrie and “his own team as they get swept.” Good stuff. Well worth it.

There is a theory I have that I call the Pujols-Pedroia Principle. It is basically this: when you are a star player and you can choose between leaving for a huge payday or staying with the team that you became a star with for a slightly smaller payday, it is usually correct to stay where you are. Doing this has two major advantages. First, you keep all the good will you have earned over the years on your way up and second, your deal is recognized as a sacrifice, making you seem more noble in your decline and earning you the kind of slack that money just can’t buy. This Celtics deal necessitates the inverse of this theory. Let’s call it the IT-Irving Imperative. This rule says that if you are choosing between a player that you have, that you know and that your fans love and revere, and a similar player worth slightly more (be that value in contract, age, etc), you must pick the player you have because failing with him is righteous while only extreme success can justify going against your own guy.

We are familiar with the consequences of violating the Pedroia-Pujols Principle. It is easy to imagine what Alex Rodriguez’s narrative might have been if he stayed in Seattle for less money or how much more grace would have been given to Pablo Sandoval in the Bay Area instead of the Back Bay. Teams don’t do what Danny Ainge has done that often. For one thing, there aren’t that many chances to do so. But really, it is because the calculus of front offices includes the IT-Irving Imperative. The best GMs know they are better betting on the devil they know. Danny Ainge has forsaken that convention and gone to an extreme with this deal. Only winning big will justify it. He doesn’t have the numbers on his side here, which makes this deal particularly hard to swallow in light of how much IT4 meant to Boston these past three seasons.

It is possible that the Celtics will win this deal, but it isn’t likely. For a GM who has been so patient and calculating, this move is a shock. For a fan, it is mostly just a slap in the face.


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Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas to Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving and Nihilism wins the day


Danny, you broke my heart. You broke my heart!

If you are looking for a case against being a sports fan in 2017, Celtics GM Danny Ainge has served it up for you with his latest mega-deal, the trade that will send Isaiah Thomas to the Cleveland Cavaliers along with Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick for Kyrie Irving. It is a bad deal for the Celtics in several ways, but it is a horrible deal for Celtic fans to an almost absurd degree. It is not just “sports are a business,” and this is business as usual. It is championship-chasing nihilism- the belief that there is nothing about the sports-fan experience that means anything except getting a fucking piece of jewelry. Maybe most fans really do just root for laundry and would trade their soul for a few duck boats on parade, but I’m not there yet. I still care a little who wears the jerseys I’m watching, who rides in those boats.

Being a fan is not a rational thing. There is no earthly reason why anyone should sacrifice their time, their emotional energy and their joy and heartache to a group of strangers playing a game. The modern sports world has been forced to confront rationality on all fronts. The gut-feelings of old men that once ruled these games have been banished in favor of precision calculations, data sets and probability tables. And that is a good thing. Reason should win out over superstition and the end of superstitions has improved performance, pushed boundaries and created an era that has seen some of the greatest performances for both teams and individuals. If you are the GM of a major sports franchise, it is vital that you divorce yourself from sentimentality and build a winner at any cost. But if fandom is an inherently irrational thing, maybe the cold rationality of the modern front office can go too far?

That is what happened today.

Nevermid all the rational, calculated reasons this was a bad deal. I’ll get to those. Isaiah Thomas’ 2016-2017 season was special. It was historic in several ways, but it was not the record-setting numbers that made it such a joy to watch. Everyone loves David-and-Goliath stories and, at 5’9, Thomas will forever be cast as David, but his 2016-17 season wasn’t that either. David might beat Goliath but he usually doesn’t burn three Goliath’s in the paint at will with the Kingdom on the line. The season that spawned the King in the Forth meme was the kind of magical occurrence that makes it worth watching sports. Here was this guy- too small for his sport of choice- who bounced around the court with the kind of ease that only comes with a tortuous commitment to making difficult things look easy. He scored at will. He beat double-teams and triple-teams. He buried wild step-backs and crazy-deep threes. He did it without the obvious athleticism of Westbrook, the length of Kawhi, or the flashy moves of Harden. He did it all with a smile that fell just short of hiding the Everest-sized chip on his shoulder*. He did it when it mattered most and when everyone was trying to stop him.

*A chip that just got bigger, BTWs.

That King-in-the-Fourth thing would have been enough to make 2016-17 a season Celtics fans held dear, but when tragedy struck on April 15, 2017, Isaiah Thomas’ season became something else entirely. After losing his sister in a car accident, Isaiah Thomas didn’t step away from the court- a choice that would have been completely understood by anyone with a functioning soul. Instead, he returned to the game he had given up so much for and gave it something that will ring out as long as there are fans who can remember watching it. On the day his sister would have turned 23, Thomas played the greatest game of basketball I have ever seen. It might be irrational to care about sports, but when you watch a game like that, it makes sense in some deep way that we can’t get at with words and numbers.

You don’t trade that easily. You certainly don’t trade that for a minor upgrade with an extra year of control.

But that is what Danny Ainge has done. Because this is what GMs do when they forget that irrational thing at the heart of the game. Without that, ther are too eager to make the headline-grabbing deals, even when they are wrong. They chase rings and only rings and think of nothing else. They forsake all the reasons we watch the games to make sure they can win those games, under the theory that winning will bring the fans.  But what if it doesn’t work? What if they are wrong? What if I don’t what to watch the Kyrie-Celtics for some irrational reason. It was irrational to watch in the first place, right? The NBA might be selling games, but they are really selling stories. How disposable can characters be before we are out on the story itself?

Even Game of Thrones, a show built on brutally punishing our expectations of loyalty to its characters has not been able to do what Danny Ainge just did. There is a part of me that keeps expecting Isaiah to crawl out on to the ice and catch a horse back to Boston. But it isn’t going to happen. And that only leaves the question, why am I watching this anyway?


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NBA: Celtics vs Warriors Something Like a Preview


Tonight, the Boston Celtics are playing the defending Western Conference champions and undisputed Super-team, the Golden State Warriors. For both Celtics fans and Warriors  fans, this has to be considered must-see TV.

I count myself in both camps, though I am first and foremost a Celtics fans. I like the Warriors as well, primarily for Steph Curry, who is far more the kind of superstar basketball player I enjoy than Lebron James or Kevin Durant. I also enjoy the Warriors for their much-hyped style of play. I’m not ready to declare it game-transforming just yet, but watching a team that prioritizes three-pointers, spreading the floor and moving the ball around the perimeter is fascinating to me. The warriors are the gold standard for this style, but the Celtics play something similar, especially when Isiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are firing on all cylinders.

I say Curry is the kind of star player I prefer not out of some quality judgment about his merits over those other guys, but because of my own idiosyncratic tastes for basketball players. I like the short guys. I’m short and slight and so I like the short, slight guys, especially when they are also awesome. I like Dustin Pedrioa and Jose Altuve. I like Wes Welker and Julien Edelman. I loved Earnest Givens. I was mildly obsessed with Spud Webb as a kid. Curry is not that short, really. He’s listed at 6’3, but that is NBA short and it is a hell of a lot more relatable to me than a monstrous physical specimen like Lebron or KD. I like both them as players and as people, but I am only really fascinated by players who don’t make sense in some way and Curry doesn’t make sense as the best player in the league in just the right way for me.

You can probably guess that if I like 6’3-otherwordly-shooting Steph Curry for the freakish way he succeeds, I am an even bigger fan of Boston’s 5’8 Isiah Thomas. Thomas was an All-Star last season and he has been even better over the first nine games of this season. If you were to be extremely generous, you might even call him the poor-short-man’s Steph Curry. Like Curry, he plays the point and has the elite handles and drive-to-the-hoop ability you expect from a player at that position. No one is like Curry when it comes to shooting beyond the arc, but Thomas is a strong three-point shooter and that adds an extra dimension to his game at the one that is not entirely unlike what Curry’s shooting ability gives Golden State.

These players and similarity is the main reason I am extremely excited about this game. Boston is far from being a Golden State clone; even before the addition of Durant, the Warriors were not a team that could just be copied. However, like GS, Boston features a point guard (Thomas) who is also the team’s top scorer. IT is averaging 27.1 points per game and has carried the Celtics at times with Al Horford and Jae Crowder out of the lineup. Curry is averaging 27.9 PPG, even without having to the carry the offense as much as he has in the past. Both teams start with the point guard and their shooting ability, forcing teams to step up on them and open up the court for other players, and both guys can make their way to hoop when the defense over-commits to the perimeter.

Behind Curry there has been Klay Thompson, one the greatest outside shooters in the history of the game in his own right. This season, Boston seems to have found a legit second option  in Avery Bradley. Bradley has been a good three-point guy, but now he also has the ability to create off the dribble, making him a much more versatile player on offense.  With the addition of Al Horford, the Celtics have a forward who excels at passing and can help create space for these two. If both he and Jae Crowder return for tonight’s game, the Celtics should have the defense to match up with Golden State as much as that can be done with Curry, Durant, Green and Thompson all on the floor.

If the Celtics strategy last season was to somewhat harass and contain Curry while shutting down Green and Thompson, now that won’t be enough. If Jae Crowder doesn’t play or is limited, the Celtics have a very difficult time matching up against Durant. If Al Horford is also out and the rebounding stays as bad as it has been, the Celtics are in serious trouble. Boston was expected to be a strong defensive team and when healthy they have the talent to be just that, but they haven’t been healthy yet this season and their offense has had to carry them.

If Boston can do something close to what they did against the Warriors on defense last season  with Durant in the mix, it will be a crazy game. They will still struggle with Durant, but fortunately, on offense, they seemed to be a step above where they were last season. In his masslive piece on the game, Tom Wetherhold pointed out that Warriors are not playing up to their 2015-2016 level on defense either  and predicted a shoot-out. The Warriors probably win any shootout scenario, but the possibility of that kind of game is certainly not a reason to turn this one off. Boston is a top-ten offense so far and that is without Crowder and Horford for a number of games. If they return, the defense and rebounding should come with them. They can press this Warriors team on both ends of the court and they can make life hard, even for Durant, even if they can’t stop him.

Adding Kevin Durant made the Warriors into the heels for most NBA-non-warriors fans. It reminds me most of when the already-fearsome 2003 Yankees added Alex Rodriguez. It just seemed like a Bridge too far. Even more than Lebron’s decision, it has created the impression that the league has a parity problem and that will play out in the next CBA. The Celtics beat the pre-Durant Warriors. They probably couldn’t do it in a seven-game series, but they could pull it off here and there. With Durant, it doesn’t seem possible, but even at 9-2 this season, the Warriors haven’t dominated quite as expected. If this team is just pacing themselves, they could drop this one to a finally-healthy Celtics team. If they do, they should hear even more questions about whether this Superteam isn’t gelling right. It may all be just hype, but it will probably happen anyway.

On the other side. Boston overachieved last season and now have to deal with expectations. Those expectations don’t include hanging with the Warriors, but Boston needs to justify their place in the first division in the East with something more than wins over weak teams. The Celtics are 6-5 and in the middle of the Eastern conference pack, and a few of those losses have been pretty ugly. If they want to make a statement- maybe to some trade candidates or upcoming free agents- this is the game for it. The stakes aren’t as high for the Warriors, but they have last season’s loss to avenge and their newly found role as the bad guys to live up to. Either way, it’s a game that you have to watch.