|02.06.14 at 10:07 am ET|
The Celtics are coming off of their worst month in team history — a record of 2-15 in January.
Wrap your mind around that: the worst month in Celtics history. The 2006-07 team that lost 18 straight never dropped more than 14 games in a month. Even M.L. Carr‘s 1996-97 tank-squad that won a total of 15 games never topped 14 losses in a single month.
The trade deadline is looming, and Danny Ainge already has showed that he is not afraid to make moves for the future — trading Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford for expiring contracts and draft picks is evidence. And it’s safe to expect similar moves between now and Feb. 20.
It’s also safe to expect Ainge to hold a high draft pick come June. Boston currently has the sixth-worst record in the NBA and has reached as low as third (the C’s were fourth worst entering Wednesday). Recent wins over bottom-feeders Orlando and Philadelphia have the Celts sitting a bit higher in the standings. Losing another game or two would allow them to get in that bottom three, which yields a 96 percent chance at a top-five pick. The timing couldn’t be better, as the class of 2014 is loaded with prospects that project to be NBA stars.
Given the Celtics‘ current position, selecting somewhere in the top five seems reasonable. So let’s look at the top five prospects in the draft and how they would work in Boston.
Joel Embiid, Kansas, freshman — Embiid has scouts drooling over his NBA potential. He has grown from a mid-to-late lottery pick to a probable first overall pick in just about half a season.
Embiid is a 7-footer with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. And oh, yeah, he’s only been playing basketball for about three years. Originally from Cameroon, Embiid still is learning the game at Kansas under Bill Self. The conventional wisdom was that he would take more time to develop, but Embiid has been masterful on the defensive end and is far less raw on offense than we were led to believe. “He’s skilled, he’s tough, he’s learning quickly, he’s all of 7 feet and he battles,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman said in a Thursday interview with Mut & Merloni. “And he’s getting better.”
Embiid has posted season averages of 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.3 assists in only 22.7 minutes per contest. He has done all this while shooting 61.6 percent from the field and making plays that have (rightfully) drawn comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon. The lone flaw in his game? Embiid fouls far too often. His 3.5 fouls per game are much too high, especially considering his minutes.
|02.05.14 at 9:33 pm ET|
The Celtics hadn’t won two games in a row since Dec. 13 and 16, gathering Ping Pong balls as they slid down the NBA standing over the past month, but the C’s improved to 2-0 with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley in the starting backcourt.
Rondo approached triple-double territory (8 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds), Bradley contributed 14 points before tweaking his ankle again and the two combined for five steals in a 114-108 victory against the host 76ers.
Jeff Green led all scorers with 36 points, helping the Celtics (17-33) avenge last week’s buzzer-beating loss to Philadelphia (15-35) in the Garden. Jared Sullinger (19 points, 10 rebounds, third straight double-double), Brandon Bass (18 points) and Jerryd Bayless (11 points) also reached double figures.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Backcourt’s back: After missing two weeks with an ankle injury, Bradley picked up where he left off, scoring 17 points in his return on Sunday and reaching double figures against the Sixers within the game’s first 10 minutes. Despite playing four seasons together, Bradley and Rondo haven’t even started in the same backcourt for half a season’s worth of games. How that duo performs the rest of the way could dictate whether they remain teammates for years to come. The early returns are positive — on both sides of the ball, as Bradley and Rondo also helped keep Michael Carter-Williams (11 points) and Evan Turner (12 points) in check.
Green thumbs up: Likewise, Green showed signs of the uber-athletic potential everyone imagined in his pairing with Rondo. Green had a baker’s dozen by halftime, and Rondo assisted on three of his five field goals — including back-to-back buckets during a 10-0 run that helped the Celtics establish a nine-point lead just before halftime. Green’s confidence tends to build momentum when he’s involved early, and Rondo may help make that a trend.
Sharing the wealth: Actually, just about everybody benefited from Rondo’s presence. The C’s assisted on 13 of their 14 first-quarter field goals, taking a 34-23 lead after one, and finished the first half with 19 dimes on 23 FGs. Rondo had nine of the 19. While the Sixers made their runs to cut into the advantage — even taking the lead in the second quarter — the Celtics‘ execution on the offensive end helped keep them at bay.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Awkward Klynyk: Kelly Olynyk continues to endure some growing pains. Brad Stevens severely limited the rookie’s minutes during an all-around poor performance. In one tough-to-watch stretch, a Philadelphia shot clock violation bailed him out of biting on a Spencer Hawes up-fake from beyond the arc, and then he committed a horrific turnover in transition. He finished with one point and two giveaways in 12 minutes.
Sloppy second: Stevens rested Rondo with a seven-point lead midway through the second quarter, and the 76ers immediately rattled off a 10-2 run that included a pair of Carter-Williams buckets in his absence. The stagnant C’s were forced to bring back the still recovering Rondo after just three minutes. Through three quarters, the Celtics outscored the Sixers 68-57 with Rondo on the floor while Philly owned a 25-20 advantage with him on the bench.
Avery’s ankle: Bradley tweaked his ankle again late in the fourth quarter and sat the final 3:16. After his performance alongside Rondo the last two games, any more missed time would be another devastating blow.
|02.02.14 at 3:20 pm ET|
Rondo, who sat out Boston’s loss against the 76ers on Wednesday, shot 9-for-11 from the field, and added 10 assists for a Boston team that had lost 16 of its last 18.
Jared Sullinger led all scorers with 21 points, and he tallied his second straight double-double with 12 rebounds. Avery Bradley returned from his five-game absence with an ankle sprain to score 17 points. Brandon Bass also chipped in 19.
Arron Afflalo paced five Magic starters in double figures with 18 points.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE CELTICS
Rondo: For the first time this season, Boston fans got their old point guard back. Rondo, who entered Sunday’s game averaging 6.7 points and 5.7 assists per game on 27.9 percent shooting, played his best game of the season. He scored a season-high 19 points and added 10 assists and five rebounds. Rondo did all this on shooting 9-for-11 shooting. He stuffed the stat sheet in the first half with 13 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals.
Sullinger: In the Celtics‘ 95-94 loss to the 76ers on Wednesday, Sullinger put together a 24-point, 17 rebound performance that on the surface looked impressive. However, the fact that Sullinger needed 25 shots ‘ and only made nine ‘ to get his 24 points took some of the punch out of that statline. Against the Magic, Sullinger again posted a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds), but this time he did it in an efficient manner (9-for-14 from the field).
Rough on the rookie: Victor Oladipo will presumably have plenty of opportunities to showcase the talent that made the Magic use the second overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft on him against the Celtics in the future. But after one season, it’s safe to say that Oladipo’s career versus Boston has begun inauspiciously. Oladipo’s fourth and final game against the C’s this season was his worst. He shot 3-for-16 from the field, scored 12 points while playing the unfamiliar point guard position in place of an injured Jameer Nelson.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE CELTICS
Green shooting: Jeff Green had a miserable shooting game in Boston’s win, as the small forward missed 11 of his 13 shots. Green, Boston’s leading scorer, finished with eight points and shot 1-for-5 bound the arc. To Green’s credit, he did dish out five assists. In his last four games, Green’s had two 2-for-13 shooting performances, and a 4-for-13 night as well.
|02.01.14 at 6:43 pm ET|
Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo told ESPN.com that the idea of free agency carries some intrigue for him, though he stopped short of saying that he had decided with any certainty to pursue that avenue at the end of his current five-year, $55 million deal that runs through the 2014-15 season.
“It’s kind of like, I would say, maybe college recruiting,” Rondo told the website. “I’m pretty sure a lot more goes into it in the NBA. A lot more money is spent.
“I’ve heard stories, guys getting called right at midnight. It’s something that I haven’t experienced. I may want to go through it. I haven’t thought about it at all.”
Rondo, 27, is averaging 6.7 points, 5.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 24 minutes a night in the six games since he returned from his torn ACL. The Celtics are 0-6 in games where he’s played.
|01.31.14 at 5:49 pm ET|
Celtics captain Rajon Rondo is due $12.9 million next season — the final year of a five-year, $55 million extension he signed in October 2009 — and the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement makes any suggestion he’d rather test the free agency waters than sign another longterm extension an obvious one.
In the simplest terms, Rondo stands to make twice as much money on his next contract if he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2015. So, when he tells reporters, “I may want to go through” free agency, as he did after Friday’s practice, who can blame him? For years, Paul Pierce said the same, because it makes financial sense.
The following timeline — cobbled together using Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ and input from the Celtics front office — details what max contract Rondo can sign at different points over the next 18 months, and should help explain why Rondo won’t sign an extension this season and may not end up signing one next season.
(Even if Rondo doesn’t ultimately sign for max dollars, which he probably won’t, this exercise should still demonstrate the vast difference in money available to him at various times in his near future.)
|01.30.14 at 1:23 am ET|
The Celtics hit a new low with a buzzer-beating loss to the 76ers. They’ve lost four in a row, wrapping up January with a 2-15 record after losing to the only team that stood between them and the Atlantic Division basement.
Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
On the bright side, the Celtics have three days off before traveling to Orlando to take on one of two teams that owns a worse record than them in the entire NBA, and somehow they’re only 5.5 games behind the hapless Eastern Conference’s eighth-seeded Bobcats (THE EIGHTH-SEEDED BOBCATS!). Oh, and the C’s possess a 15.6 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, a 46.9 percent at a top-three pick and a 96.4 percent chance at a top-five pick on the night Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins scored a season-high 29 points on 16 shots. So, there’s that.
Here’s how various Celtics are dealing with their dire situation heading into the final 10 weeks of the season.
|01.29.14 at 9:59 pm ET|
Neither team seemed all that interested in winning — as the Celtics and Sixers combined for six missed free throws down the stretch before Hamilton product Michael Carter-Williams finally made one to tie the game at 92-92 in the final minute — but another free throw and Evan Turner‘s running layup at the buzzer negated a Kris Humphries jumper and put an end to a 95-94 Philadelphia victory that sunk the C’s to the bottom of the Atlantic Division.
Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 24 points and 17 rebounds while Jeff Green (18 points), Humphries (13), Brandon Bass (11) and Jerryd Bayless (10) all reached double figures, but the C’s (15-33) dropped their 19th game in 22 tries. Here’s what went right and wrong in another loss loss.
WHAT WENT WRONG
No-go Rondo: For the second straight back-to-back, the Celtics rested Rajon Rondo in the second game, and the timing of both seemed a bit odd, particularly Wednesday. Not because Rondo should have played twice in two days, since he’s still experiencing some swelling in his knee, but because the second game (at Wizards and hosting 76ers) appeared infinitely more winnable than the first (in both Miami and New York) with him in the lineup. The C’s actually beat the Wizards without Rondo, but his presence against Philly would’ve a) helped counter the length of Michael Carter-Williams and b) given Boston fans another chance to see the All-Star point guard.
Worst first: The Celtics scored 26 first-quarter points, led by a baker’s dozen from Green, and held the Sixers to 29.6 percent shooting in the opening 12 points — yet only led by three after one. The C’s allowed five offensive boards and committed seven turnovers in the frame, leading to 10 of Philadelphia’s 23 points.
Phil pressing: After totaling 20 points and four assists in a victory against the Wizards in his previous start, rookie point guard Phil Pressey didn’t have the same luck opposite the 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams. Pressey finished just 1-of-7 from the floor (2 points) and committed five turnovers before Stevens yanked him for Bayless down the stretch.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Green with envy: For whatever reason, the self-described “[expletive]-hole Jeff Green showed up against the 76ers. Both Green and Philadelphia forward Thaddeus Young were mentioned as potential trade chips in the Omer Asik discussions earlier this season, and a lot of folks were pegging Young as the more valuable chip. It’s unclear whether that was Green’s motivation or not, but it sure seemed like it.
Sully bully: Soon after the pregame announcement that both Sullinger and rookie Kelly Olynyk were selected to the Rising Stars Challenge, Celtics coach Brad Stevens called his sophomore forward to the mat. “One thing I challenged him on is not accepting being a 22-year-old in the league,” he said. “We’re in a unique situation where we’re asking some of our young guys to be leaders. My thing to him is for our team to grow, you almost have to play a few years ahead of where you are.” Despite an injury to his shooting hand that limited him to an average of 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds over his previous three games, Sullinger responded with his first double-double in a week.
Nice Johnson: On his second 10-day contract, Chris Johnson continues to earn what should be a minimum salary contract for the remainder of the season. On what seems like sheer effort alone, he’s made an impact in just about ever game in which he’s appeared. His first fourth-quarter triple drew the Celtics even for the first time since early in the second quarter; in the next two minutes, he assisted on a Green 3-pointer that gave the C’s a three-point lead and drilled another 3 that doubled it. He also added a handful of assists and rebounds.
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