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Brad Stevens working to keep young guns in the mix

02.25.16 at 9:16 pm ET
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Marcus Smart (36) trips over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Marcus Smart (36) trips over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

While there was some discussion pre-game Thursday of how a veteran like Joe Johnson might add valuable versatility, there was also acknowledgment of the potential of the youth that remains on the roster.

With an average age of 24.4, the Celtics are tied with the Jazz for the youngest roster in the league this season.

The team they played Thursday, the Bucks are next at 24.5 and the Sixers come in at 24.7. The Celtics are by far and away the most successful in that foursome of youth. 

The Celtics have three rookies on their roster in Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey and R.J. Hunter. Marcus Smart and James Young hail from the 2014 draft and Kelly Olynyk represents the Class of 2013 and Jared Sullinger was drafted in 2012.

Of the last two drafts, only Smart is seeing significant minutes and Young’s yo-yo between Boston and Maine is well documented.

How are the young guns handling not playing?

“I think it’s hard. They’ve played their whole lives,” Stevens said before Thursday’s game. “They’ve never had a year where they’ve sat. But it’s probably not all that unanticipated. It’s part of life as a young player, especially on a team that’s like ours. We’ve talked about that there’s not a ton of separation up and down the roster but there is a lot of depth.” 

With David Lee gone to Dallas, the Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson are the oldest at 28 years. Only five of the 14 players on the active roster are over 25.  

“All of our older players, and I say older kind of tongue-in-cheek, but they all are productive NBA players and have a real niche and role,” Stevens added.

R.J. Hunter has had the biggest impact of the 2015 class, averaging nearly 10 minutes a game in the 26 games he’s played. Rozier has played in 20 games and Mickey has seen action in just six games but does have three blocks. 


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Brad Stevens won’t talk Joe Johnson but admits adding versatility would be ‘huge’

02.25.16 at 6:26 pm ET
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Joe Johnson (7) shoots over New York Knicks shooting guard Arron Afflalo (4) of the Knicks in a recent game. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

Joe Johnson (7) shoots over Knicks  guard Arron Afflalo in a recent game. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

Before Thursday’s game with the Bucks, Brad Stevens wasn’t about to step into the speculation about soon-to-be free agent Joe Johnson

The Nets, with their new general manager Sean Marks, negotiated a buyout Thursday of Johnson’s $21 million contract and waived the 34-year-old scorer who was originally drafted by the Celtics in the 2001 draft. 

There was an ESPN report Thursday afternoon that the Celtics would have interest if he clears waivers.

But because Johnson hasn’t, Stevens wasn’t going to comment despite being asked how much he might like having another scorer. 

“We’re not allowed to talk about it,” Stevens said. “I’ve got no … I’m not going to talk about whether or not veteran or young [player], if we add to it, it’ll be to help our team with increased versatility. Otherwise, there would be no reason to add somebody just to add somebody.”

The Celtics have had an open roster spot since waiving David Lee last week and buying him out. The team also assigned second-year forward James Young to the D-League Red Claws earlier Thursday (for an eighth time this season), fueling more speculation that they were greasing the skids to bring someone in. 

“That’s something that Danny’s looking at, Danny’s trying to figure out,” Stevens said. “We talked about it occasionally. But like I said before, we haven’t been in any rush to fill that spot and we’ll fill it if we need to. Sometimes, those things happen as result of injuries. Sometimes those things happen as result of needs. Each team has its own particular needs. I think we’ve got some that we could potentially benefit from using that last roster spot but we’ll see. We’ll see.”

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Report: Celtics have interest in Brooklyn buyout candidate Joe Johnson

02.25.16 at 2:33 pm ET
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The Celtics drafted Joe Johnson with the 10th pick in the 2001 draft before shipping him to Phoenix halfway through his rookie season. Could a homecoming be in his near future?

According to an ESPN report, Johnson and the Nets have begun buyout discussions that would free Johnson to sign with a contender, and the Celtics are among the teams interested in his services.

Johnson, 34, will be postseason season eligible as long he is released by Tuesday, and in a WFAN radio interview on Thursday, new Nets GM Sean Marks said he’d do his best to accommodate the former All-Star.

“I think he’s deserved the right to,” Marks said when asked if Johnson could join a team headed for the playoffs.

The Celtics will have a steep hill to climb to convince Johnson to sign, however, because if the veteran wants his first title, either Cleveland or Oklahoma City would seemingly offer a better chance of getting it.

Johnson is averaging 11 points a game for the Nets, down from his career mark of 17.0.

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Celtics assign James Young to Maine again

02.25.16 at 11:53 am ET
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James Young

James Young

The Maine shuttle continues for Celtics‘ second-year forward James Young. 

The Celtics assigned the 20-year-old guard/forward to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League. It is the eighth time this season Young has been assigned to the D-League team. 

 Young has played in five contests for the Red Claws this season and is averaging 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.4 steals in 31.3 minutes per game.

He recorded a season-high 26 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and two steals in 31 minutes of action against the Raptors on Nov. 20.

Last July, Young joined the Celtics for the 2015 NBA Summer League where he averaged 9.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in five games.

Young struggled, as he shot just 27.1 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from three-point range. He subsequently played the least amount of preseason minutes of anyone who made the final 2015’€“16 opening night roster against Philadelphia.

The Celtics still see a lot of promise on the player they chose 17th overall out of Kentucky in the June 2014 draft. On Oct. 30, they exercised their third-year team option on Young’s rookie scale contract, extending the contract through the 2016-€“17 season.

He spent five days with the Red Claws between Nov. 3 and Nov. 9 on two different assignments before finally making his season debut for the Celtics on Nov. 10, playing the last 49 seconds of the team’s 99’€“83 win over the Bucks, the team the Celtics play Thursday at the Garden.

After playing in three games for the Celtics between Nov. 24 and Dec. 3, he almost got on a plane from San Antonio to Maine on Dec. 4, but was informed not to minutes before boarding, as the Celtics needed Young for insurance for Avery Bradley, who was nursing a quad injury.

Young did not play for the Celtics against the Spurs on Dec. 5. He went on to appear in seven of the team’s next eight games, averaging 14.3 minutes per game over that stretch. On Jan. 23, Young received another assignment to the Red Claws, before getting a recall to the Celtics the next day.

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Brad Stevens trying to help Marcus Smart cut down his fouls

02.24.16 at 7:31 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Brad Stevens loves the defensive energy of Marcus Smart. It’s the technique that could use some work. 

The Celtics coach alluded to that Monday night after the 124-122 loss to the Timberwolves, a game in which he committed five fouls. Smart, drafted two years ago out of Oklahoma State for his defensive tenancity, is leading the Celtics in fouls this season and is averaging 3.1 hacks per game. 

That’s a lot for a guard who makes his living as a defensive specialist off the bench. After Wednesday’s practice Stevens and Smart both addressed the need to cut down the fouls while not sacrificing defensive intensity. 

“Defensively, [if] your job is to get into the ball and avoid the screen, to challenge by chasing somebody, to challenge by going under a screen and then meeting them there or if you’re fronting the low post, whatever the case may be, whatever your job is, to make the right next play, and to do it full-go without fouling is the goal of our whole team,” Stevens said. “We haven’t done a great job of that and so, that’s really my focus with him and with other guys.”

As for the number of fouls per game, Stevens isn’t worried that Smart might have a reputation around the league as someone who tries to draw offensive fouls by flopping. Twice in the fourth quarter Monday, he was called for fouls, once trying to draw the charge. 

“I don’t lose sleep over those things,” Stevens said. “I do think you just have to be conscious of making the right basketball play. We met and talked about that a little bit today. He’s a young player and he’s got a lot of games in front of him. Continuing to focus on doing the good things that he does and making that right basketball play is the most important thing.

“Certainly, you just have to be aware of that. Again, the only answer you can have to that is moving forward and making the right next play.” 

Smart said he’s not worried that he might have a target on his back from the officials. 

“Not at all. I’m going to play my game. I’m going to play hard every day,” Smart said. “That’s something the coach and this organization doesn’t have to worry about. I feel like the rest of my teammates are going to pick it up, also. I’m not worried about all the other stuff that comes with it. I just know how to play my game. 

“Referees are human, too. We never look at a referee and blame them for anything. They’re doing their job just like we’re out there doing our job. We’ve just got to go out there and play as a team and make sure that this team is together. We can’t focus on anything else and let any distractions take us away from what we’re trying to do.

“I hope I get stereotyped as a hard-nosed player,” Smart said. “That’s who I am. I play hard. I’m stopping that for anybody. That’s my game. I play with a lot of passion and heart and determination, and a lot of will. I never give up, so if that’s the stereotype I’m getting stereotyped with, I’ll take it.

“It’s challenging. I’m a lot stronger than most of the guards I’m going up against. Any little thing [when] I touch them, or anything, it’s going to look like more aggressive than what it is because I’m so much stronger. I understand it. It just comes with time.”

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Marcus Smart on his ill-fated 3-pointer: ‘I didn’t want to end the game without a shot’

02.24.16 at 6:48 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Marcus Smart wasn’t going to apologize Wednesday for his last-second miss Monday night in Minnesota. 

With 5.3 seconds left in regulation, the Celtics were down just 124-122 and had clawed all the way back to within two points, after trailing by 14 just three minutes earlier. 

Smart, who was wide open in the backcourt, took an inbounds pass just before mid-court and dribbled up the right side. He was by himself until the timeline when Ricky Rubio cheated over and defended him. What Smart didn’t see because of Rubio was Isaiah Thomas all alone on the left wing.

Instead of passing to the better shooter, Smart took a 30-foot 3-pointer that fell short off the front rim and the Celtics lost. Should he have taken it closer to the basket? Should he have dished to the open Thomas? On Wednesday, following practice, Smart gave his explanation. 

“When I caught it, I caught it so deep, with the amount of time I had, I was getting it up the court and I was looking for somebody. But Rubio played in the middle. I really didn’t see [anybody] open. He really didn’t commit to me until the last [moment] as I was going up for the shot. And by that time, there wasn’t enough time to make another pass, in my eyes that I felt, to another teammate.”

It was perhaps a lucky stroke for Minnesota that Boston inbounded to Smart instead of finding Thomas to drive the length of the court. 

“I at least wanted to get a shot up. I didn’t want end the game without a shot. So, I thought I took the best shot that was available,” Smart added. 

Thomas, at 34.8 percent, is a better choice for a long-range shot than Smart, who is converting 28 percent of his chances from long distance this season. But as Smart himself explained Wednesday, sometimes time is not on your side. 

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Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart dealing with shooting hand injuries

02.24.16 at 3:44 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas speaks Wednesday after Celtics practice. (Mike Petraglia/

Isaiah Thomas speaks Wednesday after Celtics practice. (Mike Petraglia/

WALTHAM — The Celtics returned from their three-game Western swing banged up, but Brad Stevens is holding out hope that both Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart will be ready to go when they take the court Thursday night against the Bucks

Thomas was icing his left wrist during practice Wednesday and did not participate, while Smart had his right hand wrapped, protecting the thumb that was dinged up during the trip. 

“It was sore enough that we sat out today but we expect him to play tomorrow,” Stevens said of Thomas after Wednesday’s rather intense 90-minute practice. 

“We would not play him if it were a long-term concern. No way.”

Thomas fell on the wrist following a layup early in the game Sunday night in Denver and began shaking his left hand. Immediately thereafter, he drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing. 

“I fell on my wrist a few times so it kind of flared up on me. Just trying to rest it and get some treatment,” Thomas said. “They wanted me to sit out and rest it. It got swollen on me the other night. Just being cautious of it because I’ve had two procedures on it. Just trying to get the swelling out.” 

Thomas said he has no further tests planned on the wrist. 

Another member of the wounded included Amir Johnson, who practiced Wednesday despite getting several stitches in the middle of his forehead from a collision Monday night in Minnesota. Funny thing is, Johnson doesn’t even remember when it happened. 

“I have no idea when it happened or how,” Johnson recalled after practice. “I just remember blood dripping down from the cut.” 

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