|05.27.16 at 5:41 pm ET|
The buzz over Dragan Bender is getting louder.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge left for Israel Friday to watch the highly-touted prospect and potential No. 3 draft pick play, along with another European star in Ante Zizic.
The Celtics have three first-round picks at Nos. 3, 16 and 23.
According to the Herald’s Mark Murphy, both Ainge and son Austin, the team’s director of player personnel left for Israel on Friday to watch Bender in two practices Saturday and Sunday. There will be no game action.
18-year-old Bender plays for one of the top teams in Israel (Maccabi Tel Aviv). This season, he’s been had his playing time limited to coming off the bench, averaging just 4.3 points and 2.6 rebounds on the season. But Danny Ainge has longed for a player with his height (7-foot-1) and shooting ability. He is still underweight for the NBA but many scouts feel he has a great upside that make him worthy of a top-5 pick.
Austin Ainge has made several trips to Europe in the past two seasons and acknowledged that last week but indicated that pre-draft rules prohibited him from talking about Bender until the early-entrant deadline, which passed on Wednesday.
International basketball reporter David Pick confirmed Thursday that Ainge was in Croatia to scout Ante Zizic, another potential big man candidate who would likely need development before entering the NBA.
Zizic is a 19-year-old with a 6-foot-11 frame who has excelled in the Adriatic League despite his youth. Boston has 11 players under contract for the 2016-17 season. That means Ainge could have Zizic follow in the steps of Dario Saric (Sixers) and Nikola Mirotic (Bulls), who spent time overseas getting ready for the NBA. Saric may or may not join Philly this season.
The Ainges – Danny and Austin – fly to Israel today to watch Dragan Bender in 2 practices tomorrow and Sunday. No games involved.
— Mark Murphy (@Murf56) May 27, 2016
Two of my all-time favorite players and people👣👣 pic.twitter.com/NjRFDuAGyp
— Danny Ainge (@danielrainge) May 25, 2016
|05.26.16 at 2:47 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Terrance Knighton is busy learning the playbook for the Patriots in their spring practices, workouts and OTAs.
But when he’s not in the playbook, he’s planning out different ways of recruiting Kevin Durant to the Celtics.
Apparently, Knighton didn’t hear Jackie MacMullan on OM&F on Tuesday, throwing cold water on the idea of Durant actually coming to Boston.
She said Celtics fans “can forget about Durant” leaving Oklahoma City for Boston.
That’s not going to keep the big nose tackle, a long-time Celtics fan from Hartford, from trying. He is close friends with the Thunder superstar.
“I’m leaving him alone right now, letting him finished it up. I love how he’s playing. I hope he wins it. I kind of hope he doesn’t,” Knighton said of Durant, who entered Thursday’s Game 5 in Oakland leading Steph Curry and the Warriors, 3 games to 1.
“As soon as the season’s over, if he’s hoisting the trophy or not, I’ll definitely be texting him every day, calling him, flying down to [Oklahoma City]. I’ll be in his ear a lot, trust me.”
|05.26.16 at 10:39 am ET|
As the days pass leading up to June’s NBA Draft, we want to encourage the debate regarding what the Celtics should do with the No. 3 overall pick. In that spirit, we present, “Celtics choice.”
Today: Using the No. 3 pick to trade for Cavaliers forward Kevin Love or Pacers forward Paul George.
The case for Love
At 27, one of the best pure scoring forwards in the game is in his prime. Returning from shoulder surgery, he scored 27 of his season-high 34 points in the first half of the Cavaliers’ win over the Magic in November. On Jan. 29, 2016, he had his best game since November 23, scoring 29 points on 9-of-19 shooting in a win over the Detroit Pistons. That game also marked the first time all season that Love, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving each reached 20 points in a game. He helped the Cavaliers finished the regular season as the first seed in the East with a 57–25 record. For the second straight season, he was the perfect complement to James and Irving, after overcoming his shoulder problems that started with Kelly Olynyk in the first round of the ’15 playoffs. He finished this season averaging 16 points and 9.9 rebounds a game. In the first round of the playoffs, Love recorded playoff career highs with 28 points and 13 rebounds in a Game 1 win over the Pistons.
The case against Love
Consistency. Last July, Love re-signed with the Cavaliers on a 5-year, $113 million max deal. He has four years left on it. Love can have games where he shows exactly why he’s paid so handsomely. He can also go long stretches where his production drops way off. In Games 3 and 4 against the Raptors, both losses, Love was 5-for-23 with 13 points total in the two games. Starting with a Christmas Day loss at Golden State, he went a full month and scored just 20 points once in 17 games. His numbers have dropped off in Cleveland. The drop from 26 points per game to 16 a game the last two seasons in Cleveland is understandable with LeBron and Irving scoring so much. But the falloff in rebounding is more alarming, as he’s gone from a league-leading 15.4 rebounds a game in Minnesota in 2011-12 to 9.9 rebounds per game in Cleveland. Danny Ainge has always like long, athletic shooters from the wing and has been looking for one but the question is whether Love is really worth the $113 million?
|05.25.16 at 5:22 pm ET|
The Celtics had a very good season and a good part of it was based on their improved defensive effort.
Avery Bradley led that effort as a starter and, on Wednesday, was named to the NBA’s all-defensive first team by pro basketball media members.
Behind Bradley, the Celtics finished tied with the Clippers and Warriors for fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. Bradley was also the top finisher among guards in the Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting (sixth place overall). He averaged a career-high 1.54 steals for the Celtics in their breakout 48-win season under third-year coach Brad Stevens.
Jae Crowder just missed a selection on the second team, finishing with 47 points, including three first-team votes. Marcus Smart, who often played alongside Bradley in the backcourt, finished with seven points and two first-team votes.
Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs won the Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year award and finished with the most votes.
2015-16 NBA ALL-DEFENSIVE FIRST TEAM
Player (Team), 1st Team Votes, 2nd Team Votes, Total
Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio), 130, –, 260
Draymond Green (Golden State), 123, 5, 251
DeAndre Jordan (L.A. Clippers), 47, 43, 137
Avery Bradley (Boston), 62, 25, 149
Chris Paul (L.A. Clippers), 59, 30, 148
2015-16 NBA ALL-DEFENSIVE SECOND TEAM
Player (Team), 1st Team Votes, 2nd Team Votes, Total
Paul Millsap (Atlanta), 11, 75, 97
Paul George (Indiana), 5 , 38, 48
Hassan Whiteside (Miami), 44, 38, 126
Tony Allen (Memphis), 44, 33, 121
Jimmy Butler (Chicago), 18, 26 , 62
|05.25.16 at 12:47 pm ET|
In the days leading up to June’s NBA draft, we want to encourage debate regarding what the Celtics should do with the No. 3 overall pick. In that spirit, we present, “Celtics choice.”
Today: Using the No. 3 pick on Providence College point guard Kris Dunn or keeping promising third-year player Marcus Smart
The case for Dunn
See if this sounds familiar: the Providence guard is powerfully built and physically gifted for his position, with the ability to defend multiple positions and a toughness NBA GMs like Danny Ainge love. If that sounds like Smart, it’s because Dunn shares many characteristics with the Celtics guard. Where he separates, however, is on the offensive side of the ball. Dunn is a better ball handler, passer, and scorer than Smart. At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds and with a 6-9 wingspan, Dunn possesses tremendous defensive instincts and court vision. He’s a terror in the open court and can finish at the rim authoritatively with either hand. He’s a true playmaking point guard who can also score (37.2 percent on 3-pointers). Just call him Smart 2.0.
The case against Dunn
In the delicate ecosystem of an NBA locker room, one malcontent can lead to disaster, and it’s fair to question Dunn’s fit when his agents are already suggesting he won’t play for a team — including the Celtics — with an established point guard. They can’t stop anyone from drafting him, but they can make it more difficult by withholding Dunn’s medicals, which is what Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski says they intend to do. This is an issue because Dunn required two shoulder surgeries during his PC career and teams will want a look before committing to him as their point guard of the future. On the court, there’s also the question of Dunn’s stroke — his inconsistent jumper includes a lot of moving parts — and his occasionally sloppy and reckless ball-handling.
The case for Smart
We have a much better idea of what type of NBA player Smart is and will be. A hawkish defender, he was often Brad Stevens’ secret weapon, shutting down opposing guards, but also spending time pushing 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis out of the post or shutting down Hawks star Paul Millsap in the midst of a 45-point playoff outburst. Smart is one of the best garbage players in the NBA, and that’s meant as a compliment, thanks to his ability to attack the offensive glass, pick up loose balls, and force mayhem on both ends of the floor. He also deserves credit for his willingness to take, and make, big shots, playing beyond his shooting percentages in pressure situations. He’s also only 12 days older than Dunn.
The case against Smart
Man, that shot. Smart’s jumper is not pretty and neither are his shooting percentages. He shot just .253 on 3-pointers last year, third-worst in the NBA. He has also demonstrated time and again an inability to score at the rim, where he’s often swallowed up by bigger players. Smart’s impressive athleticism tends to be of the horizontal variety, where his foot speed allows him to stay in front of opposing ball handlers. He’s vertically challenged, however, lacking explosiveness at the rim. There are also real questions about his ball handling, which is why Evan Turner ends up playing point guard when Smart’s on the floor. His shot selection remains extremely iffy — Smart has never met a contested 3-pointer early in the shot clock that he wouldn’t take. Then there’s the whole flopping/complaining thing.
The Celtics need scoring, not another athletic, defensive-minded point guard. Even accepting that Dunn will be a better pro than Smart, the C’s can do better with the third pick when they already have a reasonable facsimile on their roster. Keep Smart, use the third pick on a shooter.
|05.24.16 at 2:58 pm ET|
Appearing on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni & Fauria program Tuesday, ESPN basketball columnist and Hall of Famer Jackie MacMullan gave Celtics fans a huge reality check when it comes to Kevin Durant.
The superstar in the midst of playoff run with the Thunder, helping them to a 2-1 series lead over favored Golden State, could become a free agent this summer. The speculation is that he would sign a one-year deal and then sign his mega-deal starting with the 2017-18 season, when the NBA salary cap is around $108 million.
Celtics fans chanted “Come to Boston” and he acknowledged, “I like the city a lot,” when Oklahoma City came to town in March and spanked the Celtics. That was the same week Philadelphia fans did the same in the hopes of luring him to their town.
MacMullan said a reality check is in order.
“You can forget about Durant,” MacMullan said. I’m not sure Durant is going to go anywhere. Suppose they win the championship, you think he’s going to leave there?
“The truth is: All these people put words in Kevin Durant’s mouth about leaving in the first place. Has he ever said that he wanted to leave? He never has. That, to me, is a bit of a pipe dream.”
Another name that’s been tossed around is Bulls shooting guard Jimmy Butler. He’s got four years left on a five-year, $92.3 million deal. MacMullan thinks the asking price from Chicago could be too steep, even for the Celtics.
“Jimmy Butler, what’s the price? That matters, that matters,” she added. “You can’t give away everything away for Jimmy Butler. I would love to have Jimmy Butler here.”
Then the most realistic scenario came up. MacMullan thinks the Celtics are “most realistic” contenders for Philly big man Jahlil Okafor.
|05.24.16 at 11:27 am ET|
The Celtics were slotted the third overall pick in this year’s NBA draft last week, which meant to most NBA scouts and fans that Boston would miss out on the draft’s top two prospects, LSU power forward Ben Simmons and Duke forward Brandon Ingram.
However, recent reports suggest that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge may have a better chance of grabbing Simmons or Ingram than expected.
Lakersnation.com reported that Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak might have interest in drafting international center Dragan Bender with the second overall pick instead of Simmons or Ingram. Therefore, if Ainge holds onto the third overall pick, one of the supposed top two players this year could be wearing a Celtics uniform this fall.
“I’m not sure there’s as dramatic a cliff as people think between 2 and 3,” Kupchak said in an interview with TNT analyst David Aldridge. “Any way you look at it, we feel we’ll get an excellent player at 2.”
Added Kupchak: “If you look at our depth chart, you can make an argument that we need a player in the frontcourt,” Kupchak said. “We need a big. … I think we’re more set in the backcourt than the frontcourt.”
If the Lakers are truly looking for a big man, they could do a lot worse than selecting Bender, a 7-foot-1, 225 pound Croatian who played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel last season. At 18 years old, Bender has plenty of upside, and scouts love his ability to protect the rim and his outside shooting. With 6-foot-9 Laker Julius Randle occupying the power forward position, a true big man like Bender could provide immediate aid to a rebuilding Los Angeles squad.
It would make sense for the Lakers to consider taking Bender over the 6-foot-10 Simmons or 6-foot-9 Ingram, who play more like small forwards than true big men. Most mock drafts, like the one on nbadraft.net, have Simmons going first overall to the 76ers, suggesting that if Bender is taken second by Los Angeles, it’s Ingram who most likely will be available.
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