Archive for July, 2012

Irish Coffee: Danny Ainge’s masterful Celtics summer

Friday, July 20th, 2012

How do you think David West is feeling right about now? If you’ll recall, when he snubbed the Celtics for the Pacers in free agency last summer, he said, “In Boston, everybody is kinda realistic about the window that the Celtics have. Me looking at where I’m at, I think my window is a little bit wider.”

Since then, after watching the Celtics take the Heat to the brink in the Eastern Conference finals, West has seen his Pacers match Roy Hibbert‘s max contract (4 years, $58 million) — dedicating roughly $36 million annually to a “Big Three” of Hibbert, Danny Granger and George Hill — trade Darren Collison for Ian Mahinmi, and sign Gerald Green (3 years, $10 million) and D.J. Augustin (1 year, $3.5 million) as their biggest free agent splashes.

Meanwhile, Celtics president Danny Ainge painted his best masterpiece since acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007 for Al Jefferson, the No. 5 overall NBA draft pick and a bunch of garbage. Not willing to call Ainge’s offseason a masterpiece? Take a look at what he had to work with this summer.

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Courtney Lee is just what Celtics need

Friday, July 20th, 2012

You won’t find Courtney Lee‘s name listed among the great guards in the NBA. He’s not going to make an All-Star team or an All-NBA team. He’s not the first, second or even third option in anyone’s offense. Instead, Lee is a connoisseur’s player. A pro’s pro, if you will.

What Lee does is make teams better. In seven of his eight most frequent lineups with the Rockets last season, Houston had a positive point differential. He’s a shooting guard who doesn’t need to score, but when he does shoot he is very effective, especially from 3-point range and particularly from the corner where he made 49 percent of his attempts last season, second only to Ray Allen. He is also an excellent cutter who rarely turns the ball over.

Lee is not the all-around offensive threat that Allen is — or was — but he is a much-better defender and even capable of sliding over the wing forward spot in certain lineup combinations. He’s also younger and healthier than Allen. With Avery Bradley’s status uncertain to start the season after undergoing two shoulder surgeries, Lee could slide right into the starting lineup and combine with Rajon Rondo and Jason Terry to form a strong three-man backcourt.

All around Orlando and Las Vegas where the Celtics were competing in summer league, scouts and executives all offered the same appraisal of the possibility of Lee joining the C’s: “perfect fit.”

The only question was whether the Celtics’ offer of E’Twaun Moore, Sean Williams and JaJuan Johnson, plus a second-round draft pick would be enough to make a sign-and-trade deal possible and there was some skepticism that it would. As talks went deep into the night on Thursday, it was still uncertain but seemed headed in the right direction.

Moore and Williams have non-guaranteed contracts, which makes them useful for cap math purposes. Johnson has just over $1 million guaranteed on the second-year of his rookie deal, but the Rockets have a surplus of big forwards and sources in Johnson’s camp expressed unease about adding his name to the list. The proposed deal needed a third team to help facilitate the moving parts and the Herald reported that Blazers stepped in with Sasha Pavlovic‘s name thrown into the mix.

If the Celtics can pull it off, it would be the equivalent of turning tap water into a fine Cabernet. If the current parameters hold, Danny Ainge would have traded four non-rotation players for a starting guard, which happened to be their biggest offseason need.

Williams has done little to impress in his short time in Boston and Johnson has clearly fallen behind rookie Jared Sullinger this summer. Moore has been one of the Celtics’ best summer league performers, but he is not nearly the same finished product as Lee and Pavlovic wasn’t likely to return to Boston in any event. (The trade would be a setback for Moore whose contract becomes guaranteed if he’s not waived by midnight on Sunday. If Moore is waived, the Celtics would not be able to re-sign him until after the one-year anniversary of the trade.)

The process is important because the Celtics are creeping ever closer to the magical hard cap line of $74.3 million and by acquiring Lee, they will be left with few options to complete the rest of the roster. Second-round pick Kris Joseph, as well as summer league stalwarts Dionte Christmas and Jamar Smith could be the lucky beneficiaries of the Celtics’ tight cap situation, but if they add another big man it would have to be for the veteran minimum.

None of that should detract from the fact that the Celtics are on the verge of solving their biggest offseason puzzle and for a capped out team with few assets, acquiring Lee is the equivalent of a corner 3-pointer with the shot clock near zero, which just happens to be his specialty.

Rest for the weary and other Celtics summer league notes

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

LAS VEGAS — After playing seven games in nine days, the Celtics‘ summer league team is getting the day off. After knocking off the Bulls, 79-74, on Tuesday night, they have now won six of their seven games and both in Vegas. It’s a credit to coach Ty Lue, who has done a terrific job getting a dozen guys who just met to play hard and play as a team, while also finding time for a 10-man rotation each night.

“If you’€™re going to put on a Celtics uniform you’€™ve got to play hard every night,” Lue said. “KG, Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers], they’€™re not going to accept anything less.”

On Tuesday, it was E’Twaun Moore‘s time to shine. The second-year guard has been their most consistent performer throughout summer league and the Bulls’ game was his best to day. Moore hit 10-of-19 shots and scored 25 points including five key points down the stretch when the Bulls cut into a double-digit lead.

The Celtics have until midnight on Sunday to guarantee the second-year of his contract and he’s made strong case for not only sticking with the team, but also getting a chance to earn a rotation spot. While he’s not a natural point guard, Moore has played with his trademark calmness and rarely gets rattled. He’s been solid with the ball outside of a four-turnover effort against the Pistons in Orlando in the C’s only loss.

Tuesday’s game played directly to his strengths as Jared Sullinger battled through a 3-for-15 shooting night and the C’s needed a scorer.

“E’€™Twaun is trying to be a point guard, but he’€™s a natural scorer,” Lue said. “It’€™s a fine line between the two, but we know he can score and attack. With Jared shooting 3-for-15 tonight, he had to step up and score. That’€™s what point guards do. If guys are rolling you’€™ve got to give him the ball. If they’€™re not, then you have to step up and score.”

Despite a tough night offensively, Sullinger drew praise for continuing to attack the glass. He pulled down 14 rebounds, including five on the offensive glass. Fellow forward JaJuan Johnson also hit the boards, pulling down 12 rebounds in his strongest rebounding effort of the summer session. (more…)

Irish Coffee: What’s the bigs deal with the Celtics?

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Thank God for Kevin Garnett. Again.

If not for his transition to center last season and the assumption that he’ll now man a position he admittedly hates for three more years, who would have earned minutes at the five other than Chris Wilcox? Fab Melo? JaJuan Johnson? Sean Williams? Might as well punch the Celtics faithful in the stomach thrice.

The bad news: As currently constituted, one among that trio will get minutes to begin the 2012-13 NBA season.

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Celtics’ pursuit of Courtney Lee gets tougher

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

LAS VEGAS — It’s not like the Celtics don’t want to wrap up their roster renovation, it’s just that free agent guard Courtney Lee wisely listened to the advice of his agent, Dan Fegan, who told him to be patient.

Once the Celtics lost Ray Allen to Miami, they set their sights on acquiring the versatile Lee to shore up their backcourt. They made no secret of their intentions, as coach Doc Rivers visited with Lee in Orlando the morning after Allen signed with the Heat.

There was a good reason for their speed. The Celtics knew that the longer this played out, the more competition they would have for Lee. Sure enough, more than a week has gone by since Rivers’ impromptu sitdown and Lee is still available and very much in demand.

Lee may have to be a little more patient, but it seems that Fegan’s message will pay off. Someone will have the cap room to make a straight pitch for Lee and with O.J. Mayo off the board, he’s suddenly the best backcourt wing player left in free agency.

In addition to the Celtics, the Suns, Timberwolves and Bulls reportedly have expressed an interest, and there could be others as well.

The Suns have cap room. The Wolves could have room depending on whether the Blazers match their offer for restricted free agent Nic Batum. The Bulls are sitting on a $5 million trade exception and also staring at a loaded offer sheet from the Rockets for their own restricted free agent in Omer Asik that provides its own set of complications. The Asik offer sheet is not expected to be signed until the end of the week and then Chicago would have three days to match.

The Celtics, however, will not have cap room, or a rich extension to offer. (more…)

Jared Sullinger is sort of looking forward to talking to Kevin Garnett

Monday, July 16th, 2012

LAS VEGAS — Jared Sullinger‘s game is as uncomplicated as it is earth-bound. He doesn’t have the athleticism of most of his opponents, but once he gets a feel he finds ways to compensate. Of all the good things about his game, Sullinger simply plays right through defenders and forces them to foul.

After scoring just five points in the first half, Sullinger found his rhythm in the second half of the Celtics‘ 87-69 victory over the Hawks and he did his best work at the free throw line where he made seven of his eight attempts. He also knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer (emphasis on wide open).

Now that we’ve established that Sullinger can play in the NBA, it’s time for him to work on his weaknesses. First and foremost, he needs to get in better shape. “I know for a fact I’€™m getting in better shape with all the games were playing so everything is starting to come easy,” he said.

It won’t be nearly as easy this fall when the Celtics gather for training camp and Sullinger is already anticipating his first meeting with Kevin Garnett.

“I still have a lot to learn so I hope Kevin Garnett is ready for me,” he said.

Asked is he was looking forward to it, Sullinger said, “Yeah, but at the same time, no. It’€™s probably going to be all the things I don’€™t do well versus all the things I do well ‘€¦ which I need.” (more…)

Unraveling the mystery of Fab Melo

Monday, July 16th, 2012

LAS VEGAS — There are two things Fab Melo can do: block shots and take charges. The shot-blocking comes naturally to the 7-footer from Syracuse by way of Brazil, but the charges? He learned how to do that while on a summer tour of China with his Brazilian team.

“I love it,” he said. “Just to get a stop. It’€™s our ball and they get a foul.”

Little by little, we are finding out more about the 22-year-old. He only began playing serious basketball about six years ago when he came to the United States. As a freshman at Syracuse he barely saw the court. As a sophomore he was Big East Defensive Player of the Year. While his game is undeniably raw, his potential is such that if he had returned to school he would have likely become a lottery pick.

In the first half of the Celtics‘ 87-69 win over the Hawks, Melo was one of the best players on the court with seven points and four rebounds in just nine minutes. In the second half, he added just a single rebound in nine more minutes. This was progress.

“Fab was great in the first half,” said C’s summer league coach Ty Lue. “Defensively being in the right spot. After timeouts he was attentive. He ran out stuff right. He was great, Fab was great in the first half. Awesome.”

Melo said the game slowed down for him in the first half. At the moment things are moving too fast for him on the court and in truth, the free-flowing summer league game may not be the best environment for him. Get him on the court in a structured system with players like Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo around him and then we’ll be able to see how much he can contribute to the real Celtics this season.

“He’€™s struggling with our calls in coverages ‘€“ call and show, call and weak, ice ‘€“ he’€™s having problems with that, but his effort the last few games has been there,” Lue said. “As long as he’€™s playing with the effort, he’€™ll pick that up. A lot of it has to do with fatigue. In college he stayed in the zone, just standing in the middle. Now he’€™s got to get out and show and recover, you got to rotate, you got to close out. It’€™s a lot more work for him, but he’€™s getting better and better.”

Melo may be raw, but he already understands why he’s on the court and what will get him time this winter. He’s not out there for his offense, but he knows that. “That’€™s the thing I do,” he said. “I block shots and I take charges.”

Learning the intricacies of NBA defense will take some time, but he seems to understand that, even if he doesn’t quite understand what to do yet.

“Just need to be more comfortable on the court,” he said. “The game is still a little fast for me. I need to slow down and be patient with stuff. I think it’€™s going to be a slow process, but I will be ready. I have quick feet. I can defend screens. I’€™m good on helping weak side. I just need to get a little coaching and when I do that I will be able to adjust my game.”