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Celtics exercise 2017-18 options for Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier 10.31.16 at 5:11 pm ET
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Marcus Smart already was in a good mood Monday, as he practiced with the team and then said he is ready to return to game action. He had to be feeling even better later in the day, as the team announced that it was exercising his contract for next season, keeping him in Boston for a fourth year.

The C’s also announced they were exercising the third-year option for fellow guard Terry Rozier, who is averaging 6.0 points, 3.0 assists and 3.3 rebounds in three games this season.

Smart will earn $4.5 million next season, while Rozier is set to make $1.9 million.

While both of those moves were expected — the players are key parts of Boston’s rotation — the team has not made clear its plans for shooting guard James Young leading up to Monday’s midnight deadline. The 21-year-old beat out R.J. Hunter for the team’s final roster spot earlier this month, but it would not be a surprise for the Celtics to allow him to become a free agent in the offseason, as he has yet to impress with any consistency.

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Marcus Smart: ‘I will return Wednesday’ 10.31.16 at 2:31 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

The Celtics bench, which has struggled at times in the early portion of this season, is about to get a boost.

Point guard Marcus Smart, who has missed the season’s first three games with a sprained left ankle, said he’ll be back in uniform for Wednesday’s rematch with the Bulls at TD Garden.

“I will return Wednesday,” he stated after practicing with the team Monday.

Coach Brad Stevens was a little less definitive but also optimistic that Smart will get his season started this week.

“He’s one of our returning most-contributive players, so that’s a big addition to our team,” Stevens said. “He looked good today. We’ll see how he feels in the next couple of days. But every indication is that he’ll be available.”

Stevens said he’ll consult with trainers to determine if he should limit Smart’s minutes, but Smart said he won’t make any adjustments in an attempt to ease his way back.

“You go right back to what you know,” Smart said. “You can’t try to baby it.”

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Fast Break: Celtics dominated on glass in loss to Bulls 10.27.16 at 11:08 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas drives on Michael Carter-Williams during Thursday's game. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas drives on Michael Carter-Williams during Thursday’s game. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics might be a trendy pick to reach the Eastern Conference finals this season, but right now they don’t look anything like a team ready to make a breakthrough.

One night after an uninspiring victory over the lowly Nets, the Celtics were dominated on the boards by the Bulls en route to a 105-99 loss.

Chicago held a 55-36 advantage on the glass, taking advantage of the second-chance opportunities to get 16 more shots than the visitors. That allowed the Bulls to win despite shooting 39 percent to Boston’s 50 percent.

“That’s is the No. 1 thing,” coach Brad Stevens said of the rebounding woes in his postgame press conference. “That’s something that we’ve talked a lot about. We’ve got to get better at it.”

Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, although he was uncharacteristically unreliable from the free throw line, making just 2-of-6.

Jimmy Butler scored 24 points and Dwyane Wade, displaying his newfound 3-point range, hit 4-of-6 from behind the arc — including a crushing trey with 26 seconds remaining to make it a five-point game — and finished with 22 points. Taj Gibson added 18 points and 10 rebounds.

The C’s did not have the same energy as in their opener — falling behind by 15 points in the opening quarter — but they clawed back and didn’t back down in what was a physical and at times emotional game. Tempers flared late in the second quarter when Jae Crowder collided with Butler, who drew a charge. Butler appeared to trip Crowder while on the ground, and Crowder responded by putting the ball on the chest of his former Marquette teammate. The skirmish quickly drew a crowd, and Thomas and Rajon Rondo were given technical fouls after exchanging shoves.

Al Horford battled foul trouble but still managed to contribute 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Rookie Jaylen Brown impressed, hitting 4-of-7 shots, although he had a costly turnover on an up-and-down in the final minute. Tyler Zeller was given some extra minutes — Stevens said he matched up well against Robin Lopez — and he finished with six points, five rebounds and a pair of blocks.

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NBA preview 2016-17: Can Celtics close gap on Cavaliers? 10.26.16 at 11:20 am ET
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Horford-Al-Celtics 10-4-16

With Al Horford on board, the Celtics are a popular pick to reach the Eastern Conference finals this season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

As the Celtics begin their journey to Banner 18 with Wednesday night’s opener against the lowly Nets, optimism runs high in Boston. And it should, because this team should have an entertaining and successful regular season.

But any Celtics fan rooted in reality knows this to be true as well: This team is not built to win a title.

No doubt you’ve already read plenty of breakdowns about how a team needs a true star to win an NBA championship, and even the C’s front office has acknowledged there is a piece missing from this club.

On the positive side, the offseason acquisition of free agent center Al Horford was a good one, and it presents an apt comparison for this Celtics team in Horford’s former employers.

Two years ago, a smart young coach took a team with rising stars but no superstar and led that squad to an impressive 60-22 record — best in the Eastern Conference (by a whopping seven games over the Cavaliers) and second best in the entire NBA. In the playoffs, Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks took out the underwhelming Nets and Wizards in six-game series. Then, faced with LeBron James’ Cavs in the conference finals, Atlanta became the fourth No. 1 seed in NBA history to be swept in a playoff series.

The postseason awards were telling. Budenholzer was named Coach of the Year, but no Hawks were on the All-NBA first, second or third teams. Nor was there a Hawk found on the All-Defensive first or second team, or the All-Rookie first or second team.

In a nod to the team’s balance, the entire starting lineup — Horford, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague — was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for January after Atlanta went 17-0 to start the year. But that was it for major awards.

Like those Hawks, these Celtics have solid balance and depth, crucial factors to help overcome injuries that are sure to pop up during the season. And with the Eastern Conference perhaps even less challenging than the last couple of years, a run at 60 wins is not out of the question. But come playoff time, temper those expectations.

Fortunately for the Celtics, even if this year turns out similarly, they are in a much better position to rectify the situation, as they are likely to draft in the top three the next two years, courtesy of the Nets. Or, if another general manager has the guts to deal with Danny Ainge this season, the Celtics could acquire a proven star and make a run at a championship next spring.

For now, let’s focus on a regular season that is sure to entertain the TD Garden crowds.

NBA PREDICTIONS

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. Raptors, 54-28 — Toronto will battle the Celtics for second place in the Eastern Conference (with both teams ready to pounce if the Cavaliers get stung by the injury bug), but the Raptors lost a key piece in defensive stopper/rebounder Bismack Biyombo, and the team’s only offseason acquisition, former Celtics big man Jared Sullinger, already is injured.

2. Celtics, 52-30 — Evan Turner has his detractors, but he did come up big in the clutch a number of times for this team last season. This is the biggest concern for this team: Can the C’s close out tight games, especially with their questionable outside shooting and the lack of a proven finisher outside of All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas?

3. Knicks, 42-40 — Jeff Hornacek takes over a team that added former Bulls stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to a roster led by Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. As Tuesday’s season-opening blowout loss to the Cavaliers showed, this team isn’t likely to be a threat, although if the stars are healthy they could make a little noise.

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Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown struggles in return to summer league action 07.09.16 at 10:34 pm ET
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Celtics fans hoping to see a glimmer of what Danny Ainge saw in Jaylen Brown before drafting him No. 3 overall will have to wait at least another day.

Brown, returning to action in the C’s Las Vegas Summer League opener Saturday after missing the final two games of the Utah Summer League with a bone bruise in his right knee, played 24 1/2 unimpressive minutes in a 71-62 loss to the Bulls. Brown scored nine points, hitting just 3-of-13 shots, and grabbed one rebound. He had a strong drive to the basket in the closing minutes but missed a dunk. Defensively, he got faked out of his shoes a couple of times, biting badly on shot fakes while looking for a block.

Brown acknowledged that he didn’t feel right Saturday.

“I felt a little slow, I felt like I was stuck in the mud a little bit, but it will pick up,” he told reporters afterward. “I missed some baskets easily to my left hand because I was exploding off my right leg. Just got to get it stronger, get better and make the right plays.”

— Terry Rozier continues to be the C’s summer star. Although it wasn’t his best outing — he made some questionable decisions running the fast break and was a minus-19 during his 29 minutes — he scored a team-high 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting to go along with five rebounds, two assists and three steals.

“We got our butt kicked today, offensively and defensively,” he said. “I take full responsibility for it.”

Added C’s assistant coach Jamie Young: “I thought tonight was actually his worst game. I think he could have been better. But Terry’s come a long way. We need Terry to keep improving.”

— While the Celtics struggled inside against the bigger and stronger Bulls — Chicago held a 46-28 rebounding advantage and outscored the C’s in the paint 40-24 — first-round draft pick Guerschon Yabusele came ready to bang. The French forward finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.

— Rookie Abdel Nader was a bright spot. The 58th overall pick showed the ability to get to the basket and finish. The Iowa State product ended the night with 12 points on 4-of-8 field goals in 16 minutes.

— James Young hit just 1-of-7 shots and scored three points, and he still appears to have no interest in playing any defense.

— Jordan Mickey made his first appearance of the summer and recorded five points and seven rebounds in almost 23 minutes. R.J. Hunter, who missed the previous two games, also returned and scored six points in just under 21 minutes.

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Danny Ainge, C’s brass welcome Al Horford to Boston: ‘He plays with a passion that is contagious to his teammates’ 07.08.16 at 11:25 am ET
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Friday’s press conference to introduce free agent forward/center Al Horford started on a curious note, as Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck announced after a 40-minute delay that the paperwork on Horford’s deal is not finalized, making him a “pending” acquisition.

Horford, who reportedly agreed to a four-year deal worth $113 million to join the C’s, did not sound like a player who had concerns about a holdup with his contract, saying he’s looking forward to a new challenge.

“I always admired the Celtics from afar, just how everything gets carried over here, and how committed the team and the city is to winning and doing things the right way,” he said. “I’m very, very excited, and I can’t wait to get started. I know we have a lot of work ahead. So that really excites me.”

Horford played all 82 games for the Hawks last season, averaging 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds. The 30-year-old helped the Hawks end the C’s season in the opening round of the playoffs.

Said president of basketball operations Danny Ainge: “He plays the way that great Celtics in the past have played. He plays with a passion that is contagious to his teammates. He’s a player that can fit with all sorts of different players. He can play outside, he can play inside, on both ends of the court. But he is a player that watching him play against us in the playoffs this year and flying around and contesting shots and bringing an energy and passion, I think he is a player that our fans will fall in love with. And his teammates will fall in love with. And our coach will fall in love with him as well.”

Coach Brad Stevens said Horford’s legacy of success on the court should have a big impact on the young Celtics.

“The best thing that I can say about a basketball player as a person is that he constantly enhances his teammates on the floor,” Stevens said. “And the No. 1 thing that his career has been defined by is winning. That goes back to his days in college [at Florida]. That goes obviously through the nine years in Atlanta, leading Atlanta to the playoffs in every single one of those years. For us to have an opportunity here with a person who has achieved all that he’s achieved, who has not only the ability to help your team on the court with everything that he does well but also an ability to lead what is a still fairly young team in the way that you prepare, the way that you carry yourself and everything else. I don’t think that there is a better example out there for our players. So we’re thrilled, and I’m thrilled.”

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Terry Rozier (23 points) hits winning 3-pointer as C’s take Utah Summer League title 07.07.16 at 11:43 pm ET
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Even before he hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining, Terry Rozier was the star of the show Thursday night as the Celtics beat the Spurs, 87-86, to win the Utah Summer League title.

Rozier, prepping for his second season with the C’s, scored a team-high 23 points, dished out a team-high six assists and tied for the team high with seven rebounds in 31 minutes. He made a number of key plays down the stretch as the Celtics rallied from a late six-point deficit to go 3-0 in Utah.

On the game-winning play, James Young inbounded from the sideline to Guerschon Yabusele in the high post. Yabusele passed it back out to Rozier, who was a few feet behind the 3-point arc. Rozier immediately went up for the shot and was fouled on the hand by Spurs first-round draft pick Dejounte Murray, but it didn’t matter as the ball went through the net.

Rozier missed the ensuing free throw, but Yabusele grabbed the rebound and dribbled out the clock.

The winning play was designed for Rozier to set a pick for Young off the inbounds, but the Spurs switched and had Young defended, leaving Rozier a small window out deep.

“I was kind of open and I got the ball and I’ve just got to knock down the shot. And it worked,” Rozier said in an on-court interview with NBA TV. “It was big. It was big. It felt good.”

Added Rozier later in a postgame interview: “I threw up a prayer and got the win.”

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