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Summer league truths and questions 07.11.12 at 3:36 pm ET
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ORLANDO — The well-worn maxim of summer league play is this: It’s not possible to tell who can play for real in the NBA, but it is possible to tell who can’t. Through three games, there have been few surprise for the Celtics and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Jared Sullinger is a good basketball player, who will compensate for his lack of athleticism with smart play and strong skills. E’Twaun Moore is confidently taking the reins of the team. Fab Melo is active, but raw. Kris Joseph has good skills across the board. JaJuan Johnson has remained an enigma, but he started to hit his stride in the second half of their third game on Wednesday, an 85-77 win over the Pacers.

The good news thus far is that each of them has flashed an NBA skill, but obvious questions remain. Here’s a thumbnail look at each prospect:

JARED SULLINGER

The raw numbers are decent — 14.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 11-for-12 from the free throw line — but what has really stood about Sullinger’s game is his feel for rebounding and his ability to pass out of double teams. While concerns about his less-than-ideal physique are legitimate, he’s been able to compensate with his skills, which are numerous.

“He’€™s a great passer, good rebounder, always in the right position as far as rebounding the ball,” C’s coach Ty Lue said. “He’€™s going to be good for us.”

Sullinger went 7-for-12 from the floor against the Pacers, operating mostly out of the low post where he is clearly comfortable. The Celtics have not had back-to-the-basket presence like Sullinger since the glory days of Leon Powe, but where Powe was intent on bulling his way to the basket, Sullinger has been able to read the play and make the appropriate pass.

“Getting double-teamed for the majority of your life, you’€™ve got to learn how to pass,” Sullinger said. “If you didn’€™t know how to pass, I wouldn’€™t be here right now.”

He has also shown a knack for getting to rebounds, something that is a major need for the Celtics. At the moment, he’s clearly the most NBA-ready of their roster players this summer.

The question: How much will his lack of athleticism hinder him against NBA competition?

Sullinger has proven he can play at a high level in high school, college and now here in summer league. The larger test awaits. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: E'Twaun Moore, Fab Melo, JaJuan Johnson, Jared Sullinger
JaJuan Johnson’s fresh start and other day two summer league observations 07.11.12 at 12:27 am ET
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ORLANDO — Late in the Celtics‘ 82-73 victory over the Nets on the second day of the Orlando Summer League, JaJuan Johnson found himself up in the air with nowhere to go but straight down. He landed hard — really hard — on his elbow — but after a brief second or two on the floor, the second-year forward popped back up and headed to the free throw line.

“I’€™m all right,” he said later. “It’€™s not the first time I fell, so it’€™s all good. Nothing a little ice won’€™t take care of. It’€™s part of the game. I’€™m fine.”

There’s a too-easy analogy to make here about Johnson getting up off the deck, but after a rookie season that was mostly spent on the sidelines, Johnson is trying to prove himself and carve out a role on a team that needs frontcourt help. With Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass back, the Celtics are set for starters, but behind them they have rookies and unproven players, for now. There’s opportunity for someone to grab a meaningful role, and frankly, they need at least two of their young players to grab it.

Johnson saw less than 300 minutes of court time as a rookie — only three other first-rounders saw less, not counting a handful of European players who haven’t come overseas yet. There’s no way to gauge anything from those minutes, but he did show some serious athleticism and the Celtics have always known that he can score if given the opportunity. Now they want him to show he can defend and rebound.

“We know he can pick and pop and shoot the ball, we just want him to do other things outside of scoring,” C’s summer league coach Ty Lue said. “Doing the right coverages on defense, blocking shots, running the floor, getting rebounds, stuff like that. He can score the ball so we want to see him do other things.”

Johnson attempted only five shots in their opener on Monday and he was more aggressive from the outset in their second game, knocking down a pair of outside shots. But the Celtics need to know A) if he can hold up against bigger opponents and B) what his natural position truly is in the NBA.

Johnson is too sleight to handle the physical pounding inside, but he is skilled and there was talk last season of ultimately making him into a small forward, albeit a long three. For now, he’s more comfortable playing the four, but he’s had a hand in guarding multiple positions in Orlando, which will serve him well down the line.

“Maybe the four, I think, because I’€™ve had the most reps at the four,” Johnson said. “I’€™m starting to feel comfortable at all of them. I think this experience being able to guard these positions will help me when his season starts.” Read the rest of this entry »

E’Twaun Moore’s big summer 07.10.12 at 8:23 pm ET
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ORLANDO — There is little doubt that E’Twaun Moore can play in the NBA. The question is whether he’ll be playing in Boston. If Moore isn’t waived by midnight on Sunday, July 22 after the Celtics‘ final summer league game in Las Vegas, then the second-year of his contract will become guaranteed.

At the moment, Moore’s spot with the Celtics looks fairly secure. With Avery Bradley undergoing surgery on his right shoulder at New England Baptist Hospital on Tuesday, the depth in the backcourt is currently Rajon Rondo, a recuperating Bradley and Moore. Soon, free agent guard Jason Terry will join them when he officially signs a deal for the mid-level exception. The Celtics are actively working to acquire another veteran guard like Courtney Lee to offset the loss of Bradley, who could be out to start next season.

Even if they do land another guard, there may still be a place for the second-year player. He showed flashes in 38 games last season making 38 percent of his 3-pointers. His breakout moment happened here in Orlando when he came off the bench to score 16 points in 18 minutes in a dramatic comeback win over the Magic.

“I’€™m just trying to play,” he said on Monday. “Play hard and get better. That’€™s all I can control and that’€™s all I’€™m thinking about.”

From the day he arrived, Moore has handled himself confidently. He has no doubts that he belonged and it wasn’t an accident that he was usually among the 13 active players during the postseason where he saw action in nine playoff games, mostly in mop-up situations.

“I don’€™t think there’€™s ever a time when he’€™s not confident,” his former Purdue teammate JaJuan Johnson said. “He’€™s been the man since he was younger. He’€™s always been confident, he’€™s always been the better player where he’€™s from. I think that’€™s good for him. He’€™s mentally tough. I’€™ve never seen him playing basketball get down. He’€™s always focused on the task at hand.”

Moore has mostly run the point in summer league and while his size (6-foot-4, 191 pounds) says point guard, he may be better served playing off the ball. Moore had another good game in the Celtics’ 82-73 win over the Nets on Tuesday, scoring 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting with five rebounds, four assists and just two turnovers.

Through two games, he’s the team’s leading scorer with 31 points and has eight assists against just four turnovers. He’s shooting just 39 percent, but he’s also had to create most of his shots himself. He’s not a natural playmaker at the point, but he’s been solid.

“He’€™s growing, he looks good,” said summer league coach Ty Lue. “He plays at his own pace. You can never speed him up. You can never fluster him. He’€™s doing a good job.”

There’s a long way to go between now and July 22, but Moore is making the most of his opportunity.

Read More: E'Twaun Moore,
More than eight teams in mix for Courtney Lee 07.09.12 at 7:41 pm ET
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ORLANDO — Free agent guard Courtney Lee was talking with Pistons’ coach Lawrence Frank during the Orlando Summer League when the one-time Celtics‘ assistant asked how many teams were after him since the Rockets rescinded their qualifying offer and made him an unrestricted free agent. Lee started down the list of suitors, but there were so many he lost track.

“My brain froze so I couldn’€™t tell him all the teams,” Lee said. “There’€™s more than eight teams. Once they pulled my qualifying offer and made me unrestricted the phone kept ringing.”

One of those teams is the Celtics. Lee met with Doc Rivers over the weekend and the two expressed mutual interest in Lee coming to Boston.

“There was no verbal agreement or anything, we’€™re just hearing each other out,” Lee said. “They expressed their interest. I expressed my interest. It’€™s not basketball wise, there needs to be discussions with the front offices and my agent. They need to communicate and go from there.”

Asked how he would characterize the nature of discussions with the Celtics, Lee said, “I wouldn’€™t know how to characterize it. I have a great relationship with Doc from the first time I stepped on an NBA court. I would say our meeting went well. As far as characterizing where I’€™m at with the team; coach and player-wise we’€™re on the same page.”

Lee’s agent is Dan Fegan, who is well aware that it’s a buyer’s market for shooting guards. His message: Stay patient. Lee understands the situation he’s in and he knows that if he is to work out a deal with the Celtics it would require some maneuvering. The Celtics are over the cap, so any deal with Lee would have to be worked out in a sign-and-trade arrangement with the Rockets.

“There’€™s other ways,” he said. “You know Houston and [GM] Darryl Morey, he loves draft picks and that’€™s one thing you can do with a sign-and-trade.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Courtney Lee,
Jared Sullinger takes over and other observations from first day of summer league 07.09.12 at 6:48 pm ET
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ORLANDO — Jared Sullinger has always been the focal point of the teams he’s played on, but this was his first taste of life in the NBA and he didn’t want to seem presumptuous.

“I didn’€™t want to come into the game thinking like, ‘It’€™s all about me, it’€™s all about me,'” he said. “Playing all my life, where everything goes through you, I didn’€™t want to be like that today because I got some teammates that can really play. So I was just trying to feel it out in the first half and the second half, we were falling behind, so I decided to step up and try to score the basketball.”

That’s exactly what he did as he scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half of the Celtics‘ 73-65 win over Oklahoma City in their first summer league game. Sullinger worked down low and it’s clear that he’s comfortable on the block. He also stepped out and made a couple of mid-range jump shots. He even put the ball on the floor, spun into the lane and completed a three-point play.

“He’€™s just a gamer,” said C’s summer league coach,  Ty Lue. “He knows how to play the game. Guys can be taller and more athletic, but he just knows how to play. He’€™s very skilled and he knows how to play the game. We wouldn’€™t have won the game without him today.”

Ever since the Celtics were able to select Sullinger in the first-round of the draft, his ability to play has been a constant theme. He’s not the most athletic player and there are obvious concerns about his back, but his basketball IQ is high and it’s evident watching him operate on the block that he has put in work over the years.

Summer league games are what they are. They can run anywhere from highly entertaining to long, drawn-out slogs and this game ranked more toward the latter end of the scale. Points were tough to come by, but the Thunder also had four first-round picks in their starting five, including center Cole Aldrich and Sullinger more than held his own.

This raises an interesting question as to whether the power forward can slide over and play some center minutes with the Celtics. Team president Danny Ainge raised the possibility during the rookies’ introductory press conference and while it wouldn’t be wise to throw him out there against the likes of Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum, Sullinger said he welcomes the phsyical pounding that comes from playing with the big guys underneath.

“That’€™s fun. That’€™s always fun,” he said. “Get to bang around in the post, back to the basket. You get to guard someone taller than you, it’€™s a challenge. It’€™s always fun doing that. At the same time, it’€™s always fun guarding quicker basketball players. It was fun today.”

Growing up in Ohio, he was tested early by his brothers Julian and J.J. who made sure their little brother learned how take punishment, and more importantly, how to overcome it and still play your game.

“When you go through the air on concrete and they throw you to the ground and you’€™ve got scrapes all over your arms, you learn to concentrate on making the shots, instead of just scraping your arm,” he said. “Every time I’€™d cry, they’€™d yell at me because I’€™m always worried about the scab or something, instead of worrying about making the shot. When you’€™ve got two brothers like that, it’€™s not choice but to make the shots.”

All in all, it was a positive first step in Sullinger’s transition to the NBA. Here are some other observations: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: E'Twaun Moore, Fab Melo, Jared Sullinger, Ty Lue
Jeff Green returns, Celtics’ future takes shape 07.08.12 at 1:21 pm ET
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Jeff Green is back with the Celtics, his agent confirmed over the weekend, and while deals can’€™t be officially signed until Wednesday, it’€™s for a reported $36 million over four years.

There are two main takeaways from the deal. First, That’€™s a lot of money for a player without a natural position, especially one coming off surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. Second, Green’€™s deal means that he is officially part of the core, and while the focus has been on bringing the band together, the Celtics actually have managed to get a bit younger this offseason.

This is an important move for team president Danny Ainge, who has invested much time and energy in the forward. He was with Green throughout the medical process last winter, an effort that played a significant factor in the new deal, agent David Falk said.

“The Celtics have developed a very special bond between Jeff and the team,” Falk said. “This is where he wanted to be. There was a high level of good will.”

Green and the Celtics are confident that he will be able to continue his career with no further complications and before we get to the actual basketball implications, take a moment to remember the anxiety that existed last winter when his heart condition was detected. His career is back on track and that’€™s an exceptional development in his young life.

The trade that brought Green to Boston was jarring for everyone involved, from Kendrick Perkins to Nenad Krstic, but few have been affected as much as Green. He went from getting consistent minutes on a young team to an undefined role on a veteran crew.

Green was around the team for most of last season, even going so far as it sit on the bench for one game. While there is much to be worked out on the court, Green is no longer in unfamiliar territory. That’€™s all to the good, but on the court there are question about how coach Doc Rivers will use the versatile forward and whether he’€™s worth the kind of big-money, long-term deal. Read the rest of this entry »

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Brandon Bass re-signs with Celtics 07.05.12 at 5:00 pm ET
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Brandon Bass never wanted to leave, and now he won’t have to. The veteran power forward agreed to a three-year deal with the Celtics, per a league source, filling a major hole in the team’s front line. Bass told the Herald that the deal was for $20 million total, but it’s unclear how the deal breaks down in terms of an annual salary.

Using reported figures for Bass, Kevin Garnett and free agent guard Jason Terry while adding in rookie contracts for first-round picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, the Celtics have committed an estimated $56 million to nine players.

The key word there is estimated. It’s important to note that new contracts can’t be officially signed and finalized until July 11 when the league completes its internal audit and arrives at a salary cap number as well as a luxury tax threshold.

By using the full mid-level exception to sign Terry, the Celtics would commit themselves to staying under the salary tax apron, which is expected to be a little more than $74 million. Once a team goes over the apron, it can’t use the full mid-level or the bi-annual exception and the cap becomes a hard cap.

Yes, this all gets confusing, but as it stands the Celtics have somewhere in the vicinity of $18 million to complete their roster with Jeff Green and Ray Allen still unsigned, as well as other internal free agents like Mickael Pietrus and Greg Stiemsma. It’s also worth noting that the Celtics have E’Twaun Moore and Sean Williams signed to non-guaranteed minimum contracts.

Allen met with the Heat on Thursday and the Associated Press reported that he would spend the night in Miami after a planned meeting with the Clippers on Friday was canceled in the wake of the Clippers agreeing to terms with Jamal Crawford. With Los Angeles out of the picture it appears to be a two-team race for Allen, although the Grizzlies have also expressed interest.

Miami is limited to offering Allen the taxpayer mid-level, which starts around $3.1 million per year. The Celtics have offered a two-year, $12 million deal. The Boston Herald reported that they could include a no-trade or a trade kicker in the deal.

As for Green, his agent David Falk said that he was optimistic a deal would get done, although it might not happen until next week. Falk reiterated that Green’s goal was to return to Boston. The Celtics had Green signed to a one-year deal for $9 million last season before an aortic aneurysm was detected, so it’s not out of line to expect a new deal to be constructed along similar parameters.

In other words, it’s still possible for the Celtics to bring back Allen and Green and still have enough left to complete the roster, but it will be tight. The deal for Bass is another strong step in that direction. Locking up a starting power forward for less than $7 million a year is an exceptionally savvy signing.

Bass averaged a career-high 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds for the Celtics this past season after he was acquired from the Magic in a sign-and-trade involving Glen Davis. After beginning the season as the team’s sixth man, Bass joined the starting lineup for good after the All-Star break and helped the Celtics surge back into contention.

One of the game’s top mid-range-shooting big men, Bass made 48 percent of his shots from 16-23 feet, a percentage that put him on par with big man All-Stars like Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki and Celtics teammate Kevin Garnett. The Celtics love his ability to make shots because that helps open up the court for Rajon Rondo‘s slashing game.

With Bass back in place, Garnett will presumably stay at the center position although their frontline still needs work before it can be completed. Still, the Celtics’ lineup is beginning to take shape.

Read More: Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Ray Allen,
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