|Asset Management: Tyler Zeller’s Celtics future||09.12.14 at 1:05 pm ET|
I think we can all agree the Celtics won’t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’s pieces in a series we’ll call Asset Management. Next up: Tyler Zeller.
The list of Celtics centers this season includes Tyler Zeller, Vitor Faverani and Joel Anthony, which seems like a good place to start with Zeller, since Faverani is still recovering from surgery to repair a torn left lateral meniscus and crashed his BMW hatchback into a bus this summer and Joel Anthony won last year’s Brian Scalabrine Legacy Award on a team full of worthy contenders.
Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass all have experience playing center, but the Celtics have rolled the dice with forwards starting at the 5 for far too long — since trading Kendrick Perkins, really, save for the Nenad Krstic, Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal cameos — so Zeller at least offers hope, and hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, or so says Andy Dufresne.
Where were we? Oh, yeah, Tyler Zeller of the 21-foot Zeller brother trio. He’s 24 years old, 84 inches tall and runs the floor like a gaZelle(r), which is all promising, particularly if Rondo remains his point guard. Transition dunks are fun, after all.
Offensively, Zeller improved from literally everywhere last season. After shooting an average to below-average percentage everywhere on the court but the free throw line as a rookie, his long legs took tremendous strides in 2013-14, improving as a more selective mid-range marksman and making a more concerted effort to get to the rim, where he lived during his 2012 ACC Player of the Year campaign.
|Asset Management: Jeff Green’s Celtics future||09.11.14 at 2:59 pm ET|
I think we can all agree the Celtics won’t be raising banner 18 in the immediate future, and more likely than not the 2014-15 NBA season will result in another lottery pick come June, regardless of how ardently Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley & Co. argue the contrary. It’s been a year since Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, launching the process of stockpiling draft picks and cap-friendly contracts. Since the Celtics failed to cash in those commodities in exchange for fireworks this summer, this season’s preview will have a Wyc Grousbeck theme, focusing on the hodgepodge of C’s pieces in a series we’ll call Asset Management. First up: Jeff Green.
Technically, this is a contract year for Green, who owns a $9.2 million player option for 2015-16. Considering the amount of money thrown around by NBA general managers each summer, he may opt out and bank another big paycheck before his 30th birthday, although picking up the option would put him in line to hit free agency just as the league’s rumored new $2 billion TV deal bolsters the salary cap in 2016, and his agent David Falk is as shrewd as they come.
Regardless, Green should be motivated this winter, although we’ve heard that before — in the final 26 games of his rookie contract in 2011, upon returning to the league after heart surgery in 2012 and when Pierce’s departure freed the starting small forward spot for him in 2013. Yet, inconsistency continues to plague the versatile forward, and neither of his Celtics coaches — Doc Rivers nor Brad Stevens — have been shy about acknowledging Green’s erratic effort.
Last summer, Green seemed ready to seize the reins from Pierce, submitting the best performance of his career in the second half of the 2012-13 season and leading the Celtics in playoff scoring that spring, albeit in a first-round exit opposite the Knicks. His declaration last training camp — “The [expletive] mentality is coming” — seemed to support that theory. Instead, his numbers regressed as his playing time increased.
|Scouts: Marcus Smart ‘next great perimeter defender’||09.04.14 at 11:51 am ET|
If Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s draft history has proven anything, it’s that he knows how to identify elite defensive guards. Since 2009, only 11 guards have made the NBA’s two All-Defensive teams, and Ainge drafted three of them: Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley. According to anonymous scouts contacted by Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, Ainge may have added another one to the list.
Next great perimeter defender, per a couple scouts I talked to this week: Marcus Smart. All the tools. Scouts love how he embraces contact.
— Chris Mannix (@ChrisMannixSI) September 3, 2014
For five straight years, a Celtic manned one of the league’s four top defensive backcourt spots — with Rondo sandwiching a pair of Second Team selections in 2009 and 2012 around two First Team nods and Bradley earning his first bid as a 2013 Second Teamer — but that streak ended last season, when Bradley’s defense took a backseat to his budding offense and Rondo’s already declining defense obviously didn’t recover faster than his knee.
Despite being teammates since 2010, Rondo and Bradley have rarely patrolled the backcourt together. Injuries robbed us of a chance to see Bradley’s on-ball defense mesh with Rondo’s gambling mentality, but the former has adapted his training regimen in hopes of preventing injury and the latter should be fully recovered from ACL surgery.
If indeed Marcus Smart emerges as a lockdown defender on the perimeter, the Celtics could field the league’s most ferocious backcourt on that end, assuming both Bradley and Rondo return to form. And that’s a pretty big deal in a league that’s recently seen the near extinction of traditional centers and a growing emphasis on point guard play.
|Irish Coffee: Rajon Rondo rumor mill keeps churning||09.01.14 at 12:52 pm ET|
Over the weekend, video surfaced of a behind-the-scenes conversation between ESPN.com’s Jackie MacMullan and New York Daily News writer Frank Isola about the possibility of Rondo being traded.
“It will happen, because he’s told them he wants out,” MacMullan said. “No one believes me, but that’s the truth. And I don’t see how you get 80 cents on the dollar for him. Tell me where. The Knicks? People keeping saying the Knicks; well, who are they going to give you? The Kings want him. … They’ll give up [Ben McLemore], but Rondo has already told [Sacramento] flat-out, ‘I will never re-sign with you.’ That’s no good, so where do you go?”
The footage has since been deleted from the YouTube account for ESPN’s “Around the Horn,” but lives on over at Deadspin. Few media members know the inner workings of the Celtics front office better than MacMullan, so her claim that Rondo has essentially demanded a trade is significant — however off the cuff that statement may have been. But Jackie Mac has for years held the opinion Rondo isn’t long for Boston, and yet he remains on the roster.
Meanwhile, Rondo and his agent have denied the trade speculation first discovered by MassLive’s Jay King.
So, here we are again. To be or not to be traded? That is the question. Don’t dismiss MacMullan’s stance simply based on Rondo’s denial, since the four-time NBA All-Star point guard has little choice but to claim he wants to remain in Boston until the time comes to move on elsewhere. He and the Celtics would gain nothing by making his desire to be dealt a public matter. Yet, the rumors persist, and it’s not all that difficult to discover why.
|Celtics forward Jeff Green donates $1 million to Georgetown||08.29.14 at 9:24 am ET|
The Celtics forward donated $1 million to Georgetown University, according to a press release from the school. His donation will go toward the projected $62 million John R. Thompson Jr. Intercollegiate Athletics Center.
While Green has made an estimated $31.7 million in his six-year NBA career since leaving the Hoyas in 2007, the donation is no small chunk of change, even considering his $9.45 million salary this season.
Green spent three seasons under John Thompson III at Georgetown from 2004-07, leading the Hoyas to the Final Four in his third season, and returned to school each summer until graduating with an English degree in 2012.
“I’m very fortunate to be in a position to give back to the university and to the program that has done so much for me,” Green said Thursday, his 28th birthday. “The environment created by Coach Thompson III and his staff helped shape me both academically and athletically. Georgetown and Georgetown basketball is at my core and is part of who I am.
“Georgetown athletes are going to get the chance to work and develop in a world-class, state-of-the-art facility. The Thompson Athletics Center will be the best in the country.”
A groundbreaking ceremony is set for Sept. 12, when construction on the 144,000-square-foot facility will begin. The center will include practice courts, team meeting rooms, basketball coaching offices, weight and sports medicine rooms, an academic and leadership Center, an auditorium and a new venue for the Georgetown Athletics Hall of Fame, of which Green is not currently a member.
|Irish Coffee: Celtics rookie Marcus Smart isn’t ready to start and other things we learned from Rajon Rondo’s China tour||08.27.14 at 1:55 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo is in the midst of his annual trip to China, which means more exchanges between the Celtics point guard and a media contingent that probably understands his dry humor better than Boston’s. Take this, for example.
- Hoop China: “Who’s the next Rajon Rondo?”
- Rondo: “Nobody.”
- Hoop China: Straight face.
- Rondo: “Nobody.”
- Hoop China: Smiles all around.
The folks at Red’s Army deserve an award for keeping up with the four-time NBA All-Star’s Anta tour, and fan extraordinaire @KWAPT has more Chinese sources than the CIA. For the most part, Rondo provided the same stock answers we’ve grown accustomed to — “My leadership role has grown each year” and Kevin Garnett‘s “like a big brother to me” — but his answer to a question about whether Marcus Smart could start in the backcourt this season provided some insight into his feelings about the Celtics drafting another guard with the No. 6 overall pick.
“No,” Rondo said flatly. “He’ll play a lot of minutes, but starting as a rookie at the guard position is probably impossible or one of the toughest things you can do. Only so many guards have done it in the past, especially playing at that high level, but he’ll be ready. He’ll come in ready. He seems pretty humble, and we’ll get to work.”
Avery Bradley is probably Rondo’s closest confidant on the team, so it should come as no surprise he knocked Smart down a notch, but his response also suggests he fully expects to start the season on the Celtics. Still, the roster’s youth with the additions of Smart and James Young seems to be a sticking point for Rondo.
|Avery Bradley: Celtics have chance to make playoffs||08.21.14 at 6:07 pm ET|
Consider Avery Bradley the first to declare the Celtics a playoff team this season, and he won’t be the last. In all honesty, would you want a player who entered the season already resigned to the lottery? Of course you wouldn’t.
“I feel like we have a chance to make the playoffs and make a lot of noise this year if we listen to [Celtics coach] Brad [Stevens],” Bradley told reporters from his youth basketball camp in Dartmouth. The former second-team All-Defensive selection added, “I feel like we have a chance to be a top-10 defensive team in the NBA this year.”
While any NBA player worth his salt — and Bradley’s new four-year, $32 million deal can buy an awful lot of sodium chloride — should believe both statements to be true, the question is whether either is believable. The Celtics finished with the league’s fourth-worst record (25-57) and ranked 19th in points allowed per 100 possessions (108.6). Have they done enough to climb 14 games in the standings and allow .025 fewer points per possession?
Barring a trade, the Celtics will feature at least 10 of the 15 players who finished last season. They’ve replaced Kris Humphries and Jerryd Bayless with Tyler Zeller and Marcus Thornton while adding Evan Turner and a pair of rookies. Marcus Smart is the only one of the bunch who comes with a solid reputation defensively, and he’s expected to play behind Rajon Rondo to start the year. That’s not much of a sales pitch.
Rondo is the wild card, of course, and Bradley suggested his backcourt mate has returned to form as the player who earned Third Team All-NBA and Second Team All-Defensive honors during his last healthy season. While a three-headed monster of Rondo, Bradley and Smart could theoretically form one of the league’s grittiest guard groups defensively, the Celtics still lack the rim-protecting big Danny Ainge sought this summer. Are you confident Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk and Jeff Green can hold down the frontcourt? Me neither.
Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference’s other sub-.500 squads all took steps forward. The Hawks return a healthy Al Horford. The Knicks surrounded Carmelo Anthony with a few more serviceable players, including Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert. The Cavaliers did something, although I can’t quite remember what it was. The Pistons hired a coach with a history of winning two-thirds of his regular-season games. And the Magic, 76ers and Bucks respectively added young talent, a healthy impact center and a combination of the two.
So maybe it’s a stretch to imagine the Celtics a playoff team with staunch defense. Or maybe Stevens can extract career years from Rondo, Bradley and Jeff Green; help Olynyk, Zeller and Jared Sullinger make the leap; expedite Smart and James Young‘s contributions; and invent a time machine for Gerald Wallace. Either way, the only way the C’s come close to proving Bradley right is to match his confidence entering training camp.
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