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Celtics acquire Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, 1st-round pick in deal that may pave way for LeBron James to Cleveland 07.09.14 at 10:51 am ET
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Marcus Thornton

Marcus Thornton

The Celtics acquired Tyler Zeller and a first-round pick from the Cavaliers and Marcus Thornton from the Nets in a three-team trade that may pave the way for LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland, ESPN’s Marc Stein first reported.

In return, the Celtics are sending a second-round pick to the Cavs and using the $10.3 million trade exception they received upon dealing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn last summer. That TPE was set to expire on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Nets receive Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev from the Cavaliers, freeing enough cap space (roughly $24.0 million) for Cleveland to potentially offer James a maximum contract of four years, $94.8 million.

As a result, the Celtics reportedly received Cleveland’s No. 1 pick in 2016 (top-10 protected through 2018), a 24-year-old 7-footer under their control through 2016 and Thornton’s expiring $8.6 million contract for a second-round pick.

In addition to acquiring Zeller, who averaged 13.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, the Celtics could have as many as nine first-round picks over the next four seasons and $41.4 million in expiring contracts (Rajon Rondo‘s $12.9 million, Brandon Bass‘ $6.9 million, Joel Anthony‘s $3.8 million and potentially Jeff Green‘s $9.2 million player option). There’s no doubt the move puts the Celtics in a better position to acquire Kevin Love or any other desirable player by trade this season or by free agency next summer.

According to Kirk Goldsberry‘s easily digestible shot charts, Zeller (1,049 min, 5.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 58.1 TS%, 15.4 PER) attempted nearly 70 percent of his shots around the basket and converted almost 60 percent of them. Likewise, Thornton (1,741 min, 9.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 51.1 TS%, 12.0 PER) is a decent enough 3-point shooter from the right corner, left arc and straightaway, but underwhelming from mid-range and the paint. Neither are considered defensive stalwarts. Quite simply, this trade, in a vacuum, does not make the C’s much better this year.

Additionally, the Celtics now have $64.7 million in guaranteed contracts dedicated to Rondo, Gerald Wallace ($10.1M), Green, Thornton, Bass, Anthony, Avery Bradley (estimated $8M), Vitor Faverani ($2.1M), Kelly Olynyk ($2.1M), Zeller ($1.7M) and Jared Sullinger ($1.4M). That puts them over the estimated $63.2 million salary cap. Details of Marcus Smart‘s contract haven’t emerged, but cap holds for him and James Young already add another $4.1 million to that number. Likewise, the C’s also have Phil Pressey, Chris Johnson and Chris Babb signed to non-guaranteed minimum contracts, pushing their current commitments to $69.7 million.

In other words, the best the Celtics can now offer a free agent is the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.3M), meaning Ainge probably isn’t done dealing this summer, especially if he hopes to avoid the lottery again next year.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Danny Ainge
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett ‘happy’ for playoff support of Celtics fans during Nets run 04.24.14 at 4:25 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett works on his signature 18-footer during Nets practice. (Justin Barasso)

Kevin Garnett works on his signature 18-footer during Nets practice. (Justin Barasso)

Paul Pierce knows the postseason as well as he knows Boston.

“This is the playoffs,”€ he said from the Nets practice facility in East Rutherford, N.J. “This is do or die.”

Pierce played 136 playoff games over 15 seasons for the Celtics. His 24,021 points rank second on the team’s all-time scoring list, brought a championship back to Boston in 2008, and also earned the NBA Finals MVP that very same season. The Truth restored meaning to the NBA’€™s signature franchise, so No. 34 still appreciates that Celtics fans are watching his run in Brooklyn.

“There’€™s a lot of fans [in Boston],” he added, “and I’€™m happy for their support.”

Kevin Garnett spent the last six seasons as a Celtic, patrolling the Garden paint and delivering a Bill Russell-esque intensity focused completely on winning. Up until this season, Garnett had played his last 84 playoff games for Boston, providing the interior defense, elbows, scowls and growls that the people of Boston know intimately well.

“€œThis is a different level of intensity,”€ said Garnett, who verified the fans in Boston understand that vigor and fury. “€œA different level of concentration. Some people can withstand that for 48 minutes, and some can’€™t.”

Pierce and Garnett helped Brooklyn split the first two games with the Atlantic Division champion Raptors. Now the Nets head back to play two home games in the Barclays Center, a place Pierce still finds odd calling home. He has registered two playoff games so far for the Nets, and is still getting used to placing his long arms through a green and white jersey before each game.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Garnett, NBA
Paul Pierce still thinks Rajon Rondo can be ‘unstoppable’ 03.08.14 at 11:09 am ET
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Paul Pierce sees what Danny Ainge sees and what most Celtics fans see in Rajon Rondo when the Boston point guard is on his game.

“He’s unstoppable,” Pierce said of Rondo. “I always said the more he’s improved, the more he’s expanded his game, he’s one of the best. If he’s coming down and knocking down threes, it’s almost impossible to keep him out of the paint at times, he has the floater, the way he finds people in traffic. If he continues to consistently knock down that [3-point] shot, watch out.”

Rondo drilled his first three 3-point attempts Friday night and, except for a hiccup at the end of the third quarter, Rondo and the Celtics didn’t look back in a 91-84 win over Pierce’s Nets Friday night at TD Garden.

Rondo nearly had a triple double, with 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Pierce even gave Rondo an assist of his own, helping Rondo to his feet late in the first half after Rondo took a spill to the floor. He gave the Celtics point guard a pat on the rear and got an ovation from the crowd.

“In the end, me and Rondo share a special bond,” Pierce said. “We’ll always be friends, we’ll always have something in common with our championship, our kids still hang out together.”

Then Pierce went a little further, offering that their kids share that same bond and “hung out for his birthday, actually.” Pierce laughed out loud very hard for several seconds.

Of course, Pierce was very aware of the much ballyhooed Rondo birthday party in Los Angeles last month, when he skipped out on a trip to Sacramento after being asked to travel with the team and not stay behind. Ask Pierce and he’ll tell you all things considered, he’d want Rondo as his captain any day.

“Rondo, I respect him and what he’s doing moving forward with this franchise and it will always be that way,” Pierce added.

If anyone can understand what Rondo is going through right now it’s Pierce. Pierce made the Eastern Conference finals in 2002 and were in the playoffs the next two seasons before the team went through a massive rebuild, bottoming out in 2006-07 with a 24-win season.

“I try to forget those days,” Pierce said, laughing again. “Those were trying days. But you grow from there. I think it made me a better player, physically, mentally, it made me stronger. You can only learn from this process. You find out what type of players you have when you go through moments like this.

“They are a young team, they got a mix of some veterans, some young guys they are developing and they are only going to get better,” said Pierce. “Rondo is leading them right now, moving into the next generation of Celtics. I think their future is going to be very bright.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
Would Paul Pierce play for Celtics again? ‘Yeah, why not?’ 03.07.14 at 11:22 pm ET
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Asked if he would consider playing for the Celtics again, the team’s former captain Paul Pierce said, “Yeah, why not? Maybe play for them. Maybe work for them. Who knows what the future holds?”

Pierce, who scored 10 points in a 91-84 loss to the C’s on Friday night, has told reporters all season he would like to join the team’s front office when his playing career is over, but this is the first time since joining the Nets he has mentioned potentially playing for his former team again. Pierce is in the final year of his contract with the Nets.

Meanwhile, Pierce had plenty to say about current Celtics captain, even joking about the media firestorm that raged after Rajon Rondo stayed in Los Angeles for his birthday while the C’s played on his off day in Sacramento.

“Me and Rondo share a special bond. We’ll always be friends. We’ll always have something in common with our championship. Our kids still hang out together. They hung out for his birthday actually.” Pierce paused for laughter. “I respect him and what he’s doing moving forward with this franchise, and it will always be that way.”

After watching Rondo surpass his career-high in 3-pointers for a season with three in the first quarter, Pierce complimented his former teammate on the added dimension to Rondo’s game.

“He’s unstoppable. I’ve always said, the more he improves, the more he expands his game, he’s one of the best. If he’s coming down and knocking down 3′s, it’s almost impossible to keep him out of the paint at times. The way he shoots that floater, the way he finds people in traffic, if he consistently knocks down that shot, watch out.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, NBA, Paul Pierce
Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics freeze Paul Pierce, Nets at 9:55 pm ET
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There wasn’t nearly as much fanfare surrounding this Paul Pierce return to Boston, but the Celtics ended up on the winning side this time around, defeating Pierce’s Nets by a score of 91-84.

Rajon Rondo led all scorers with 20 points, adding nine assists and seven rebounds, and the Celtics (21-41) recovered from Wednesday’s miserable loss to the Warriors to snap a two-game losing streak. Jeff Green (15 points), Kelly Olynyk (13 points) and Jerryd Bayless (14 points) also reached double figures.

The Nets (30-30) fell back to .500, as Pierce finished with 10 points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Moto Rondo: Perhaps motivated by the presence of rival Deron Williams and old friend Paul Pierce in town, Rondo came to play. He connected on his first three 3-point attempts, setting a new personal standard for a season, and scored 13 first-quarter attempts. The triple-double watch began early, and the C’s led 26-20 after one.

Technical KO: After scoring a team-high 19 points against the Warriors (somebody had to), Olynyk said he felt like he was figuring out opposing NBA defenses — how different players defend the pick-and-roll, drive-and-kick, etc. — and it showed again Friday. Scoring from 3-point range, on the drive and in the post, he abused Mason Plumlee early, even if Plumlee isn’t exactly Kevin Garnett. Now, Olynyk only needs to figure out his own NBA defense, but he showed grit, slapping the ball out of Shaun Livingston‘s hands as he attempted a few post-whistle layups. Had he made the trip, Garnett would’ve respected that. If only he were in Boston to tutor Olynyk on that end.

3 party: In addition to Rondo’s trio of 3-pointers, undrafted rookie Chris Babb drained a couple and the Celtics connected six of their 13 attempts from long-distance before the break. (Like Chris Johnson before him, Babb is earning well deserved playing time purely on effort.) But the bigger story was Brooklyn’s futility from beyond the arc. The Nets missed all 17 of their first-half attempts and naturally trailed 53-41 heading into the locker room.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, NBA, Rajon Rondo
Nets’ Kevin Garnett (back) will not travel to Boston 03.06.14 at 4:40 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett will not make the trip to Boston for Friday’s final home game between the Celtics and Nets, according to multiple reports out of Brooklyn.

The former Celtics star will miss a fourth straight game with back spasms. He has averaged 6.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 21.0 minutes over 49 games for the Nets (30-29) this season. Mason Plumlee will start at center in Garnett’s absence.

Paul Pierce, however, will make the trip. He is averaging 13.5 points (43.2 FG%), 4.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals in 28.8 minutes over 54 games in a Brooklyn uniform. The Celtics paid video tribute to Pierce and Garnett in their emotional return to the Garden on Jan. 26.

“I think as long I’m in the NBA, it’s still going to be a little emotional for me,” Pierce told New York Newsday. “I played so many regular-season games, so many big games on that floor, so many memories that are never going to go away on that floor. So, it’s still going to be a little emotional. Probably not as much, but when you have those memories, it’s tough to let it go.”

Likewise, the recently signed Jason Collins will be in uniform for the Nets and make his first Boston appearance since the Celtics traded him to the Wizards for Jordan Crawford last season.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Garnett, NBA
Video: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett come home 01.27.14 at 3:33 pm ET
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“I think we’ll always bleed green as long as we’re playing basketball and as long as we’re living. Even when they bury us six feet, this is what it’s going to be.”

When it comes to covering basketball in Boston, it doesn’t get much better than Sunday night. I could wax poetically about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and their legacies as Celtics, which I attempted to do in this column, but this 15-minute video sums it up better than any words I could put together on a page. Enjoy.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Garnett, NBA
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