|The Kosta Koufos question: Will Celtics pursue second-tier free agents?||05.19.15 at 11:25 am ET|
Kosta Koufos is exactly the type of player the Celtics need to target this summer.
Given their history of failed free-agent pursuits and the unlikelihood of landing a center of Marc Gasol’s caliber, the C’s are forced to pursue under-appreciated options, so the latest ESPN.com report that team president Danny Ainge already targeted Koufos in trade discussions this season makes complete sense.
After ranking in the middle of the pack this past season with a 102.1 defensive rating — a number that climbed to 110.2 points allowed per 100 possessions in their brief playoff stint — the Celtics are in desperate need of a rim protector, and Koufos was as good as any backup center in that regard. According to NBA.com/stats, the 7-foot, 265-pound former first-round pick held opponents to 46.9 percent shooting at the rim, putting him in good company with Defensive Player of the Year candidates Tim Duncan and Draymond Green at the same percentage.
Offensively, Koufos has proven a capable scorer around the basket, converting 56.2 percent of his shots inside of 8 feet. It might be too much to ask a 26-year-old to suddenly develop a mid-range jumper, but Tyler Zeller made significant strides from outside the paint under Celtics coach Brad Stevens this year.
Regardless, Koufos has averaged 12.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes since being drafted 23rd overall out of Ohio State in 2008, and those numbers have remained fairly consistent for all six years, including when he started 81 games for a Nuggets team that won 57 games in 2012-13.
|Danny Ainge: Celtics ‘in the game’ for big-name acquisitions||05.14.15 at 5:58 pm ET|
In a sit-down interview with Celtics.com, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was encouraged by the development of rookie guard Marcus Smart and his team’s depth during an impressive stretch run, but he also realizes the need for a roster upgrade.
Whether or not that upgrade will come in the form of a draft-day trade or a free-agent signing this summer remains to be seen, but at the very least the C’s are in position to set off the fireworks they’ve stocked away since trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
“We’ve tried to put ourselves in the game to have those options and to have some opportunities to make big moves, so I guess if there are big moves that we like, we do them; if there are big moves that we’re not in love with, then we hold off and we wait,” Ainge told Celtics.com. “Those are the challenging ones. Some of them are very easy to determine and some are very challenging and take a lot of investigation and thought and debate and discussion on our side, but I think that you can’t just determine that you’re going to wait or you’re going to do it. It all depends on those opportunities.
|Danny Ainge admits luring big free agents to Boston ‘unlikely’ this summer||04.30.15 at 4:04 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Danny Ainge isn’t pulling any punches about his efforts to go after some big-time unrestricted free agents this summer. But he’s also be very, very realistic about his chances.
There is a good pool of free agents available this offseason around the league. And many of those free agents are big men, one of the pressing needs of the Celtics as they look to build for 2015-16. And on top of that, the Celtics will have a great deal of cap space to work with, even after offering Jae Crowder a qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent.
But the unprecedented rise in the cap in the next two years, growing by as much as $20 million, has a down side, namely 29 other teams with the same expanded flexibility.
“I think free agency is hard,” Ainge said Thursday. “I think it’s unlikely but possible. So we’re going to go after any and everybody that we think is a significant player to upgrade our talent roster. And when I say upgrade our talent, you’ve got to be pretty good to upgrade our talent because we have good players. So, we’re going after all the top names on the list and see what happens.”
Names like LaMarcus Aldridge, Tyson Chandler, Marc Gasol, Paul Millsap and DeAndre Jordan are all scheduled to hit the market.
“I don’t think any of us can predict that. That’s good talk radio stuff but I think ultimately every player is different, unique,” Ainge said. “Some players look at the Celtics organization and tradition, and think it’s something special. Some don’t. Some prefer hot weather to cold weather but most players prefer good contracts and good opportunities to play and hopefully to win, in that order first in most players. We have to prove to people that we have the opportunities for them to be paid, to play, to reach their full potential and to win. I think Boston will be a good destination for some.
|Danny Ainge to offer Jae Crowder qualifying offer, adds: ‘We need to have a busy summer, and we will’||at 12:23 pm ET|
WALTHAM — The Celtics surprised a lot of people by finishing the season with a six-game winning streak, ending up with the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But the work to improve on that encouraging ending doesn’t stop with a four-game sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
Far from it.
Now, according to the team’s president of basketball operations, the hard work really begins. How does he and his staff go about improving upon a 40-42 mark through the NBA draft and added space under the salary cap?
“I feel like we need to have a busy summer and we will have a busy summer,” Danny Ainge said Thursday. “Hopefully, we can get some things accomplished that we need to. I think we need to upgrade our talent level on our team and at the same time, I’m very excited about a lot of the individuals that we have.
“Actually, all of the individuals I thought played the best basketball of their careers in a lot of cases. So, I’m excited about the players that we have. At the same time, I feel like we’re not at the same level as a team like Cleveland, and we found that out.”
Ainge confirmed one of his moves already on Thursday when he announced he will extend a qualifying offer to Jae Crowder. By extending a qualifying offer to Crowder, the Celtics would make him a restricted free agent.
The key to the summer will likely be how Ainge and his staff handle the extra spending space afforded by the expansion of the NBA salary cap. The Celtics currently have $40.4 million committed to salaries for 2015-16. The current cap number of $63 million is expected to grow to about $66 million next season but could explode to $87 million in 2017. The reason: A brand new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal.
But while the Celtics will have more money to spend, so too will the other 29 teams, creating tremendous cap competition this summer.
|Danny Ainge on D&C: Playing Cavaliers ‘a fun opportunity for us’||04.17.15 at 11:32 am ET|
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge joined the Dennis & Callahan show on Friday morning to talk about the C’s upcoming playoff series against the Cavaliers and what he sees from his team. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Earlier this week, Mike Gorman of Comcast SportsNet New England gave his prediction for the first round of the postseason. He said the series would last six games, but unlike most others, Gorman said that it would be the Celtics who advance to the conference semifinals, not LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
When asked about the prediction, Ainge noted that the Cavs certainly have the advantage but that there are aspects of the game the C’s can focus on to stop them as best as possible.
“We need to make a high percentage of our 3’s in order to win this series,” he said. “Not so many turnovers, which is obvious, preventing them from getting open-court baskets. I think if we give them a lot of open-court baskets, either off the long rebounds or breakouts off steals, we have no chance of stopping them. They’re tough enough to stop them at half court let alone in the open court, where they have the big advantage.
“But listen,” Ainge added, “they’re obviously a star-studded team. They have a lot of different options, and I think that in a series like this, they just have a much greater room for error than we do. And we just have to play at our best, we need five, six guys playing the best basketball they’ve played, and our guys are capable of it. It’s a tough, tough mountain to climb, but it’s fun. It’s a fun opportunity for us.”
After dealing Rajon Rondo and finding themselves 11 games under .500 at the trade deadline, the Celtics weren’t expected to make the playoffs. Ainge himself said it was a bit of a long shot. However, he worked to acquire Isaiah Thomas, and while he said he knew the 5-foot-9 guard would make the team better, Ainge didn’t know he would make as much of a difference as he had.
And the players aren’t the only ones making a difference on this C’s team that has experienced a major turnaround. Brad Stevens was named was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for April on Thursday and Ainge expressed how pleased he is with his second-year coach.
“We went after him and him only and we gave him a six-year contract, which I think is unprecedented in the NBA for a head coach, and I think that pretty much tells that we knew we were getting somebody special, and I have not been disappointed at all,” he said. “To say he’s better than I even thought, I thought he was pretty good and I think that his transition has been better from a coaching standpoint, and I think he still will be better next year and the year after and the year after that. I think he’s such a smart guy and a hard worker that he’s just going to continue to become better as a coach, but he’s a very good coach right now and I couldn’t be any happier with Brad.”
|Celtics roundtable: Previewing remainder of season||02.20.15 at 10:58 am ET|
With the Celtics starting the second half of their season Friday night in Sacramento, the Green Street bloggers, Julian Edlow @julianedlow, Ben Rohrbach @brohrbach and Sam Packard @SPacShakur answer some key questions to preview the rest of the season.
SHOULD THE CELTICS TRY TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS — AND CAN THEY?
Edlow: “As of Thursday morning the short answer was yes, in the lowly Eastern Conference the Celtics have a chance. Then mayhem broke loose at the trade deadline. Isaiah Thomas is a nice add for the C’s with his skill set and contract for the long term. But factoring in Miami adding Goran Dragic, Detriot adding Reggie Jackson, and news that Jared Sullinger is going to be sidelined with a stress reaction in his left foot, things have changed. It’s going to be another lottery season.”
Rohrbach: “I’ve been bouncing back and forth on this one, just as the Celtics front office likely has in recent weeks, but I’m coming around on the idea of making a playoff push. Danny Ainge was more of a buyer than a seller at the deadline, and Brad Stevens will continue working with whatever pieces are at his disposal to win enough games that their odds of receiving a top-three pick in the lottery would be miniscule. The confidence that Stevens — and whichever players remain next season and beyond — would gain in knowing how his system works is just as valuable as the difference between the No. 12 and 17 picks.
“As for whether the C’s can make the playoffs, after writing them off two weeks ago, I’m on board, so long as Jared Sullinger’s toe injury doesn’t keep him out too long. Their recent string of four wins in five games — including a stunning upset of the first-place Hawks — combined with the mess that has become of the Nets and the injury to Hornets point guard Kemba Walker leaves the C’s and Pistons with the best chance of finishing eighth behind the Heat. The Celtics have a lighter schedule and two fewer losses than the Pacers and somewhat control their own destiny with the most head-to-head meetings against the five aforementioned teams.”
Packard: “There are already 10 teams with worse records than the Celtics, and with the addition of Isaiah Thomas the roster is too talented to lose the requisite number of games for a top-five pick. Tanking is not a realistic option, so why not try something new and fun like winning as many games as possible?
“The Heat locked up the seventh seed by adding Dragic, but I do think the Celtics have a puncher’s chance at the eight. Their fate rests entirely on the health of Sullinger, who has been the team’s best player in the first half of the season. If he is out for an extended period of time, the Celtics will not have enough muscle on the front line to beat good teams late in games. Also, their biggest competition for the final playoff spot in the east, the Pistons, just got better by adding Reggie Jackson to replace the injured Brandon Jennings.”
WHICH PLAYER NEEDS TO PLAY BETTER?
Edlow: “Avery Bradley is the easy answer. He is in the first year of a contract that is due to pay him $32 million over four seasons and Boston isn’t seeing near the production it should be for the price it paid. For comparison, the newly acquired Thomas just signed a cheaper contract (four years for $28 million), however, Thomas’ 19.7 player efficiency rating nearly doubles Bradley’s (10.8).”
Rohrbach: “When motivated, Jared Sullinger is undoubtedly the best player on the Celtics, but he’s not always motivated, as evidenced by his two recent benchings and the fact he’s never really gotten himself into proper shape. Yet he outplayed Paul Millsap in the C’s recent victory against the Hawks. While his conditioning may not make great strides over the final two months, particularly with the toe injury keeping him sidelined for the foreseeable future, he can begin his improvement by stepping inside the 3-point line, where he owns one of the league’s worst percentages among players who attempt three per game, and planting his considerable backside in the post, where he’s shooting close to 60 percent and grabbing 10 percent of available offensive rebounds.”
Packard: “Kelly Olynyk. This is probably an unfair answer, because Olynyk has done a very good job coming off the bench; but with Sullinger on the sidelines for the foreseeable future, Olynyk is going to get meaningful minutes. He needs to improve drastically on defense, where he has been a liability. On offense, Olynyk should continue to be aggressive by attacking the basket and taking the open 3 when its available.”
|5 things we learned about Celtics at trade deadline||at 12:20 am ET|
In the words of Ron Burgundy: “Boy, that really escalated quickly.”
Just when we appeared to be headed for a quiet trade deadline, seemingly half the league began swapping players and picks around as if there wouldn’t be another opportunity for years. When the smoke cleared, a record 37 players were moved by the deadline, and that doesn’t even include the future draft picks that changed hands.
So in wake of everything that happened today, here’s five things we learned about the Celtics at the deadline.
Thomas’ name came up in trade talks when Boston was rumored to send Rajon Rondo to the Kings last season, then again when Danny Ainge was the first person to reach out to Thomas as free agency began last summer, and now, obviously, the third time was a charm for Ainge. This is not a coincidence, the Celtics have been after Thomas for a while.
The 5-foot-9 Washington product was the last pick in 2011’s NBA draft but has far exceeded expectations during his time in the league. Last year with the Kings, Thomas produced averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists. So far this season Thomas has averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 helpers, but in limited minutes off the bench while helping his Suns team hold down a playoff spot in the West.
If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the Celtics front office see Thomas as its point guard of the future. But if I’m wrong– and this is one of the best parts of Thomas’ contract — his deal always remains a tradeable asset. Due just $27 million over four years, there’s really no risk to brining Thomas on board.
MARCUS SMART NOW IS A SHOOTING GUARD
With Thomas in Boston, Smart now likely becomes the starting shooting guard, otherwise a backup combo guard for the time being. Smart had briefly been in control of the starting point guard role before the All-Star break, and did a good job with it. Smart still may backup Thomas at point guard while seeing a majority of his minutes off the ball, but it would be nice to see Smart get assigned a position and stick to it. With that said, Smart has adjusted very well no matter what role has been asked of him. I expect that trend to continue and Smart to have a strong finish to his rookie campaign — including small ball lineups with Thomas and Avery Bradley. The bottom line is that if he continues improving his shot and his relentless defense, Smart is going to be a very good pro. If he has one area he needs to improve upon, it’s in getting to the rim.
AINGE IS BEGINNING TO CASH IN HIS CHIPS
You might not be able to call the Celtics buyers at the deadline, but just think back on each of Ainge’s trades over the summer and throughout the season. They all accomplished one of two goals — the first being to add future draft picks and the second being to move unwanted long-term contracts for expiring deals.
This trade — although Thomas is a nice long-term asset — accomplished neither. Ainge actually finally shipped out one of his future assets (a 2016 first-round pick from the Cavs) in order to add a piece of the puzzle. The Celtics will gladly use their two first-round picks in June’s upcoming draft, but things are starting to get to the point where Ainge is ready to pull the trigger on moving picks for players when the right deal presents itself as it did with Phoenix.
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