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Celtics should be eyeing these free agents 06.30.16 at 9:25 am ET
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Mar 10, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford (15) shoots the ball against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Hawks 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics reportedly will target Hawks forward Al Horford in free agency. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)

Assuming the Celtics don’t land Kevin Durant, they’re going to need to shift their focus to signing other key free agents to improve their roster.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics will target Al Horford when free agency officially begins July 1, and will be one of many teams, including the Lakers, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Nets and Wizards, interested in the nine-year pro. (A Thursday report indicated the Thunder also plan to make a push for him.)

If the Celtics don’t land Durant or Horford, what kind of players do they need?

“We need good players,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said last Friday as the team introduced five of its six draft picks in Waltham.

Brad Stevens was more specific.

“The biggest needs as we look at it are continuing to grow ourselves on the offensive end and what we decide to do with regard to protecting the rim,” the coach said.

There are a handful of players available who could help in scoring and rim protection, which could push the Celtics into contending with the champion Cavaliers.

However, the most talented players come with an expensive price tag. The Celtics will have to weigh their options and target the players who are worth the big bucks, while also looking to at second- and third-tier options who offer plenty of upside.

Here are four free agents the Celtics could sign this summer.

AL HORFORD
2015-16: 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

Horford sits atop the list — his ability to stretch the floor on offense and defend opposing big men makes him a great fit in Boston. His leadership qualities will be beneficial for this young Celtics team — along with his experience. Horford, who turned 30 earlier this month, is also consistent — while his 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds last season aren’t numbers that are going to amaze you, his dependability will make a big impact. He would give the Celtics their first consistent scoring big man since Kevin Garnett. And much like Garnett was for the Celtics, Horford is a great pick-and-roll guy who can knock down shots and score in the post. He is a max guy, but is one of the exceptional players of this free agency class who deserves a contract worth over $20 million annually. Placing an All-Star like Horford alongside Isaiah Thomas would bring this Celtics team to the second round of the playoffs, with potential to go beyond.  It would be a huge step toward contenting with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

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Read More: Al Horford, Evan Turner, Ian Mahinmi, Nicolas Batum
Evan Turner makes it clear he wants to return to Boston, but ‘a lot of variables that are going to occur … I can’t control’ 04.29.16 at 1:39 am ET
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Was Thursday Evan Turner’s swan song in Boston?

“I really don’t know,” Turner said after scoring just eight points on 4-of-17 shooting in 37 minutes in a 104-92 loss to the Hawks in Game 6. “I would love to come back, but at the same time, a lot of things, a lot of variables that are going to occur and things like that that I can’t control. Whenever July hits we’ll talk about it.”

Turner, the No. 2 overall pick of the 76ers in 2010, made $3.425 million this season, finishing out a two-year, $6.7 million deal. He could be in line for a big payday, somewhere in the neighborhood of an $8 million-$10 million annual salary. 

What will Turner be looking for?

“Just fit, obviously. I want to get a decent amount of money, you know what I’m saying? But at the same time the fit is going to be huge and the opportunity to play on a winning team,” Turner said. “I have played on [expletive] teams a couple times and it’s not fun. But obviously the fit, the opportunity to play, and the opportunity to progress and win.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Evan Turner
Brad Stevens has his best game of the season, and picks up his first career playoff win 04.23.16 at 1:46 am ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was a man in control Friday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was a man in control Friday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

While the TD Garden crowd was going bonkers with the Celtics up 37-20 after one quarter in Game 3 Friday night, coach Brad Stevens had a much different feel.

“I knew we would start with great energy because our guys were hurting a little bit from Tuesday but I was really worried that we would be – you know, I don’t know, for any of you that have ever run the mile, you run the first lap, breakneck speed, and then about the third lap, it just feels like you’re never going to make the last two laps.”

Stevens really had those concerns late in the third quarter. The Celtics opened the second half well enough, scoring the first seven points and racing out to a 64-45 lead. Then methodically, the Hawks charged back. With a 1:21 left, Dennis Schroder completed a three-point play that appeared to tie the game, 78-78. In actuality, it gave the Hawks the lead, 78-77, since Isaiah Thomas’ 3-pointer moments earlier was degraded to a standard 2-pointer after the quarter. Whatever the case, the Celtics were wearing down and the good vibes from Isaiah Thomas’ scorching start seemed to be diminishing somewhat.

But the Celtics caught a huge break when Atlanta couldn’t grab a rebound off an Evan Turner miss. Jonas Jerebko collected it and threw it up in the air and it came down through the hoop to put Boston on top, 79-78, heading into the fourth.

“I thought that we were starting to wear down, obviously, after we took that 19 point lead,” Stevens said. “But then Isaiah made huge play after huge play. But then everybody made plays to kind of keep it at bay after they tied it and then push it out at the end.

“I thought the basket at the end of the fourth quarter – or third quarter – was huge, by Jonas and starting the fourth quarter off with a couple of buckets was big too, just to kind of get ourselves right. Because it’s hard when (Kyle) Korver gets going like that, those guys get driving down hill – they’re a good team. It’s hard.”

Stevens had one of his better games of the season from an Xs and Os standpoint. Not only did starting Jerebko over Jared Sullinger pay off in extra energy down the stretch, starting Evan Turner over Marcus Smart gave the Stevens the chance to play Thomas more as the shooting guard. It also allowed Stevens to run Thomas off screens and create driving lanes with Thomas on the move, something he hinted at before the game

“Well, I mean, we’re playing, of our nine guys that played, four of them our point guards, because I included Evan in that. So, yeah. Yeah, I mean, and we’ll look at what was good, what was not good, and have to adjust some,” Stevens said.

As for Jerebko, it was evident from the start that he was going to provide a needed boost. His put-back slam dunk in the opening minute sent the crowd into a roar early and fired him up as well.

“He plays really, really, hard. He’s got versatility with regard to defensively,” Stevens said. “It’s really hard to switch onto (Jeff) Teague and (Dennis) Schroder, but all of our bigs have to do that some as they get going downhill on you. And then his scoring is just a plus. You know, if he scores, he scores; if not, he’s still spacing for us. And so they have to honor that. And he had a big driving basket with his left hand in the fourth quarter, he had the big basket at the end of the third quarter, but then his defense was really great all night, I thought.”

And Stevens picked up his first playoff win in seven tries.

“Game Sunday. It’s great. It’s better than the alternative,” Stevens said. “But this team’s too good to do anything but focus on what’s next.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Jonas Jerebko starts for Jared Sullinger, Evan Turner starts for Marcus Smart as Brad Stevens shakes it up 04.22.16 at 6:55 pm ET
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Brad Stevens stayed true to his word before Friday’s Game 3 with the Hawks at TD Garden.

Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger will start the game on the bench while Evan Turner and Jonas Jerebko get the start.

“We’re going to start Turner for Smart and Jerebko for Sullinger,” Stevens announced just under two hours before tip. “We’ll go with Turner, Isaiah, Jae, Jerebko and Amir.”

“Obviously, there’s certain things from the starting group, as far as how we want to play, spacing-wise,” Stevens said in explaining the move. “Those types of things factor in. Obviously, Jerebko gives you spacing, gives you some defensive versatility on the two bigs. And then Turner has been, along with Isaiah, really able to get into the paint and do certain things, and consistently be able to attack throughout the first [two] games.

“That’s that. Sully and Smart are still going to play, still going to play big parts for us. I’ve said this before about the guards, you can just kind of throw a dart with those four guards, and Smart being the fourth one tonight. They’re all going to play 30-plus minutes for us on most nights.”

The lineup of Turner, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Jerebko and Johnson haven’t exactly spent a lot of time together this season on the court.

“They’ve played a whole 33 possessions together. They’re plus-20. So, the sample size in an analytical viewpoint is not strong. But I think the one thing is you practice all year. You try different things. You’re going to have moments like this, certainly, especially with Avery out, with Kelly out where you’re going to have to do some of that. And you know what? There’s going to be groups off the bench that haven’t played much together, too.

“Any lineup with Terry and/or R.J. or both has not played very much for us. So, that’s the way it is. That’s why you practice all year and that’s why you play and find the synergy in practice. You believe in what supposed to do by doing it right and you go out and do it.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
What does Brad Stevens need to do to shed ‘frustrating’ 0-6 playoff collar? 04.21.16 at 4:24 pm ET
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WALTHAM – Brad Stevens didn’t need a history lesson Thursday before practice but he got one anyway. 

The Celtics coach was reminded that he has yet to score a playoff victory in six tries over the last two seasons. While this certainly doesn’t rise to the 0-7 postseason mark of the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis in the NFL, it is a frustrating collar he’d like to shed Friday night at TD Garden. 

That, and he’d actually like to see his team get back in the series with the Hawks, which some observers say could change with one win. 

“Obviously, it’s frustrating but also, I look at last year as we were obviously playing a heck of a team that was playing at a really high level,” Stevens said, referring to last season’s 4-0 first-round sweep at the hands of the Cavs. “And we did a lot of good things [vs. Cleveland]. We played really well on the defensive end in that series in the half court. I think we’ve done that again in the first two games [vs. Hawks].”

So where DO the Celtics need to improve?

“Where we need to play a little bit better is in transition and in getting better offense,” Stevens said.”And so, that’s reality of the situation. We’re playing another really good team. I think when you look at Atlanta, especially since the All Star break, they’re playing as well as anybody. We have to be better to get a chance. But I don’t see our guys being overwhelmed by the collective number. I think we’re a lot more focused on 0-2 than last year’s 0-4. That really is inconsequential right now.”

If Stevens decides to make a change, he could go with the lineup he started at the beginning of the second half Tuesday (Thomas, Smart, Turner, Crowder, Johnson) or he could really mix it up by throwing in a pure shooter like Jonas Jerebko to take the place of Sullinger and move Turner to the shooting guard spot and bring Marcus Smart (1-for-11 Game 2) off the bench. All of this is with the understanding that Kelly Olynyk, who didn’t practice again Thursday, is “questionable at best” for Game 3. 

“Well obviously, it would affect it from the standpoint of rotations because I do think Kelly’s strength is something we need,” Stevens said, referring to Olynyk’s 41 percent range from deep when healthy. “So, we’re going to have to find that from other sources, obviously.” 

“I’m always ready. I don’t care if that’s starting or coming off the bench first or coming off the eighth man, ninth man — no matter what it is. I’m ready for whatever,” Jerebko said before Thursday’s practice. “We’ve kinda had every lineup so, like I said, we’re going to come out strong in front of our fans and we’re just going to come out strong [Friday].

“It’s not a problem for me. As an NBA player and as a professional, I have to be ready for everything. In this league, I’ve seen it all. I’ve started, I haven’t played, I played 25 minutes per game, 30 minutes per game. So I’ve seen it all and I’m ready for it. I try to always put the team first and be ready for whatever happens.”

Isaiah Thomas repeated Thursday what he said on Wednesday that the Hawks are packing the paint and it’s just a matter of knocking down shots. Smart has consistently shown that’s not his strength. He’s 6-for-21. Crowder is 6-for-25. Thomas is 12-for-36. Jerebko is only 4-for-12 but has the range of Olynyk and a 6-foot-10 frame to go with it. 

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Cincinnati Bengals
Evan Turner finishes 5th in NBA ‘Sixth Man’ voting 04.19.16 at 5:29 pm ET
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Evan Turner

Evan Turner

Evan Turner might have a hole in his tongue when he takes the court Tuesday night in Atlanta for Game 2.

The hard-working versatile player, who spent most of the season becoming an indispensable part of Brad Stevens’ bench, took the news Tuesday very calmly that he finished fifth in NBA “Sixth Man” award.

“I don’t really have a real reaction in general,” Turner told reporters when informed of his place behind winner Jamal Crawford of the Los Angeles Clippers. “Jamal Crawford won once again. I think that’s great for the organization. I think nobody’s ever done what he did.”

Then he offered up some insight. 

“I thought Enes Kanter was gonna win,” Turner said, referring to the Oklahoma City Thunder center. “[Monday] night when I was watching games I didn’t realize he had so many double-doubles. But I didn’t really expect to win in general, so fifth or first it doesn’t really obviously matter. But it’s cool to be getting that recognition and be acknowledged for that. That’s definitely cool. But right now the focus is just on playoffs.”

Crawford captured the award for a record third time, as announced Tuesday by the NBA. Turner received three first-place votes, seven second-place votes and 10 third-place votes to finish behind Crawford, Andre Iguodala (Golden State), Kanter and Will Barton (Denver). A panel of 130 sportswriters and broadcasters participated in the balloting.

While Turner didn’t light any fires, his coach Brad Stevens was a bit more opinionated. 

“It’s kind of like what I said about Avery [Bradley],” Stevens said, referring to the NBA defensive player of the year award. “I can’t imagine anybody being more valuable off the bench than Evan. So, I didn’t realize that he was voted fifth-most, but we wouldn’t prefer to have anybody else at that spot. He’s been extremely valuable. He guards three positions a night, sometimes four positions. Obviously we have him with the ball all the time. He’s just had a great year and really impacted us in the last two years.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Boston Celtics, Evan Turner, NBA
Brad Stevens mum on plans for Kelly Olynyk (shoulder), Evan Turner and Marcus Smart at 5:06 pm ET
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Boston's multitude of injuries has given Brad Stevens a headache. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)

Boston’s multitude of injuries has given Brad Stevens a headache. (Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports)

Brad Stevens is a man of considerable thought and calculation. 

It’s that measured approach that has taken him to 48 wins in his third season at the helm of the Celtics with the NBA’s third-youngest roster. 

It’s also that approach that he’s going to rely on when determining if and how much Kelly Olynyk and his re-aggravated right shoulder will play tonight in Game 2. It’s also that thinking that will play into how Stevens plans to replace the injured Avery Bradley, who is out for Game 2 and “very likely” the rest of the series with a significant strain of his right hamstring. Will he increase the load on players like Isaiah Thomas, Jared Sullinger and Jae Crowder?

“Depends on if it’s beneficial or not,” Stevens told reporters Tuesday at Philips Arena. “I think, at the end of the game, you better have all the juice you need. I think each guy is a little bit different. We know where each guy sits with that so the better players will play, or the guys that have been more productive will play closer to what we think their max would be in such a scenario.

“We’ve got all kinds of stuff to go through. As much as anything, some of the sports science stuff, but more so the 90 games worth of data on, if a guy plays a 14-minute stint, how does he come back in the next game? If the guy plays an early stint, how does he come back? Each guy has his own set of points that we can draw from from the whole season.”

Stevens could go with Evan Turner or Marcus Smart in the starting lineup to replace Bradley, depending on matchups and needs on the court. 

“I think you go through the combos in practice, you go through the stats on the different group that have played together, you go through their matchups, you go through what has looked good as far as in film against Atlanta, more so than maybe — you take that into account more so because you’ve played them five times now,” Stevens added. “And then you also go through how you’re going to rotate the second group, which is probably the most challenging part. Replacing one person in the starting lineup isn’t as much of a tinkering, it’s more the second group that it affects.”

Via MassLive’s Jay King, Turner told reporters Tuesday morning he had no idea if he were starting or not. 

“I’m gonna see at shootaround I guess,” Turner said. “I don’t really pay attention. I mean I pay attention (to Stevens) but I haven’t really paid attention to (the lineup) yet. So we’ll see at shootaround. I think we’re still deciding what’s the best route to go and that’s pretty much it. Figure it out later, I guess.”

As for Olynyk and his availability?

“We’ll see how it is,” Olynyk told reporters. “See how the strength is, and just go test it. See if it’s good or not.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Evan Turner
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