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Wrapping up a wild day in NBA free agency while waiting for Al Horford, Kevin Durant, Celtics to shake out 07.02.16 at 12:40 am ET
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Al Horford (left) could be wearing Celtics green shortly. (Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford (left) could be wearing Celtics green shortly. (Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports)

NBA free agency has officially gone crazy. Here’s where things stand in relation to the Celtics as the Fourth of July weekend kicks off:

— According to the Boston Herald, the Celtics met with free agent center Al Horford on Friday and were prepared to offer him a max contract of four years and $113 million. Horford also met with the Wizards and Rockets.

He’s very much available at the moment because the Hawks signed center Dwight Howard to a three-year, $70.5 million deal, though NBA guru Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo reported that Atlanta hadn’t closed the door on retaining Horford.

That seems unlikely, since the Hawks also agreed to a $70 million extension with Kent Bazemore. At the very least, Atlanta would have to reshuffle the roster to make room for a max Horford deal.

— Things with Horford get even more interesting, because according to Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders, the Celtics were hoping to sign Horford in time to bring him to Saturday’s meeting with free agent superstar Kevin Durant.

Horford and Durant are close friends, and the Celtics believe that one could help them land the other, even if it ends up being next offseason, when Durant is expected to jump back into free agency if he doesn’t sign a long-term deal this week.

— Speaking of Durant, multiple reports said he was “blown away” by the Clippers on Friday during a meeting in the Hamptons with owner Steve Ballmer, head coach Doc Rivers, and stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, among others.

In Los Angeles, Durant would join a top-heavy group of stars that also includes vacationing point guard Chris Paul, but with almost no supporting cast to speak of. The Celtics, by contrast, offer a deeper roster with more financial flexibility to improve.

Durant also met with the Warriors on Friday, incidentally. He is expected to meet with the Spurs and C’s on Saturday and the Heat on Sunday before circling back to the Thunder and making a decision next week.

— Elsewhere around the league, contracts continue to spiral upward, backed by $24 billion in TV money that will be flooding ownership’s coffers over the next nine years.

Memphis point guard Mike Conley, a nice player who has never sniffed an All-Star team, became the highest-paid player in NBA history when he signed a five-year, $153 million deal to remain with the Grizzlies. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan signed a $139 million deal that made him the second-highest paid player. The Pistons gave Andre Drummond $130 million. And so on.

— One of the beneficiaries of this largesse? Former Celtics guard Evan Turner, who signed a four-year, $70 million deal with the Trail Blazers and will join their starting lineup. Turner thanked Celtics fans and the organization for two great seasons that resurrected his career.

Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Celtics, Celtics free agent rumors
Evan Turner agrees to 4-year, $70 million contract with Trail Blazers, thanks Celtics fans 07.01.16 at 6:58 pm ET
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Say goodbye to Evan Turner.

One of the symbols of the resurgent Celtics under coach Brad Stevens, Turner reportedly agreed to a four-year, $70 million deal with the Trail Blazers on Friday before taking to social media to thank the Celtics and their fans for two transformative years.

Turner told The Boston Globe that the Blazers told him to sit tight while they negotiated with forward Chandler Parsons, who ended up signing with the Grizzlies. The Blazers immediately turned their attention to Turner, telling him that he’d be a starter on a team that went 44-38 and won a round in the playoffs before being dispatched by the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semis.

Turner, 27, averaged 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists last season. He signed with the Celtics as a free agent before the 2014-15 season, and over the next two years remade himself from bust of a No. 2 overall pick into a solid jack-of-all-trades on a playoff team.

“It’s tough to leave,” Turner told the Globe. “I liked Boston a lot, bro. The organization, and it’s just a sports city and the city is super nice. If you put money and everything aside, I would play in Boston every single day of the week. Seeing all those Hall of Famers come back and everything, that’s a real franchise.

“I was just having fun playing again. When I played in Philly, it was pure hell. But to go to Boston and rock out and play was crazy. And to play in Portland is going to be fun, too.”

Read More: Celtics, Celtics free agency, Celtics rumors, Evan Turner
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
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