|Rebuild Spotlight: What to expect from Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller||09.23.14 at 10:03 pm ET|
The Celtics are coming off of their worst season since 2006-07. Despite high expectations this offseason, the team is entering 2014-15 with a similar roster to last season, which comes with similar expectations. However, Brad Stevens will be in his second season as coach, Rajon Rondo will begin the season healthy and Danny Ainge has added some new, young talent. But it’s still clear that the Celtics are entering another rebuilding season, leaving us with some major questions. We’ll try to find some answers in this five-part series called Rebuild Spotlight.
In the minds of many, the Celtics were a relatively guard-heavy team last season. One of the main reasons Danny Ainge traded away the likes of Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford (aside from clearing cap space and adding assets) was simply to make room for Rajon Rondo when he returned.
This season, Boston will begin the year with not only a healthy Rondo, but the additions of guards Marcus Smart, James Young, Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner to the roster. To say the least, the backcourt will be a crowded one yet again.
Brad Stevens‘ frontcourt is a far different story.
Stevens is going to need to rely heavily on young bigs to produce — Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and newcomer Tyler Zeller to be specific. Sure, guys like Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony and Vitor Faverani are still around. But the former trio provides much more youth and potential, the direction in which the C’s seem to be trending.
Take a look at how they performed on the court last season:
Sullinger: 13.3 ppg (42.7 FG%, 26.9 3P%, 77.8 FT%), 8.1 rpg, 1.6 apg , 0.7 bpg, 27.6 minutes in 74 games
Olynyk: 8.7 ppg (46.6 FG%, 35.1 3P%, 81.1 FT%), 5.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.4 bpg, 20.0 minutes in 70 games
Zeller: 5.7 ppg (53.8 FG%, 71.9 FT% — attempted and missed one 3-pointer), 4.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.5 bpg, 15.0 minutes in 70 games
It’s worth noting that Zeller came off the bench much of last season. He posted averages of 7.9 points and 5.7 rebounds in 26.4 minutes during his rookie campaign in 2012-13.
Sullinger clearly has the most star potential of the group; it’s evident whether you are judging by the eye test or simply eyeing the numbers. Sully is locked in as the starting power forward in Boston. The question is: Can we expect to see growth from Sullinger for a second straight season? If he can find consistency, then the answer is yes.
Sullinger had 19 games in which he scored 19 or more points last season, highlighted by his 31-point, 16-rebound performance against the Kings and a 25-20 game vs. the 76ers. But Sully seemed to suffer from “Jeff Green syndrome” at times, finishing with 20 games when he was only able to score in single digits. But unlike Green, Sullinger’s inconsistencies hinged on … well, Stevens’ inconsistencies with distributing playing time.
|Marcus Smart on Avery Bradley: ‘He reminds me a little bit of [me]’||07.02.14 at 3:15 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Marcus Smart is beginning to feel comfortable in Boston. Well, at least in the gym that is.
“Definitely,” Smart responded after being asked if the practice facility was beginning to feel like his own gym. “I’m knocking down shots on those rims now,” said Smart, while gesturing over to the nearest hoop, “so that’s good. I’m getting a little bit more comfortable day-by-day.”
Outside of workouts and practices is a whole different story for Smart.
“Nah,” Smart said, while shaking his head when asked if he had gotten a chance to explore Boston yet. “Especially with the two-a-days — we finish around seven [o’clock] – you’re pretty much tired. You get your workout and go to bed and start it all over again.”
Smart was expecting the NBA lifestyle to be this way, though.
“This is your life. This is your job,” Smart proclaimed. “If you want to be the best, you have to put in the work.”
“He reminds me a little bit of [me],” Smart said. “You know, physical, athletic, can defend the one, the two, or the three spot. [I can] do whatever coach [Brad Stevens] asks me to do.”
|Jared Sullinger admits he could do more to be in better shape: ‘I think conditioning was a big factor’||at 2:47 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Jared Sullinger got the message loud and clear at the end of the season from Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens. If the big man from Ohio State was going to take that next step in what many – including Celtics‘ brass – see as a successful NBA future, he needs to be in better shape.
Sullinger and Chris Johnson were the only players with two years of NBA experience in attendance Wednesday at the Celtics training facility, as the team continued its two-a-day workouts in advance of this Saturday’s summer league opener against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Orlando.
“I think conditioning was a big factor,” said Sullinger, listed by the Celtics at 260 pounds. “Late in the game, I’d get tired and stop doing the things that I normally do in the first quarter. I think conditioning will kind of help that out.
“[Joining the summer practice is] another opportunity to play against other guys and kind of push myself to another limit, work on things that I don’t normally work on by myself and then I’ve got bodies out here. Going against bodies, pushing myself through contact. So everything is kind of helping me with conditioning.”
But to the 6-foot-9 Sullinger, being in good basketball condition has not so much to do with his weight as his endurance.
“It’s more shape,” Sullinger said. “How long I can run, how fast I can run. Pretty much how long I can stay on the court without passing out. I’m working on that every day.”
Sullinger, still just 22, averaged 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game last season. Coming off season ending back surgery in his rookie season, he played 74 games, starting 44.
Of course, there is the possibility that the Celtics deal him. If they do, they want to get maximum return. Sullinger isn’t worried about what the front office does or doesn’t do. He’s focused on improving a team that suffered through 25 wins, the worst season of his college or pro career.
“I’m not a [general manager]; I’m a player,” Sullinger said. “But regardless of what [president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge], [director of player personnel] Austin [Ainge] or [assistant general manager Mike] Zarren do, I’m full support. My job is to play, their job is to manage. As long as I don’t try to manage and play, I think the Boston Celtics will be a pretty [good] team in the East.”
He may not be in the front office but there is one role he feels he can serve if he sticks around in Boston, and it provided another reason beyond conditioning for him to be in attendance Wednesday – leadership. One of those looking up to Sullinger while working out with him Wednesday was Kelly Olynyk.
“Honestly, yes, there’s things I can help Kelly out with, if I see something he’s not doing well,” said Sullinger, who will not be making the trip to Orlando for the Summer League. “We kind of police ourselves so he helps me out at the same time I help him out. It’s kind of two-way street. It gives me an opportunity to kind of help out the younger guys and kind of test my IQ and see if I really know basketball the way I say I do.”
|2014 NBA free agent power forwards available to Celtics||06.30.14 at 2:35 pm ET|
With NBA free agency opening Tuesday, we continue our annual examination of the options available to the Celtics at each position. Today’s focus: Power forwards. Unlike recent seasons, C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is expected to have more flexibility than any summer since 2007 when the league’s moratorium on free agent signings is lifted and the salary cap (an estimated $63.2 million) is officially set on July 10.
- 2014 NBA free agent point guards available to Celtics
- 2014 NBA free agent shooting guards available to Celtics
- 2014 NBA free agent small forwards available to Celtics
The Celtics have eight players under guaranteed contracts in 2014-15 for $48.5 million (Rajon Rondo $12.9M; Gerald Wallace $10.1M; Jeff Green $9.2M; Brandon Bass $6.9M; Joel Anthony $3.8M; Vitor Faverani $2.1M; Kelly Olynyk $2.1M; Jared Sullinger $1.4M) as well as $4.1 million in cap holds for first-round picks Marcus Smart and James Young. Pending decisions on or by Kris Humphries, Avery Bradley and Jerryd Bayless, the C’s could have as much as $10 million in cap space — or more if they use the stretch provision on Wallace.
As currently constituted, the Celtics already have a logjam at power forward with Bass, Sullinger and Olynyk on the roster, but all three of those names will continue to be raised in trade discussions as Ainge straddles the fence between rebuilding and reloading this summer. As the C’s retool the roster, any combination of that trio could need replacing through free agency. Just don’t hold your breath for Chris Bosh or Dirk Nowitzki.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at their options, separating the current free agents into three categories.
|Double ’07: Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love and Celtics restoration||04.15.14 at 7:56 pm ET|
This is the second in a series on the parallels between Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge‘s last team to miss the NBA playoffs and this year’s lottery-bound squad. A deeper look at the C’s player personnel, potential trade packages and financial flexibility should offer insight into whether or not Ainge can recreate the 2007 magic of acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen seven years later in 2014. (Hence, Double ’07.)
In order to justify holding Pierce on ice as a keeper, Ainge needed to land a big fish who could restore a winning culture to the Bay State’s once proud basketball franchise. Garnett did that and then some. Now, seven years later, the C’s president must reel in another catch, and the solution may reside in the Land of 10,000 Lakes once again.
For all the bellyaching about whether or not Kevin McHale helped steer Garnett to his former team, the Celtics offered the best package at the time. In the end, the deal centered around a double-double machine in Al Jefferson, and it’s not Ainge’s fault the Timberwolves drafted Jonny Flynn over Stephen Curry.
Come to think of it, Minnesota’s failure to capitalize on that Garnett trade may ultimately force the T-Wolves to deal Kevin Love. If David Kahn had played his cards right in the draft since 2007, he could have revealed a starting lineup of Curry, Love, Jefferson, Paul George and DeMar DeRozan within three years.
But, alas, the Timberwolves aren’t an uber-exciting All-Star squadron. They’re a .500 team. In the Western Conference, that gets you a lottery pick, and it doesn’t sit well with a perennial NBA All-Star. Just ask Garnett. Like KG in 2007, Love is nearing the end of his contract (Garnett had two years left, Love has one) and would require some convincing to sign an extension in Boston beyond his current deal.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, Ainge must ask himself two questions: 1) Is Kevin Love the kind of franchise-altering player who can help return the Celtics to their former glory, and 2) Do they have enough to get him?
|Rethinking the Rajon Rondo-Jared Sullinger combo||03.27.14 at 10:24 am ET|
Rajon Rondo told Brad Stevens he would like to play alongside Jared Sullinger “as much as possible,” but the Celtics captain and his coach don’t appear to be on the same page on this one, considering the sophomore big — probably the team’s second-best player at this point — hasn’t started a game for more than a month.
“I like playing on the court with Sully,” Rondo said after the C’s 99-90 loss to the Raptors. “I told Brad I wanted to play with Sully as much as possible. Not a knock on any of our other bigs, but one thing that Sully does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is he’s probably the best outlet passer we have.”
With respect to his encouragement of Sullinger’s 3-point shooting, Stevens admitted, “I’m not as much an analytics guy as everyone portrays me to be,” but the numbers support his coach’s hesitancy to pair the two more often.
The Celtics average 29.9 defensive rebounds, 23.2 assists and 98.8 points per 100 possessions while scoring 10.8 percent of their points on the fast break with Rondo and Sullinger paired on the court. To put that into perspective, the C’s average 33.3 defensive rebounds, 26.8 assists and 101.4 points per 100 possessions while scoring 18.7 percent of their points on the fast break with rookies Phil Pressey and Kelly Olynyk sharing the floor. Rondo and Sullinger are a minus-47 over 431 minutes; Pressey and Olynyk are a plus-21 over 418.
|Fast Break: Raptors claw Celtics, Rajon Rondo ends up in stitches||03.26.14 at 9:46 pm ET|
At the end of the third quarter, Rajon Rondo was getting stitches on his face, Jared Sullinger was 3-for-11 from the field and the Celtics trailed by 15. They never quit — far from it — but still suffered a seventh loss in their last eight games, 99-90 to the Atlantic-leading Raptors. (Yes, the ones from Toronto are winning the division.)
Rondo (9 points, 15 assists) returned from an elbow to the face in the fourth quarter, and Sullinger (26 points, 8 rebounds) totaled 19 points on just six shots in the final frame, but the C’s (23-48) couldn’t erase a double-digit Raptors lead. Avery Bradley (16 points) and Chris Johnson (13 points) also reached double figures.
The Celtics are currently tied for the league’s fifth-worst record.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Closing second: After regaining the lead with five minutes to play before halftime, the C’s defense fell apart. The Raptors converted their final six shots of the half, raising their field goal percentage from 40.6 to 50.0 at the break. Toronto’s nine-point halftime lead rapidly reached double digits early in the third quarter.
Interior defense: Back-to-back relatively uncontested Jonas Valanciunas third-quarter buckets punctuated a putrid night defensively for the Boston bigs and forced a Brad Stevens timeout. Out-rebounding the Celtics and outscoring them in the paint, Toronto’s starting frontcourt combined for 36 points and 16 rebounds in the first 30 minutes as the Raptors built a 68-54 lead midway through the third.
In stitches: A horrific third quarter only got worse when a Greivis Vasquez elbow split open Rondo’s face between his eyebrows. Replaced by Phil Pressey 5:42 into the frame, Rondo received nine stitches before returning to the bench with a bandage on his face a couple minutes into in the fourth quarter. He returned with 8:05 left.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Mondo Rondo: The Celtics captain singlehandedly kept them in the game through the first 15 minutes. He had his hand in their first eight field goals (2 layups, 6 assists). A couple Green drives broke up Rondo’s perfect start, but he got right back to work. When Rondo took his first breather 3:09 into the second quarter, he had impacted 13 of the C’s 15 field goals (3 layups, 10 assists), and they led 35-33.
Johnson on the rise: As he has for much of his brief Celtics tenure, Chris Johnson made the most of his minutes. Checking in for Green, who submitted the prototypical Jeff Green performance, Johnson was everywhere. In 10 second-quarter minutes, he converted a 3-pointer, a pull-up 8-footer and a fast break layup while halting DeMar DeRozan‘s fast start (including a highlight reel chase-down block after Kelly Olynyk failed to convert a 3-on-1). Johnson’s effort anchored a 13-0 run that erased a double-digit Raptors lead early in the second quarter.
Sully late: After finishing 0-for-3 in the first quarter and scoring only seven points through three quarters, Sullinger erupted in the fourth. He made three consecutive 3-pointers to cut Toronto’s lead to four in the final minutes.
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