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‘You learn every day’: Brad Stevens experiment nears end of first year with Celtics 02.26.14 at 11:34 am ET
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HANDS ON HIS KNEES, gasping for air, there stood a teenaged Danny Ainge. Covered in sweat, surrounded by members of the Portland Trail Blazers, Ainge looked up to see the greatest Blazer of all. With his shaggy beard and full head of red hair, there was a smiling Bill Walton.

Brad Stevens is in his first season coaching the Celtics. (AP)

Brad Stevens is in his first season coaching the Celtics. (AP)

“I’ve known Danny since I moved to Oregon 40 years ago,” said Walton. “He was just in high school in Eugene when we got there. Danny would come up and play with us when he was in high school, and he would do just fine. In fact, he was incredibly fun to play with.”

The young Ainge, still sharpening his teeth as a three-sport All-American at North Eugene High School, would impress his NBA teammates with a strong handle and perfect jumper. The piece of his game that most impressed these professional basketball players was one that still cannot be found on a stat sheet. Ainge’s intelligence put him on another level as a basketball player.

“Danny Ainge is brilliant,” said Walton. “Even at a young age, he was very motivated, dedicated and committed. He’€™s always been a visionary.”

Ainge has always embraced different ideas. Conventional wisdom is not a phrase you hear the 54-year-old utter to defend his thought process. Just as Ainge was dedicated to the idea of playing professional basketball, he’s now applied his drive to his role as a president of basketball operations for the Celtics. And, depending on who is speaking, his latest big idea may be his greatest.

THE BOSTON CELTICS are spitting in the face of history. Luring Brad Stevens away from Butler and flying him first-class to Boston is a daring move even for a team with a deep history of bold moves. The Celtics, after all, hired the first African-American head coach in the NBA. Amidst all sorts of race issues in the United States, this franchise started the first entirely black starting five. The team, led by the undaunted Red Auerbach, was never hesitant. The Celtics thought differently, courageously, unafraid — in 1950, one year before Oliver Brown and friends began their battle against the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas — the Celtics used a second-round pick on Chuck Cooper, the first black player to be drafted by an NBA team and the second to appear in a game (one day after Washington Capitols forward Earl Lloyd). Trendsetting rarely has surfaced as an issue at 151 Merrimac Street. Yet with Ainge’s hiring of Stevens, the fabled Celtics franchise is following a trend with an extremely high failure rate. College coaches from the past two decades have not succeeded in the NBA. But here are the Celtics, hiring a 37-year-old coach who never played a second of pro basketball, reintroducing the league to a rather old concept. Not that Stevens will fail, but that the Celtics — led by Ainge — will reset the trend. The rest of the league, pawns outplayed by a dominating queen, will see the Celtics succeed with Stevens.

“Brad is smart, he has great integrity, his teams execute and play hard, and he’s a great communicator,” said Ainge. “Experience as a player can help as a coach, but it’s not mandatory. Experience as a coach in college can make a big difference as well. Coach Stevens has proven he’s a great coach. Coaching in the NBA is different, I understand, but in terms of coaching experience, there have been a lot of guys who have become really good coaches that weren’t NBA players.”

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Jeff Van Gundy on D&C: Celtics’ Brad Stevens hiring ‘not a risk’ 07.08.13 at 10:26 am ET
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Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy

ESPN/ABC basketball analyst Jeff Van Gundy joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning to discuss the Celtics’ offseason maneuverings.

The C’s pulled off a surprise move last week when they named Butler’s Brad Stevens their new coach.

“I think he’s a great, great basketball coach,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t think there will be too big an adjustment — or too big of an adjustment basketball-wise. This guy is really, really smart. I think their players will respect his confidence, his sincerity, his reliability and his trustworthiness. He’s a quality person and coach.

“Now, the difference is, you’re going to lose some, and maybe a lot, depending on the construction of the roster. That, coupled with the length of a season, is always a challenge in the NBA when you go through a rebuilding situation. But I think his demeanor and his poise, along with his contract, will serve him well through the rebuilding situation.”

Added Van Gundy: “I honestly think that this is not a risk. People say it’s a risk. I don’t think it’s a risk for anybody. When Brad Stevens is done with the Celtics in six years, 10 years, 15 years, he can always go back and get a great, great college job. And for the Celtics, it’s not a risk because this guy’s a great person and a great basketball coach. How they do record-wise over his tenure there is going to be not based on his coaching ability. His coaching ability will be fine. It’s going to be their roster. Can they get him a good enough roster to work with and win with? If they do, they’ll win there.”

Asked if he or his brother Stan were contacted about the Celtics’ opening, Van Gundy said: “I have no idea about my brother. I know I wasn’t. Hey, listen, I have such respect for the Celtics that anybody would be interested if the Celtics call. They just have a great, obviously, history, they have great ownership, they have great management. So, anybody would be interested.”

As the Celtics head into a rebuilding period, Van Gundy warned that people need to avoid becoming impatient as the long season wears on.

“There’s very few people — teams, fan bases, organizations, coaches, players — who really have the stomach for a long rebuild,” he said. “It sounds good in theory. But Boston was tiring of rebuilding until Danny Ainge pulled off the Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett trades. No one likes losing 18 straight games. This is where I thought Doc Rivers took unnecessary criticism. That he didn’t want to go through a long rebuild? He’d already done that. He’d already gone through that purgatory time in Boston. So, that he wouldn’t want to redo it again in Boston? I completely understand.

“There’s got to be a stomach for this rebuilding. And it really starts with the media, the management, the ownership. Because they’re so used to winning, that this may be a period of mediocrity. It may be that 41-40 record last year, that may be the norm. Or maybe they get a few more wins or maybe they get a few less wins, or maybe a lot less wins. You can’t just believe that in theory. You’ve got to be able to live through the dreary nights that are coming to the Boston Garden. And accept that this is part of the NBA, that you can’t stay great forever.

“I think that’s going to be the toughest adjustment for everybody. They’re coming off such a great period of winning, where they had the ultimate competitors in Garnett and [Paul] Pierce. So, to see them go, to see them go into the Eastern Conference. The whole thing is going to be difficult. And that’s where I think Brad’s demeanor will really help him. He’ll focus on trying to get better every day, incremental improvement. And if he can do that, I think he will have fulfilled his obligation to the Celtics very, very well.”

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Jeff Van Gundy on D&C: Doc Rivers has personality to pull off return to Boston if trade falls through 06.18.13 at 8:32 am ET
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Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy

ABC/ESPN basketball analyst Jeff Van Gundy joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning to offer his take on the reported Celtics-Clippers trade talks.

The Celtics are said to be considering sending Kevin Garnett along with coach Doc Rivers to Los Angeles. There has been widespread speculation that Rivers’ tenure in Boston is over either way, but Van Gundy isn’t so sure.

Said Van Gundy: “There’s a lot of people that don’t think he can still come back to Boston. I think it would work fine. He’s got the personality to pull it off. I think he’d be starting over with a different team anyway. It will be interesting to see what happens with Doc. Certainly these are interesting times in Celtic land.”

The Celtics reportedly would acquire young center DeAndre Jordan in the deal.

“I think everybody focuses on some maturity issues and his free throw shooting, and both need improvement,” Van Gundy said. “I like Jordan. I think he is a terrific athlete who has really improved defensively. He’s not like a physical guy, but he is a freak athlete who I think has shown great levels of improvement, where he came in as a second-round pick from Texas A&M after one year, not really accomplished in college. I think he’s continued to improve. Obviously, when you’re such a horrendous free throw shooter it limits how much you can play. But he is active, he can rebound.

“He’s a piece, if you’re trying to rebuild. Is he overpaid a little bit? Who’s not in the NBA? So he can just join the crowd on the long list of overpaid. But I like him better than how some people view him right now. I think he’s still an ascending player. If you’re going to go into a rebuild, he’s someone that’s intriguing.”

Touching on the NBA Finals — the Spurs have a 3-2 series lead heading into Tuesday night’s Game 6 in Miami — Van Gundy said there are intriguing story lines for both teams.

“There’s a lot on these two games for a lot of people on both sides,” Van Gundy said. “I think San Antonio played a great, great Game 5 offensively. I am so interested to see how they come out in Game 6. Do they do what Dallas did two years ago where they came in and they played a great game and beat Miami? Or do they take a sigh of relief and think that they have two games to win one, and so don’t play really as sharp or as desperate in Game 6 as they did in 5?

“And likewise, on the other hand, does the pressure get to Miami where they crack a little bit? Or have they been steeled by these last three years of long playoff runs, and do they show their championship mettle and find a way to win these two games? I’m really looking forward to it.”

To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page. For more Celtics news, visit the team page at weei.com/celtics.

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Jeff Van Gundy on D&C: Celtics ‘just don’t have enough offensive talent’ 04.30.13 at 9:52 am ET
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Jeff Van Gundy

Jeff Van Gundy

ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy joined Dennis & Callahan on Tuesday morning to talk about Jason Collins, the Celtics and the playoffs.

Collins, a 12-year NBA veteran who started the season with the Celtics and was traded to the Wizards in February, revealed Monday that he is gay. The support from people in and around the league was immediate and impressive.

“I expected every player to publicly support him, certainly the league to support him,” Van Gundy said. “I think the question that remains is privately, when you get behind the locker room doors, or they’re in their rooms in the hotels, what do they say then? Because everyone’s aware player-wise that to do like what [Dolphins wide receiver] Mike Wallace said yesterday, there’s going to be major repercussions. But to think that some players don’t have those similar thoughts but just won’t publicly express them is a bit naive. I think if Collins is on a roster next year, I think the public support will always be there. Privately, I think there will still be some ignorance to his situation.”

Collins is being heralded as the first active player in major team sports to come out. However, Van Gundy isn’t so sure Collins, a free agent, will be playing next season.

“The big issue whether Collins gets signed next year or if he’s not signed is going to have nothing to do with his sexual orientation and everything to do with his diminishing skills and athleticism,” Van Gundy said. “He’s a marginal NBA player right now, at best.”

The Celtics head back to New York for Wednesday’s Game 5 as heavy underdogs as they look to extend the series.

“I just think that the Celtics, are they going to be able to find enough offense over the next three games to legitimately put pressure on New York,” Van Gundy said. “Certainly if they win Game 5, anything becomes possible then because then you just have to win one home game to get to the ultimate Game 7. But when I see them, their guard struggles are so dramatic without [Rajon] Rondo that it’s difficult to create quality opportunities in the halfcourt. I think it will be even more so on the road.

“The thing that’s been overlooked is the first two halves of the games in New York, Boston was great. So many people have been focusing on what was wrong in the second halves, and I think it’s a talent issue, they just don’t have enough offensive talent with the loss of Rondo and Ray Allen from last year. But if they can stay in a faster-paced game, like they can get that ball and advance it and attack before the Knick defense gets set, then we’ve seen how effective Jeff Green can be in that type of game, [Paul] Pierce can hit some trail 3′s. I just think they have to play with pace and offensive energy. And if they can do that, their defense should be able to limit New York. They’re still an excellent defensive team.”

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Jeff Van Gundy on D&C: LeBron James’ sixth foul a bad call 06.04.12 at 10:40 am ET
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ESPN NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy joined Dennis & Callahan on Monday morning to share his thoughts on the officiating and what Sunday’s win says about the Celtics.

“I thought Boston, to re-gather themselves in overtime, with [Paul] Pierce fouling out, to take that body blow, withstand it and come up with the win was terrific mental toughness on their part,” Van Gundy said.

With both Pierce and LeBron James fouling out quickly into overtime, both on plays away from the ball, Van Gundy went on to discuss the officiating late in the game. Van Gundy took issue with the call that forced James to the sideline for the only the fourth time in his career.

“I thought that was a foul on [Mickael] Pietrus, pulling [James] down, or at worst, a no-call,” Van Gundy said. “Let them both get up and play. Listen, I’m for more fouls, you know, seven fouls. I’m for sneezing so I don’t see Paul Pierce running into [Shane] Battier on an inconsequential [play], they didn’t even have the ball. I’m just not a fan of watching the last plays in that game, in such a dramatic, hard, hotly contested game with those two guys on the bench. Now, some of the fouls that people want to ignore have to be called, but I could see where a fan of both teams would not have liked the Pierce foul or the James foul because it didn’t involve the ball yet. It was just guys jostling for position.”

Van Gundy argued that by doing a good job setting the tone early in games, officials could afford to use greater discretion when making calls late in games or in overtime.

“I would tell you this, people who want the game called exactly the same way in the first quarter and the fourth quarter, I know I don’t want refereeing late in those games. There has to be a different level of certainty on those calls. In the first quarter you’re trying to establish a tone. Get the game called in the right manner. Let everyone know the amount of contact that’s going to be allowed. In the final three or four minutes of a close game I think referees have to have certainty that the play has an impact directly to giving a team an advantage.”

As for whether he thinks officials should call plays differently for star players like James or Pierce, Van Gundy was emphatic.

“No. No, no, no, no. Who’s in the game doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “It’s the certainty of the call, I think late, that you want to make sure of. There’s no setting the tone, there’s no ‘have the game called exactly the same.’ If you’ve done your job, to me, as an officiating crew, how you called the game throughout the game sets the tone that everybody knows that you don’t have to clean up anything late, because the game has been managed well right from the start.”

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Jeff Van Gundy on D&C: Jermaine O’Neal ‘a decisive force’ 05.09.11 at 9:28 am ET
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Jeff Van Gundy

ABC NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy joined the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to talk about the Celtics-Heat series. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Rajon Rondo‘s health was the primary topic of discussion, as everyone waits to see how the point guard will respond two days after dislocating his left elbow during the Celtics’ Game 3 victory. If Rondo plays, Van Gundy said the Heat assuredly will test him right away.

“Obviously, Miami has time to adjust and adapt and really send him left on every penetration,” Van Gundy said. “I’d pick up him up full court and see if he can advance the ball with his left hand. Because you can’t take it easy on someone with an injury. So, the adrenaline rush from the other night — and it truly was a heroic thing he did — whether it can carry over to another night, I’m not sure.”

Added Van Gundy: “I think it all depends on who you are, your competitive spirit and personality, your level of speed and quickness to be able to get back to that dominant hand. And obviously, Rondo has all of those. Now, I think it will impact him shooting, because you need your left hand to help you get the ball up into the shooting position. And I would suspect they may leave him more open than they normally do.”

If Rondo can’t be productive, Van Gundy noted that the Celtics have other options. “Delonte West — he’s not a setup-type point guard, he’s not a create shots for others-type point guard, but he can play effectively,” Van Gundy said. “I thought he had a good game in Game 3.

“They’re going to have play a really good game again tonight, and it will be interesting to see if they can regenerate that same intensity and energy and enthusiasm.”

On the subject of the ailing Shaquille O’Neal, Van Gundy said: “I felt badly for O’Neal in the last game. … I found [it] tough to watch, actually. I give him a lot of credit for going out there and not worrying about how he was looking but giving of himself for the betterment of the team, whatever he could provide. And he is still a force when it comes to having to block him out on the offensive boards.”

Van Gundy said Shaq’s return overshadowed a solid performance by the Celtics’ starting center. “If you looked at Jermaine O’Neal — which is the ONeal that everyone should have been talking about after that game — that guy, he put his heart into that game,” Van Gundy said. “He blocked shots, he took charges. I thought Jermaine O’Neal was absolutely a decisive force in Game 3. But they have to keep doing it to have a chance. It can’t just be a one-game hit.”

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Grousbeck on Rondo’s missing headband, LeBron, Wade and Jeff Van Gundy 10.26.10 at 8:00 pm ET
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Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck appeared on WAAF’s Hill-Man Morning Show on Tuesday morning. His discussion of the upcoming season touched included some pointed remarks about the new Heat nucleus and about a new fashion twist with point guard Rajon Rondo. A transcript of highlights is below. To listen to the interview, click here.

On the excitement surrounding the opener against the Heat:

“It’s caused our team to focus extra hard the whole month of training camp, I’m sure. It’s really great that we get to have the opener. I guess we deserve it,” said Grousbeck. “We’re the Eastern Conference champs. It’s great that [Dwyane] Wade lost last spring on our court. It’s great that LeBron [James] has lost every playoff series he’s ever played against us. I hope they’re listening. It adds to the pot boiling a little bit more.”

A computer simulation gave the Heat a 70 percent chance of winning the title:

“I wouldn’t guess 70 percent tonight. I’d give us 70 percent tonight. I love it. I love Jeff Van Gundy. He’s a very nice guy, but he can’t stand the Celtics because we keep knocking his brother out of the playoffs and he used to be a Knick. But he said they won’t lose two games in a row all year, and they will win 73 games. He’s made all these predictions about the Heat. I think that adds a lot of pressure. … Let’s start them off 0-1 tonight and see how they like it.”

On the absence of Rondo’s headband:

“He’s not going to have it on. He used to wear it upside-down, as a real connoisseur would know and I’m sure you noticed, he had an upside-down logo, turning the NBA upside-down. And they won’t let him do it anymore. They said they were going to fine him for that. So he said, ‘To heck with you, I’m not going to fine it at all.’ That’s the Rondo headband situation for you connoisseurs of men’s accessories.”

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