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Hawks represent a “machine” Brad Stevens is familiar with: Could Boston model Atlanta’s success? 01.15.15 at 3:23 pm ET
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Back in 2007 the Celtics inspired the NBA when they put together what became known as the Big Three. Since then, the Heat accumulated their own successful trio, which LeBron James is now trying to replicate in Cleveland. Teams around the league are all scrambling to put together their own Big Three, but superstars are not easy to come by. Danny Ainge has found that out since trading away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Meanwhile, after collecting an impressive victory in Boston without two of their top players, the Hawks are far from scrambling in search of stars. Sitting at 31-8, they’ve lost just two games since Thanksgiving. The first-place team in the Eastern Conference? It’s not the Bulls, the Wizards and certainly not LeBron’s struggling Cavs. That would be the Atlanta Hawks.

After the C’s loss on Wednesday, Brad Stevens, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley all referred to the Hawks as a “machine.” So what is it that makes this particular machine so good?

One key is balance. All five of the Hawks’ starters average at least 11.9 points, but it’s not just about scoring. They can all rebound the ball, starting with the front court duo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap. They can all distribute the ball, but the head of the monster is the crazy-quick Jeff Teague. Kyle Korver is “the most challenging player in the league that averages less than 13 points to prepare for,” according to Stevens. That can be attributed not only to Korver’s lights-out shooting from downtown, but the fact that if he’s doubled he knows how to pass out of it and if his man leaves him it’s an automatic 3-pointer. Then there’s Demarre Carroll, a do-it-all type player with the ability to drop 22 points like he did on the C’s when other starters sat out, despite being the least heralded of the five.

Bottom line is that it’s a tough group of players, but even tougher when you see how fantastic they all gel together. On top of that, Atlanta has seven players coming off the bench that all average over four points, so depth isn’t an issue. Depth is also something the superstar-less Celtics seem to have, but with such a young team they have been unable to find the same type of cohesiveness that the Hawks have.

“I think you have to look and redefine who the superstars are with our own eyes everyday, right?” Stevens said following the game when asked about how Atlanta wins without superstars. “And so I would argue that they’ve got a couple guys on their way. And I don’t know what qualifies a superstar, but I know this: Nobody in the league can keep Jeff Teague in front of them. Nobody. And [Dennis] Schroder — I’m not saying he’s a superstar yet, he’s a young kid –but nobody can keep him in front of them. And then they space it with shooters, so now it’s a basketball team, right? And Millsap’s been and All-Star, Horford didn’t play tonight, he’s been an All-Star, Korver didn’t play tonight, he’s a really good player. So they’ve got a great group and it fits well, and you might have a budding superstar in that group, right?

“The other thing that I’d say about them that stands out, jumps off the page, jumps on the page when you’re coaching against them, jumps off the page when you’re watching film: Big-time savy,” the coach continued to gush. “The game comes really easy to them. It’s slow on defense. They can see things coming. They play well together. They know the biggest threats. They react to the biggest threats. And offense, they stay spaced to make the right basketball play time and again. And I agree with you that the superstar thing and factor is a big part of this, but there’s something to be said about a group that just — it’s like a machine. They’re a machine. They’ve really got a good thing going already.”

Another thing that makes the Hawks so good is their coaching. With Mike Budenholzer at the helm, the team has taken on a new identity since his arrival in 2013, and this may be a machine that Stevens recognizes. Budenholzer coached under Gregg Popovich from 1996-2013, winning four championships in the process. The Spurs have been an organization that Stevens has practically been obsessed with since he’s been on an NBA sideline, now the Hawks might be joining that same elite class.

It seems like the Spurs/Hawks’ style is the type of play that Stevens is most interested in coaching, it’s ultimate team basketball, which might be played best in a superstar-less system. In other words, the Celtics greatest success may come from Danny Ainge searching for the perfect fits in Boston while his youngsters develop, rather than waiting for the next KG trade to fall into his lap. Ainge has been actively working the trade market of late, so he certainly isn’t waiting around, but he may want to take a look at the Hawks blueprint if he wants to taste the champagne again soon.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich
Celtics growing tired of explaining how they’re blowing big leads 11.15.14 at 10:06 am ET
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The Celtics are quickly growing tired of talking about blowing big leads. It’s hard to blame them, but the painful truth is that it’s an ongoing trend that’s obvious to anyone watching them play early on in the 2014-15 season.

And it’s been a trend from the start. Against Brooklyn in the season opener they led 101-72 after three quarters. Brooklyn closed it to 15 before the C’s eventually held off the Nets. Still, they were outscored 33-20 in the fourth and gave up 64 second-half points. It may not have been a concern at the time in a one-game sample, but it’s turned into a troubling trend.

Against the Bulls in Chicago, they led 83-67 after three. They held on for dear life for a 106-101 win. But on Wednesday against the Thunder, it finally caught up with them. The Celtics raced out to an 18-3 lead and led, 51-42, at the half. They were outscored 67-43 in the second half and lost. Friday night, they had their biggest lead going into the fourth quarter, 101-84 against King James and the Cavs. They were outscored 38-20 in the fourth. Against the Nets, Thunder and Cavaliers, they have given up 64, 67, and 63 points, respectively in the second half, losing the last two.

The Celtics are learning that there’s no better way to blow big leads than playing porous defense.

“I’€™m frustrated by it,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I want to be better at it. I thought our energy and togetherness and sustainability was much better [against Cleveland]. When things went south, we came back. They went up by three; we ended up tying the game. Jeff made a great hustle play to get the free throws. You know if you turned on the TV last night you saw it in at least two games, maybe three — and that happens. You’€™ve got to play all 48. You’€™ve got to be great all 48 against this team. And it’€™s not the same against everybody, but you still have to be on your A-game the whole time.”

‘€œWe just got to win games, point blank, we just got to win,” Jared Sullinger added. “There’€™s no more lessons, no more moral victories, we just got to win flat out. Kyrie [Irving] made some shots, LeBron made some shots; that’€™s what great players do. There’€™s no answers we just got to win. In the NBA, no 15, 20-point lead is safe. You just have to keep playing.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Jared Sullinger, LeBron James
LeBron James: Celtics will ‘surprise a lot of teams’ at 2:55 am ET
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After escaping Boston with a 122-121 win over the Celtics, Cavaliers superstar and four-time NBA MVP LeBron James had high praise for coach Brad Stevens & Co. after his 41-point performance.

“œThey’€™re going to surprise a lot of teams, and they’€™re better than what the critics said coming into this season,”€ said James. “€œCoach Stevens has done a great job of putting a system in there that allows everyone to feel comfortable, to feel loose and play a great style of basketball. They’€™re top three in the league in assists; they’€™re top three in the league in scoring right now. It’€™s a great brand of basketball.”€

For more on Friday night’s game, read how the Celtics are beating the odds despite the loss.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James,
David Blatt returns home to coach against Celtics, his childhood team 11.14.14 at 8:22 pm ET
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David Blatt is calling the plays for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in his first season. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

David Blatt is calling the plays for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in his first season. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Cavaliers have a lot of newcomers this season.€“ Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones come to mind.

Oh, and LeBron James also decided to return home from Miami, swinging the balance of power in the Eastern Conference in the process.

However, David Blatt may be the newcomer that gets lost in the shuffle. He also happens to be the head coach.

Blatt has a lot to be happy about, considering the greatest played in the world fell into his lap just weeks after earning his first NBA coaching job. But Blatt, a native of Framingham, Mass., had a homecoming of his own on Friday night, along with a chance to face the team he grew up cheering for.

“€œYou’€™ll have to excuse me, I’€™m looking for some familiar faces,”€ Blatt began his pregame press conference.

Blatt admits that the Celtics have held significant meaning to him since he was a young child growing up just 20 minutes away from the Boston Garden.

“œI was a great follower of the Celtics. Bill Russell was my idol, and probably the Celtics‘€™ teams were the reason that I fell in love with basketball the way that I did,”€ Blatt proclaimed with a smile from ear to ear.

So what has it been like for someone with no NBA experience to be handed the job of coaching James? Well, Blatt went as far as to compare LeBron to one of his own childhood idols.

“€œPleasurable,” € the coach said, and with no signs of losing his grin. “Fabulous talent, great basketball IQ. A guy, who like Bill Russell, is about the right things. About winning, about making his teammates around him better, about taking responsibility, about being accountable. He’€™s a man who respects the game and badly, badly wants to win a championship for Cleveland. What’€™s not to like?”

Blatt joked with reporters briefly after his press conference was over, making it clear in the process that he was thrilled to be back in his hometown. The only problem?

“€œI was hoping someone would have brought me some clam chowder,” he quipped.

Read More: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Dave Blatt
What LeBron James’ decision means to the Celtics 07.11.14 at 1:42 pm ET
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If for some reason you missed his announcement on Thursday, LeBron James is returning to the Cavaliers.

“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. “I didn’€™t realize that four years ago. I do now.”

Over the next 24 hours, you’ll see thousands of stories about what LeBron’s decision means to Cleveland (everything), Miami (oh, man) and the NBA in general (those ripple effects won’t reach shore for quite some time), but what exactly does it mean for the Celtics?

LeBron’s arrival in Cleveland immediately makes the Cavs a contender. While James admitted the team’s rookie head coach and youthful roster makes a title this season far from easy, a supporting cast of Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and Anderson Varejao isn’t a bad start.

Given the youth surrounding the game’s best player — only 29 years old himself — Danny Ainge‘s job just became that much more difficult for the foreseeable future. Conservatively, the Cavaliers could be contenders through 2020.

Of course, LeBron will also lure more talent to Cleveland. Chief among his recruits could be Kevin Love, who the Celtics have coveted for the past several months. The Cavaliers could offer Wiggins, Waiters, Varejao’s expiring contract and a future first-round pick for Love, potentially beating any offer Ainge could create. (Ironically, the Cavs still own a protected No. 1 pick from the Heat as a result of LeBron’s sign-and-trade in 2010.)

If the C’s lose out on Love to Cleveland, Ainge would only have himself to blame, since his recent three-team deal created the cap space necessary for the Cavs to sign James. Still, it’s hard to hold Ainge entirely responsible for LeBron landing in Cleveland, since Dan Gilbert would have created space come hell or high water.

The Celtics also acquired a first-round pick from the Cavaliers in the trade for Marcus Thornton and Tyler Zeller, so LeBron’s decision just made that pick a whole lot less attractive. However, the Celtics own Miami’s second-round pick in 2016, and that could be somewhere in the 30s should Chris Bosh sign in Houston as expected.

Wherever James ultimately landed — Miami or Cleveland — the Eastern Conference was always going to go through LeBron for the next several years, so in that regard little else has changed for Ainge. In fact, the currently constructed Cavaliers may not be the immediate force that the Heat have been for the past four years. Regardless, Ainge’s focus remains on landing Love, and LeBron’s return to Cleveland just made that more difficult.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Love, LeBron James, NBA
Gerald Wallace: LeBron James ‘doesn’t have the attitude or the fight’ of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant 07.10.14 at 10:46 am ET
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As we learned this past Celtics season, Gerald Wallace never pulls punches. This time, he’s giving his own teammates a break from constantly calling out their effort and making the game’s best player his speed bag.

In a conversation with myfoxal.com during his annual basketball camp at Childersburg (Ala.) High, Wallace criticized LeBron James for both his handling of free agency off the court and his lack of a killer instinct on it.

“I don’t really pay attention to the offseason acquisitions or what’s going on just because of [the drama],” he said. “I think they put more attention into it than what’s needed. Their decision is no different than some of the other guys going through the same thing. It’s just their names happen to be LeBron, Carmelo [Anthony], Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, some of the superstars that are mostly seen on TV. I think that’s what makes a big deal out of it.”

Wallace’s love for Michael Jordan is no secret. A longtime Jordan Brand representative, Wallace idolized the Bulls legend and played five of his seven seasons in Charlotte under Jordan’s ownership, including one as an All-Star.

“I grew up in the ’90s,” added Wallace, whose camp T-shirt featured the Jumpman logo. “I grew up in the Jordan era. I’m a Jordan baby, and to me he will always be the greatest player that I’ve ever seen play. I had an opportunity to play against him at the end of his career, which wasn’t the same, but I’ve even played against him in practice and had an opportunity to talk to him. Watching him on TV growing up, he’s the greatest player I’ve ever seen.”

No argument there. However, Wallace’s commendation of Jordan also included a condemnation of James.

“Jordan never had an off night,” Wallace told myfoxal.com. “He found many ways to contribute to the team, and I’d say Kobe [Bryant] is pretty much the same. You can put LeBron in that category. I think what separates LeBron from Kobe and Michael Jordan right now is that he doesn’t have the attitude or the fight that those guys had. For me, he’s not willing to take over a game, demand a game or put the game all on his shoulders. I would like to see him get to that one day, but right now I don’t think he has that, and that’s what Michael Jordan and even Kobe has.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, gerald wallace, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James
Celtics acquire Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, 1st-round pick in deal that may pave way for LeBron James to Cleveland 07.09.14 at 10:51 am ET
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The Celtics acquired Tyler Zeller and a first-round pick from the Cavaliers and Marcus Thornton from the Nets in a three-team trade that may pave the way for LeBron James‘ return to Cleveland, ESPN’s Marc Stein first reported.

In return, the Celtics are sending a second-round pick to the Cavs and using the $10.3 million trade exception they received upon dealing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn last summer. That TPE was set to expire on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Nets receive Jarrett Jack and Sergey Karasev from the Cavaliers, freeing enough cap space (roughly $24.0 million) for Cleveland to potentially offer James a maximum contract of four years, $94.8 million.

As a result, the Celtics reportedly received Cleveland’s No. 1 pick in 2016 (top-10 protected through 2018), a 24-year-old 7-footer under their control through 2016 and Thornton’s expiring $8.6 million contract for a second-round pick.

In addition to acquiring Zeller, who averaged 13.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, the Celtics could have as many as nine first-round picks over the next four seasons and $41.4 million in expiring contracts (Rajon Rondo‘s $12.9 million, Brandon Bass‘ $6.9 million, Joel Anthony‘s $3.8 million and potentially Jeff Green‘s $9.2 million player option). There’s no doubt the move puts the Celtics in a better position to acquire Kevin Love or any other desirable player by trade this season or by free agency next summer.

According to Kirk Goldsberry‘s easily digestible shot charts, Zeller (1,049 min, 5.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 58.1 TS%, 15.4 PER) attempted nearly 70 percent of his shots around the basket and converted almost 60 percent of them. Likewise, Thornton (1,741 min, 9.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.1 apg, 51.1 TS%, 12.0 PER) is a decent enough 3-point shooter from the right corner, left arc and straightaway, but underwhelming from mid-range and the paint. Neither are considered defensive stalwarts. Quite simply, this trade, in a vacuum, does not make the C’s much better this year.

Additionally, the Celtics now have $64.7 million in guaranteed contracts dedicated to Rondo, Gerald Wallace ($10.1M), Green, Thornton, Bass, Anthony, Avery Bradley (estimated $8M), Vitor Faverani ($2.1M), Kelly Olynyk ($2.1M), Zeller ($1.7M) and Jared Sullinger ($1.4M). That puts them over the estimated $63.2 million salary cap. Details of Marcus Smart‘s contract haven’t emerged, but cap holds for him and James Young already add another $4.1 million to that number. Likewise, the C’s also have Phil Pressey, Chris Johnson and Chris Babb signed to non-guaranteed minimum contracts, pushing their current commitments to $69.7 million.

In other words, the best the Celtics can now offer a free agent is the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.3M), meaning Ainge probably isn’t done dealing this summer, especially if he hopes to avoid the lottery again next year.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Danny Ainge
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