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The Kosta Koufos question: Will Celtics pursue second-tier free agents? 05.19.15 at 11:25 am ET
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Kosta Koufos

Kosta Koufos

Kosta Koufos is exactly the type of player the Celtics need to target this summer.

Given their history of failed free-agent pursuits and the unlikelihood of landing a center of Marc Gasol’s caliber, the C’s are forced to pursue under-appreciated options, so the latest ESPN.com report that team president Danny Ainge already targeted Koufos in trade discussions this season makes complete sense.

After ranking in the middle of the pack this past season with a 102.1 defensive rating — a number that climbed to 110.2 points allowed per 100 possessions in their brief playoff stint — the Celtics are in desperate need of a rim protector, and Koufos was as good as any backup center in that regard. According to NBA.com/stats, the 7-foot, 265-pound former first-round pick held opponents to 46.9 percent shooting at the rim, putting him in good company with Defensive Player of the Year candidates Tim Duncan and Draymond Green at the same percentage.

Offensively, Koufos has proven a capable scorer around the basket, converting 56.2 percent of his shots inside of 8 feet. It might be too much to ask a 26-year-old to suddenly develop a mid-range jumper, but Tyler Zeller made significant strides from outside the paint under Celtics coach Brad Stevens this year.

Regardless, Koufos has averaged 12.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per 36 minutes since being drafted 23rd overall out of Ohio State in 2008, and those numbers have remained fairly consistent for all six years, including when he started 81 games for a Nuggets team that won 57 games in 2012-13.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Kosta Koufos, NBA
Danny Ainge: Celtics ‘in the game’ for big-name acquisitions 05.14.15 at 5:58 pm ET
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In a sit-down interview with Celtics.com, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was encouraged by the development of rookie guard Marcus Smart and his team’s depth during an impressive stretch run, but he also realizes the need for a roster upgrade.

Whether or not that upgrade will come in the form of a draft-day trade or a free-agent signing this summer remains to be seen, but at the very least the C’s are in position to set off the fireworks they’ve stocked away since trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

“We’ve tried to put ourselves in the game to have those options and to have some opportunities to make big moves, so I guess if there are big moves that we like, we do them; if there are big moves that we’re not in love with, then we hold off and we wait,” Ainge told Celtics.com. “Those are the challenging ones. Some of them are very easy to determine and some are very challenging and take a lot of investigation and thought and debate and discussion on our side, but I think that you can’t just determine that you’re going to wait or you’re going to do it. It all depends on those opportunities.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, NBA,
Danny Ainge to offer Jae Crowder qualifying offer, adds: ‘We need to have a busy summer, and we will’ 04.30.15 at 12:23 pm ET
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Danny Ainge speaks Thursday at the team practice facility in Waltham. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Danny Ainge speaks Thursday at the team practice facility in Waltham. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

WALTHAM — The Celtics surprised a lot of people by finishing the season with a six-game winning streak, ending up with the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. But the work to improve on that encouraging ending doesn’t stop with a four-game sweep at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Far from it.

Now, according to the team’s president of basketball operations, the hard work really begins. How does he and his staff go about improving upon a 40-42 mark through the NBA draft and added space under the salary cap?

“I feel like we need to have a busy summer and we will have a busy summer,” Danny Ainge said Thursday. “Hopefully, we can get some things accomplished that we need to. I think we need to upgrade our talent level on our team and at the same time, I’m very excited about a lot of the individuals that we have.

“Actually, all of the individuals I thought played the best basketball of their careers in a lot of cases. So, I’m excited about the players that we have. At the same time, I feel like we’re not at the same level as a team like Cleveland, and we found that out.”

Ainge confirmed one of his moves already on Thursday when he announced he will extend a qualifying offer to Jae Crowder. By extending a qualifying offer to Crowder, the Celtics would make him a restricted free agent.

The key to the summer will likely be how Ainge and his staff handle the extra spending space afforded by the expansion of the NBA salary cap. The Celtics currently have $40.4 million committed to salaries for 2015-16. The current cap number of $63 million is expected to grow to about $66 million next season but could explode to $87 million in 2017. The reason: A brand new nine-year, $24 billion TV deal.

But while the Celtics will have more money to spend, so too will the other 29 teams, creating tremendous cap competition this summer.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, NBA,
Danny Ainge calls Kevin Love’s frustration ‘a little over the top,’ but ‘understandable’ at 11:54 am ET
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Kelly Olynyk gets entangled with Kevin Love in Game 4 Sunday afternoon. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Kelly Olynyk gets entangled with Kevin Love in Game 4 Sunday afternoon. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

WALTHAM — Danny Ainge knows a little something about intense playoff basketball and the contact that is associated with it.

On Thursday, as he was wrapping up the past season with reporters at the team’s practice facility, Ainge had a degree of sympathy for Kevin Love, knocked out of the playoffs with season-ending surgery on his dislocated left shoulder.

After the game, Love called the play by Kelly Olynyk that resulted in his arm being dislocated from the socket a “bush league” play, adding that it was clearly intentional.

“I think that’s a little bit over the top,” Ainge said. “It’s understandable. The heat of the battle. I feel bad for Kevin Love because he’s waited a long time to get where their team is right now and now he doesn’t get a chance to play. I certainly don’t think Kelly did it on purpose.”

After reviewing it, the league suspended Olynyk one game next season, still less harsh than the two-game playoff suspension for J.R. Smith’s fist to the face of Jae Crowder.

“I don’t even think that that play would’ve been reviewed more than a foul had Kevin not gotten hurt. But because Kevin did get hurt, the league does evaluate those situations and I understand a little bit why they did it. There was a lot of pressure on Cleveland. They were losing J.R. Smith in the first couple of games in the next round and they have Kevin out for the playoffs now so I’m sure there was a lot of frustration in Cleveland. They wanted some justice and they scrutinized it and felt like Kelly gave it a little too much at the very end of that arm tangling. When someone gets hurt, you’re just under a little more scrutiny but I thought it was just a foul of two guys going for a loose ball.”

Read More: 2015 NBA playoffs, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Kelly Olynyk
To keep or not to keep: What to do with Celtics 04.29.15 at 11:14 pm ET
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Celtics coach Brad Stevens and team president Danny Ainge aren’€™t going anywhere. That much we know. Everyone else on the roster is up for debate. Certainly, nobody is untradeable, so let’€™s attempt to project how these C’€™s players fit into Ainge’€™s puzzle this coming summer with a game of ‘€œto keep or not to keep.’€

BRANDON BASS (unrestricted free agent)

Through all the upheaval, Bass was the rock of the 2014-15 Boston Celtics. Built like a Chevy truck, the 6-foot-8, 240-pound big man appeared in all 82 games for the second straight season. (He’€™s missed just eight games since arriving in Boston four years ago.) Splitting his time between starting and reserve roles, Bass produced the best per-minute numbers of his career this past summer while averaging the fewest minutes of his Celtics tenure (23.5). He remains one of the league’€™s elite midrange shooters and double-handed dunked his way to a decent percentage around the rim, but concerns about him linger.

He’€™s neither an exceptional rebounder nor rim protector defensively — an issue that killed the Celtics against the Cavaliers — and does not fit Stevens’€™ floor-stretching mold offensively. There wasn’€™t much of a trade market for an undersized power forward who brings few of the skills required for such players in today’€™s NBA at $6.9 million, and his disappearance in the playoffs may have sealed his fate at any rate.

Verdict: Not to keep.

AVERY BRADLEY (signed through 2017-18 for $8.3 million per season)

Playing the most minutes of his career, Bradley took a slight step back from a stellar offensive season in 2013-14, when he shot 40 percent from 3-point range. Still one of the league’€™s best marksmen from midrange, his 3-point percentage dipped to 35 percent this year. Not a playmaker by any stretch, Bradley was asked to shoulder a less-than-ideal offensive load in the absence of capable scorers, and his efficiency would benefit from improved offensive talent easing the defensive pressure around him.

As for his own defense, Bradley returned to bulldog form, hounding Cleveland’€™s Kyrie Irving throughout the first round. Irving averaged 25.1 points per 100 possessions on 38 percent shooting opposite Bradley in the series and 41.2 points per 100 possessions on 58 percent shooting with him on the bench. That brand of on-ball defense, particularly when paired with Marcus Smart’€™s similar skill set, is invaluable.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger
5 things we learned as Cavaliers sweep Celtics in not-so-grand finale 04.26.15 at 3:55 pm ET
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Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder said the Celtics wouldn’t go down without a fight, and he was right.

Crowder was involved in two of the half-dozen ugly dust-ups with the Cavaliers, ultimately leaving the game with an apparent knee injury in the ugliest of the bunch, but in the end it didn’t matter how much muscle his team flexed. Cleveland had LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, and in the end they were the difference-makers.

As they did all series, the Celtics spent the second half trying to erase a Cavs lead that had ballooned to double digits, and as was the case in their first three attempts, they fell short, losing the game 101-93 and the series 4-0.

James finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while Irving added 24 points and 11 assists. Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Isaiah Thomas added 21 points, nine assists and five rebounds before fouling out. Avery Bradley (16 points) and Marcus Smart (11 points) also reached double figures.

For a complete box score, click here.

ROUGH START

Marcus Smart’s absence from shootaround wasn’t the only late wakeup call for the Celtics. Brad Stevens spent the better part of the past week trying to solve his team’s defensive rebounding woes, and within 95 seconds of Game 4 the Cavaliers are had their second offensive board — leading to five of Cleveland’s first seven points. As a result, Stevens called his quickest timeout as an NBA coach. The intervention on the bench did little to stop the bleeding, as the Cavs reached double-digits in second-chance points and built a 21-point lead by halftime.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA,
5 things we learned as LeBron James, Cavaliers push Celtics to brink 04.23.15 at 9:40 pm ET
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Different building, same script.

Trailing by three late in the fourth quarter, the Celtics had a chance to tie Game 3 at home, but failed to corral an offensive rebound, and Kevin Love made them pay with a wide-open 3-pointer with 2:13 remaining. And once again, the C’s submitted an inspired effort, but had no answer for LeBron James, who amassed 31 points and 11 rebounds in a 103-95 victory that gave his Cavaliers a 3-0 series lead.

The Celtics‘ last opportunity to avoid a sweep comes in Game 4 at the Garden on Sunday afternoon.

On Thursday, Evan Turner enjoyed his best game of the series, collecting 19 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, but failed to match a dominant performance by the game’s greatest active player. Jae Crowder added 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists off the bench, and Avery Bradley scored 18, albeit on 18 shots. Jared Sullinger (10 points, 8 rebounds) was the only other Celtic in double figures. After scoring 22 points in each of his first two playoff appearances, Isaiah Thomas finished with only five points on 2-of-9 shooting.

For a complete box score, click here.

LAYUP LINE

In the first 1:18, LeBron James got to the rim with ease on back-to-back possessions, giving the Cavaliers an early 4-0 lead. After an uncontested 3-pointer from Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov beat Tyler Zeller on the block twice in a row — dunking over the C’s center and driving around him for an uncontested layup. A third drive to the basket delivered Cleveland a 15-10 lead and forced the first Celtics timeout.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA,
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