|Double ’07: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Celtics captaincy||03.26.14 at 10:47 am ET|
This is the first 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.)
Zero score and seven years ago, Ainge faced a decision that would influence the next decade of his once great franchise: a) Trade a perennial All-Star in his prime to rebuild around a young core and a top-10 draft pick, or b) Trade that young core and the top-10 draft pick to reconstruct around his Celtics captain. Sound familiar?
As the 2014 NBA draft approaches, Ainge will be faced with the same choice he made in 2007. Therefore, the Celtics must first answer a pair of questions: 1) Do they value Rajon Rondo at age 28 the same way they did Paul Pierce at 29? and 2) Who is available at what price? Here, like Ainge, we’ll examine the former first, as it will influence every other decision made this summer (as well as the ensuing posts in this series).
|Weekly NBA Draft Watch: March Madness could reveal sleeper pick for Celtics||03.20.14 at 9:23 am ET|
The C’s had an exciting win against the LeBron James-less Heat on Wednesday night. Sure, it was fun to see Rajon Rondo lead the charge against a quality team, but what does it really mean? This season is already lost, so what it means is a five-game losing streak has been halted, dropping Boston two spots to the sixth lottery spot. The win lowered the C’s current chance at a top-three pick by 16 percent. You never know how the season is going to end, but all signs point to a tight lottery race. Was the thrill of Wednesday worth it if the Celtics finish one win ahead of the Lakers?
Enter the beginning of March Madness, the greatest four-day stretch in sports.
We know that there will be ample buzzer-beaters and upsets, there always are. Brackets will be ripped to shreds (as mine always is), others will turn into lottery tickets (just not the kind Danny Ainge is chasing). No bets are safe come March Madness, but feel free to learn the hard way if you must. Nobody needs any extra incentive to enjoy the most entertaining tournament we have as sports fans. However, this year Celtics fans will have one extra reason to pay attention — draft picks.
Don’t forget that outside of Boston’s hyped first-rounder, Ainge also will own Brooklyn or Atlanta’s pick, which could end up being a player who breaks out in the tournament. We already know the talent players like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and even Marcus Smart posses. A bad tournament will not lower their draft stock, but a breakout tournament could boost their NBA stock even higher. There is no clear cut No. 1 overall pick, but Celtics fans obviously would love to see any top-tier talent arrive in Boston.
The immediate franchise changers will be determined by the ping-pong balls, the hunt for the rest of the stars begins with the later picks. Once the premier talent is off the board, a lot of the next prospects to be taken in the draft are players that raised their stock in March. I didn’t even know who Kenneth Faried was until Morehead State upset Louisville in 2011. After watching him play one game, I had no doubt he was a lottery talent in that year’s draft. Kind of an extreme example, but March matters.
Who is 2014′s Faried? Can Ainge get his hands on him? And most importantly, can he develop a better nickname than ‘The Manamal’ in the NBA? Time will tell.
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley too cool for LeBron James-less Heat||03.19.14 at 9:51 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo scored just nine points, but he was the best player on the floor all night, taking over the fourth quarter in a 101-96 victory against the two-time defending NBA champion Heat. Of course, it didn’t hurt that LeBron James (back spasms) was relegated to the Miami bench, but still — this was Rondo’s night.
The Celtics point guard finished one point shy of a triple-double (15 assists, 10 rebounds), ending a five-game losing streak. Avery Bradley‘s 23 points, including a career-high six 3-pointers, led the scoring effort, and four other Celtics reached double figures: Brandon Bass (18 points), Jared Sullinger (14 points), Jeff Green (13 points) and Kelly Olynyk (10 points). And the Celtics needed all of it from each of them.
The Celtics improved to 23-46, moving one win ahead of the Lakers and Suns for the NBA’s seventh-worst record.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Bradley’s back: After making just six of his 25 attempts from outside of 10 feet in his first three games back from an ankle injury, Bradley found the stroke that made him so successful early this season. The soon-to-be free agent knocked down three of his six first-half 3-point attempts and added a long jumper to enter the break with 11 points. In all, the C’s shot 50 percent (9-18) from distance over the first two quarters and stayed within 56-53 after two.
Charmed third: Working inside and out, Bradley and Brandon Bass shot a combined 8-of-8 from the field to score 21 of the C’s 27 third-quarter points. Rondo was on the feeding end of four of those buckets, finishing with six assists in the frame. As a result, the Celtics took an 80-78 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Bench press: The C’s bench situation isn’t pretty. It’s comprised of four guys who weren’t on the team to start the season, two rookies and another player with 45 NBA games under his belt entering the year. Yet, they received valuable contributions from three of those seven players, as Sullinger, Olynyk and Jerryd Bayless (7 points, 5 assists) combined for 28 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Worst first: The opening quarter couldn’t have gone much worse for the Celtics defense. While the NBA’s two-time defending MVP sat on the bench, the Heat still scored 34 points on 70 percent shooting to take a 12-point lead in the game’s initial 12 minutes. It wasn’t Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh who victimized the C’s, but Udonis Haslem. The Miami veteran scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter.
No LeBron: The Heat announced James would miss his first game in a month shortly before tipoff. It remains to be seen whether he’ll return Friday in Miami, but regardless of how they feel about him, Boston fans missed a player worth the price of admission. Perhaps a motivated Celtics team took it as a sign of disrespect, too.
|Rajon Rondo appreciates Wyc Grousbeck sticking his neck out for him||03.15.14 at 2:09 pm ET|
The debate over the long-term future of Rajon Rondo in Boston will seemingly continue as long as he’s in a Celtics uniform. But one thing that can’t be denied is Rondo’s appreciation of those who have his back in turbulent times, led by the man who cuts his paycheck.
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck told the Boston Globe this week that despite all of the rumors and speculation on the future of the tempestuous point guard, Rondo remains the leader of the franchise going forward.
What did that mean to Rondo?
“It means a lot, especially coming from the head guy,” Rondo said after Friday’s loss to the Suns. “With all the rumors swirling, the criticism that I was having throughout the past couple weeks, he stuck his neck out. He didn’t have to say anything, but he did. I’ve talked to Wyc since then. Everything is what it’s supposed to be.”
Here is what Grousbeck told the Boston Globe in a story that reflected on the rebuilding season of 2013-14:
“[Rondo is] loved right here, from my seat on the court,” the owner said. “I love the guy. I love his championship ring when he was the young kid. I love his growth. It reminds me of Paul Pierce. Growing from the moments in his younger days and making progress toward being an all-time Celtic and a leader. I am always hopeful that a guy like that is going to stay around.”
Rondo will enter the final year of his contract next season, in which he will make $12.9 million.
Earlier this season, Rondo said he would be open to signing a long-term deal with the Celtics but, at the same time, indicated an interest to test free agent waters. Rondo signed a five-year, $55 million extension at the start of the 2009-10 season.
Brad Stevens made it perfectly clear before Friday’s game against Phoenix that he would ease Avery Bradley back into the mix after a 13-game absence due to a sprained right ankle. Bradley actually played nearly 17 minutes, including a key stretch in the team’s 12-0 spurt that gave them a short-lived lead in the fourth quarter of Friday’s 87-80 loss to the Suns at TD Garden.
Bradley scored nine points on 4-of-12 shooting from the floor but admitted that he was rusty trying to get back into an offensive rhythm.
“My shot was rusty, but you still can play hard on the defensive end and that’s what I try to do,” Bradley said. “I try to go out there and lift our intensity and try to get the guys going, that’s my role on this team.’
“Hopefully we’ll get to see that quite a bit in the last month here,” Stevens said. “Knock on wood, because they haven’t been able to play much together over the first four years they’ve been together. I think it’s really a duo that you would think would complement each other very well based on the strengths on both ends of the court. Hopefully we’ll see that again with a healthy month left in the season.”
“He looked well,” added Rondo. “He didn’t play or practice at all in a month. So, for him to get out there, I know he missed a couple shots, but for the most part, my main concern was his lateral movements, as far as the ankle, and his defense looked great tonight.
“Our time will come. I’ve missed [games], he’s missed [games]. Hopefully we can get it together and we’ll both be out there playing and healthy.”
Bradley also made note that he will be taping his ankles more often to prevent injury. Bradley said before the game that he feels not taping his ankles this season led to the unfortunate string of injuries that have sidelined him for two significant stretches this season.
After the game, he was just grateful that he made it through his first game back.
‘I feel fine, Bradley said. “It’s a little sore but I’m going to ice it and I’ll feel fine [this weekend]. “For me, on the defensive end and cuts, that’s what gets me going and I know what kind of player I am and I know it starts on the defensive end first for me.
‘Of course, as a competitor you want to go out there and help your team, but at the same time I have to be smart and the coaches, [Brad Stevens] knows better than me and he knows I have to get back in the rhythm. I was a little rusty and so he has to limit my minutes and he told me that before the game but I didn’t know how many minutes I was going to play and I really didn’t care.”
|Rajon Rondo (sore Achilles) explains exactly why he’s not playing back-to-backs||03.09.14 at 10:42 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo went into detail after Sunday night’s win over the Pistons, explaining exactly why he doesn’t feel ready to play in back-to-back games, nearly two months after returning to game action.
“If I was ready [for back-to-back games], I’d play,” Rondo said. “It’s a matter of a combination of things that bother me on my lower part of my body, my calves, my Achilles and then my knee so it’s just a part of all of those three that are affecting me after games. The next day, I need the rest.”
Rondo has been taking long massage treatments after each game on his lower body to try and reduce the impact from running up and down the court and playing his typically aggressive, sometimes reckless style. But the massages, he said, only go so far. He still has to wake up the next morning.
“I’m pretty sore when I wake up,” Rondo said. “My Achilles bothers me the most when I get out of bed. Throughout the day it gets better. I still don’t want to try to overdo it and something else may happen just because of that.”
Which is why coach Brad Stevens before Sunday’s game all but ruled out Rondo from playing in any of the five remaining sets of back-to-back games for the team this season, with the next one coming Tuesday in Indiana and Wednesday at home against the Knicks. Stevens, Rondo and GM Danny Ainge don’t want their superstar point guard injuring something like his Achilles trying to compensate for a right knee that may not still be 100 percent.
Is Rondo surprised it’s taking this long to get back to full strength?
“No. it’s the NBA season,” Rondo said. “It’s tough. I’m up to 30, 34, 35 minutes a night now. I’m doing the right procedures. I’m taking the massage. I’m icing after the games. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do it’s just that I have to listen to my body.”
Rondo had 18 assists and no turnovers in Sunday’s 118-111 win over the Pistons, falling just two assists shy of the NBA record for most assists without a turnover in NBA history. Rondo also passed Bill Russell for fifth place on the Celtics all-time list with 4,101, one more than the NBA Hall of Fame center.
Rajon Rondo dished out a season-high 18 assists to go with 11 points and the Celtics rode a red-hot third quarter from the field to post a 118-111 win over the Pistons Sunday night at TD Garden. Jeff Green scored 27 while Kelly Olynyk provided a big first-half spark off the bench, scoring 13 of his 18 points in the opening 24 minutes.
Rondo’s 18 helpers were all the more remarkable considering he had no turnovers, just two assists shy of matching the NBA record for assists in a game without committing a turnover, achieved three times.
Kris Humphries added his sixth double-double of the season, scoring 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting, while grabbing 10 rebounds. The Celtics improved to 22-41, winning consecutive games for the first time since beating Orlando, Philadelphia and Sacramento to open February. Josh Smith led Detroit with 28 while Greg Monroe added 22 for the Pistons, who fell to 24-39. The Celtics are just five games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 19 games remaining.
As was the case in Friday’s win over the Nets, the Celtics took a lead after the first quarter and were in command most of the way. Jared Sullinger’s layup with 31.3 seconds left in the first gave the Celtics a 24-22 lead, an advantage they would not relinquish.
Green scored 11 of his 27 in the second quarter as the Celtics took 57-49 halftime lead.
The Celtics came out blazing hot in the third, making 11 of their first 16 shots to open a 17-point lead. After shooting just 2-for-14 from long range in the first half, the Celtics drilled 8-of-12 from long range to put up 31 points in the first nine minutes of the quarter. The Celtics, thanks to 68 percent (15-of-22) shooting, scored 38 points in the quarter taking a 95-84 lead into the fourth.
The 38 points was the third-highest total in any quarter this season, behind the 42 in the first quarter against the Pistons on Dec. 18 and the 39 against the Bucks on Dec. 3.
While the Celtics were on fire offensively, they were leaking oil badly on defense, allowing 35 points as Detroit kept the game within range by shooting 60 percent from the field.
The 73-point quarter was a throwback to the old days of the ABA when little defense was played and open shots were the norm.
Green’s ill-fated behind-the-back pass to Will Bynum set up a Pistons fast break layup and three-point play on the other end as the Pistons drew to within eight, 95-87, in the opening 90 seconds. The two teams went back and forth. Josh Smith hit a three with 4:43 left to cut the Boston lead to nine before Jeff Green answered on the next possession.
Another Smith three cut the lead to eight, 111-103 with 2:53 left. Will Bynum hit two free throws with 2:29 left to make it 111-105. Rondo found Humphries under the basket for a nice reverse layup to make it 113-105. Bynum converted another pair of free throws with 1:10 left to make it a six-point game. His two free throws with 48.2 seconds left cut the lead to four, 113-109.
The Celtics will leave Monday after practice for a game at Indiana Tuesday night. They return to Boston to play the Knicks on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Head coach Brad Stevens indicated before the game that Rondo will likely not play in the second game of back-to-backs the rest of the season and is expected to sit out the Knicks game if he plays Tuesday night.