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Posts Tagged ‘Brad Stevens’

Numbers notes: Small Celtics, LeBron’s jumper, Spurs bench and more


VIDEO: Evaluating the NBA’s top teams

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Usually, we think of small ball (playing one traditional big and moving a small forward to power forward) as an offensive strategy. It doesn’t only give you an extra guy who can shoot from the outside, but that, in turn, creates extra space for ball-handlers to drive or screeners to roll to the rim.

But on Tuesday, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens went small to start the second half in New York, replacing Kelly Olynyk with Marcus Smart, who teamed with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson (the lone big). And afterward, Stevens said the change was for defensive purposes.

“I thought in the first half, we didn’t have any pressure on the ball,” Stevens said. “And that’s why we went smaller and quicker in the second.”

The Celtics did play better after the change, but the improvement came on offense. That lineup that started the second half outscored the Knicks 27-23 in less than 10 minutes of action (over the first and second halves) on Tuesday.

The next night, though, the same lineup had the desired effect against the Indiana Pacers. In eight minutes on Wednesday, the Celtics outscored the Pacers 26-10 in a little over eight minutes. That included a 17-4 run over the final 5:08, where they turned four steals into four layups and turned a four-point deficit into a nine-point win.

Pacers coach Frank Vogel somewhat foreshadowed that whole sequence, as ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg wrote

Before Wednesday’s tilt, Indiana coach Frank Vogel noted that Boston’s three-guard lineup of Crowder, Smart, and Bradley was full of “pitbulls.” Added Vogel: “The defensive pressure that their guards bring to the table is unparalleled in this NBA season. They have great defensive guards. It’s a big reason for their season.”

That Thomas-Bradley-Smart-Crowder-Johnson lineup played a few minutes in the Celtics’ first game of the season, but had been on the floor together for just a few possessions between then and Tuesday. The Celtics have a plethora of serviceable bigs on their roster and have played about 75 percent of their minutes with two of them on the floor.

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Those numbers follow the conventional wisdom that small equals better offense. But that small-ball lineup with Crowder at the four may be something that Stevens turns to more often when he wants to crank up the defense.

Tracking LeBron from outside

You probably saw the story where a particular stat about LeBron James‘ outside shooting found its way to the four-time MVP and motivated him to put some more work in.

“I actually saw [it] on my Instagram feed that I was the worst-shooting player in the NBA,” James said. “I actually saw that when I woke up from a nap. I remember exactly when that was. Denver. Right before the Denver game, so I answered the call.”

He was 3-of-5 from 3-point range on Sunday and hit multiple midrange shots. He’s shooting 43 percent from deep since that game in Denver. When asked if graphics like that bother him, James said, “It doesn’t bother me. It puts me back in the gym.”

James immediately started shooting better that night in Denver. And though he was just 3-for-9 from outside the paint in San Antonio on Thursday, the post-wake-up-call numbers still look much better.

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James’ jumper has seen gradual improvement over the course of his career, but still comes and goes and will always be under the microscope in the postseason, when opposing defenses are more likely to play him soft on the perimeter.


VIDEO: The Starters on LeBron’s recent shooting upswing (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A kinder, gentler Bryant? | Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn | Stevens rejoins Celtics | NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio

No. 1: A kinder, gentler Bryant? For the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour has become the focus of their season. Which may be a good thing, since the Lakers otherwise haven’t been very good, compiling an 8-30 record thus far. Yet despite all the losses, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself as he plays out the string, and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan writes, has Kobe’s legendary burning desire to win faded a bit in this his final NBA season?

It was bad to be a trash can if Kobe Bryant was mad.

This was years ago, back when there were championship expectations, but Bryant booted one clear across the Lakers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden after a rough loss.

It was also sometimes bad to be toilet paper, apparently. Bryant angrily called his teammates “soft like Charmin” during a rant at practice in which he didn’t feel challenged. This was a little over a year ago.

The smoldering Bryant is now replaced by a smiling one, even as the Lakers (8-30) pinwheel toward the worst season in their 68-year history.

They played well Friday but lost a tight one to Oklahoma City. The new, lighthearted Bryant showed up again in the interview room, just like the previous night after a close loss in Sacramento.

The losses don’t seem as devastating to him.

“I just hide it a lot better,” he said Friday.

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No. 2: Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn Last summer, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was one of the most talented big men available in free agency. He eventually re-upped with the Nets, and though the team has struggled this season, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 19.8 points to go with 7.8 rebounds. The Nets may face an uncertain future, but as Andy Vasquez writes for the Bergen Record, Lopez says he has no regrets about re-signing with the Nets…

The Nets are in the midst of another disappointing season, certainly far from what Lopez envisioned when he re-signed. But the 27-year-old doesn’t regret his decision.

“No, no, no. I’m happy to be here,” Lopez said Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

“Time and time again I’ve said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in.”

The current situation isn’t exactly a bright one. Brooklyn just lost starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who showed promise, is at least another month from returning from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since early December.

While the Nets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs — it’s not even halfway through the season — they may as well be.

Brooklyn is closer (seven games ahead) in the standings to the awful Sixers than to the final playoff spot in the East (nine games behind).

The Nets don’t have control of their first round draft pick until 2019 thanks to the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

So the franchise’s best chance is to hope free agents agree with Lopez about there being a special opportunity in Brooklyn.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the Nets do have some things going for them.

They should have about $40 million in cap space next summer, enough to offer two max salaries to free agents.

Barclays Center is still the league’s newest arena and the team’s state-of-the art Brooklyn practice facility opens next month. And then there’s the lure of the nation’s largest media market.

“The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost,” Lopez said, when asked how he’d pitch the Nets. “The facilities we have. I think, for me, it’s all about potential.”

That potential starts with Lopez and Thaddeus Young, 27, two nice players with several prime years remaining in their careers. Both are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson was better than expected when he played. And the Nets have an intriguing young prospect in Chris McCullough, who has spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered at Syracuse a year ago.

Add the right pieces and the Nets could be a good team next season. And Lopez said that matters more than anything.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” Lopez said.

“Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”

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No. 3: Stevens rejoins Celtics Before joining the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens led Butler University to several memorable NCAA Tournament appearances. And with his former Butler player Andrew Smith in the hospital battling cancer, Stevens recently missed a Celtics game in order to spend time with Smith. Stevens rejoined the Celtics on Saturday and, as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn writes, says the last few days helped put things into perspective…

Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.

He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.

Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.

“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”

Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.

“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.

“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”

Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.

“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”

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No. 4: NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio — The NBA has become a global league, followed worldwide and played by athletes from all corners of the earth. Australia, in particular, has become a hotbed of hoops, with its own popular domestic league and several NBA players who originated Down Under. As Roy Ward writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australians in the NBA are looking forward to trying to find Olympic glory this summer in Rio…

The 82-game NBA season engulfs the lives of all players and Australia’s basketballers are not immune from this.

But on planes, buses or in down time, the country’s leading players admit their thoughts turn to the Rio Olympics and the glass ceiling that sits in front of a first men’s Olympic medal.

Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles are all in thick of the action this season while Dante Exum continues to rehabilitate his reconstructed knee.

In Europe, in US college basketball and in the NBL sit the rest of the Boomers aspirants with the final 12-man squad not due to be announced until later in the year.

Since the team qualified for Rio in August last year, they have made public their goal to win the gold medal in Brazil despite Team USA’s long-running dominance in the men’s competition.

What adds credence to the Boomers’ brave stance is Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Bairstow are playing on NBA championship contenders while Bogut, Mills and Baynes have won NBA championship rings since 2014.

“There is a lot going on here but while it’s not the every day to day focus it’s always in your mind that it’s coming up and that all the boys are playing well, not just in the NBA but in Europe and the NBL,” Dellavedova said.

“We are all very excited and keep in regular touch through group message, we are going to catch up at All-Star break.

“We are all very excited, focused and committed to trying to do something really special at Rio and we realise the time is now for that.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks got a career night from Al Horford last night in a convincing win over the Bulls … Some changes may be in store for the D-League Showcase … Chicago is hoping to get Joakim Noah back from injury this weekRobin Lopez is starting to focus on his offensive post playIsaiah Canaan pays attention to advanced stats … Powerball fever may have been sweeping the nation the last few days, but don’t expect Dirk Nowitzki to get excited about it …

Larrañaga steps in as Celtics’ Stevens visits ailing Butler player

CHICAGO – Asked about his rare and unexpected stint as Boston’s interim head coach, working the sideline in Brad Stevens‘ absence from the Celtics’ game against the Bulls at United Center Thursday night, assistant Jay Larrañaga said yes, it was difficult.

“Difficult situation for Coach Stevens and people close to him obviously,” Larrañaga told reporters about 90 minutes before tipoff and six hours after learning he would be stepping into Stevens’ role. “So we told him, ‘Don’t worry about what’s going on here. We’ll try to keep the ship going straight.’ ”

Stevens, 39, in his third season with Boston after a successful run at Butler University, reportedly traveled back to Indiana to visit Andrew Smith, a former player in his program who has been battling cancer for two years.

Smith, a 6-foot-11 center, played for the Bulldogs in the 2010 and 2011 Final Fours and averaged 8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 22.1 minutes in 134 games. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in January 2014.

Larrañaga, also in his third season in Boston, coached the Erie BayHawks in the NBA Development League for two seasons and previously had served as an assistant coach at Cornell University. He played at Bowling Green for his father, Jim Larrañaga, currently the head coach at the University of Miami.

Larrañaga had coached the Celtics entry in summer league but only once before stepped in for Stevens, taking over after his boss was ejected from a game last season against Sacramento.

He had breakfast Thursday with Stevens and was preparing to attend a coaches meeting at noon at the Celtics’ hotel when Stevens called, alerting him to his absence.

“Not a lot of time to stop and think about it once Coach called,” Larrañaga said. “I’m not going to be like Brad, he’s a very special person. I’m going to be my own person. But in terms of just their routine and what they’re used to, I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible.”

Larrañaga said he texted his father about his role. “He told me, ‘Don’t talk to the refs.’ ”

As for any Red Auerbach-type pregame or halftime speeches he’d been saving for just such an occasion, the Celtics assistant said: “I think it’ll be very brief.”

Celtics wing Evan Turner said Stevens’ decision to see Smith might provide added incentive for Boston, which had dropped three of its previous four games. It also told them something about their coach.

“That’s unreal. I think that speaks volumes in general,” Turner said. “Guys are lucky to be able to play for a coach like that. That says a lot about his character.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg spent five years at his alma mater, Iowa State, before being hired by Chicago last summer. So he knows about the relationships that college coaches develop with their players, even in the best of circumstances. Smith’s condition, obviously, takes that to another level.

“You do develop such a strong bond with your players,” Hoiberg said. “It’s not just the four years they’re in school with you – it really lasts a lifetime. You continue to have relationships with the guys. They become family members. You’re always going to do everything you can to look out for former players.”

Morning shootaround — Jan. 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry won’t sit 4 weeks to heal injury | Gentry rips Pelicans’ effort vs. Mavs | Report: McCollum could have played last night | Raptors try to get by while Carroll mends | Lee officially out of Celtics’ rotation

No. 1: Curry unlikely to rest four weeks to heal troublesome shin — Several storylines follow the Golden State Warriors on a near-nightly basis now — whether or not they can surpass the NBA record of 72 wins set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, when coach Steve Kerr will return to the sidelines and whether or not Stephen Curry will suit up each night as he deals with a nagging shin injury. The first two questions remain unclear in terms of an immediate answer, but for the time being, Curry won’t be out of the lineup for weeks on end to heal the injury. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons has more on why Curry isn’t at risk if he keeps playing on the injury:

Warriors point guard Stephen Curry isn’t interested in sitting out four weeks to let the painful contusion on his left shin heal, and a noted orthopedic surgeon with a specialty in treating sports injuries says that’s just fine.

“He’s not risking his career or anything by this,” said Dr. Brian Schulz, who works for the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. “He’s just going to have to deal with pain, which he’s proven in the past is not a big deal for him.

“It’s not a serious thing, but it’s definitely something that could annoy him.”

Curry has been plenty annoyed by the injury, which occurred in the Warriors’ victory over Utah on Dec. 23. He has been kicked three times in the same spot since then, despite sitting out the Warriors’ back-to-back set last week in Dallas and in Houston.

It happened again in the third quarter Tuesday, when Curry’s shin smacked into the leg of Lakers center Roy Hibbert. The Warriors had to call a timeout calm the pain for Curry, who talked his way back onto the court.

“I’m not going to sit out four weeks, so we’ve just got to figure out how to protect it when I’m out there on the floor and keep playing,” said Curry, who is listed as questionable for Friday’s game at Portland on the team’s injury report. “We’ve done a good amount. I’ve just had a couple of unlucky plays. We’ll keep addressing it and keep treating it, I’ll keep playing, and hopefully, over time, I’ll get through it.”

The Warriors have been experimenting with different shin pads to protect Curry, and Schulz says anything that limits the force of the impact on the sensitive area is the correct way to go about it.

“The other option, which I know he’s not going to do, is just sit out until it goes away,” Schulz said. … “It’s not a structural-damage kind of thing. He’s not risking further damage, other than the fact that if he keeps banging it, it may linger around longer.”

Data curated by PointAfter

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Morning shootaround — Dec. 20


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Dec. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Bulls’ ‘transition’ game in crisis | Welcome back, Kyrie | Tweaking the Trail Blazers | Taking Celtics from solid to super

No. 1: Bulls’ ‘transition’ game in crisisJimmy Butler‘s criticism Saturday night in New York of new head coach Fred Hoiberg‘s work style seemingly peeled back the curtain on an issue that is costing the Chicago Bulls chemistry and ultimately victories. If, as Butler alleges, Hoiberg hasn’t been tough enough on the Bulls in practices or on game nights, the responsibility for that falls … everywhere in the organization. Certainly it’s on Hoiberg to do whatever it takes, even if riding herd on grown men isn’t what earned him this job via his success in college at Iowa State. It’s on the Bulls players, who have been less than professional in their preparation and focus on multiple nights, whether they’ve won or lost. And it’s on management – chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, VP of basketball John Paxson and Gar Forman – for giving the locker room the license to drift sideways last season during the Cold War with since-fired Tom Thibodeau, and still sees the team saddled with some of the bad habits that produced. Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com analyzed the team’s plight overnight:

First and foremost, it’s not every day that an NBA player calls out his head coach so publicly. Former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau was a taskmaster, and the relationship between his players, including Butler, frayed last season before he was fired at the end of the season. But despite all the friction, no player ever called out Thibodeau publicly. They couldn’t stand him at times because of his domineering ways, but they always respected him because of his work ethic. Twenty-five games into Hoiberg’s tenure, he has to face the reality that his best player just called him out on a public stage.

While it has been clear to many around the team that the Bulls are struggling to adjust to Hoiberg’s style after five years under Thibodeau, that storyline, at least in the short term, will ride shotgun next to this one: How will Butler’s comments be received within the organization?

It’s possible that Butler might face some disciplinary action for calling out his coach in the media. But it’s also possible that Butler was speaking not just for himself, but for other teammates who also feel that Hoiberg’s style isn’t working for them. Either way, the foundation for Butler’s future as the face and voice of the Bulls will either be cemented or crushed by his comments on Saturday. They might serve as a turning point for a player who desperately wants to be seen as the focal point of the organization — a final vocal push to get out from underneath Derrick Rose’s long shadow.

Or, Butler’s comments may become the beginning of the end for a talented player who bit off more than he can chew within the organization. To say that Hoiberg has the full support of the front office would be an understatement. Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive VP John Paxson have supported Hoiberg both publicly and privately at every turn. He signed a five-year, $25 million contract six months ago and is entrenched as the coach for the future.

But that’s where this saga gets tricky for the Bulls. Butler was supposed to be the future king of the roster, the player they would build around, after signing a five-year extension worth over $90 million in July. Along with Hoiberg, Butler was supposed to be at the forefront of everything the Bulls did. Now, those questions will be left under a microscope for the rest of the basketball world to see.

So with Monday’s game against Brooklyn looming before a couple days of practice and the Christmas date at Oklahoma City, the Bulls and their fans are waiting for the next shoe to drop like…

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No. 2: Welcome Back, Kyrie! — As excited as NBA fans are for the Christmas Day slate of games, with Cleveland at Golden State as the holiday’s centerpiece, they ought to be at least a little jazzed about the Philadelphia at Cleveland matinee today. OK, the Sixers will be responsible for 50 percent of the basketball offered up at Quicken Loans Arena, but the game marks the 2015-16 debut of Cavaliers All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. Back finally from his recovery from knee surgery, which ended his playoffs in June in Game 1 of the Finals, Irving hardly could be more eager. “I’m pretty [expletive] excited to be back out there,” he told reporters Saturday. Our man Shaun Powell wrote about Irving’s comeback challenge and so did Jason Lloyd, the Cavs beat man for Ohio.com:

It has been a long time coming.

He fractured his kneecap in Game 1 of June’s NBA Finals after fighting knee problems throughout the postseason. The Cavs and Irving remained cautious and conservative during his rehab. He was finally cleared for full practices a couple of weeks ago and he kept building for this moment.

It has been clear for about a week Irving would make his debut against the 76ers. Realistically it’s an easier opponent to begin against since they’re the worst team in the league and it will serve as a way for Irving to ease back into competitive basketball. He’ll be on a minutes restriction to start, but doesn’t anticipate problems falling back in rhythm with his old teammates.

“There is no specific reason on why now,” he said. “Just wanted to take the doctor’s precautions as well as our team’s precautions. Obviously, as a competitor, you want to get out there. But for me, I let go of all my selfish, inside emotions and just put them aside and did what was best for my body and did what was best for the team.”

The Cavs went 17-7 in Irving’s absence and remain atop the East despite not having a full roster for any game this season. They ended the Oklahoma City Thunder’s six-game winning streak Thursday night despite missing Irving, Mo Williams and Iman Shumpert.

That just reiterated to Irving a team that finds ways to win regardless of who is on the floor.

“There’ll be an adjustment period, but knocking the rust off is something I’m looking forward to,” Irving said. “It’s not like I’m coming in and just trying to take 15 to 20 shots right after I come off injury. It’s just trying to gel back in and continue to play the right way. My basketball knowledge, I’m pretty confident in coming in and not trying to overdo it in any single way and just be aggressive.”

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No. 3:Tweaking the Trail Blazers — There was some player-on-coach criticism in Portland, too, though it didn’t rise nearly to the level of Butler’s comments about Bulls boss Hoiberg. Big man Mason Plumlee had made a plea after Friday’s loss in Orlando for the team to add variety to its 3-point-heavy attack. So by Saturday, Blazers coach Terry Stotts was responding to Plumlee’s remarks and the player was rephrasing some of the things he said or meant, as reported by Jason Quick of CSNNW.com:

After Saturday’s practice in Miami, Plumlee clarified that he wasn’t taking a shot at Blazers coach Terry Stotts and his offensive system, but rather pointing out the Blazers have to do more than just shoot threes.

“We have guys who are really shooting the three well, but you can’t live and die by the shot,’’ Plumlee said in Miami. “We have to add to it. I’m not being critical. Guys like Dame, CJ and A.C. do that very well, and we have to complement that in some way.’’

When the notion of broadening the offense was later brought up to Stotts, it was apparent the coach had heard Plumlee’s suggestion.

“Is that Mason’s interview?’’ Stotts interjected before the question was finished.

When told it was, Stotts had an answer ready.

“I’m open to expanding the offense, but the truth is we’ve been in the top 10 most of the year in offense, and offense has not necessarily been a problem,’’ Stotts said. “We are in the top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage … that’s a strength of ours. Our passing, moving and cutting has been good, so my biggest concern … obviously I’m always concerned about both ends of the court … but my biggest concern is where we are defensively and how we improve defensively.’’

Plumlee’s answer in Orlando was generated from a question asking whether the Blazers have figured out their identity. He noted on Saturday that his answer Friday suggested the Blazers could make defense one of their traits.

“I guess when I was saying that, I’m thinking offensively and defensively,’’ Plumlee said. “We got our butts kicked in the paint last game and it puts pressure on those guys to be perfect from three-point range. You can’t do that.’’

Plumlee also noted that he could help the Blazers in forging a more well-rounded offensive identity by becoming more consistent inside. He pointed to his last two offensive games –- 4-for-14 at Oklahoma City and 2-for-6 at Orlando – as evidence.

“As a big guy, you should be around 50 percent,’’ Plumlee said. “So, speaking to myself, I’ve got to convert better, because I’ve had opportunities. Just finishing plays and getting more second shots. Getting offensive rebounds. But we have to find some kind of presence other than three’s … I guess that’s what I’m saying.’’

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No. 4:Taking Celtics from solid to super — The rebuild in Boston has gone well, fairly smoothly and relatively quickly. The Celtics are admired for the energy and teamwork they bring on most nights, and coach Brad Stevens already is considered one of the league’s best despite his modest tenure. But good doesn’t stay good for long, not in an NBA market so accustomed to great. Writing for SBNation.com, Paul Flannery looked at the challenges facing Boston as it tries to take the next, ambitious step:

When they play well together they can beat anyone in the league and when they don’t, they can get “exposed,” to use Stevens’ word from the Atlanta loss. One can look at their net ratings and other exotic measures and say that they’ve underachieved a bit, but it’s hard to look at their roster and reach the same conclusion.

The Celtics have a lot of solid players, but with the exception of [Isaiah] Thomas, they lack the kind of scorers who can take over games. Thomas has been great this season, but he’s the only one who is truly capable of creating his own shot in their halfcourt offense and his size limitations are an issue when teams switch taller defenders on him in the closing moments.

That’s not to say they have a bunch of scrubs. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder are both having wonderful seasons, arguably the best of their respective careers. Every team in the league would love to have them on their side. Evan Turner has become a valuable and trusted reserve. Amir Johnson has been everything they hoped when they signed him in free agency and Jared Sullinger has put his career back on track. Marcus Smart was playing well before a knee injury kept him out of the lineup and Kelly Olynyk has had a breakthrough year defensively. (Seriously, he’s been very good on that end of the floor.)

That’s a solid team most nights, and Stevens has consistently said that he’s happy with the team’s progress. He hinted on Saturday that a lineup change may be coming and one possibility would be limiting David Lee’s minutes in favor of Jonas Jerebko and playing more smallball. Lee is the only regular with a negative net rating and the C’s have been more than five points better when he’s off the floor.

But that’s tinkering on the margins. If the Celtics are going to move beyond this stage then Danny Ainge will have to make a move. There’s been speculation for months — years even — about Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, but that seems unlikely at this juncture. There has never been universal agreement in the team’s front office that Cousins is the player to go all in for and it’s not even certain that Cousins would be available at all.

A knockdown shooter would definitely help matters, considering their woeful 33 percent mark from behind the arc, but there aren’t many of them available right now. Denver’s Danilo Gallinari, for example, can’t be traded until February. Not that the Nuggets have shown any interest in moving him either. The NBA’s version of parity has produced a number of interesting side effects and one of them is the notion that with more teams competing for playoff spots, there are fewer sellers than usual.

As it stands, the Celtics’ best chance to land a game-changing player is in this summer’s draft where they own Brooklyn’s pick without protection as the latest installment of the KG/Paul Pierce heist. In addition to their own choice, they also have Dallas’ first round selection (top-7 protected) and Minnesota’s first rounder if it falls out of the top 12 picks (doubtful, but not out of the realm of possibility). They’ve also got a bunch of second rounders with protections too numerous and complex to list here. Suffice to say, they’ve got a lot of picks coming and more on the way in the future from Brooklyn and Memphis.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Look out, rest of the NBA! LeBron James has a new obsession and all you can do while he pursue it is to line up and stand idly by: he’s working on his free throws. … No one needs to worry about the L.A. Clippers, according to point guard Chris Paul, except maybe the Clippers and their fans. … Kevin Durant, an unabashed Kobe Bryant fan, had a whole new batch of raves about the Lakers guard after their dinner together Friday night in OKC. … Trevor Ariza was just a local kid when he met Bryant, who eventually would become a teammate and rival, and he lauds the Lakers’ retiring star as well. … The Miami Heat have taken strides this season but aren’t quite ready to say “kumbiya!” … John Wall had to play a whole bunch of minutes to get Washington past Charlotte, but if the Wizards aren’t careful, Wall might join their long list of injured players.

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 19


VIDEO: Friday night’s Fast Break, recapping a 12-game night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Brad Stevens doing work for the Celtics | Sixers hope Mike D’Antoni helps trigger a change in culture | Zach Randolph still believes in the aging and suddenly average Grizzlies | Steph Curry likes 5 Warriors for All-Stars?

No. 1: Brad Stevens is doing work for the Celtics — The Celtics are playing well and winning games and doing it without a certified star, although Isaiah Thomas might have a vice grip on Best Sixth Man in the league. Anyway, when Brad Stevens was hired away from Butler, there were the usual doubts about whether a college coach could make a smooth transition to a league where their voice and presence doesn’t carry as much weight, and where dealing with men is a lot different than 19-year-olds. Well, Stevens is clearly an asset for the Celtics; almost everyone would agree to that. Here’s Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe on what makes Stevens tick:

There was a reason the Celtics brass secretly traveled to Indianapolis 3½ years ago to negotiate with Brad Stevens, their longtime target as a successor to Doc Rivers.

There was a reason they left Indiana ecstatic about signing Butler’s coach to a six-year, $22 million contract to become the Celtics’ coach, even though he was an NBA neophyte who had never even coached a summer league game.

They knew Stevens had a humility and passion for the job and not a sense of entitlement. He was not like Rick Pitino or John Calipari, who came to the NBA from the college ranks feeling as though their mere presence was going to change the landscape of the professional game.

Stevens was more about substance than style. He was an evenhanded technician and teacher of the game, constantly searching for methods to give his team an advantage.

His search for those edges, ways to get extra possessions, creative times to call timeouts, and his constant tinkering with lineups has led the Celtics to their resurgence. Following Cleveland’s 89-77 victory over the Celtics Tuesday night at TD Garden, Stevens’ performance left LeBron James to remark, simply, “They’re a well-coached team.”

But Stevens’ search for these advantages has been a process of trial and error.

In Wednesday night’s 119-116 loss at Detroit, the Celtics were in the midst of a rally when Stevens decided to cap the surge by intentionally fouling one of the Pistons’ poorer free throw shooters, one of his favorite tools.

The Pistons had the ball and a 106-102 lead with 2:54 left when Stevens called for Isaiah Thomas to intentionally foul Reggie Jackson. It created an inbounds situation where Stevens planned to intentionally foul Andre Drummond, a 36.8 percent free throw shooter, before the inbounds pass.

With more than two minutes left in the game, that strategy would have merely resulted in two free throws. Since the chances of Drummond hitting both free throws were minimal, the Celtics would have received the ball back facing perhaps a 5-point deficit.

Stevens’ plans were foiled when Jackson spun and fired a 3-pointer. The shot had no chance, but that didn’t deter the officials from rewarding him a trip to the foul line for three free throws. It didn’t necessarily ruin the Celtics’ chances of winning, but it certainly did hinder them.

Conventional thinkers might have asked why Stevens didn’t just just bank on his team getting a defensive stop, a defensive rebound, instead of relying on intentional fouls.

The Celtics’ defense has shown — although not Wednesday — it is good enough to make consistent stops.

But Stevens is not conventional. He has devised some inventive ways to create extra possessions or limit opponents to zero or 1-point possessions instead of potentially 3.

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No. 2: Sixers hope Mike D’Antoni helps trigger a change in culture The Sixers lost again Friday and are seemingly speeding toward another year of infamy. But when Jerry Colangelo assumed a measure of front office control a few weeks ago, one of his priorities was to make sure the coaching staff was ripe for the challenge. So he brought in Mike D’Antoni to serve as the top assistant to Brett Brown (who was given a contract extension). The idea was to not only help Brown’s offense, but lend an experienced presence to a basketball operation that desperately needed one. Ken Berger of CBS Sports likes the idea:

“I’m definitely exploring everything,” D’Antoni told me recently. “I’m really at ease, but at the same time I do clinics and watch teams, talk to teams, try to get better as a coach see what happens. I can only control what I can control.”

The Sixers’ hodge-podge of point guards will no doubt benefit from D’Antoni’s counsel; there has perhaps never been a more point guard-friendly coach in the sport. So, too, will budding star Jahlil Okafor, who at this early stage certainly has all the physical tools to be an elite offensive force. What he’s been lacking is leadership, and the Sixers finally have someone who exudes credibility besides Brown.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds it odd that D’Antoni will be sitting one seat over from Brown, who came to Philly from Gregg Popovich’s bench in San Antonio. If not for the Spurs, D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” Phoenix Suns might’ve had the championship that would have, in some eyes, validated D’Antoni’s genius. That honor went belatedly to the Warriors, who rode something D’Antoni never had in Phoenix (an elite defense) and the pillars of his offensive playbook to their first NBA title in 40 years last season.

“I can tell you right now, I’m a huge disciple of Mike’s and what he did offensively,” said Alvin Gentry, D’Antoni’s former assistant in Phoenix who ran the Warriors’ offense last season and now is the head coach in New Orleans. “I think he changed the NBA, if you want to know the truth. If you go back and look and see what happened in 2004 and ’05, nobody was playing like that. Nobody thought you could be successful playing like that. And we got all the way to the Western Conference Finals and lost to the eventual champion. And the next year, we lost to the eventual champion. And the next year, we lost to the eventual champion …”

Nobody is thinking championship in Philadelphia, as a painful rebuilding process has accounted for lots of draft picks and assets but only 38 wins across three seasons — including a 1-26 record this season. After a dozen more losses or so, D’Antoni might find himself longing for a one-stroke penalty to get out of the woods at the Greenbrier.

But the Sixers do have people with track records in positions of power, and cap room and first-round picks as far as the eye can see. The impact of the latest addition to the hierarchy will be measured with a calendar, not a shot clock, but it’s reasonable to wonder if the Sixers finally have some hope.

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No. 3: Zach Randolph still likes the Grizzlies There were two teams that gave the champion Warriors fits in the postseason last summer: The Cavaliers and Grizzlies. One of those teams is still among the elite and would likely have an even greater chokehold on the East if Kyrie Irving were healthy. The other team has reached a fork in the road. The Grizzlies are still true to their grit and grind but has that style, which helped Memphis assume a 2-1 lead against the Warriors in a best of seven, turned obsolete? Or will the Grizzlies eventually overcome their Achilles heel — outside shooting — and once again use defense and toughness to advance in the playoffs. Here’s a decent Q&A with Zach Randolph by Scoop Jackson of ESPN:

Scoop Jackson: You all are hard to figure out. From game to game, you all can look like totally different teams. Can you put your finger on this team?

Zach Randolph: Man … not being the prettiest team, not being the most athletic team, not the best shooting team, I think it’s our heart. That’s what defines us, that’s who we are. It’s our grit and our grind. Honestly. That’s how we started, that’s how we started winning, that’s how we are going to win.

I came here, and we started changing the organization around. That’s that grit and grind and hard work and believing, man. You forget there was a time when nobody believed in us, counted us out. People used to think of the Memphis Grizzlies, they’d be like, “Ah, they ain’t nobody.” And now, even when we lose, it’s not like that anymore.

Scoop: That’s expectations. That happens to every team once the culture of the organization starts changing. Have you grown along with those expectations?

Randolph: In our minds everybody still counts us out, but we still believe in ourselves. Even though we haven’t been playing our best, the way we want to play, the season is still early. We still believe that we are one of the best teams in the league. We believe that. But we have to accomplish that [on the court]. Our confidence is high. We know we can compete with anybody.

Scoop: It’s just a matter of proving it.

Randolph: That’s all it is, man.

Scoop: What’s the fundamental difference in you all now than, say, two seasons ago — let’s go there — since Rudy [Gay] has been gone and since Lionel [Hollins] has been gone?

Randolph: I think our maturity and being together. You know that core being together so long — me and Marc [Gasol], then Mike [Conley] and TA [Tony Allen]. And everyone’s work ethic has improved.

***

No. 4: Steph Curry likes 5 Warriors for All-Stars? — One of the fringe benefits of having the best record in the NBA is supposed to be realized in February when the All-Star Game rolls in. Last season, the Atlanta Hawks ran the table for an entire month and saw their starting five named as Players of the Month, and then four members of the team suit up for the All-Star Game. Well, Steph Curry wants to do one better — and who could blame him? — and put 5 Warriors in the All-Star Game. Far-fetched? Well, we probably can count on at least three. Five might be a stretch, but, well, stranger things have happened. Here’s Jeff Faraudo of the San Jose Mercury News …

Stephen Curry wonders if there should be a ceiling for the 25-1 Warriors.

“Why not five?” he said.

All-Star voting has begun and MVP Curry is a sure thing a year after being the leading overall vote-getter. Backcourt mate Klay Thompson also made the Western Conference team last year, and do-everything forward Draymond Green seems like a strong candidate.

“The way they we play, every given night we all want to have an impact on the game,” Curry said. “Stats may look a certain way and you can make judgments off of that. But when a team goes 25-1, and hopefully we keep that trajectory going, hopefully individual guys are recognized for what they mean to the team.”

Curry said Green — who is averaging 14.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.1 assists and shares the NBA lead with four triple-doubles — now has the respect of fans across the country.

“It means a lot to have the support of fans, but the importance for him is we’re winning games and he’s helping us do that,” Curry said. “Whatever comes of that is just a bonus.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ellie Day, the wife of professional golfer Jason Day, is out of the hospital and doing fine. She holds nothing against LeBron James, who crashed into her sitting courtside and sent her to the hospital on a stretcher … So what’s the story about Justin Bieber getting baptized at Tyson Chandler‘s house?Stan Van Gundy likes where the Pistons are headed, even though his team is tired after a 4-OT win over the Bulls … Steve Nash is lending a helping hand to Klay ThompsonMeyers Leonard is in a serious slump in Portland …

Morning shootaround — Dec. 6


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Nov. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Steph Curry, the biggest entertainer of this generation? | Jerry Colangelo not ready to hand Kobe a Team USA spot | Paul Pierce speaks on the struggling Clippers

No. 1: Steph Curry, the biggest entertainer of this generation? Steph Curry is on the verge of winning back-to-back MVPs (and maybe championships) if this keeps up, as the Warriors rolled into Brooklyn for Sunday’s game riding a 21-game winning streak to start the season. And Steph is the league’s leading scorer — he had 44 against the Raptors on Saturday — and doing plenty to keep the Warriors in the win column. Question: Would you put him into the Hall of Fame right now if he suddenly retired? I had that discussion with a few writers the other day. Another question: Where does he rank, right now, in this generation? From an entertaining standpoint, Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News is ready to elevate Curry at or near the top:

That’s the unique power of what Curry is doing these days with the 20-0 Warriors — it’s far beyond his team affiliation or the normal demographics of this sport.

He’s NBA Elvis. Today’s Jesse Owens. He’s the new thing that blows away all existing limits and boundaries.

So yes, the victories are important. Last season’s championship and Curry’s MVP award were crowning milestones, no doubt.

And Curry’s poise and grace throughout it all — his connection to his teammates, coaches and fans — serve as the largest exclamation points to his ascension.

But as a cultural barometer, the specific Curry Moments — most recently, his incredible 28-point third-quarter performance Wednesday in Charlotte — are essentially stand-alone landmarks.

We watch. He plays. The night turns electric.

Brent Barry, a 14-year NBA veteran and now a national TV analyst, says his 9-year-old son asks him one thing every afternoon: “Is Steph playing tonight?” And on Wednesday they were another witness for Curry.

“He won’t miss games,” Barry said of his son, “just like Steph won’t miss shots.”

The NBA, of course, is not lacking for immense, compelling talents — starting with LeBron James and continuing through Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Russell Westbrook, Draymond Green and James Harden, among others.

But there is something different about Curry right now, in his prime (27, in his seventh NBA season) and accelerating his game well past even last season’s MVP dominance.

As future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett suggested a few weeks ago, Curry is treading upon sacred NBA territory — where only Michael Jordan recently has tread.

With Curry and the Warriors at the forefront, lethal long-distance shooting has become basketball’s most potent force, and Curry proves it every game. “Like Michael Jordan was a whole other thing, this guy is his own thing,” Garnett told reporters Nov. 12. “It’s beautiful for basketball.”

Curry, who scored 40 points in only 30 minutes on Wednesday, now has six games of 40 points or more this season. The last player to do that in his team’s first 20 games: Jordan in 1986.

But this is not close to the same thing, because Jordan and Curry represent different levels of NBA invincibility.

In his prime, Jordan attacked the rim and defied gravity; Curry seems to exist in a dimension without it.

He just calmly places himself and the basketball wherever he wants while all other players whirl and tumble haphazardly around him.

NBA legend Jerry West, a Warriors executive, said the most notable part of Curry’s career track is that he works so hard in the off-season and keeps taking enormous strides.

“I think he’s going to create a new kind of player to be honest with you,” West said. “I think before it’s all said and done, here’s a guy that’s going to make his own place in history in a completely different manner than these other players have done.”

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No. 2:   Team USA boss Jerry Colangelo not ready to hand Kobe a spot — You would think there would be lots of sentiment to put Kobe Bryant on Team USA in Rio next year purely because, from an accomplishment standpoint, Kobe has earned the right to be seriously considered. Call it a career achievement award, and also, as an American, Kobe has been at the forefront of international basketball from an active player’s standpoint. Anyway, not so fast. Jerry Colangelo said Kobe must earn a spot, which is hard to imagine Kobe doing at this stage of his career. Sam Amick of USA Today sat down with Colangelo about Kobe:

Colangelo, who barely missed his chance to take Bryant in the 1996 draft when he was running the Phoenix Suns, certainly has a soft spot for the future Hall of Famer. He discusses not only the Olympic decision here, but their relationship and a few memories inspired by Bryant’s retirement announcement.

Colangelo on Bryant’s interest …

“When I was approached originally about Kobe’s interest in potentially playing in the Olympics — this goes back early last summer, I guess, or spring — and the concept being that it would be great to end a career, win a gold medal and ride off into the sunset. That was just thrown my way by his agent, Rob Pelinka. I just took it in and I said, ‘Rob, I don’t rule anyone out, but it has got to be based on performance because there’s so many people who want (to be on the team) — everyone wants to be on the roster.’ So he says, ‘Well, absolutely, and that’s how Kobe feels. He wants to earn it.’ Well then a month later, the two of us were in New York at an NBA function, and Kobe and I had a chance to visit, and we talked about the same thing. He reiterated his interest, but also the fact that he didn’t want any gifts, that he wanted to — if he wasn’t capable of earning it, by his performance, then that was that.

“So just recently, with his announcement of retirement, some people have come back to me (on the topic). Nothing has changed for me. Again, the same criteria exists, which is (a player’s performance) this season. So we’ll just look at this season. And I know where he has struggled, and it’s not the same…but there are some people having really outstanding years.”

On sacrificing a spot for Bryant based largely on the sentimental component and the fact that a) the 12th man won’t play much and b) Team USA will be heavily favored to win gold regardless of who fills that spot …

“Let’s just put it this way: on one hand, you have what you just proposed. On the other hand, if someone is left off the team, like Kawhi Leonard or Paul George — and I’m just using names — for that purpose, then you have to weigh that fairness, to some degree. That’s all. So it’s not an easy call, and it’s one that I don’t have to make for quite some time. And I’m going to stick to that. I’ve got plenty of time. With out further ado …

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No. 3: Paul Pierce says the Clippers need time — We’re all surprised by the Clippers struggling in the West. This is a veteran team, one with a dynamic duo in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, one coached by Doc Rivers. And yet, Paul Pierce, the championship-tested forward who was brought in to add a killer mentality to the locker room, says the Clippers need time to get it right. Um, OK. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has more from The Truth:

The Clippers were 10-9 through Friday, 9½ games behind the undefeated Warriors. What’s more troubling is that the Clippers’ struggles have occurred despite a home-heavy schedule. Los Angeles has played the most home games in the NBA, yet it can’t gain any consistency, getting drubbed by Indiana on Wednesday after a three-game winning streak.

Pierce has seen this before. The 2009-10 Celtics were the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference before making a run to the NBA Finals. He is hardly one to panic, but there appears to be so much pressure on Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan (none of whom have played in an NBA Finals) to carry the Clippers to unprecedented heights.

“I know we got the talent in here, we got all the pieces to put it together,” Pierce said. “People don’t understand we put together eight, nine new players. So it’s not always going to be easy like the team we put together where the chemistry is there right away. We’re still trying to find our chemistry but we know that the talent is here and what we’re capable of.

“I think everybody understands that we’ve got the talent that could do something special.”

Pierce has been a team leader and voice of reason, attempting to hammer home the message that championships aren’t won in November and December, and slow starts are sometimes indicative of a team that needs more time to develop cohesion.

“We’re experiencing [tough times] but the key is not getting frustrated,” he said. “Not getting bored, not getting tired of one another. Just keeping everybody’s spirits up. It’s a long season. We’re going to be a different team in another month or two months from now and a different team once playoffs come. Understand that it’s a process.

“These guys are who they are but I’m still going to be me, get to practice early, get my shots up, get my weights in, that’s going to be me until I’m done.”

As in his previous two stops after 15 years in Boston — Brooklyn and Washington — Pierce is off to a slow start. He is shooting 31.8 percent from the field and averaging a career-low 4.8 points. Murmurs that Pierce was done could be heard last year with the Wizards before he warmed up in the second half of the season and became their best clutch shooter.

“Physically I feel great,” Pierce said. “Doc does a really good job; I haven’t played a lot of minutes. I haven’t had to really deal with the physical grind of the practices. My body feels good. I just want to be able to leave this game on two feet, walking straight.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards center Marcin Gortat will miss some time due to his mother’s illness … The Blazers are doing something bold and going with Noah Vonleh, who once was a lottery pick, as the starting power forward … Here’s a name to remember for Sixth Man of the Year candidate: Will Barton, who is turning heads in Denver … Meanwhile, the guy who might be the best at coming off the bench, Isaiah Thomas, has a big fan in Celtics coach Brad Stevens

Celtics stick to their own formula for turnaround


VIDEO: Isaiah Thomas has been critical to the Celtics’ turnaround

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The playoff berth, the turnaround, the return to relevance, if you will, sans a superstar after the end of the Big 3 era.

It wasn’t supposed to happen overnight for the Boston Celtics.

Danny Ainge‘s current rebuilding project is the model for doing it without the saving grace of a marquee superstar. And that’s fine by Brad Stevens, the coach Ainge plucked from the college ranks to guide these surprising Celtics through this process.

Ainge sold Stevens on a long-term vision, signing him to a six-year deal in 2013 that made him the youngest coach (36) in the NBA at the time, that included a transformation of the culture for the winningest franchise in league history. The days of leaning on future Hall of Famers like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to lead the way was over.

And in the early stages of the third year of this new era, the Celtics appear ready for prime time. They face off against the Atlanta Hawks tonight (8 ET, TNT), the first of seven national TV games they’ll play this season after just one last year.

Their 20-9 finish last season led to that playoff berth, where they went after LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a first-round sweep and served notice that planning for the future didn’t necessarily mean drowning in the misery of the typical rebuilding plan.

Winners of six of their last nine games, the Celtics have shaken off a 1-3 start and gotten back to the ways that led them to the playoffs last season.

Built on a bedrock of defense, depth, player development and shared sacrifice, the Celtics are on to something. With a starting lineup that includes three second-round picks and roster dotted with as many journeymen as high draft picks, Stevens has molded this group into one of the scrappiest crews in the league. And to a man, they point to their young coach and his measured ways as the key to their success.

“His approach is everything, he’s always prepared no matter what the situation, be it in games or practice and that says a lot about a coach in this league” said Isaiah Thomas, the veteran guard who leads the Celtics in scoring (21.6) and assists (6.5). “You never know if he’s happy or mad because he’s so even-keeled. He won’t show it. And that’s how this team is. He’s always talking about looking to the next play. He’s instilled that in us and it’s really defined us as a group. We’re a next play team, no matter what the situation.”

In an environment where basically half of the league is rebuilding perpetually, Stevens has made sure to avoid discussing anything of the sort with his team. Why bother with the obvious, when just talking about it won’t speed up the process?

“We’ve never once talked about it as rebuilding,” Stevens said. “We’ve talked about it as building, growing and improving. We’ve got a lot of young guys. We’re still super young. And we have to take every opportunity as a learning experience. We have to say, there aren’t any excuses in being young and not having that extra experience. That means we have to watch more film, we’ve got to put more time in the gym, we’ve got to shoot more on our own and we’ve to be better to catch up.”

David Lee, 32, is the only player on the roster over the age of 28. He’s also the only former All-Star and he arrived via trade after winning a title with the Golden State Warriors last season. But he doesn’t hold a position above or beyond any of his teammates based on that body of work.

That’s not the way this group works.

“Young and hungry, that’s us,” said fourth-year center Jared Sullinger, the Celtics’ leading rebounder (8.8). “We’ve got a lot of guys who are still trying to establish themselves throughout the league. And we play as a team. On any given night it could be someone’s time to shine and we’re so unselfish. We feed off of that.”

Buying into the system was easy, Sullinger said, because of the collective understanding that none of this would be possible without the entire group diving in. Roles change on the fly, a starter one week could be a key reserve the next. Stevens has fostered an ego-free environment and instead mandated that guys serve the greater good and emphasize the team over all else.

It’s the backbone of any successful team, but particularly in today’s NBA, where the universal embrace of the pace-and-space style has changed the landscape. Stevens pointed to the Hawks and the way they busted out last season, winning a franchise-record 60 wins and earning a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, as the prime example of a team whose success shined a light on what the Celtics are trying to create.

“Offensively, they are who they are. They are outstanding moving the ball,” Stevens said of the Hawks. “They are very intelligent. Their team savvy is off the charts. They are just really organized but still play with a lot of freedom. And they are just fun to watch … I thought it was just awesome last year they got four All-Stars because it talked about what was most important, and that’s the team winning, and all of those guys were playing great off of each other.”

The Celtics might not have four All-Star ready talents just now, but the players are convinced that the foundation and the culture for that kind of success in the future is in the works.

“I always say guys don’t play with each other, they play for each other,” Thomas said. “And on this team, it feels like a college team, for the most part. Guys aren’t running around with big egos, everybody just wants to see each other succeed. And that’s hard to find in the NBA. I think we’ve got a great group of guys and it starts with our coaching staff. Everybody has an equal opportunity to be themselves. And that’s what works for us.”

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 15


VIDEO: The Fast Break: Nov. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors keep streak alive | Cleveland win streak snapped | Tyler Zeller relegated to the sideline | Bosh is back, renewed

No. 1: Warriors keep streak alive The Golden State Warriors began the season with a 10-game win streak, and have looked, for all intents and purposes, like they were the most powerful team in the NBA. So perhaps we can understand if the Warriors came into last night’s game against the then-1-8 Brooklyn Nets thinking they had the game in the bag. The Warriors ended up winning, sure, but it took a crucial three from Andre Iguodala and an overtime session for the Warriors to overcome a red-hot Jarrett Jack and remain perfect, as Carl Steward writes in the San Jose Mercury News

All of the Warriors’ impressive streaks appeared primed to be taken down Saturday night by former Warrior Jarrett Jack and an unlikely cast of Brooklyn Nets.

But the Warriors simply would not let their slate be blemished, and that goes for those slate uniforms, too

Andre Iguodala’s 3-point basket with 5.9 seconds left in regulation tied the score at 97-all, and after surviving a virtual point-blank buzzer miss by Brook Lopez, the Warriors then blitzed Brooklyn with a 10-0 run to start overtime en route to a 107-99 victory at Oracle Arena.

Jack scored 28 points, including six in the final 1:45 of regulation, and appeared to have directed the now 1-9 Nets to the NBA’s biggest upset of the year. For all the 11-0 Warriors have accomplished to start the season, it would have been a mighty bitter pill to swallow.

But the Warriors, who played with starter Klay Thompson sidelined by back stiffness, wouldn’t surrender. Neither would the Nets. In the end, it came down to Iguodala’s make, Lopez’s miss, and who had the most left in the tank for OT.

It turned out to be the Warriors, who were just happy to get this one.

“No win is guaranteed in this league, and teams that are down are always the ones that come to bite you,” said Iguodala, who saved the day with his 3-pointer when everyone in building figured Stephen Curry would be the one to take the last shot.

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No. 2: Cleveland win streak snapped Meanwhile, Golden State’s opponent in last season’s Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had put together 8 consecutive wins, until last night’s game in Milwaukee, when the Cavs lost in double overtime, 108-105. And it wasn’t the loss that bothered the Cavs so much as it was the way that it happened, including an inadvertent whistle during a fast break, as Dave McMenamin writes for ESPN.com

The Cavaliers’ eight-game winning streak ended in controversy Saturday night after an inadvertent whistle thwarted a potential Cleveland transition opportunity with 7.4 seconds remaining in OT in the Milwaukee Bucks’ eventual 108-105 double-overtime victory.

Chief official Marc Davis explained the error to a pool reporter after the game.

“I blew the whistle with 7.4 seconds because I was in my action refereeing the play, and off to the side I heard Cleveland’s bench ask for a timeout,” Davis said. “I granted them the timeout, at which I looked at the head coach David Blatt and realized that he hadn’t asked for the timeout. [I] made an inadvertent whistle, which allowed the offensive team to call a timeout, and, in fact, they wanted a timeout and asked for a timeout.”

According to the NBA rulebook, a timeout can be granted only to either the head coach or one of the players checked into the game when the ball is dead or in control of the team making the request.

A video replay showed at least five members of the Cavs — Kevin Love, Mo Williams, assistant coaches Jim Boylan and Larry Drew, as well as athletic trainer Stephen Spiro — all signaling for timeout from the bench after LeBron James blocked Jerryd Bayless‘ layup attempt with 9.9 seconds remaining in overtime and the score tied 96-96.

However, since Love and Williams were out of the game, they were ineligible to have their request granted, as were the staff members.

When play was stopped after the whistle, both James and J.R. Smith let their frustration be known, hopping in place after the call.

“Coach said if we get a stop, then go ahead and go, because they might expect us to call a timeout,” James explained. “We got a stop, Delly [Matthew Dellavedova] got the board, outletted to me and I had a full steam, and we had an inadvertent whistle, so I’m guessing that they heard someone call timeout. But the rules, I know the rules, and only the head coach can call a timeout, and Coach Blatt didn’t call a timeout, so, you know, it’s over and done with now.”

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No. 3: Tyler Zeller relegated to the sideline — The Boston Celtics are currently dealing with the kind of problem most NBA teams would love to face: They have too many good big men. And, at least thus far, the odd man out has been Tyler Zeller, who started nearly 60 games for the Celtics last season and was expected to be a starter during this campaign. To Zeller’s credit, according to ESPN Boston, he’s handled the change in roles like a pro…

You can tell it pains [Boston coach Brad] Stevens to not be able to play Zeller. This is a 25-year-old 7-footer who started 59 games for Boston last season. But the Celtics brought in veterans Amir Johnson and David Lee; Jared Sullinger has been the team’s best player since the start of the season; and Kelly Olynyk is a plus/minus darling who helps Boston’s second-unit thrive. For a Boston team that likes to go small, there is little space for a fifth big.

Thus, Zeller must deal with bite-sized shifts until an injury or opportunity presents itself.

“Tyler’s a really good player. We just have a lot of bigs,” said Stevens. “I don’t know how else to say it. We haven’t shot it great, so you want to play some guys that can stretch the floor and be guarded when the floor is stretched. And that leaves at least one person out.

“And I don’t know that it will always be Tyler. In fact, I see him playing a huge role for our team and he knows that. But, nonetheless, it’s really hard to deal with. But we’ve won three of the last four games and he hasn’t played as much. But he’ll help us win three out of four in some other stretch and he’ll play a lot.”

The way Zeller has handled this situation has made it a positive for the Celtics. While some players might have moped or tuned out, the easy-going Zeller never allowed the situation to impact his work ethic. And that’s now set a standard for a Boston team that believes it runs 15 deep and will see similar rotation issues crop up over the course of the 2015-16 campaign.

Zeller has become the model that Stevens can reference when other players don’t get their number called on a regular basis. How can others complain when they see the way Zeller has handled himself?

“Every day I see Tyler, Tyler is doing conditioning because he’s not getting the minutes that he normally gets,” said Sullinger, who produced his third consecutive double-double on Friday. “He’s lifting, he’s constantly in the gym working on his game, and that’s a big-time hats off to Tyler because, him going from starting to sometimes not even thought about then he’s thrown into [Friday’s] game … Tyler was ready and that’s being a pro’s pro.”

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No. 4: Bosh is back, renewed Last season, with the Miami Heat looking to made a late-season playoff push, they suddenly found themselves unable to relay on their 10-time All-Star power forward Chris Bosh, who was ruled out of action with a blood clot on his lung, which ended up putting Bosh in the hospital for a while. But after a long stay and rehabilitation, he’s returned to the floor for the Heat this season, and has played an important part in Miami getting off to a 6-3 start, writes Ira Winderman in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“I’m just happy every game day,” he said, reflecting on where he stands at this juncture of his NBA career.

He values his game days, grateful the blood clot on his lung — the potentially life-threatening and outlook-altering ordeal that sidelined him for the final two months of last season — didn’t rob him of these moments.

“I don’t let myself go through the motions,” he said of what has been inspired play over the season’s first two weeks, amid the Heat’s 6-3 start. “I don’t give myself excuses as to why I can’t go up and down the floor quickly or whatever. I just try to go out there and do it and go out there and try to win a game and each day that I feel I have an opportunity to really just do something I love.

“This is what it’s about: You have a gift to do something you really like.”

The passion has been undeniable. And infectious.

Hassan Whiteside has the locker next to Bosh. He is there for the pregame inspiration and, lately, the postgame exhilaration.

“When you’re in the hospital for as long as he was, it really opens up your eyes,” Whiteside said. “It gave him a chance to miss the game. He always loved the game, but it is different when you miss the game. I’m excited every time he plays.”

From the moment he received clearance to resume basketball activity, Bosh started to spread his passion through the roster.

“He’s been fantastic as a leader,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Everybody has been turning to him in practice, shootaround, film sessions, and then you love to see him back it all up on the court.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Knicks center Kevin Seraphin, who counts Paris as his adopted hometown and lives there during the NBA offseason, reflects on the recent terror attacksKyrie Irving is reportedly making progress in his return from offseason surgery … Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will remain out indefinitely as his family deals with a medical emergencyGerald Green returned to practice for the Miami Heat … DeMarcus Cousins has volunteered to pay for the expenses of the funeral for a Sacramento teenager murdered while driving to football practice

Morning shootaround — Oct. 27


VIDEO: Sekou Smith digs in on why the 2015-16 season will be great

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron, Rose ready to go in opener  | Report: Carlisle, Mavs negotiating extension | Taylor discusses Saunders’ passing | Ainge in it for long haul with Celtics

No. 1: LeBron OK to go in opener; Rose ready for opener, too — Well, after months of waiting, the season is FINALLY here. And what better way to start things off than with a matchup between two Eastern Conference heavyweights — the defending conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers, who take on their longtime rival, the Chicago Bulls (8 ET, TNT). The best thing about the matchup may be that former MVPs LeBron James and Derrick Rose, both slowed by injury in the preseason, are ready to go and neither is expected to be on a minutes limit.

James spoke about his status after practice, which we’ll turn to Tom Withers of the Associated Press for more:

After sitting out nearly two weeks since undergoing an anti-inflammatory injection, James was able to fully participate in Cleveland’s practice for the second straight day and said he’ll play Tuesday in the season opener at Chicago.

“I feel good,” James said following Monday’s workout at Cleveland Clinic Court. “I’m ready to go. I’ll be active tomorrow.”

James had been limited in practice since receiving the shot Oct. 13, the second injection he has gotten in 10 months. The four-time MVP took some contact Sunday and said the big test would be how he responded after the workout. Although he didn’t get into any specifics, James feels good enough to take on the Bulls.

The 30-year-old was asked if he ever worried he’d have to miss the opener.

“Nope,” he said.

“He won’t have a specific limit minutes-wise,” coach David Blatt said. “On the other hand, we will be cautious and careful and not overplay.”

“We’re not going to put too much on the first game of the season,” James said. “We’ve put in a lot of work over the last few weeks, and you can only try to get healthy, work your habits, work your rhythm and our last few practices have been very good. But you don’t put too much onus on if this will be the team that we’ll be long-term tomorrow.”

The Cavs will begin the season missing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, who is still recovering from surgery on a broken kneecap and may be weeks away from his debut. Cleveland will welcome back forward Kevin Love, who missed most of the playoffs after dislocating his left shoulder in the first round against Boston.

“I did everything leading up to be ready for this,” said Love, who re-signed with the Cavs as a free agent this summer. “My body feels good and now is just the time to get to work for the real thing.”

And here’s Sam Smith of Bulls.com, who caught up with Rose after practice about the upcoming season:

I was reminded Monday after Bulls practice about Jerry’s mom from the Seinfeld series. She’d heard about “Crazy” Joe Davola not liking Jerry. She’s stunned, in disbelief. “How can anyone not like you!” she exclaims. “Doesn’t like you? How can that be?”

And then there was Derrick Rose Monday concluding another long media session in the Advocate Center and being asked about having to endure yet another setback, his fourth surgery in the last four years, though expected to be in the starting lineup Tuesday when the Bulls open the 2015-16 NBA season against the Cleveland Cavaliers on national TNT.

“It’s part of it,” Rose said. “It’s a big picture. I’ve got to take the good with the bad and the ugly. It was ugly when I started training camp. Like I said, taking the good, how my life has been. I’ve been so comfortable; my family has been so comfortable, everybody is enjoying their life. It’s a lot of positives and a lot of blessings that come with playing this sport. Getting hit in the eye, all these surgeries, I’ve got to take it. This game changed my life too much.

“I don’t think I have to prove anything to anyone,” said Rose. “It’s just all about having fun. Enjoying the game, appreciating the game. Seeing how far this game has taken me. How comfortable my life is as far as I’m able to focus on certain things, focus on my profession without any distractions. I just feel blessed. I’m not expecting anything (Tuesday). I’m just expecting to win the game. For myself, I don’t care. As long as we win the game, I’m fine.”

I hear plenty of discussion, national and local about the Bulls, and so much is about Rose and that he doesn’t relate to his team and is some sort of distraction and it’s some fight over whose team it is and should be and some lack of respect and regard for all that is holy and good in the world. I have defended Rose plenty in the past. So full disclosure, as the saying goes, is warranted. But I never quite get this level of media and public outrage directed toward him.

All I see is a guy who works relentlessly to get back and play basketball.

It’s all he wants to do.

Rose meets with media as much or more than anyone on the Bulls, at least when he is not in rehabilitation. He answers questions with sincerity and often humor. After the game in Nebraska last week he did group and individual interviews. He obviously has a strong faith as I have never heard him blame anyone for his injuries or ask why it befell him.

And now he’ll be in the starting lineup and open the season Tuesday against tormentor LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“I’m very excited, very excited as far as what I just went through as far as the surgery, and just how much I miss the game,” said Rose. “My appreciation for the game just grew. My faith grew as far as all this is out of my hands. I can’t control this. I’ve just got to go along and take the good with the bad.’’

And because Rose is playing and in good health and basically of positive attitude, the Bulls again have a chance to defeat the Cavaliers.

“I’m just happy to be back playing again, so it really doesn’t matter,” Rose told reporters when hearing for the first time he’d be starting Tuesday following coach Fred Hoiberg’s comments to media. “It’s (left eye) still blurry a little bit. But every day, like I said, it’s improving. It’s a slow process. A little bit (of double vision still) when I look certain places. But if I concentrate really hard or focus on it a little harder, I can see more things at certain times. I see side-to-side, but usually when I look certain places I see double still. When I play I just play with one eye. Close the other eye until my vision is back clearer. I just close one eye and just go out there and play. It worked out for me.’’

“If anything (the surgery) helped me recover with my body,” said Rose, putting a positive spin on getting his face broken. “It helped me focus on other things, like my ankles and my hips, getting them loose and staying loose. As far as massages and all that stuff, I made sure I got the maintenance for my body.

“I think my body is fit for (the season) now,” said Rose. “I lost a couple of pounds. Last year I was at 212. This year I’m at 203. Same weight I was when I won MVP. So feel a bit lighter. And who knows? The way I was able to drive the ball [Friday playing 10 minutes against the Mavs with eight points], it felt good driving, and like I said, it boosted my confidence a little bit.

“Since the first day, I really haven’t had a problem with (wearing the protective mask),” said Rose. “When I’m playing I’m so focused on the game that you really don’t know that you have it on until there’s a timeout or something like that and you’ve got to wipe it off. But other than that I don’t care.


VIDEO: Derrick Rose talks about his status for tonight’s opener

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