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Posts Tagged ‘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


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.


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

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.”


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.”


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.


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


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, 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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Hang Time Podcast (Episode 211) Featuring K.C. Johnson and Marc D’Amico

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In a city as passionate about its team as Chicago Bulls fans are, and have been for years, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to make sense of what has become of Derrick Rose. The youngest winner of the NBA’s most coveted individual honor, Rose has found himself at the center of yet another loyalty-splitting situation in the Windy City and beyond.

And it has little to do with his latest injury setback, a broken orbital bone broken in the first training camp practice Tuesday, an injury that required surgery today and will sideline him for two weeks (according to the Bulls). It was Rose’s words a day earlier, during Media Day, that produced mass head scratching. He didn’t speak about winning championships and representing his city, themes that had previously been at the center of any public comments in that setting.

Instead spoke of being focused on free agency two years from now and how he’ll cash in on all of the lucrative contracts being dished out around the league and securing his family’s financial future for generations to come.

It makes sense for a superstar who has played in just 100 regular season games since winning the KIA MVP after the 2010-11 season, due to knee injuries, to take that big picture perspective on things. But it also serves as yet another reason for some to doubt whether Rose is focused on winning at all costs.

We kick off Episode 211 of The Hang Time Podcast talking Rose and all of the associated drama with K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. Matt D’Amico, Director of digital content and team reporter for the Boston Celtics also joins us to discuss the prospects for Brad Stevens and his crew this season.

You get all of that and more on Episode 211 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune and Marc D’Amico of the Boston Celtics ...


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of,  Lang Whitaker of’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

VIDEO: Derrick Rose speaks his mind at Media Day in Chicago. He suffered a broken left orbital bone in the Bulls’ first training camp practice a day later and will be sidelined for two weeks after surgery

Blogtable: Thoughts On Donovan, OKC

Each week, we ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below. Today, it’s a special, one-question-only edition of the blogtable …

VIDEOBilly Donovan’s biggest challenges with Thunder?

> The Thunder have hired Florida’s Billy Donovan to be their next coach. What do you think of this move? And how do you measure success at the end of next season?

Steve Aschburner, I’m no fan of college coaches in the NBA, Brad Stevens’ fine work in Boston a praiseworthy exception. For every one like him, there are two or three — Mike Montgomery, Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger — who struggle to make the challenging transition. In college, the coach is king and it’s men bossing around boys. In the NBA, the players rule and largely allow themselves to be coached. The urgency of OKC’s situation makes Donovan a shaky fit too, in my view. Unless Kevin Durant flat-out loves the guy, they have just one season to get back at least to the Western Conference finals – and even that would carry no guarantee that the 2014 MVP wouldn’t land elsewhere in 2016 free agency. Then it could be Russell Westbrook after that. Looks to me like the Thunder are most committed to Donovan (five-year deal) at a level, frankly, they never committed to Scott Brooks.

Fran Blinebury, It seemed that general manager Sam Presti didn’t think the Thunder were going to take the next step forward with the laid-back style of Scott Brooks. He’s brought in a friend and a more intense personality in Billy Donovan, because he thinks his team needs a spark and next season is critical for the future of the franchise with Kevin Durant about to become a free agent. Success now for OKC is 55-60 and no less than a trip to The Finals. It’s a very high bar and one that might be necessary to hang onto both K.D. and Russell Westbrook.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHiring someone who has not spent a day in the NBA makes it a risky move when a team is in win-now mode — there will be a transition — but Donovan has the counter: a long track record of success. This is not just any other college coach, and that will help with credibility within the locker room. How do I measure at the end of next season whether the move was a success? If we’re “at the end of next season” one year from now. If the Thunder, health willing, are done at the end of April or the first days of May, their 2015-16 has been a failure. How much of that would fall on the new coach remains to be seen, depending on his adjustment to the next level, but certainly he gets blame if OKC has an early exit. Success is a long playoff run and nothing less.

Shaun Powell, Billy Donovan is a former NBA player with deep ties to Rick Pitino and other former and current NBA coaches, so in terms of knowing the game and relating to the professional player, he should be fine. Honestly, I think this is pretty close to a home run for the Thunder, at least in terms of splash. On the surface, Donovan gives them a chance and should have a smooth relationship with Kevin Durant; if Durant leaves it probably won’t be because of the coach. The real work will be with Russell Westbrook; will Donovan press Russ to tweak the shoot-first mentality? Bottom line: Donovan needs a rookie season in OKC the way Steve Kerr is having a rookie season in Golden State.

John Schuhmann, I don’t have a strong opinion either way. I like the idea of bringing in some new blood into the coaching ranks, which has generally worked out well over the last few years. But Donovan is a guy who’s never coached in the NBA, taking over a pretty unique team in terms of its talent, which was already very good on both ends of the floor. So none of us really know how it will work out. But success will be measured by whether or not Kevin Durant re-signs next summer. Asking Donovan to get to The Finals in his first year is a lot. But if he establishes something that convinces Durant to stick around, he’s done his job.

Sekou Smith, They had to hire someone with name recognition and a long track record as coach, so in that respect this move would appear to be a positive one. But assuming Donovan will make the same sort of transition like Brad Stevens has made in Boston is a huge mistake. It’s all about the expectations. If Donovan has healthy stars for the 2015-16 season, he’ll be greeted with the same sort of outlandish expectations that awaited David Blatt at the start of training camp in Cleveland this season. If Thunder GM Sam Presti stuck to his ways and hired Donovan without at least giving consideration to the preferences of Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook, this could turn out to be an even more diabolically divisive move. If either one of them walks on Donovan’s watch, Billy D will carry that blame with him, right or wrong, until he leads the Thunder to a title. Presti has a long history of spectacular moves — be it in the Draft, trade market or free agency — but he’s compiling an equally long list of head-scratching moves, too. That’s a cause for concern. It only takes one or two gaffes (James Harden comes to mind) to erode years of confidence from fans. Donovan’s fit has to be perfect for this move to work and I’m just not sure it is. The only measure of success for the Thunder next season is the sort of renaissance turnaround that comes from being a lottery team this summer to being a No. 1 playoff seed this time next year. And that’s just for starters.

Ian Thomsen, It is a long-term investment. Success will be measured by progress: If Durant and Westbrook believe by this time next year that they’re on track to win championships in partnership with Donovan, then what better way to convince them to re-sign as free agents? The goal is to create an environment that serves their best interests as they enter their prime years – a team built for a long run of contention that they can’t afford to leave.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: I’m not really sure what to make of Billy Donovan. To my knowledge he’s known for winning a lot of games and winning national titles, but he’s never been touted as an offensive genius, the kind of coach who can make OKC’s offense a little more liquid than it’s been the last few years. To be honest, I thought Larry Brown would be an inspired coach for a short-term, win-now project. Donovan feels like more of a long-term hire, someone who will build a foundation and be there for years to come. but with Westbrook and Durant staring down free agency just around the bend, I’m just not sure that Donovan is who or what the Thunder needs right now.

Celtics surprised by Rondo’s finish in Dallas

VIDEO: Charles and Kenny are on board with the Mavericks parting ways with Rajon Rondo

BOSTON — Whatever issues led to Rajon Rondo and Rick Carlisle butting heads in Dallas were somehow avoided in Boston with the Brad Stevens.

Stevens, the Celtics coach, admitted to being a bit surprised that Rondo’s time in Dallas seems to have to come to an ugly finish.

Rondo has been ruled out for the remainder of the team’s postseason run, technically by a “bad back.” But his conflicts with Carlisle have been well documented, the latest coming in the Mavericks’ Game 2 loss to Houston Tuesday, when Rondo was benched in favor of Ray Felton and J.J. Barea.

Rondo was solid in 22 games with Boston this season before he and Dwight Powell were traded to the Mavericks for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, a first-round pick, a second-round pick and a trade exception. He averaged 8.3 points and at the time a league-leading 10.8 assists.

“I felt like Rajon had played really well at the start of the year,” Stevens said. “I had coached him during a really tough time for him, simply because last year he was just coming back from that ACL tear and not having any practice, which is really unique, and so it was just a matter of him getting the feel a little bit better. I was around him a lot this summer. I was around him a lot this fall. He had the unfortunate hand break at the start of the season and it put him a little bit behind again. But I thought he played pretty well here, so yeah, I was a little bit surprised.”

Celtics boss Danny Ainge, a longtime Rondo advocate, admitted his surprise at the drama that’s gone down in Dallas in a local radio (98.5 the Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich”) show earlier this week:

“I’m very surprised,” Ainge said. “I thought it would be a good fit for the Mavericks and Rajon. I don’t really know what’s going on down there. I read a little bit (Wednesday) and heard some things, but I’m very surprised. I thought it would work out well for both people.”

“I don’t know what’s going on down there,” Ainge said. “Rajon was terrific here with coach (Brad) Stevens. I think they got along. The whole question is, Rondo was good this year for us. He worked really hard in the offseason. I really did think it was going to be a big year for him, and Rajon just hasn’t played as well, for whatever reason, as he hoped and as we had hoped and as the Mavericks had hoped.”

Rondo will be a free agent this summer, so he’ll have the opportunity to start somewhere fresh for the 2015-16 season. But this residue of this tumultuous season will no doubt travel with him, wherever he goes.

That said, Carlisle and the Mavericks stand by the deal.

Carlisle told a Dallas radio station Thursday that it was a risky move, but one worth taking.

“In the case of anything, there is risk, but there are risks worth taking,” Carlisle said Thursday on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM. “That trade was a risk worth taking. We all agreed on that. Now, we’re at a point where, hey, it’s time to move on.”

Blogtable: Ready for an East upset?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?

VIDEOGeorge Hill lifts the Pacers to a big win over the Wizards

> The Pacers, Celtics and Nets are all battling for the last two seeds in the East. Which of those teams has the best chance to pull off a first-round upset?

Steve Aschburner, Indiana, of the teams you’re offering, has the best chance of a first-round upset – and it’s itty-bitty. I like the Celtics the best of that bunch but there is no way they’re getting past Cleveland in the 2-7 showdown. If Brooklyn gets in, that’s it, they’re done – while they have some big-name players who might ordinarily give Atlanta or potentially anyone else some tough challenges, there’s a lack of spine or fortitude in that team dating back to its Game 7 loss at home to undermanned Chicago that still is an issue, in my view. That leaves Indiana, which couldn’t crack 100 in its double-overtime slog vs. Toronto Wednesday but would have to keep up with Atlanta’s high-octane attack. So yeah, Pacers, itty-bitty.

Fran Blinebury, The Pacers because of their roster loaded with veterans who have been through the playoff wars and because they are capable of playing elite level defense.

Scott Howard-Cooper, The actual answer is “Nobody.” But if I have to pick one, it’s the Pacers. They’re playing well now, the return of Paul George has been an emotional lift as well as an additional scoring punch despite struggling with his shot, coach Frank Vogel on the sideline is always a good thing, and defense, rebounding and playoff experience is a good place to start building an upset scenario.

Shaun Powell, The easy answer is “none of the above” but if I must choose, then it’s the Pacers. At least their core players know what playoff basketball is about, and there’s the Paul George factor. The basketball gods could repay the Pacers for all they’ve been through with George and take it out on the Hawks, which of course would confirm Atlanta’s status as the choking dog of all sports towns.

John Schuhmann, None of them will win more than a game from the Hawks or Cavs, but Indiana is best suited to put a scare in ’em. They’re the best defensive team of the group, so they can keep games ugly and close. They’ve been the best team of the group (in regard to point differential) since the All-Star break and have gotten a boost from the return of Paul George. That being said, I don’t know if they’re even going to be playing this weekend, because they’ll need to win in Memphis on Wednesday to edge out the Nets for the No. 8 seed.

Sekou Smith, These teams are doing whatever they can to claw their way into the playoffs and you want to talk about upsets? Actually, the Pacers have the best roster to pull an upset. They’ve got experience and size, decent depth and a star (Paul George, even on limited minutes) capable of going on a tear in a playoff series. They appear spent physically, which is not uncommon this time of year for a team that has been fighting uphill just to stay in the playoff chase. So they’d have to find a way to rest and recharge within the framework of the playoff schedule to even think about pulling off an upset. But again, for teams crawling into the postseason, an upset tends to be more pipe dream than reality.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLet’s start by acknowledging that the Nets and Pacers won’t be able to run or execute with the Hawks, who went 7-0 against them this year. The Celtics are going to have problems of their own finishing close games against Cleveland, but their small lineup, quickness and ball movement could scare the Cavs for 42 minutes. What coach Brad Stevens has done with young role players over the last two months (23-12) is no fluke: He has been doing for the Celtics what he did for Butler.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: None of them? Honestly, I don’t think any of those teams really have a chance to win a first round series against Atlanta or Boston. But if I had to pick one, which I guess is what you’re saying, I’ll go with the Celtics. Boston has played Atlanta pretty well this season, even beating them once just before the All-Star break. And they beat Cleveland (resting players) twice recently. Adding Isaiah Thomas has given the Celtics another scorer and ballhandler. Is he enough to help the Celtics beat the Hawks or the Cavaliers? That’s a horse of a different color. But what the heck, let’s give them the nod.

Playoff scenarios aplenty in play on final day of 2014-15 season

VIDEO: Celtics coach Brad Stevens and his crew don’t have to sweat out the final night of the season

NEW ORLEANS — It must be nice to be Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics this morning. Your hard-earned playoff berth, the No. 7 seed, is locked up. You already know you have a date with LeBron James and the No. 2 seed Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

The mission, so to speak, is complete, courtesy of a 95-93 win over the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

But not everyone slept as soundly the night before the final day of this NBA season.

For plenty of teams on both sides of the conference divide this is the biggest night of the regular season. For teams still fighting to get into the playoffs and jockeying for postseason positioning, it all comes down to these final 48 (or more) minutes.

The constantly changing playoff picture is still a bit fuzzy for much of the field.

For some the math is simple — win and you are in. That’s the scenario the Pelicans are facing here tonight at Smoothie King Center (vs. San Antonio, 8 ET, League Pass). The Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight 44-37, but New Orleans holds the tie-breaker over OKC. As such, the Pelicans need to at least finish tied with the Thunder record-wise, but a win tonight can secure them the 8th and final spot in the Western Conference.

The Spurs are locked in a fight to the finish for the No. 2 seed in the West behind the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors, who locked up that top spot weeks ago and have not looked back. Knock off the Pelicans and the Spurs clinch the Southwest Division and secure that No. 2 spot. Lose and they could tumble to the No. 5 or 6 seed.

So much for that maintenance program Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is famous for employing with his veteran stars. There is too much at stake for all of the teams in that 2-through-7 mix.

In the Western Conference, the Warriors (No. 1 seed), Portland Trail Blazers (No. 4, but no home court) and Dallas Mavericks (No. 7) already have their seeds locked in.

In the Eastern Conference, the Atlanta Hawks (1), Cavaliers (2), Washington Wizards (5), Milwaukee Bucks (6) and Celtics (7) are set.

A quick look at what is at stake for teams still caught up in the crosshairs on the final night of the season

Houston (vs. Utah, 8 ET, League Pass): James Harden and the Rockets need a win over an improved Utah Jazz team, plus a loss by the Spurs, to secure the No. 2 seed and the Southwest Division title. The Rockets could finish with 56 wins, third most in franchise history behind the 1993-94 NBA championship team that won 58 games and the 1996-97 team that won 57.

L.A. Clippers (season complete): They’ve handled their business, winning seven straight games to finish the season and 14 of their final 15, only to have to sit and watch tonight to see who they’ll face in the first round. The Clippers can finish as high as No. 2 (if the Rockets and Spurs lose tonight) and no lower than No. 3 and will host their first-round series. Their opponent? It could be Memphis, the Rockets, Spurs or Dallas Mavericks.

Memphis and Indiana (vs. each other, 9:30 ET, ESPN): The Grizzlies face an energized and motivated Pacers team, fresh off of a must-have double overtime win over Washington Tuesday night. While the Grizzlies have a host of complicated scenarios that can move them up to No. 5, the Pacers are playing for their playoff lives. A loss by Brooklyn or a win by Indiana pushes the Pacers in, where they will face the Hawks in a rematch of last season’s first-round matchup (when the Pacers were the No. 1 seed and the Hawks No. 8). A loss by the Pacers plus a Brooklyn win would put an end to Indiana’s season.

Oklahoma City (at Minnesota, 8 ET, League Pass): The Thunder need to knock off Minnesota in their finale and the Spurs to handle their business against the Pelicans to make sure we get at least four more games of Russell Westbrook. (If the Thunder and Pelicans finish the season with 45-37 marks, the Pelicans get in because they won the season series with OKC 3-1.) The Thunder don’t control their own destiny, but that’s not a concern for a team that has been dealt one severe injury blow after another throughout 2014-15. A loss to the Timberwolves (or a Pelicans win) ends their season, literally and figuratively.

Chicago (vs. Atlanta, 8 ET, League Pass): The Bulls are locked in for home-court advantage in the first round and face the Hawks in a game that has ramifications beyond the first round (they are trying to avoid Cleveland in the second round, provided both teams make it through). They need a win over the Hawks to secure the No. 3 seed. A loss sends them to No. 4.

Toronto (vs. Charlotte, 7 ET, ESPN): The Raptors have a clear path. Beat the Hornets and couple that with a Bulls loss to the Hawks and they secure the No. 3 seed. They have home court either way and will try to exploit that much better than they did last season.

Brooklyn (vs. Orlando, 8 ET, League Pass): The Nets need the playoffs in the worst way, but could see their hopes go up in smoke tonight if the Pacers knock off the Grizzlies later in the night. They need to beat Orlando and hope that the Pacers used up all their mojo in that double-OT home win vs. the Wizards Tuesday.

The possibilities are endless tonight, when we close the curtain on a spectacular regular season and prepare for a postseason that should include much more of the same.

Morning shootaround — April 11

VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 10


Curry for MID award | Duncan hands Father Time first loss? | Cavs or not, Celtics can’t be choosy | Hawks’ Antic, NBPA talk N.Y. incident

No. 1: Curry for Most Improved Defender award — By now, most NBA observers expect Golden State’s floor leader and marvelous 3-point shooter Steph Curry to finish first or second in balloting for the league’s Most Valuable Player. But if you look closely at Curry’s performances on the other end of the court, listen to his coaches and study the Warriors’ numbers in thwarting the opposition, Curry might merit consideration for a wholly fictitious award: Most Improved Defender. Breaking down the components of good individual and team defense with Golden State assistant coach Ron Adams,’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss enumerated the many ways in which Curry has tightened up his game that way, and concluded:

The Warriors challenged their top player to get better, and it worked. They’re having the best regular season — in terms of point differential — we’ve witnessed since Jordan‘s Bulls.

The notion of Curry as defensive ace might be subversive, but perhaps not as subversive as the next statement: Curry got better not just because he wants to be the best player alive, but also because he thinks it’s within his reach.

“He wants to be the best,” [coach Steve] Kerr said. “He knew that to be the best he had to be better at that end.”

Even as Curry is favored to win an MVP award, the concept of a skinny, 6-3 point guard as league alpha strikes people strangely. That spot is usually reserved for physical freaks like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It all just smacks of basketball heresy.

Curry’s star continues to rise in defiance of convention, though. He markets himself as “the patron saint of the underdog” for a reason. Curry doesn’t look like a good defensive player, but then again, he never looked like a Division I college player, he never looked like an NBA draft pick, and he never looked like an NBA superstar. But he has accomplished all of those things. If reputations are often based on appearances, Curry aims to forge a reputation as someone who transcends that expectation. And his aim is excellent.

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — March 15


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 14

Celts still streaking | Five in row for Jazz | Noel likes Sixers’ future | Jackson doesn’t hustle
No. 1: Celtics closing in on playoffs — Friday night’s topic of conversation was “Cater-gate,” when Evan Turner claimed that coach Brad Stevens was so angry at halftime against the Magic that he canceled the food for the postgame flight to Indianapolis. Turns out that was not true at all, but the hungry Celtics still went out Saturday night and devoured the Pacers’ seven-game winning streak. Suddenly Boston is with in a half-game of the final playoff spot in the East and only a game behind No. 7 seed Indy. Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald says Stevens ate it all up:

Brad Stevens was in heaven.
“These are the kinds of games I’ve always loved. Just find a way,” said the Celtics coach. “It’s nice when you have a game where you’re making every shot, but that’s one of those nights, and one of those nights is called that for a reason. You’re not going to have it very often, and you just have to find a way.”

The result was the Celtics’ 93-89 win over Indiana, a team that had won its last seven games, all but one at home.

The C’s, suddenly on a four-game winning streak, thus made up ground on everyone in the chase for the seventh and eighth playoffs seeds. They moved into a tie with ninth place Miami, within a half-game of eighth place Charlotte and a game outside of the seventh place Pacers.

They suddenly feel like they should pass all of these teams.
“Winning takes care of everything,” Brandon Bass said with an especially restive smile, thinking back two months to when the Celtics didn’t have much chance of winning these games.

“We went through our struggles early on, not being able to finish games, and it’s paid off for us,” he said. “I don’t mind these grind out games. Maybe it would be better at home if we could see Gino, but we’ll win whatever we can get.”


No. 2: Jazz getting big Favors up front — With his stature and his dominant play of late, it’s certainly been hard to overlook the play in the middle of Utah’s fabulous Frenchman Rudy Gobert. But perhaps lost in the shadow of the “Stifle Tower” has been the resurgence of Derrick Favors at power forward. He’s back to playing the position where he’s most comfortable and has been large part of what has now grown into a five-game winning streak. Aaron Falk of the Salt Lake Tribune has the details:

C “I’m just taking my time,” Favors said, “reading what the defense gives me.”
After Favors scored a game-high 26 points, helping push the Jazz to a fifth straight win, his coach put it another way.

“He’s hard to guard,” Quin Snyder said.

Rudy Gobert has garnered much of the attention in Utah’s shift from defensive ineptitude to defensive powerhouse. But Snyder has been vocal about the role Favors has played, since sliding over to the 4-spot. Favors’ size has allowed the Jazz to compete against big lineups. His speed — his ability to switch, even on point guards — has kept him on the floor against smaller lineups.

And the results have been good.

“We don’t necessarily have to go small to match up,” Snyder said. “So what ends up happening is sometimes he’s got a mismatch.”

Favors, meanwhile, is also settling into an offensive groove. Favors has topped 20 points in four of his past seven games.
“He’s just more poised,” Snyder said. “I think that’s just experience. We’ve seen him improve as the season progresses.”

Favors averaged 15.9 points per game before the All-Star break. Since then (coinciding with the Enes Kanter trade and Favors’ move to the 4), Favors has put up 18.7 points per night.


No. 3: Noel wants chance to play with Embiid — He was already shocked once this season when point guard Michael Carter-Williams was shipped out at the trade deadline. So Nerlens Noel is hoping to avoid more upheaval going forward next season. He told Tom Moore of The Intelligencer (Pa.) that he wants a chance to play alongside a healthy Joel Embiid next season:

And what if the Sixers end up with Duke center Jahlil Okafor or Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns in the draft? They already have a core center in 7-footer Joel Embiid, who is sitting out his rookie season with a foot stress fracture.
“I really hope nothing happens,” Noel said last week. “I like this team. I like what we’re building. I hope we can stick together and continue to grow.”

Noel is confident that he and Embiid — with Embiid likely playing power forward on offense and center at the defensive end — will turn out to be a terrific tandem.

“Jo is going to get more and more healthy and more active,” Noel said. “I see things really taking shape (next season).”

Still, Noel gets that “at the end of the day, it is a business. You always have to keep that in mind. You’ve just got to do what you’ve got to do, work on your thing.”

Noel has been working and it’s been paying off. He’s moved into the league’s top 10 in blocked shots (sixth) and steals (10th) and, while he remains a work in progress on offense, he’s having a considerable impact on defense.

On Wednesday, Noel became the first NBA player since the Rockets’ Hakeem Olajuwon in November 1988 to accumulate at least 10 rebounds and four steals in four straight games. Through Friday, he was averaging 11.8 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.1 steals and 2 blocks in his last eight games with six double-doubles.


No. 4: Jackson benched in another Pistons loss — It was only a few weeks ago when Reggie Jackson was delighted to finally be traded out of a reserve spot in the OKC lineup and given a chance to run a team of his own in Detroit. It seems like the blink of an eye since the Pistons were happy to welcome Jackson to town as their point guard of the future. Well, you might want to put the brakes on the talk of a new contract next summer and a blissful marriage. Coach Stan Van Gundy yanked Jackson off the floor for lack of hustle in Pistons’ loss at Utah, their 10th in a row. Terry Foster of the Detroit News detailed the ugliness:

On a night the Pistons hustled for nearly everything they got it, was a non-hustle play that angered the coach.
Van Gundy can tolerate mistakes and questionable shot selection as long as there is some effort behind it. But he will not tolerate lazy play on the court.

And that is when Jackson relaxed and got burned. He came in for Spencer Dinwiddie with 5:50 remaining and play immediately bogged down.

Jackson turned the ball over and later watched as Dante Exum hustled down a loose ball and fed Rodney Hood for a layup, which gave the Jazz a 78-74 lead with 4:32 remaining.

“He (Jackson) wasn’t being very aggressive and when he didn’t chase down the loose ball and Exum got it that was a huge hoop in the game,” Van Gundy said. “As I told him when I took him out of the game, I will tolerate mistakes, but we are in a battle trying to win a fourth game in five days and you’re not going to make an effort?”

Jackson got the message loud and clear from Van Gundy.

“I just assumed the ball was going out of bounds,” Jackson said. “You can never make an assumption. You have to always complete the play.
Unfortunately that play really cost us tonight. It was a big possession. We were trying to make a comeback. Whether it is going out of bounds or not I have to be in position to make the play.”


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Stephen Curry got a birthday cake from the Warriors and a win from the Knicks…The Clippers are hoping that Blake Griffin returns to the lineup today against the Rockets….  Andre Miller is still surprised that Wizards traded him to Sacramento…Bucks plan to keep Khris Middleton….Hawks’ Scott to miss four to six weeks with broken toe.