Posts Tagged ‘Danny Ainge’

Celtics Will Rebuild Quickly With A Healthy And Hungry Rondo On Board



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – That cold and long winter that was predicted for the Boston Celtics in the aftermath of Doc Rivers departing for the Los Angeles Clippers and Danny Ainge trading away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce is still in effect.

You don’t lose that kind of championship firepower and simply move on, not without up-and-coming stars ready to fill those shoes immediately. But I am inclined to trim some time off of the back-end of that prediction if the words coming out of Rajon Rondo‘s mouth are genuine.

The lone member of the Celtics’ championship team core, Rondo’s ability to bounce back from a season-ending knee injury and mesh with new coach Brad Stevens were the two biggest question marks hanging over the Celtics this season and in the near future. It wasn’t clear if Rondo wanted to dig in for the long-term rebuild that is under way in Boston, not at this stage of his career and not after all of the playoff highs and lows he’s dealt with the past six years.

He silenced any doubters by quietly going about the business of being the leader you hoped he would. He developed a relationship with Stevens, even going so far as to declare his new coach as his “best friend” at media day. “We talk every day, we laugh and joke, we just had dinner the other night,”Rondo said. “I’m going to help him, he’s going to help me. He has my full support, and I told him from day one when he came to my camp [in Louisville for their first meeting in July], I’m 100 percent behind him.”

While Rondo’s not expected back in action until sometime after the first month of the season, if that soon, he’s already helping to jumpstart the Celtics’ franchise rebuild by simply buying in to the new program. He swears his plan all along has been to stick it out with the Celtics, he has two more years and $25 million on his current deal. He told A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com as much, making clear his mission to revive the franchise along with his career as one of the top point guards in the game.

I love it here. The fans are great here,” Rondo said.  “And [president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] has been straightforward with me. This is my team. Why would I want to leave? Why would I want out?

“I never really backed away from a challenge. This would be a challenge. I’m looking forward to working with coach [Brad] Stevens. It’s a brand-new start for us as a team. A lot of new players and a lot of young guys willing to listen, so I’m very excited about that.”

There was a time when Rondo’s leadership abilities, or lack thereof, were seen as the only thing that could hold the Celtics back. Now, at least from listening to him, his steady hand running the show in Boston is going to be the bedrock of the next era.

And this is coming from a cynic who wasn’t sure if Rondo would be willing to humble himself in the presence of a new coach without any NBA experience.

He appears to be a changed man, changed for the better in many respects, because of the injury he suffered and the perspective that distance from the game always allows. The maturity that was missing at times throughout the past six or seven years is there now. The wisdom gained from playing alongside future Hall of Famers like Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen will shine through, especially when he regains his form and returns to live action.

Don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself:

Q: How curious are you to see how your game translates to a team with no Big Three around?

RR: “Whatever coach (Brad Stevens) asks of me, that’s what I try to do. If he wants me to shoot the ball more, I’ll shoot it. But at the end of the day, my natural instincts are to make my teammates better. Regardless of who is out on the floor, I believe I do make everybody out there better. I’m going to push them as hard as I can. I’m going to demand a lot out of them. I wouldn’t demand anything that I wouldn’t demand of myself. So I’m excited to play with a new group of guys.”

Q: When you said you felt nothing when the trade went down …

RR: “That was blown out of proportion.”

Q: So what was the story behind it?

RR: “I don’t really say much and speak out on exactly what happened. I talk to Kevin all the time. I talk to P. Obviously it was different when the trade went down. I didn’t expect it to happen. I had just gotten off the plane. It happens, and that’s the business. I’m not going to say it was, ‘forget about it’. We still talk about them in the locker room today, tell stories about how KG was, things Paul did. At the end of the day, I still talk to every one of those guys. I talk to Jet, I talk to P, I talked to Kevin yesterday. We still check on each other. It’s a brotherhood. It’s something that you can’t break. We won titles together. We been through the fire together. It’s just something for life.”

Rondo has mind set on doing it again, this time with a different cast of characters, and with him in the leadership role that he didn’t have the first time around.



Pierce Not Done With Boston … Yet?





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Just because Paul Pierce wears the black and white of the Brooklyn Nets these days it does not mean he isn’t Boston Celtics green at his core.

And I’m not mad at him. In a day and age when loyalty in professional sports is strictly a seven-letter word, it’s refreshing to hear Pierce, a Celtic for his entire NBA career prior to this summer’s trade between Brooklyn and Boston, speak as fondly as he does about the city he called home for the bulk of his adult life.

Pierce didn’t roll off to chase championships in Brooklyn with a bitter taste in his mouth. Sure, he and Kevin Garnett and the rest of the Nets will be on a mission this season. But a veteran like Pierce is wise to think about life after his playing days are over. And as he told Boston Globe columnist Gary Washburn, Boston will play a prominent role in his life when he’s finished playing:

Pierce said he wants to be a fixture in Boston following his playing days, not just showing up for his retirement ceremony and heading to Malibu, Calif., the next morning. Pierce said he wants to establish something substantial in Boston, having grown attached to the city despite growing up in Inglewood, Calif., as a Lakers fan.

“Ultimately, what I would like to do is have a business in Boston,” he said. “Maybe like a sports bar. I would love to do something like that here. None of the former Celtic great players have come and done that. I thought about it, and why hasn’t anyone come and opened up a nice restaurant? You see the Don Shula restaurant, the Michael Jordan restaurant, and Magic [Johnson] got the theaters in LA. Why nobody here? All this history, all these championships and love, why has nobody done that?

“I am going to still have relationships here. I’m always going to come to this city. Every year, when I’m done, I’m going to have a reason to come here.”

Pierce said he holds no grudges toward the Celtics, and again pointed to a future relationship with the organization.

“Who knows? I may be working for Wyc Grousbeck or Danny Ainge,” he said. “A lot of players don’t understand it. I’ve always understood it. And [other players] let their pride and ego get in the way. I’ve made a lot of money here, I’ve built relationships, won a championship here, I thank y’all for everything y’all gave me. How can I be mad for everything they’ve given me. I’m thankful.”

The prospect of reaching the championship pinnacle again with the Nets is intriguing.

“Me and my best friend growing up were talking and he said, ‘Man, what if you win a championship in Brooklyn? Then what?’ ” Pierce said. “It’s another level then. There’s a chance I could move up in the [all-time] ranks if I get another championship. So I am still going. And they’ve given me more tools and I’ve got something to build.”

Pierce said the Celtics should have no trouble attracting major free agents. “The city of Boston has changed so much since I’ve been here,” he said. “There are so many more things to do and the city has grown. I think it would be a great place to play.

“I enjoyed it here. Hopefully, the fact that guys like me and Kevin liked it here is a sign to other players that it’s a good city to play in. I’m excited about playing in Brooklyn, though. There weren’t too many places I wanted to go if I had to leave Boston, but Brooklyn is one of them.”

The Nets, at least on paper, should have a much more manageable road to the postseason this season than the Celtics, who are fully rebuilding. But Pierce is right, the work done during his time in Boston helped change the perception of that city for many.

Pierce left town a winner, as a vital piece in the timeline of one of the most storied franchises in the history of professional sports in this country. That can’t be a bad way to go out, especially when you consider what his profile was prior to the assembly of Boston’s Big 3 of Pierce, Garnett and Ray Allen.

Allen made it clear that there is indeed plenty of glory left to chase elsewhere when he departed for Miami and added another title to his Hall of Fame credentials. But he’ll never be received in Boston the way Pierce and even Garnett will years from now.

Pierce will go down as one of the Celtics’ all-time greats not only for his accomplishments, but also for the length of his service to the Celtics and their fans. Fifteen years … that’s an eternity in professional sports.

So if Pierce says he’s not done with Boston yet, that’s probably a good thing for all involved.

New Breed Of GM Ushers In New Coaches

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – At NBA.com, the eight men who will make their NBA head coaching debuts next season are being profiled. Today’s feature is Boston Celtics youngblood Brad Stevens.

Eight rookie head coaches in one season is a notable development in a league known for recycling the position (depending on Philadelphia’s hire the number could reach nine).

Consider that last season’s Coach of the Year and 25-year bench boss, George Karl, is out of work, as is Lionel Hollins, who molded a 24-win team when he took over into a Western Conference finalist last season. In Denver, Brian Shaw has been awarded his first head-coaching gig and in Memphis, Hollins’ top assistant, Dave Joerger, is being given his first shot.

So why are teams suddenly investing in new blood? Is it simply cost-cutting? Is it a belief that new ideas, concepts and techniques are needed to sustain success in today’s game?

“For me, as a first-time GM, and where we are, we need to build something in Phoenix and I wanted to give a guy a chance who maybe hadn’t  been a head coach before,” said recently hired general manager Ryan McDonough, who chose Jeff Hornacek to lead the Suns. “I considered guys who had been coaches before, but the vast majority of candidates I interviewed had assistant coaching experience, but had never been NBA coaches before.”

The words to highlight: “…as a first-time GM…” This summer’s coaching evolution is due, in no small part, to a mounting front-office revolution. More franchises are handing the keys to bright, young minds to make decisions on player evaluation and acquisition.

McDonough, 33, represents the next-generation of NBA general managers — or perhaps more accurately, the now-generation. They’re salary-cap educated, savvy, motivated and highly invested in advanced metrics and new technologies sweeping the league. They don’t have on-court pedigrees like their predecessors, but they have tirelessly worked their way up through video rooms and scouting departments of NBA franchises. Evaluating a player’s skill, versatility and potential goes hand-in-hand with assessing his dollar value under today’s salary-cap, tax-heavy collective bargaining agreement.

McDonough hired assistant GM Pat Connelly, the younger brother of Tim Connelly, the recently hired 36-year-old executive vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets. Tim Connelly hired the first-timer Shaw, a tag-team that will learn the ropes together.

“I don’t think it will be a difficult transition,” said Tim Connelly, who replaced Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, just 39 when the Nuggets promoted the former international scout to general manager in 2010. Ujiri now heads the Toronto Raptors’ front office. “There’s only 30 people with these jobs and we’re both [he and Shaw] fortunate to take over a team that’s had a lot of regular-season success.”

Of the eight rookie head coaches, three were hired by first-time general managers. In the case of Sacramento’s Mike Malone, he was hired by still-newbie owner Vivek Ranadive, who then hired first-time general manager Pete D’Allesandro, 45.

“When I was in Boston,” said McDonough, who worked under Celtics general manager Danny Ainge for a decade, “I kind of always had it in my mind that if I got a GM job I would give a first-time head coach a chance.”

In Memphis, CEO Jason Levien, 40, took control of personnel decisions last season. He parted ways with Hollins and promoted Joerger. Last summer, Orlando chose Rob Hennigan, 31, as GM to consummate a trade for Dwight Howard and reshape the team. Hennigan hired first-time coach Jacque Vaughn. Hennigan’s former boss is Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, who was also 30 when he took charge of the then-Seattle SuperSonics. Presti hired first-time coach Scott Brooks to lead the Thunder.

In Dallas, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the longtime Mavericks decision-makers, surprisingly hired Gerrson Rosas, 35, away from Daryl Morey‘s front office with the Houston Rockets to serve as general manager.

Major League Baseball first embraced the analytics movement so prevalent in today’s NBA, and also seems to have cracked the door for the NBA’s front-office youth movement. The Boston Red Sox made then-28-year-old Theo Epstein the youngest GM in baseball history. Epstein built a powerhouse that ended the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” with two World Series titles. The Texas Rangers soon hired Jon Daniels, who was also 28 when he took control. During his tenure, the Rangers made both of the franchise’s World Series appearances.

The old-school GM played the game and then moved “upstairs.” As precision dollar allotment continues to play a larger role in overall player evaluation, the position is trending toward sharp, young minds, students of the game who never actually played in the NBA, and were only learning how to read when Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was in his prime.

Blogtable: Rookie Coaches




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


Surprise Teams | Teams Likely to Fall | Rookie Coaches


Which rookie coach faces the hardest job this fall? Which one has the easiest?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Dave Joerger in Memphis faces the hungriest fan base and greatest ambitions, in my opinion. The Grizzlies were capable of more last spring and, under normal circumstances, wouldn’t be going the rookie-coach route at all after Lionel Hollins‘ fine work there. Joerger might be up to the job, but it is a challenging one. As for easiest, I’m going with whoever gets the Philadelphia job. Anyone hired so late, signing on to the agenda the 76ers clearly have embraced, will have a multitude of ready excuses and plenty of wiggle room. (Almost said Boston’s Brad Stevens because of the length of his deal and the Celtics’ obvious rebuild but just because Danny Ainge says something is so doesn’t mean that city’s diehard fans will fall in line and withhold judgment.)

Nets' new head coach Jason Kidd.

Nets’ rookie head coach Jason Kidd.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Right away you’d have to say the guy in Philly will have the hardest job, since the Sixers might not make a decision and pick a new coach until an hour before tipoff on opening night and it’s always a little more difficult to win games when you haven’t met all of your players.  On the other hand, Mr. X in Philly could have it pretty easy because it’s clear the Sixers are going into the tank for the next year or two.  But seriously, it’s going to be tough for Jeff Hornacek to turn the Suns around.  He’s got plenty of point guards and little else.  While it’s never easy to be a head coach in the NBA, I do think Jason Kidd will benefit from having the veteran know-how of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko on his roster.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Sure, Stevens will have it rough in Boston, but everybody knows that. I’ll refer back to the start of my answer for question No. 2. Joerger takes over a Grizzlies team that won a franchise-best 56 games and advanced to the West finals for the first time in the club’s existence (it can be argued they wouldn’t have if not for Oklahoma City’s injury misfortune). So what do they do? Say adiós to coach Lionel Hollins, who built a 24-win team into a contender. As Hollins’ top assistant, Joerger gets a lot of the credit for the Grizzlies’ vaunted defense, but the heat is on to turn a plodding, offensive team into a higher-scoring one and to keep the financially tight-fisted Grizz on a track to contend. Steve Clifford and whoever takes over in Philly have the easiest jobs. Things can’t get much worse in Charlotte, so expectations are incredibly low and everybody already expects the 76ers to tank.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Hardest job? Michael Malone, Kings. Not only does he have the typical challenges of taking over a losing roster, needing to build a defense and helping to change the culture, but he has the atypical heavy lifting of trying to keep DeMarcus Cousins in a happy place. Ask Malone’s predecessors how that goes. Easiest? Dave Joerger, Grizzlies. I wouldn’t necessarily say easy, because this is the rare case when a rookie coach must immediately produce big results, but the former assistant knows the personnel very well and skips the rebuilding work most of his fellow newcomers face.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Steve Clifford and Mike Malone haven’t been given a lot to work with, but one look at the Suns’ roster makes it clear that Jeff Hornacek is going to need a miracle to make it to 20 wins next season. And beyond the lack of talent, he has to deal with Michael Beasley for seven months. With the combination of talent and veteran leadership in Brooklyn, Jason Kidd has it (relatively) easy. He’s also got the most pressure of any of these guys.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I loved the aw-shucks reaction of Brad Stevens when he was introduced as the Celtics’ new coach, but he’ll have the most thankless job in basketball next season. Sure, none of the pundits will expect the Celtics to contend with all of the bodies that have flown out of the city since the 2012-13 season ended. But that won’t stop die-hard Celtics fans from dreaming about their team doing their unthinkable and contending with a back-from-injury Rajon Rondo leading the new charge. When you’ve grown as accustomed to winning as folks in Boston have over the years, breaking bad for a season or two will not be pleasant. Easiest coaching job in the NBA? When guys who win 50 games, put together the best seasons in their respective franchise histories and win NBA Coach of the Year honors and still get canned … “easiest” is not an appropriate term. Brian Shaw inherits some intriguing talent in Denver, arguably the best talent base of any “rookie” coach, and yet he might have the toughest job of all following the reigning and fired Coach of the Year George Karl.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Jason Kidd has a tough road ahead of him. I suspect the path will be smoothed a bit because he’ll be dealing with so many veterans, but he’ll also be dealing with sky-high expectations, placed there by his owner. The easiest job? What about Steve Clifford in Charlotte? Could the expectations be any lower?

Celtics Thank Pierce And Garnett



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The departure of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from Boston will no doubt be a painful one for Celtics fans who had grown accustomed to championship runs and high drama from the backbones of the franchise.

The Celtics, as an organization, took the high road with their classy farewell gesture for the stars they traded to Brooklyn in this summer’s blockbuster deal. A full-page ad in the Boston Globe praised Pierce and Garnett for their years of service, hard work, dedication, leadership and “Banner 17.”

Celtics boss Danny Ainge knew he had to begin the rebuilding process in Boston by moving Pierce and Garnett after Doc Rivers left for the Los Angeles Clippers. The full-page ad might not be the closure on the Big 3 era some are looking for, but it’s a classy start!

Can Lakers Go California Dream Teaming?

ORLANDO, Fla. — Imagine it’s June 2014 and the Heat have managed to duck enough times to survive another championship parade with all of their heads still attached.

There’s a posh meeting room inside a swank Beverly Hills hotel and the heavily muscled security guard keeps stepping aside and opening the door for the guests who arrive one at a time.

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

When they’ve settled into luxurious leather chairs and opened bottles of overpriced imported sparkling water, an NBA general manager arrives and points to a blank yellow legal pad in the middle of the conference table and five pencils.

“You guys divide it up anyway you want,” says Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

The Lakers are back. Instant Dream Team.

OK, maybe it’s not quite that easy. Or maybe it is. After all, to paraphrase Chevy Chase from a long time ago, they’re the Lakers and you’re not. And always will be.

Having salary cap space in Milwaukee, Charlotte, Salt Lake City or maybe a dozen other places in the NBA is just that — space. In L.A. it’s a magnet.

Walk the sidelines and the hallways of the Amway Center as the rookies and long shots of the Orlando Pro Summer League pour their perspiration all over the practice court, and the consensus is that even in the wake of Dwight Howard’s departure, the return to prominence of the league’s most glamorous franchise is no sweat.

“Don’t even think about them going into a long period of losing or mediocrity,” said one NBA general manager.

“For other teams losing Dwight would be a crippling blow,” said another. “They’d have to retrench, rethink their position and go into a long-term rebuilding plan.”

That’s the Celtics, where boss Danny Ainge decided to move on from the era of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and brought in 36-year-old Brad Stevens as coach/midwife for a new incarnation.

The Sixers new GM Sam Hinkie is stripping his roster down to the bone by trading All-Star Jrue Holiday and letting Andrew Bynum walk. It will be at least a couple of years before the plan bears fruit.

The Jazz and GM Dennis Lindsey have made no secret that the payoff is over the horizon as they enter a season where youth will be served from the menu no matter how difficult it might be to swallow at times.

“You don’t do that if you’re the Lakers,” said yet another GM, “because you don’t have to. OK, everybody has to take a deep breath for next season, but then they’re right back in it in a year. And if you don’t think they can think big, big and bigger, then you haven’t been paying attention.”

Who thought Miami was going to be able to reel in all of James, Wade and Bosh in 2010?

Why would LeBron even give a thought to teaming up with Kobe? Because it would actually add to his legacy to resurrect the Lakers and to be clearly defined as the lead horse pulling the wagon.

Why would Kobe consider it? One word: rings. Especially after spending a difficult season literally getting his legs back under him following the torn Achilles’ tendon and having the Clippers’ glare becoming blinding and annoying.

Wade? Anthony? Bosh? Didn’t those gold medals glitter just as bright from the Olympic experiences?

All five of them could even wear their old Team USA jerseys.

Let everyone else plot and scheme and draw up their recruiting pitches for the free agent lollapalooza of next summer.

All Kupchak and the Lakers need is an empty room and a legal pad.

“You guys divide it up anyway you want.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 125): Featuring Sam Amick Of USA Today Sports

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If you read the tea leaves properly, the way most people did, Dwight Howard choosing the Houston Rockets wasn’t much of a surprise.

That doesn’t make it any easier for fans of the Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors or Atlanta Hawks to get through the first 48 of the free-agent signing period. Not when they all dreamed about Howard picking them.

But as Sam Amick of USA Today Sports (the man who broke the Howard story last Friday night) explains on Episode 125 of the Hang Time Podcast, it was Houston all the way for Howard … no waffle!

The impact of his choice on the rest of those teams and other free agents was swift, save for Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul, who had already made his mind up by the time Howard selected the Rockets. Once Howard’s business was done, though, it set off a weekend of activity that saw almost all of the big names agree to deals before the sun went down Sunday night.

Join us as we dissect those moves, the fearlessness of Celtics boss Danny Ainge, the pickle that Mavs owner Mark Cuban is in with Dirk Nowitzki after two straight summers of missed free-agent opportunities, celebrate Independence Day in the Bahamas, chart our winners and losers, debate the best (and worst) moves of the summer and plenty more on Episode 125 of the Hang Time Podcast: Featuring Sam Amick of USA Today Sports

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– 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.

Celtics Shock(er)! Hire Butler’s Stevens



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Danny Ainge is good at coming up with the move none of us saw coming. But he outdid himself with his latest move, hiring Butler’s Brad Stevens to replace Doc Rivers as his coach and positioning the college coaching star as the man who will have to serve as the brave face as the franchise’s ambitious rebuilding project.

The hire was announced simultaneously by the Celtics and Butler via Twitter, which has to be the first time a team has unveiled its new coach in that matter. But this is Ainge we’re talking about. He’s used to delivering fireworks this time of year, one way or another.

There’s no debating the jaw-dropping aspect of this hire. It’s a complete shocker. (Please forgive the cynic in me for remembering the last time the Celtics hired a superstar from the college ranks, Rick Pitino, and remembering what a disaster that turned out to be.)

That said, Stevens comes with a sterling reputation. He’s got the professor look down, knows the game inside out and has said and done all of the right things during his meteoric rise from a somewhat unknown coach of a mid-major program to one of the hottest names in the coaching game after leading the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament championship game twice.

There will be a flood of well-wishers, folks who love what Stevens, 36, stands for, applauding this hire. And will once again be lauded for taking a huge risk that could end up paying huge dividends. And he deserves props for making his usual bold foray into a place 99.9 percent of his peers never would.

And there’s no pressure Brad, not when Ainge makes statements like these about his new coach.

“Brad and I share a lot of the same values,” Ainge said in a statement. “Though he is young, I see Brad as a great leader who leads with impeccable character and a strong work ethic. His teams always play hard and execute on both ends of the court. Brad is a coach who has already enjoyed lots of success, and I look forward to working with him towards Banner 18.”

But if you’re Rajon Rondo, the best player on the Celtics’ roster, this is yet another tough pill to swallow. Everything you’ve known the past six seasons, all of the winning and deep playoff runs you made with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, all of the heights that have been reached … it’s all history. The scariest part for Rondo and Celtics fans is that it only took Ainge a week and a half to break it all apart.

They basically traded Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers for a future Draft pick two days before the Draft, moved Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for a gumbo of players and picks on Draft night and now this. The only thing left to do is to figure out what they can get for Rondo and make that move.

Because even if Ainge swears that Rondo is not on the move, that he will not part with his All-Star point guard (who is coming off a season cut short by a torn ACL), no one is going to believe it, not with the expeditious manner in which Ainge has executed all of these other moves.

He’s keen on rebuilding and rebuilding now for a future he believes will just as bright as the Celtics’ recent past.

Who knows where he goes next?

I’m prepared to be shocked.

Clippers Enjoying The Power Of Doc!



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For anyone who didn’t understand before just how important coach Doc Rivers was and is to the Los Angeles Clippers’ championship blueprint, it should be clear by now.

Chris Paul needed just hours to make his commitment to the organization and the five-year, $107 million contract they offered their prized free agent. The next day, the Clippers send Paul’s backup, Eric Bledsoe, and Caron Butler to Phoenix for a valuable floor-spacer in J.J. Redick and one of the best utility men in the league (Jared Dudley) in a three-team deal that, no offense to ex-coach Vinny Del Negro, simply does not happen without the Clippers’ new senior vice president of basketball operations (Rivers) in place.

Some 72 hours and counting into the free-agent summer of 2013,  it is clear that the Clippers are thriving off of and enjoying the power and influence that a coach the caliber of Rivers brings.

It’s a cosmic energy that the Clippers’ Staples Center roommates know well. The Los Angeles Lakers thrived off of Phil Jackson‘s aura for years. The right coach with the right roster at just the right time can equal great things.

Rivers has yet to blow his first whistle with his squad, yet they’re already sold on him. They know what he did in Boston: getting solid players to perform above their pay grade and helping turn great players without hardware into champions.

“Doc is damn good,” a Clippers vet said via text late Tuesday night. “You know what he does with elite talent. And he’ll have plenty of that in our locker room. He gets everyone to buy in.”

That sort of track record resonates in a locker room full of veterans who want to experience those same things.

The 2013-14 season will be the ultimate testament to the influence Rivers can have and the proof won’t be just in Los Angeles. We’ll be able to observe the happenings in Brooklyn, where Rivers-faves Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have moved on to in attempt to rekindle the championship glow they found in 2008 with the Celtics. And it will be seen in Boston, where Rivers’ departure instigated Danny Ainge‘s decimation of the outfit that was a force in the Eastern Conference and the league for the past six seasons.

Rivers will be in charge of a Clippers team that could legitimately contend for the top spot in the Western Conference for the first time in franchise history.

The Nets have a chance to do the same, but do have a few hurdles (rookie coach Jason Kidd and whatever transition time he needs to get comfortable calling the shots from the bench, sorting out a pecking order in a locker room filled with big personalities, who is the first, second and third option, etc.) to clear before we know exactly what type of team they are going to be.

The Celtics don’t even have a replacement for Rivers yet, so it’s extremely difficult to get a handle on exactly what type of team they will unveil opening night. But, rest assured, the rebuilt Celtics won’t look anything like the juggernaut they were under Rivers the last six seasons.

No one is disputing that talent rules the day in the NBA. It always has and always will.

But I’ll say it again: the right coach with the right roster at just the right time can lead to great things. And the Clippers could be on the verge of living that reality now that Rivers is running their show.

Smith Ready To Emerge From The Shadows



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – They’ve grown up and become their own men, traveled very different paths over the course of the past decade or so. But just like they were 25 years ago, Josh Smith and Dwight Howard are shadowing each other.

When they were children, sharing space in the same southwest Atlanta preschool classroom, no one could have figured these lifelong friends would have their lives intertwine the way they have. And that includes everything from being local high school stars and eventually top five prospects in the prep class of 2004, first-round Draft picks (Howard first overall and Smith 17th) straight out of high school and now the top two players heading into the chaotic world that will be the free agent summer of 2013. (Los Angeles Clippers superstar point guard Chris Paul has reportedly bowed out of the NBA’s silly season by alerting teams that he will not entertain suitors and stay with the Clippers.)

Howard is the headliner, the object of affection of his current team, the Los Angeles Lakers, while also sitting atop the wish list of the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and the hometown Hawks — Smith’s current team until 12:01 a.m. ET, when they both become unrestricted free agents.

But Smith is finally poised to emerge from the shadow of Howard and other contemporaries who have become All-Stars, franchise and maximum salary players elsewhere. One of the league’s most enigmatic and unique talents, he’s played every single second of his NBA career with the Hawks. Free agency, without restrictions this time around, is his first real opportunity to see exactly where he fits in the league.

And it couldn’t come at a better time for the only player in NBA history to have a career average over 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals. That’s right, the only player (go ahead and look it up, there is only one).

Even with his often spotty shot selection — he’s a career 47 percent shooter from the floor, 28 percent from beyond the 3-point line —   Smith should be an analytics All-Star with all of the impressive metrics he’s piled up before his 28th birthday.

He and Howard are the only two players who have surpassed 1,200 points and 100 blocks four times in the past five seasons and Smith is the only player to have accomplished that feat in each of the past four seasons.

Smith joins four-time MVP and back-to-back Finals MVP LeBron James as the only players in the league to log 2,300-plus minutes in eight straight seasons, dating back to the 2005-06 season, showing off durability that has eluded so many for various reasons.

Sure, Howard will remain the top target for the teams that are the biggest players on the free agent market this summer. No other big man ranks where he does, even after his uneven performance for the Lakers this season. Smith, however, ranks right behind him on most of those lists.

But that’s where the connective tissue between them starts to fray. Howard will command a max contract (four years and $88 million on the open market, five years and $118 million were he to stay with the Lakers), while his former AAU teammate Smith is expected to fall into that next tier just below the max.

“I don’t know exactly what his value is to be honest with you,” said a Western Conference executive whose team will not be in the marquee free agent mix this summer. “His production is through the roof when you look strictly at his numbers. No one can argue that he’s a factor, a game changer, when he’s locked in and playing at a high level. He’s still got some rough edges that shouldn’t be there, but you also have to realize that he’s never played with an elite point guard or in an environment where there is some leadership, either in the locker room or beyond, that forced him to smooth out some of those rough edges. That’s part of what makes him so intriguing, even a decade into his career. You’re still not sure if he’s actually reached his ceiling. And in free agency, that’s worth something.”

Before Danny Ainge imploded his roster in Boston, the Celtics were ready to offer whatever it was going to take to get a sign-and-trade deal done with the Hawks, who according to sources have not resigned themselves to parting ways with Smith. He could be an extremely valuable asset in a sign-and-trade deal, but if the Hawks strike out in their pursuit of Howard, are other free agent bigs like Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap better fits with the Hawks?

The recruiting process this time around for Howard and Smith will also be very different. While Howard is reportedly set to entertain suitors in Los Angeles (with the Rockets up first, the Mavericks next and the Hawks, Golden State Warriors and the Lakers getting the last word), Smith will not go through any sort of public song and dance.

“That’s not his style,” said a source close to Smith. “Did you see how uncomfortable he was leading up to the trade deadline? He’s not interested in all of the hype. He wants the opportunity to sit back and evaluate his options and choose his next move wisely. That’s all.”

That could become an increasingly difficult proposition if Howard’s process doesn’t go according to plan. Howard has already said he will have his decision made by July 10, the day the league’s moratorium on players signing new deals ends. If Smith has to wait until then to know exactly what all of his options are, the chatter surrounding him is sure to intensify.

Of course, if a team presents the right package (the big contract along with an opportunity to win at a high level and a much-needed fresh start), Smith could have his decision wrapped up sooner rather than later … sooner than Howard.

“Don’t be surprised if some team comes out of the blue and makes a big play for [Smith] right away, while a bunch of teams are waiting on Dwight to figure out what it is he’s going to do,” said a league source with knowledge of the situation. “It’s free agency, you never know what might happen.”

Whatever happens, Smith and Howard will be linked together in the free agent summer of 2013, the same way they have been at nearly every other milestone moment of their lives.