Posts Tagged ‘Sekou Smiith’

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.”

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 217) Featuring Scott Howard-Cooper

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The rookies are for real.

Don’t rub your eyes … they’re absolutely real.

From Karl-Anthony Towns and his seemingly nightly double-doubles for the Minnesota Timberwolves to Jahlil Okafor and his scoring prowess with the Philaelphia 76ers to the truly pleasant surprise of the group, Kristaps Porzingis (they are already chanting his name at Madison Square Garden), and his highlight reel work for the New York Knicks, this year’s rookie class appears to be ahead of the curve.

The prevailing wisdom was while this bunch was loaded with intriguing talents, players like Emanuel Mudiay in Denver and Mario Hezonja in Orlando joining the aforementioned group of budding young stars, like almost every rookie class they would need time to flourish. But you can dig down deeper into the late lottery for guys like Miami’s Justise Winslow and Detroit’s Stanley Johnson and find youngsters ready for prime time.

The impact in many instances has been immediate.’s Scott Howard-Cooper has tracked these players from the start of the process to now and will continue to do so with his weekly updates on the’s Rookie Ladder. Our Draft and rookie guru saw this group coming before the casual fan could match names and faces. We took more than a few minutes with Howard-Cooper to address the Houston Rockets’ firing of Kevin McHale and the Golden State Warriors’ 12-0 start, too.

All that and more as he joins us on Episode 217 of The Hang Time Podcast.


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: Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis already has the crowd at Madison Square Garden chanting his name

Hangtime podcast (episode 155) hail to the huskies … featuring Emeka Okafor

By Sekou Smith,

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS —  One shining moment?

How about four since 1999?

That’s what Emeka Okafor and all of the other players, former players, coaches, fans and alums of the University of Connecticut are thinking these days. UConn is back on top of the basketball world (men’s and women’s) for the second time since 2004, when Okafor was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player.

It’s their time to shine.

“I got the baby in a UConn onesi,” Okafor said on Episode 155 of the Hang Time Podcast: Hail to the Huskies, where talked all things UConn with one of the greatest players in the storied history of the program.

All of the NBA veterans who played under Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun or alongside his successor, Kevin Ollie, know all about the UConn pride that swells at times like this. So it only seemed right to track down Okafor, who experienced the championship double-dip as a player in 2004 and now gets to marvel at it like the rest of us all these years later. The Phoenix Suns big man hasn’t played this season while rehabilitating a herniated disc in his neck.

We also handed out some awards for seasons well done (Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Joakim Noah and many others are involved), discuss the Hall of Fame class of 2014 (Alonzo Mourning, Mitch Richmond and former NBA Commissioner David Stern headline), the looming end of the Joe Dumars era in Detroit and other hot topics around the league, while also trying to get to the bottom of this lingering foolishness that has become the “Braggin Rights” this season. (it’s a c-o-n-spiracy folks, I promise!)

Dive in for more on Episode 155 of the Hang Time Podcast, Hail To The Huskies … Featuring Emeka Okafor!


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 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.

March Madness … Miami Heat Style!

MIAMI — March is the month of Madness for college basketball fans around the world. Rarely has it served a similar purpose for NBA fans.

“March is kind of a funky time in the NBA,” said Heat forward Shane Battier. “Once you hit April you start smelling the playoffs a little bit.”

But the Miami Heat, with a huge assist from the Denver Nuggets, are doing their best to change that. The Heat’s winning streak is a whopping 25 games, second best all time in the NBA, and could be 26 before the nightly news ends if they handle their business against the Charlotte Bobcats this evening at AmericanAirlines Arena (pregame 5:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

Some of the craziest and best moments of the Heat streak, which began Feb. 3 in Toronto, have come this month.

Payback wins over would-be Eastern Conference challengers New York (March 3) and Indiana (March 10) as well as dramatic finishes against Orlando (March 6) and wild comeback wins over Boston (March 18) and Cleveland (March 20) have all come during the 13 games the Heat have won this month.

The Heat haven’t exactly breezed through the competition during this streak. They’ve had to work for almost every win, which is what makes Heat coach Erik Spoelstra smile with the Bobcats and Magic up next before a Monday trip to Orlando kicks off a four-game road trip, with stops in Chicago Wednesday, New Orleans Friday and San Antonio Sunday, to finish off the month.

“However it is happening, teams are coming at us,” he said. “That’s a good thing. We can’t sleep walk into a game. We have to bring it. We have to play well at both ends. We have to dig. We have to earn wins. And we’re playing against our opponents’ best games. That only helps. That sharpens you. The more you get tested in this league, the better you get, as long as you handle it the right way. I like it. I like that every game we’re getting tested.”

The Heat have embraced everything about this streak, everything from the sluggish starts and dramatic finishes to the seemingly endless supply of questions about the streak itself and the chase to catch and surpass the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers’ record 33-game streak.

“It is awesome,” Dwyane Wade said. “It is cool. If you think about it, there are teams in the league right now that don’t even have 25 wins for the season. You have to be thankful and very blessed to be in this situation right now and enjoy it while you have it.”

That doesn’t mean they’ve lost sight of what will define this season for them for years to come. Heat big man Chris Bosh said a recent discussion with a friend about the streak record compared to a championship provided him with what should be an obvious choice.

“I’m going to take the championship every time,” Bosh said. “You don’t get a plaque or a ring or nothing for 34 in a row. You get a record that will probably be broken one day. Records are meant to be broken. But championships last forever.

“Someone was telling me it’s way cooler to win 34 [in a row]. I’m like, ‘Man, please! Get out of here with that. They won’t be throwing confetti for that. I’ll guaran-damn-tee you that.’ ”

When word spread that Jerry West and other members of the Lakers’ 33-game streak team gushed about this Heat crew and wished them well in their quest to break the streak, Wade didn’t buy it.

“I don’t believe it,” Wade said and then laughed. “I don’t believe it.”

Resident hoops historian LeBron James, however, had a different reaction.

“I just appreciate it,” he said of the praise from West and others. “I appreciate the history. For them to say they are pulling for us to get the streak, that’s cool. I respect the game and I respect the guys who paved the way for me and the rest of my teammates. That is a cool thing [for them to do], but we have a long way to go and cannot focus on that right now.”

No, they can’t. The immediate focus is Charlotte, the rest of this month’s schedule — which includes those two road traps in Chicago and San Antonio — and trying to finish off their version of March Madness in style.