Ante Zizic was drafted No. 23 overall by the Celtics in the 2016 NBA draft. However, with few open roster spots and eight picks in that draft, he was asked to play overseas.

Stashed away in Europe, Zizic started this last season playing for the Croatian squad KK Cibona before making the move to Darussafaka Dogus Istanbul in Turkey, a team led by former Cavaliers coach, David Blatt. 

In a recent Q&A with the Boston Globe, Blatt emphasized what a great pick Zizic was for the Celtics.

“The Celtics made a tremendous 23rd pick in the draft,” Blatt said. “This guy, at that number is in my mind just a great pick, a great pick. And I do know a little bit about the NBA, so I can tell you that with confidence.”

During his time in Europe this past year, the 6-foot-11, 254 pound center is averaging 12.6 points and 6.35 rebounds, while shooting 66.9 percent from the field. These stats have been complimented by scattered breakout performances, such as a game against MZT Skopje, where the young center dropped 37 points, 20 rebounds, and three blocks.

As a result of Zizic’s play, the new consensus among NBA scouts falls in line with Blatt’s praise.

One NBA general manager told the Sporting News’ Sean Deveney Zizic would “almost certainly be a lottery pick in this draft, maybe top 10, even though this is a deeper draft than last year. He would be better than a draft pick, really, because you can see what you’re getting.”

Following an Eastern Conference finals series where the Celtics were dominated in the paint offensively and defensively by the Cavaliers, losing the series rebounding battle 210-185, a budding center talent in Zizic will be welcomed with open arms.

While scouts and coaches alike agree he will more than likely begin his tenure with the Celtics as a role player, his potential is one of the pieces the Celtics hope will eventually push them into legitimate finals contention.

One thing that is for certain, Zizic is ready to take the next step in his career.

“I think this year I have improved my game, I improved my body and gained experience,” Zizic said in a telephone interview with the Boston Globe. “So I think right now, I am ready for the NBA.”

Blog Author: 
Sam Alberti

Statistically speaking, the Celtics, the top seed in their conference, were the best team in the East this season.

Danny Ainge says big changes could come to the Celtics this summer. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Danny Ainge says big changes could come to the Celtics this summer. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Statistically speaking, the Celtics, the top seed in their conference, were the best team in the East this season. Technically speaking, with one win in the third round (the West runner-up Spurs were swept), the C’s finished the year as the third-best team in all of the NBA. 

But with all of that said, I think you’d hard-pressed to find a soul that actually believes that the Celtics are either the best team in the East or even the third-best team in the NBA, for that matter.

That’s because the NBA is a superstar league. But clearly, if the third straight NBA Finals meeting between the Cavaliers and Warriors tells us anything, it’s that one isn’t enough. You need multiple superstars.

Something that’s hit Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge following the club’s five-game whooping from the Cavaliers.

“I know that we’re good. I know that we’re not great,” Ainge, whose Celtics squad made a five-win improvement, from 48 wins in 2016 to 53 wins this year, said. “I know that we still have more to do, and, you know, that next step is by far the hardest.”

To most, the Celtics — with a strong core, headlined by Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, in place — are just one piece away from potentially dethroning LeBron James and the Cavs as the East’s biggest threat. To others, they’re two pieces away. Be it one or two, though, those pieces are going to be difficult for Ainge to make happen in what’s expected to be one frantic summer push. 

“We have a lot of good players,” Ainge noted, “but we need some great ones.”

By now, the names are well known. There’s pending unrestricted free agent Gordon Hayward. There’s some noteworthy trade targets, as unlikely as they may seem, in Chicago’s Jimmy Butler and Pacers star Paul George. Some pipedreamers have even pitched a player such as the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis as a potential fit in Boston. All would cost more than a pretty penny, be it in pennies alone or with some combination of trade chips, including the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s upcoming draft (the Celtics also have Brooklyn’s first-round pick in 2018) from Ainge’s ridiculous arsenal built up throughout this rapid rebuilding effort. 

The C’s already have nine players under contract for next season (10 if they exercise a team option on Jordan Mickey), and there’s simply not enough room for the Celtics to make an impactful addition without freeing up some of the minutes logged by those nine players. The Celtics also have just one more year before guys like Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart get significant raises, be it in Boston or elsewhere. That’s something Ainge knows can make mapping out his club’s future a little difficult. 

“We have a lot of players. We have a lot of depth, and we have guys that want to play, that deserve to play. And I don’t think our roster is as balanced as it needs to be,” said Ainge. “So, yes, we have a lot of very difficult decisions. And there will be difficult decisions in free agency and who to allocate the money to, difficult decisions in the draft, difficult decisions with opportunities to make trades — no different than trade deadline times.”

Still, and again, it’s far easier said than done. 

“Just because you’re one piece away doesn’t mean you can get it,” Ainge admitted. “And if you force yourself to get it, and if you force a deal or force yourself to get the second-best available or the third- or fourth-best available player at that position that you need, then it might not make you that much better or make you still not good enough, and you’re stuck.

“We still know we need to get better. Everybody in our organization knows we need to get better. We need to add.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Isaiah Thomas met with reporters on Friday following the Celtics departure from the playoffs on Thursday night.

The All-Star guard gave updates on his health, as well as commenting on the state of his career.

After being sidelined with a hip injury following Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, the seriousness of the injury was unclear.

Isaiah Thomas spoke to reporters on Friday after the Celtics season ended Thursday. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas spoke to reporters on Friday after the Celtics season ended Thursday. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas met with reporters on Friday following the Celtics departure from the playoffs on Thursday night.

The All-Star guard gave updates on his health, as well as commenting on the state of his career.

After being sidelined with a hip injury following Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, the seriousness of the injury was unclear.

Fortunately, it looks as though Thomas may not have to go under the knife.

“[Surgery is] not the number one option right now, but it could be once the swelling goes down.” Thomas told reporters. “Hopefully I don’t have to have surgery, but I know that is an option.”

Thomas said the injury was first picked up back in March after a hard fall. 

“Since I fell down in March I think that’s what aggravated it. And then I just continued to play on it, … and then it just, it gave out. We knew that would happen at some point.” he said. “They knew I wasn’t going to sit out until I couldn’t move no more, and that’s what happened.”

When asked how long he thinks he will be out this summer, Thomas admitted he has no idea, and while not his strong suit, he will need to simply be patient.

“I couldn’t tell you that, I don’t know honestly,” he said. “But everybody just saying I got to be patient, I’ve never been patient in my life so this is going to be a tough summer, but I got to do what’s best for me in the long run, what’s best for my body. … Nobody’s going to feel sorry for me, I just got to keep going and figure out what I’ve got to do to come back at the highest level possible.”

For Thomas, that level was an incredible 28.9 points and 5.9 assists per game. The guard emphasized that he is going to work with doctors to come back at nothing less than that.

“Whatever they got to do help me to continue that and play at a, not just at a normal level, at an MVP level,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been on them doctors about, and everybody on that training staff is. No matter what happens, Let’s make sure I come back even better, and I will.”

Going into the playoffs, after a season that saw him on the All-NBA second team, Thomas received devastating news that his sister had passed away in a car crash.

“It made me look back to see how fast everything can be taken away from you,” he said. “Definitely humbles yourself. It’s been the best season of my career but it’s also been, as you guys know, the toughest, the toughest year of my life. However you want to take that, that’s how this season has been.”

Thomas has one-year left on his contract, so an extension is possible this offseason, but the guard won’t be thinking about it.”

“I would love [an extension],” he said. “But if it don’t happen, I’m the last person to be bothered by that.”

Whatever decisions are made, it is clear that Boston has become a special place for Thomas.

“Boston’s changed my career, changed my life,” he said. “I would love to be here long-term and win championships here.”

Blog Author: 
Sam Alberti

Jaylen Brown was one of the positives in the Celtics' run. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Jaylen Brown was one of the positives in the Celtics’ run. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics suffered another crushing defeat at the hands of the Cavaliers Thursday night, 135-102, and with it a swift exit from the Eastern Conference finals.

Jaylen Brown made it clear that losing this series did not sit well with him.

“Getting to the Eastern Conference finals and losing, it builds a hunger,” Brown said to reporters following the loss. “I have a bad taste in my mouth. Got to put in work in the offseason and come back even stronger.”

An even stronger Brown is exactly what the Celtics will need next year, as they look to build on this season’s success. 

Going into the offseason, the rookie is looking to improve all facets of his game.

“I think I’m an all-around basketball player,” he said. “Shooting — a lot of people doubted my jump-shooting ability this year and still doubting. I’m going to keep improving every year, that’s my goal,” Brown said. “Ball-handling, I want to really focus on making plays for others. Just continue to get better in every aspect of my game. I don’t consider myself a position. I just consider myself a basketball player.”

Brown had an impressive conference finals, averaging nine points and three rebounds, while shooting 58.6 percent from the floor. Including a playoff career-high 19 point performance in Game 2. He also showed his potential to be a a great two-way player, taking on the near impossible assignment of trying to slow down LeBron James. 

Playing important minutes throughout the Celtics playoff run, Brown has gained invaluable experience as a rookie. Experience rarely gained by top lottery picks.

“Just being on a winning team, building good habits and learning how to win. Playing the game the right way,” Brown said. “Get your teammates involved. Learning that at a young age — all the older guys tell me that’s really going to help me. A lot of good players, they don’t learn that early. They figure it out three, four or five years in. I’m happy I learned it now and I’ll continue to learn now, and I just got to apply it — this summer is going to be a big summer for me. I’m super excited. As soon as my hip heels up I’ll be back in the gym.”

While the future looks bright, with the Celtics holding both the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and Brooklyn’s first-rounder in 2018, Brown is not letting that distract him.

“I’m excited about the now, to be honest,” Brown said. “I’m excited about this summer. I try not to look too far ahead towards the future because everybody talks about the future and how much potential we have and how much potential I have. I’m worried about the now. I want to be part of the now. That’s what I’m focused on.”

Blog Author: 
Sam Alberti

Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, shooting over Golden State's Zaza Pachulia in the playoffs, could be a great fit in Boston.</p>
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Kyrie Irving dominated the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. (David Richard/USA Today Sports)

Kyrie Irving dominated the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. (David Richard/USA Today Sports)

Despite all the talk about the dominance of LeBron James, who heads to his seventh consecutive NBA Finals next week, in many ways it was the play of Kyrie Irving that proved to be the undoing of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.

The sixth-year point guard was outstanding throughout the series, averaging 25.8 points per game. This was highlighted by his 42-point performance in Game 4, a contest where LeBron had four fouls in the first half for the first time in his career.

Following the Cavs victory and elimination of Boston on Thursday night, Irving heaped praise on the Celtics and their injured leader Isaiah Thomas.

“You have to commend them for accomplishing what they did, especially in the regular season,” Irving said to reporters. “I mean, the goals that they set, they were definitely challenging for us, and it made the league turn for a little bit, just 1 versus 2, 2, 1, who was going to get first place and who was actually ready for the playoffs. That makes basketball exciting. That makes the league exciting. And the fashion that they were playing basketball was at such a high level.”

Thomas, whose extraordinary season and courageous playoff performance was cut short, did not appear in the final three games of the series due to an injured hip.

Irving expressed dismay at the loss of Thomas and complimented his play.

“Honestly we didn’t want IT to go down,” Irving said. “But the way that guy has played, I mean, the way he was playing, he’s deserving of all the credit that he’s gotten. As well as guys like Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk and just all their guys. They’re just dedicated to basketball. They’re coming out and their hitting us, and they don’t care who you are. I was watching before tonight’s game the game that they played in Golden State. And the way, in the fashion that they did that [beating the Warriors at Oracle Arena]. That was the testament, that was the turn of how special they could be. And that made it this far. And it was 1 versus 2. It was a matchup that we were all looking forward to, and I’m glad that we prevailed. But they tested us every single minute, and we needed that.”

Blog Author: 
Nick Neville

When the Celtics signed Al Horford to a max contract last summer, they knew the 6-foot-10 center would make an immediate impact, but few expected him to help lead the team to the Eastern Conference finals.

That’s exactly what he and this Celtics team did, and while they fell short of their ultimate goal, Horford views his first year in Boston as a success.

Al Horford played well in his first season in Boston. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford played well in his first season in Boston. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

When the Celtics signed Al Horford to a max contract last summer, they knew the 6-foot-10 center would make an immediate impact, but few expected him to help lead the team to the Eastern Conference finals.

That’s exactly what he and this Celtics team did, and while they fell short of their ultimate goal, Horford views his first year in Boston as a success.

“I’m proud of our group,” Horford said to reporters following the Celtics’ 135-102 loss to Cleveland in Game 5 on Thursday night. “I felt like we grew as the year went on. Not the way that we wanted to finish, but I felt like we came a long way from the beginning of the year, and we came together, and that was fun to be a part of.”

Horford finished the regular season averaging 14 points, 6.8 rebounds and five assists per game, but perhaps his most significant contribution was on the defensive end. He served as an anchor for a young Celtics team in search of tough big men and many of the things Horford does best do not show up on the box score. He is one of the best passing big men in the NBA, and his versatility was evident throughout the playoffs.  

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Wizards was the quintessential Horford game. The 30-year-old shot 6-of-9 from the field, dropped 21 points and was one assist away from a triple-double.

Though his rebounding numbers were the lowest of his career this season, he found his niche in Boston. His outside shot has improved in recent years, and his ability to drain the three consistently helps stretch the defense and spread the floor. He shot .355 from 3-point range during the regular season, but upped that percentage to .519 during the playoffs.

Horford, who had been swept by LeBron James four times as a member of the Hawks before this series, knows a thing or two about James’ dominance in the Eastern Conference. Does he think this Celtics team has what it takes to dethrone the King next season?

“You know, that’s a good question,” Horford said. “We think we have a good group of guys, guys that compete, that play hard, and we still have to keep growing as a group, getting better and we obviously see that the team to get past is Cleveland. Right now we’re not there. We’re not where we need to be, but I’m proud of our guys.”

Blog Author: 
Nick Neville