WALTHAM — Kelly Olynyk had quite the summer as he tried to get himself ready for the 2015-16 season with the Celtics.
The third-year big man out of Gonzaga starred for his home country Team Canada in the both the Tuto Marchand Cup (a preliminary to the FIBA Olympic qualifying tourney) and the FIBA tourney itself. Olynyk had 34 points and 13 rebounds in a 79-78 loss to Venezuela in the semifinals of the Olympic tourney, outshining fellow Canadiens Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett (both young stars for Minnesota). Had Canada won, they would have directly qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, along with the U.S., Argentina and Venezuela.
Instead, Canada must now qualify in the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. A lot was at stake but Olynyk looks at the loss as good experience, from a team and personal standpoint.
“It was definitely a tough game, especially for us,” Olynyk said. “We had gotten better every game as a team. We played so well, really night-in and night-out pretty much dominated that tournament. So it’s really a tough break for us to go out like that. Credit to Venezuela. They played a great game. They played tough, they played strong. They made shots. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the only game we didn’t make very many shots. They showed up and played and then they went back to back night and beat Argentina. It was something pretty special for them. Right now, we’ve got another chance next summer and we’ve got to look forward to that and make sure we’re ready to play.”
Olynyk averaged 11.5 points a game in 10 games in the FIBA Americas championship. There was a scary moment when he dinged his left knee in an 85-80 win over Argentina on Aug. 23 in the Marchand Cup in Puerto Rico. But Olynyk bounced back quickly and was able to play at full strength in the Olympic qualifying tourney, which involved playing 10 games in 12 days in Mexico City.
“A lot. I think it’s a great tournament. A lot of talent,” Olynyk said. “It’s a really physically demanding tournament. Talking about it with some of the people there, there’s really not another tournament in the world where you’re playing 10 games in 12 days, full-length, high level, high emotion games with something huge riding on the line. It’s definitely a tournament where you can take away a lot. You learn. You grew. You got better as a player and as a team. I think there’s definitely a lot to take from that, whether it’s confidence, skill, just experience in general.”
How does all of that translate to getting ready to play for the Celtics? Olynyk comes to camp this fall as the third-longest tenured player on the roster. Only Avery Bradley (19th overall in 2010) and Jared Sullinger (21st in 2012) have been with the Celtics longer.
“I haven’t really stopped to think about that a lot but I guess you are right, especially being in the coach’s system in the last couple of years,” Olynyk said. “I definitely know what’s coming down the pipe. For me, it’s about that leadership and just helping these young guys along their way after being through it.”
The reason Olynyk feels a bond with coach Brad Stevens is that both he and Stevens came to Boston at the same time, both entering the NBA before the 2013-14 season.
“Brad’s a real team-oriented guy,” Olynyk said. “He’s all about the team. He wants everybody to experience individual success as much as he does team success, which is pretty special. Brad’s a great guy and a great coach. I was just telling these guys, he’s going to help you on his way. He has supreme confidence in not only you but in everybody else in this room and the whole team as a whole. I think that’s something that’s really special. Just relax and come ready to learn every day. Feel free to make mistakes because mistakes are going to happen. Don’t play nervous or scared or try to play mistake-free. Go out and play the game the game you know and love and let things happen. You’ll learn and grow.
“You’re going to make mistakes. You can’t play in fear of making mistakes. You’re going to have the opportunity to play through mistakes. That’s something that really helps you.”
Last year, Olynyk was hurt when he landed on the foot of Portland forward Thomas Robinson in the fourth quarter of the Celtics’ 90-89 win. After being projected to return soon after the All-Star break, Olynyk didn’t show signs of being ready to return, and subsequently missed 18 games. Then there was the nasty elbow to his left eye brow from teammate Shavlik Randolph in April in a shootaround before a game with the Pacers.
Olynyk has plenty of battle scars. Now he hopes those make him a tougher, more prepared leader for the nightly wars of the NBA.
“With the run we had at the end and going into the playoffs, we definitely hit a stride,” Olynyk said. “We’re trying to keep running and keep that stride going. Talking to a lot of guys in the summer and as they’ve been back, we’re definitely a really close-knit group right now. Hopefully, we can continue that throughout the season and start off with a bang.”
Sam Packard is joined by his brother Nick, as he breaks down his favorite moments from Celtics Media Day. Sam then tries to compare each member of the Celtics roster to a character on The Wire, with varied results.
The Celtics held their annual Media Day on Friday and this reporter/blogger was there to ask the important questions. Jae Crowder, who the Celtics signed this off-season to a five-year contract worth $35 million, appears to have no qualms with being called Bae. In fact, I would characterize his fist pump and use of the phrase “Right On” as a ringing endorsement. I have been a fan of Crowder’s game ever since he was acquired from Dallas in the December trade of Rajon Rondo and I started referring to him as Bae shortly after his arrival. If he can develop a consistent jump shot to pair with his ability to defend multiple positions, I expect him to quickly emerge as Celtics fan’s collective “Bae” and one of the major reasons why the team wins the Atlantic Division.
WALTHAM — Brad Stevens has a lot to think about on his flight over to Europe to begin training camp.
First and foremost, who on the roster is going to step up and prove they deserve the most playing time – or any at all – in preseason and possibly the regular season.
That’s a question that needs to be answered before Stevens can even make decisions on who will fill out the backend of a roster that is nothing if not deep.
The forwards are David Lee, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Amir Johnson, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Zeller and Perry Jones. The guards are Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Evan Turner to go with rookies Terry Rozier and RJ Hunter.
That’s a lot of options but a lot of decisions for Brad Stevens to wade through.
“I’m excited. Anytime you’ve got a group that you can work with and you feel that way headed into the season, you’re focused on basketball,” Stevens said. “Even though we’ve got to figure out who’s going to play and at what times, I think we’ll be able to focus on all the right things.”
But then Stevens was pressed about how he’s going to deal with players like Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Evan Turner, all veteran guards who will be fighting for playing time in a crowded backcourt that added rookies RJ Hunter and Terry Rozier.
“Every good team, you’re going to have discussions like that,” Stevens said. “Every good team that is challenging to be better is going to have depth. We’re going to have good players on our team that aren’t going to play. That’s the reality of it. That’s hard part of the job in some ways but you just try to be really frank and talk about it. I’m not here to predetermine anything. That’s why I think sometimes we should probably have media day two weeks in because I don’t know yet. We’ll find out.
“I’ve never really thought about, ‘Hey, I’ve got to do this, this and this’ to connect with an NBA player. NBA players are human beings. I’m human being. We’re all human beings. The best advice I was given was be yourself. I’m comfortable enough now where maybe I wouldn’t have been at 30 when I was first named the head coach, maybe I wouldn’t have been when I was 25 or whatever but I’m comfortable enough that if being yourself isn’t good enough, it’s not good enough. If they [players] like me, that’s great. I certainly appreciate that relationship. I don’t think it’s a positive to have adversarial relationships with people you’re working with. But I recognize there’s going to be conflict as a natural part of this job because at times, people aren’t going to be playing. That’s part of it.”
“The best way to impact your playing time if you’re not a person that is go-to scorer or has a great speciality is to be able to guard more positions than one.”
“You meet with everybody. You recognize everybody is a human being. You recognize no matter how much of a team person you are, there’s disappointment when you’re not playing that visible spot. But the front of our jersey says Celtics. You’re good if you play good. Where we are on the food chain is yet to be determined. Knock on wood, we haven’t gone through any injury or anything like that. Nobody else has. We’ll see how it all separates itself when it’s all said and done.
“I feel good about where we are. We’ve got a good, committed group of people. They like being in Boston. They’re excited about playing with each other, and I thought that showed itself towards the end of last year. And I think the guys we added kind of add to that mentality.”
Naturally, it didn’t take long for Stevens to be asked about expectations for a team that, last spring, won its last six and 17 of its final 24 regular season games to make the playoffs. The Celtics didn’t just make the playoffs, they finished 40-42 before getting swept by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I had one goal at the last job, and that was to win the national championship,” Stevens said. “I have one goal at this job and that’s to win an NBA championship. How long those things take to get there, that’s the only thing that I’ll ever put down as a goal. That’s the only thing I’ll ever talk as a goal about to our players. Now, I’ll only say it only once because the rest of the time, I’m focused on just the day-to-day, the process, how we need to be to prepare, how we need to perform well and the small margin between being good and not being good.
“We were as close to fourth as we were to 12th [in the Eastern Conference] last year,” Stevens said of finishing seventh in the East. “And we’ll continue to talk about that because that margin is a small one.
“Obviously, when you’re coaching the Boston Celtics, you’re playing for the Boston Celtics, making the playoffs and getting swept in the first round is not a pleasant experience but it was a great learning experience for all of us. And I thought it was something even as we’re here for the first time as a team, you’re reflecting back on some of those things right now. Hopefully, it’s a motivating thing that we didn’t play as well once we got there as we wanted to. Also, motivating from the standpoint that we did have some really good moments against the class of the East. We’ll find out if we’re able to take some of those lessons forward or not.
“I think that there’s the opportunity to carry some momentum forward but I think that just like anything else, that’s fragile. I think the less time we spend talking about that in terms of a building block and the more we just focus that we have built some corporate knowledge, we’ve got to move forward. We need to utilize the good things but we need to look ahead. I do think that we’ll be able to take some of our experiences and talk about those. And that’s where it’s beneficial. That team played well down the stretch of the regular season but it was a really connected group. It was a fun group to coach. Those things are never a given.”
In preparation for the 2015-16 season, James Young spent the majority of the summer working on his body and his one-on-one defense.
At yesterday’s annual media day, Young talked about gaining weight over the summer and how he’s entering his second season feeling more confident about his defense.
‘I just got in the gym and worked out harder. This season is going to be special for the team and me, I just want it to be great. Got in the gym every day, [twice] a day.
‘Just to absorb the contact from bigger and stronger guys, you can’t just go in the lane and be at 200 pounds, you’re going to get pushed over,’ said Young. ‘So you [have to] add weight and that’s what I did. I want to add more, not done yet.’
Young spent his rookie campaign playing basketball in Boston and Maine last season. He played 17 games for the Red Claws, averaging 21.5 points and shooting an impressive 44.2 percent from behind the three-point arc.
Young finished his rookie season with the Celtics averaging 3.4 points in 10.7 minutes per game. While adding weight to his frame to improve his offense, Young says he has a better understanding of what to do on the defensive end.
‘My footwork is a lot better, I know what to do now. Pulling over, communicating, everything is working a lot better now. I know what to do now, I didn’t know then but now I know.’
‘He’s really improved his defensive abilities,’ said Stevens. ‘His defensive awareness was great in summer league and he’s a guy that we know offensively has some skill and some talent. The other thing about James that I’m excited about is he’s bigger and stronger and he’s only 20 years old.
Among the cliches about taking the season one game at a time, Celtics guard Avery Bradley‘s stated goal for 2015-16 stood out during the team’s annual media day.
‘To get back to the playoffs and hopefully use all the experience we gained from last year to get further and have a chance to play in the championship,’ said Bradley. ‘Obviously, that’s our ultimate goal, and we’re going to try to prepare so we can get to that level.’
The championship? Really?
‘I feel like it’s definitely realistic,’ added the 24-year-old Bradley. ‘A lot of people laughed when I said we were going to make the playoffs last year, and we did.’
Well, he’s got a point there. Believe it or not, Bradley is the longest-tenured player of the Celtics, and as the lone remaining member of the team that reached the 2012 Eastern Conference finals, he should know what it takes.
‘I know that I want to take that role to help my teammates become the best players on and off the court,” said Bradley. “I’m going to try to speak up more this year. I’m definitely going to lead by example, no matter what, but I definitely want to try to be a role model for the younger guys and push them every single day so we can be the best players we can be, so we can achieve our ultimate goal — and that’s winning a championship.’
So, the goal really is winning a championship, then. (As it should be for every team worth its salt, by the way.)
‘If we continue to work hard, anything’s possible,’ said Bradley, who started for the 2014-15 team that got swept in the first round. “If you buy into what the coach is trying to do and this Celtics culture, I feel like anything is possible and we can definitely have a chance to make it to the championship if we do those things.’
Over the next month, we’ll chronicle the 25 most consequential trades of Danny Ainge’s tenure as Celtics president of basketball operations. When we’re done, we’ll have a better understanding of Ainge’s philosophy and success rate on the trade market. Perhaps by the end of this exercise we’ll even feel better about the future of this rebuild. At the very least, we’ll have something interesting to debate while we wait for training camp to open.
Jae Crowder: Wasting away on the end of the Mavericks’ bench, Crowder was a revelation in Boston, establishing accountability on the court and in the locker room. His production wasn’t spectacular, averaging 14.0 points and 6.9 rebounds per 30 minutes, but his defense opposite LeBron James in the playoffs, potential as a versatile swingman and hard-nosed mentality was enough to earn a five year, $35 million extension.
Jameer Nelson: The Mavericks viewed Rondo as an upgrade over Nelson, and with J.J. Barea and Devin Harris already slotted as veteran backups, they parted ways with the one-time All-Star six months after signing him to a two-year, $5.59 million contract in free agency. At the time of the deal, Nelson was playing 25 minutes a night for an offense that ranked as the league’s best — by a margin of 2.6 points per 100 possessions.
Brandan Wright: In the final season of a two-year, $10 million contract, Wright was enjoying a career campaign, averaging 17 points, 7.8 rebounds and three blocks per 36 minutes. Seemingly Boston’s biggest prize in this transaction, he was an advanced metrics All-Star off the bench in Dallas, submitting a 25.7 player efficiency rating and 76.2 true shooting percentage that both ranked among the leagues’ best marks.
Dallas’ 2016 first-round pick (top-7 protected): Well on their way to a 12th 50-win season in the past 15 years, the Mavs appeared to have found a way to extend Dirk Nowitzki‘s shelf life, surrounding the former MVP with Tyson Chandler, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and Rondo. Initially pegged as a late first-round pick, that’s no longer the case. Chandler, Ellis and Rondo all quietly left as the dust settled on DeAndre Jordan’s indecision. Not even Nostradamus could’ve forecast the you-know-what storm that hit Dallas this summer.
The more favorable of Dallas and Memphis’ 2016 second-round picks: Since he already had enough picks to select someone once every few times the clock restarted in the second round of the 2016 draft, Ainge must’ve figured, what the heck, let’s add another to the mix. This gives the C’s as many as eight picks in June.
DEPARTING to Dallas
Dwight Powell: Acquired from Cleveland along with three bit players and a pair of second-round picks in exchange for Keith Bogans’ non-guaranteed salary, Powell barely made the roster out of training camp and played all of nine minutes in Boston. He averaged that many a night in Dallas and wasn’t much more productive, although he’s flashed enough skill at his size (6-foot-11) to stick on the end of an NBA bench.
Rajon Rondo: You know the story by now. Four-time NBA All-Star. Three-time All-Defensive selection. Two-time assists leader. One-time champion. Rondo was inarguably one of the most fascinating players in the league as recently as three years ago, going toe-to-toe with LeBron James in a playoff series at the height of the four-time MVP’s powers, and it all went to (expletive) when his right ACL tore in January 2013. Everyone was on the edge of their seats awaiting a contract year from Rondo, and he was leading the league in assists at the time of the trade, but his hesitancy on offense and lethargy on defense made it clear his career in Boston was over.
Minnesota’s 2016 first-round pick (top-12 protected): Considering the Timberwolves owned the worst record in the league last season and won’t make the playoffs out West despite an exciting young core, this will in all likelihood become a pair of high second-round picks in 2016 and 2017. It’s not the two first-round pick haul Ainge would’ve liked for Rondo, but they’re low-cost-assets nonetheless.
DEPARTING to Phoenix
Brandan Wright: After eight games in Boston with an undefined role, Wright was shipped to Phoenix, where he settled into a similar position to the one he held in Dallas. And then fell back to Earth. His numbers dipped closer to career averages that only earned a minimum offer from the Mavs at age 24 in 2011. The reward for his tumultuous season four years later was a three-year, $17.1 million deal with the Grizzlies this past summer. The Celtics were never interested in signing Wright long-term, but understood his value on the secondary market.
Nate Robinson: It had been four years since the Celtics traded Robinson to Oklahoma City, and he played for four teams in the interim. While some Boston fans hoped for a nostalgic rerun of the Shrek and Donkey show of 2010, this was nothing more than a cost-saving transaction. Within 24 hours of the trade, Robinson agreed to a buyout of the final months of his two-year, $4.1 million deal that saved the C’s an additional $689,000.
DEPARTING to Denver
Jameer Nelson: Just a few months into the three-year, $13.6 million deal he signed with the Mavs, Nelson was a long-term investment who was about to turn 33 years old. The swap of Nelson for Robinson extinguished the C’s financial commitment and saved them nearly the entirety of the former’s remaining contract.
Let’s not forget Ainge would’ve given Rondo a three-year, $44.8 million extension in the summer of 2014 if his point guard hadn’t been adamant about exploring the free agency market. As it turns out, that was a blessing for the Celtics. Even the one-year, $10 million deal Rondo got from the Kings seems like an overpay after his 2014-15 campaign crashed and burned to the point Dallas coach Rick Carlisle benched him for the final three games of the playoffs.
Playoff Rondo had become a playoff gonzo, and it was evident he’s no longer the guy who averaged a 21-7-11 with two steals a night in an Eastern Conference finals series against the Heat. The knee injury took that from him. So up in his head about free throw and jump shooting woes that have plagued him throughout his career — even when he was an elite point guard — Rondo was afraid to attack the basket, making him among the easiest players to defend. As for his own defense, he admitted what those of us who saw him play on a nightly basis already knew — he just wasn’t into it.
Regardless, the Celtics were wise to part with Rondo when they did. The real question is whether they would’ve been wiser to cash in his value earlier. Except, the time was never right. In 2012, he was an All-NBA performer at the height of his powers midway through one of the best contracts in the league (five years, $55 million). Why trade him? The earliest Ainge might’ve considered dealing Rondo for anybody but Chris Paul would’ve been the 2013 trade deadline, when the window on the Big Three era was closing, but Rondo tore his ACL a month earlier. In 2013-14, nobody would’ve offered equal value for a guy still battling back from rehab, and so waiting until December 2014 — when Rondo had at least demonstrated he could lead the NBA in assists again — was the right time to pull the trigger.
On its surface, the return for Rondo seemed laughable, if only because we remembered him as one of the most exciting players in all the game. He made White Chocolate look like spilt milk. But the truth is, going forward, Crowder might be the best player exchanged in the deal. On top of that, Ainge created a $12.9 million trade exception while taking on next to nothing in additional salary once Wright and Nelson were unloaded, and then picked up draft picks. If Dallas drops out of the playoff picture, the Celtics could have another lottery pick on their hands in June (so long as it doesn’t fall in the top seven), and the ultimate payoff would be if Garnett could somehow tame the Wolf pups in Minnesota and lead them to the playoffs this season — giving the C’s a fourth first-rounder in 2016. That’s probably a pipe dream, but a couple more early second-round selections isn’t such a bad consolation prize.