When Celtics coach Brad Stevens says, “We have to play better than last year overall to make the playoffs again

Brad Stevens couldn't be more excited about the 2015-16 NBA season. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Brad Stevens couldn’t be more excited about the 2015-16 NBA season. (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

When Celtics coach Brad Stevens says, “We have to play better than last year overall to make the playoffs again,” it’s not merely a motivating tactic in hopes of curbing complacency. He’s right.

If the C’s finish with the same 40-42 record they produced in 2014-15, they may not only fail to claim a No. 7 seed again, but miss the playoffs entirely. Just about every Eastern Conference team that finished below Boston last season has since upgraded its roster, save for the 76ers.

“From a coaching standpoint, I always go into a season looking at what I think we’€™ll be able to do well, and I think you look at what your potential challenges will be,” Stevens told the media gathered at Old Sandwich Golf Club in Plymouth for the team’s annual charity golf fundraiser. “So, I just look at it more as a job. I don’€™t look at it as what expectations are from results.

“We have such a long way to go to be where we want to be. We have to play better than last year overall to make the playoffs again. The East is better. Teams that didn’€™t make it really improved. We were as close to 12th as we were to fourth, so time will tell if we make the right strides, but if we take shortcuts or if we’€™re not connected, then we won’€™t. So, that’€™s our job.”

In what has also become an annual tradition, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge offered his list of contenders for the Eastern Conference crown this season.

“The East is good,” he said. “Obviously, Cleveland is a powerhouse, and Chicago, on paper, if they stay healthy, they’re a terrific team, and Miami is a very underrated team. Washington still has great young talent and a big front line. I think the East is a very good conference.”

Miami is one of the teams that finished behind the Celtics last season. As a result, Duke standout Justise Winslow, who Ainge coveted in the draft, fell into Heat president Pat Riley‘s lap at No. 10. The re-signing of Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh’s return from a season-ending health scare and an overhauled bench should also translate into at least one team leapfrogging the C’s in the standings.

Paul George’s Indiana comeback, Orlando’s youth movement and revamped rosters in Charlotte, Detroit and New York also leave Boston in danger of losing its grip on the seventh seed. You’ll notice Ainge cut the fourth-seeded Raptors from his list of East contenders, which would leave the Atlantic Division crown on the table, although that no longer guarantees a playoff seed, either.

“Every year it’s tough,” said Ainge, whose teams have made the playoffs in nine of his 12 years as GM. “We sit here at this time of year, and we try to prognosticate, and there’s always things that happen, but I know it’s tough. I know that we’re going to have a tough game every night, because we’re that type of team. We’re a team where if we don’t come ready to play and we don’t play well, we can get beat by anybody; and at the same time, if we do play well, we can beat anybody.

“We had a lot of close games last year, a lot of games that we won that we were very fortunate to win, and a lot of games we lost that we sort of made some critical mistakes down the stretch, so it’s very fragile. Our effort has to be there every night, and we have to be consistent.”

Indeed, 25 of their 42 losses last season came in games they either led or trailed by five points in the final three minutes. Their win percentage in those games improved from .357 before the All-Star Game to .588 after the break ‘€” one major reason for the C’s 24-12 finish over the final two-plus months. The midseason additions of Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas and Jonas Jerebko didn’t hurt in that regard, either. And the David Lee and Amir Johnson acquisitions should further boost productivity heading into a training camp that expects to be their most competitive in years.

“We’€™ve just got to come out in the beginning of the year and prove that we can play that way,” said Tyler Zeller, one of seven current C’s playing for his next contract this year. “Obviously, we’€™re not going to win all the games. No team has yet to win all the games, but we’€™ve got to go out and prove we’€™re in every game and we have a chance to win every game. And hopefully we can put those games away when we get those chances. But at the beginning of the year we’€™ve just got to make sure we’€™re putting all the effort we can on the floor and playing as a team like we did last year.’€

At least we can agree on something when it comes to Boston’s playoff chances: They won’t be 82-0.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach
Sam Packard is joined by Jared Weiss of CLNSRadio.Com to talk about trading Bradley and the upcoming Celtics Media Day.

As anticipated, negotiations between the Celtics and their trio of players entering the final year of their rookie contracts — Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and Perry Jones III — haven

Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

As anticipated, negotiations between the Celtics and their trio of players entering the final year of their rookie contracts — Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and Perry Jones III — haven’t moved beyond an initial discussion.

“I’ve had preliminary conversations with the representatives of those players, and we’ll see how it goes in October,” team president Danny Ainge said from Plymouth, where the C’s hosted their annual charity golf tournament to benefit the Shamrock Foundation. “We have until October to make those decisions, and we’ll see how training camp goes.”

Ainge and the agents for Sullinger and Zeller are expected to be far apart on negotiations. The C’s will seek team-friendly deals for a pair of players who haven’t established themselves as anything beyond role players, while those two — as all free agents will be — are anticipating hefty raises when the salary cap balloons $20 million in 2016. As for Jones, he may not even make the roster, so he won’t be signing an extension for an entirely different reason.

“Obviously, it would be nice to have an extension, just because it’s a little more security, but at the same time you’ve got to approach the year, and you can’t be heartbroken if you don’t get it,” said Zeller, one of two players (Jonas Jerebko) at the charity golf event. “You have to be fully prepared. Either way, I’ve got to do my job this year. I have one more year on my contract, so I’ve got to go out and do as much as I can to help our team this year.”

While Sullinger was not present Tuesday, his father was in a foursome at Plymouth’s Old Sandwich Golf Club. The Celtics brass has not seen Satch Sullinger’s son this summer, as the fourth-year big man is not one of eight players working out in Waltham, but Ainge has followed Jared Sullinger’s training regimen on social media. Sort of.

“My eyes aren’t good enough to see the Twitter pictures, nor do I believe most of the Twitter pictures, but I’m not worried about that,” said Ainge, who has criticized Sullinger’s conditioning in the past. “I know Jared is putting in the work this summer. It’s a big year for him and for us, and I’m confident he’s going to have a terrific year.”

But there’s at least a chance neither Sullinger nor Zeller will earn the starting positions they held at various points last season, since the arrival of veterans David Lee and Amir Johnson presents a logjam in the frontcourt. And that could present a problem for a pair of players who need playing time now to increase their value next summer.

“It’s one of those things where hopefully your play speaks for itself,” said Zeller. “You’ve just got to go and find your little niche and what your team needs, where you fit, and hopefully that will kind of talk for itself and get you playing time. And if it doesn’t, you’ve just got to keep working and keep trying to find a spot for you.”

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

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.

With that out of the way, here’s No. 8 on the list of Danny Ainge’s 25 most consequential trades.

July 29, 2003: Goodbye, Bruno Sundov.

ARRIVING in Boston

  • Jumaine Jones: One of Ainge’s first orders of business as president of basketball operations, the Celtics acquired Jones in a sign-and-trade, giving the versatile free agent an affordable three-year, $5.1 million deal. During his one season in Boston, Jones didn’t enjoy the same success he did previously on the Cavaliers, if only because his minutes were slashed and his production followed suit.

DEPARTING to Cleveland

  • J.R. Bremer: Signed to an undrafted rookie free agent contract, Bremer performed admirably during his rookie season in Boston, averaging 8.3 points and 2.6 assists in 23.5 minutes a night. But he was not long for the NBA, as he was released by the Cavaliers 31 games into his sophomore season. Outside of a 10-day contract with the Golden State Warriors a week later, he never returned to the association.
  • Bruno Sundov: The Croatian sensation averaged all of 1.2 points and 1.1 rebounds in 26 games while making less than $1 million during his lone year in Boston. His size at 7-foot-2 offered enough intrigue for the Cavs to take a chance, and he played a whopping four games before being waived by Cleveland.
  • Boston’€™s 2005 second-round pick (Ryan Gomes): The loss of this pick might’ve hurt had the Celtics not gotten it back five months later as a throw-in to the trade that brought Ricky Davis to Boston.

Feb. 19, 2004: Hello, Tony Allen.

ARRIVING in Boston

  • Chucky Atkins: In the midst of the fourth season of the six-year, $22.5 million deal he inked with the Pistons after Grant Hill‘s sign-and-trade to Orlando, Atkins was a productive player behind Chauncey Billups on a Detroit team that was on its way to a title in 2004. Likewise, Atkins averaged 12.0 points and 5.3 as a starting point guard for the Celtics over the final two months of a 2003-04 season that ended in the first round of the playoffs. He played another six seasons in the NBA, just not for Boston.
  • Lindsey Hunter: In an agreed upon part of this trade, the Celtics used cash from the Pistons to pay the remainder of Hunter’s salary and waive the veteran point guard. Hunter never left Michigan, re-signing with Detroit within a week — a loophole in the league’s trade machinations that has since been closed.
  • Detroit’€™s 2004 first-round pick (Tony Allen): Considering the Pistons were 35-21 at the time of the deal, Ainge couldn’t have anticipated much better than the 25th pick he got in return. And, boy, did the Celtics ever nail this pick, selecting the uber-athletic Allen, a future perennial All-Defensive selection who would be a key member of the Boston teams that made two trips to the NBA Finals from 2008-10. Ainge’s mistake on Allen came later, when he didn’t match Memphis’ offer in the summer of 2010.

DEPARTING to Detroit and Atlanta

  • Mike James: I can’t think of him without hearing Dave Chappelle scream, “I’m Mike James, (expletive),” since the point guard’s brief tenure in Boston coincided with the height of Chappelle’s Show. James was working on an expiring contract and won a ring playing a minimal role with the Pistons before becoming a free agent. He played another nine seasons in the league — for eight different teams — and even averaged 20.3 points per game for a 27-win Raptors team in 2005-06, but nobody would consider him a devastating loss for the Celtics, since just about every other team gave up on him, too.
  • Chris Mills: Injured beyond repair as a 33-year-old when Boston acquired the final year of his contract in the Antoine Walker trade to Dallas, Mills came in handy as an expiring $6.6 million contract a few months later. He never played an NBA game either in Boston or Atlanta during the 2003-04 season.

Aug. 6, 2004: Hello, Gary Payton.

ARRIVING in Boston

  • Rick Fox: On the precipice of retirement as a 35-year-old whose body had succumbed to 23,723 minutes in the NBA — nearly half of which came on the 1990s Celtics that drafted him — Fox agreed to a buyout with Ainge and never played another NBA game again, focusing on a TV and film career instead.
  • Gary Payton: When Payton initially failed to report for a physical after the trade, the Celtics amended their end of the deal, sending Jumaine Jones to L.A. instead of Marcus Banks and a second-round pick. Payton eventually reported and submitted a decent season for a 36-year-old future Hall of Famer, averaging 11.3 points and 6.1 assists in 77 games as the starting point guard on a playoff team.
  • Lakers’€™ 2006 first-round pick (Rajon Rondo): Not bad, right? Except, Ainge nearly blew this one, sending the pick along with Tom Gugliotta, Michael Stewart and Payton to Atlanta for the return of Antoine Walker in 2005. Thankfully, he got the pick back in a separate swindle on draft day 2006.

DEPARTING to Los Angeles Lakers

  • Chucky Atkins: In 82 games as the starting point guard for a 34-win Lakers squad, Atkins averaged a respectable 13.6 points (55.8 true shooting percentage) and 4.4 assists in 2004-05, but L.A. turned around and traded him with Caron Butler the following summer for … wait for it … Kwame Brown and Laron Profit. You see, things could’ve been worse for Ainge. They could’ve been much, much worse.
  • Jumaine Jones: Likewise, Jones appeared in 76 games for an abysmal Lakers team that same season, averaging 7.6 points (55.6 TS%) and 5.2 boards, but he left in free agency in August 2006.
  • Chris Mihm: Acquired from Cleveland in December 2003, the 7-footer agreed to a sign-and-trade deal worth $11.4 million over the next three seasons, (remarkably) replacing the departed Shaquille O’Neal as the Lakers’ starting center. Mihm remained in that position for two years, averaging 10 points and 6.5 rebounds from 2004-06, but L.A. no longer was a title contender. Go figure. He missed all of 2006-07 with an ankle injury and actually returned for two more years (and $5 million!) to play minimal minutes on Lakers teams that lost to the Celtics in the 2008 finals and won the 2009 championship.

Only one of these three transactions, which played out in just over a 12-month span, produced Tony Allen. Still, it’s fascinating to view them together, since Jumaine Jones and Chucky Atkins were woven throughout.

When all was said and done here, Ainge turned J.R. Bremer, Bruno Sundov, Mike James, Chris Mills and Chris Mihm — a poop soup of players toiling in Boston during his first year as team president — into the picks that produced Tony Allen and Rajon Rondo. It’s a remarkable transformation, especially considering Hunter agreed to a buyout, Fox retired and the Celtics didn’t take on a single cumbersome contract in the process.

All it really cost the C’s to acquire two first-round picks — which somewhat circuitously became a pair of key players on a title team — was one year of Jumaine Jones and half a season’s worth of both Chucky Atkins and Gary Payton. Taking advantage of a time when general managers valued veterans they knew over picks they didn’t, Ainge began collecting first-rounders before GMs started protecting them like unborn children.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Marcus Smart is raging against the trade machine. (Getty Images)

The relationship between Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas and boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. exceeded bromance status when the latter purchased the former a Bentley for his 26th birthday in February.

Seven months later, their bromance seems to have blossomed into a full-scale public display of brofection. We’ll let the C’s pint-sized point guard explain, as he did during an interview with SiriusXM’s Going the Distance that was transcribed by ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg.

“He respects me a lot. A lot of people in his circle, when I’€™m around they are like, ‘€˜Man, you don’€™t understand how much Floyd talks about you when you’€™re not here. He just loves you around.’€™ I think that’€™s the little-guy complex, that we gotta stick together.

“So I think we relate to each other a lot more than any other athlete that he has relationships with or friendship with. Just from that, we kinda bond and we got a close friendship. Just from us being small and doubted our whole lives.”

Considering Mayweather’s history in relationships, perhaps we should be concerned about Thomas, but there’s at least one positive benefit to his friendship with arguably the most brash man on Earth.

“Man, it’€™s done wonders for me,” said Thomas. “Even the first day when I met him five or six years ago when I went to watch him train, it was just like, man, you see why he’€™s the best at what he does. And you see why he hasn’€™t taken a loss in [49] fights. It’€™s just amazing. He’€™s the definition of hard work and dedication, somebody, that, no matter what time of day it is, it can be 4 or 5 in the morning, he’€™s going to go on a six-mile run, or go to the gym and get nine rounds of sparring in with no breaks.

“I just try translate that to the basketball court. If a guy at [39] years old is working that hard, I gotta at least work as hard him on the basketball court — and I’€™m 26 years old. He’€™s a guy that I definitely look up to as an athlete and a guy that really helps me out, not just in basketball, but being the best at your craft. And wanting to be the best and not just saying it.”

While Mayweather is accustomed to declaring himself the best ever in a boxing ring, thankfully Thomas lives in the real world, where he set two goals for the 2015-16 NBA season — winning a playoff series and making the All-Star team — taking careful consideration to mention, “first and foremost it comes with team goals.” Given the finish to last season and their additions this summer, the Celtics should absolutely consider an Atlantic Division title and a second-round playoff appearance within reach. And if Thomas builds on his 19 points and 5.4 assists per game over the final two months of 2014-15, there are certainly All-Star spots to be had in the Eastern Conference’s backcourt.

P.S. I’m with the SiriusXM hosts in wondering how Thomas’ team only defeated Mayweather’s squad by a 3-2 margin in their best-of-five pickup series, even if the rosters were five against five.

And for some reason my favorite part about the Showtime video of their interaction was Thomas saying, “I can’t do a cool move and people like it?” You can do cool moves, Isaiah. People like it.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

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.

With that out of the way, here’s No. 9 on the list of Danny Ainge’s 25 most consequential trades.

June 26, 2003: Hello, Kendrick Perkins.

ARRIVING in Boston

  • Houston’€™s 2003 first-round pick (Marcus Banks): Banks wasn’t the worst No. 13 overall pick. He lasted eight NBA seasons as a backup point guard, averaging 5.3 points and two assists in 15.6 minutes over 180 games in two-plus seasons before the Celtics dealt him in a seven-player trade with Minnesota.
  • Sacramento’€™s 2003 first-round pick (Kendrick Perkins): But Perkins was a better pick at No. 27. The starting center on a team that won a ring and might’ve made it two if not for his ACL tear in Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals, Perk averaged 6.4 points, 6.1 boards and 1.4 blocks during seven-plus seasons in Boston, but statistics never reflected the intimidating defensive presence he was before the knee injury. He was the scowl behind Garnett’s trash talk, and the two anchored one of the league’s best defenses for years.

DEPARTING to Memphis

  • Boston’€™s 2003 first-round pick (Troy Bell): The Boston College product played just six games as a rookie on the Grizzlies, scoring 11 points on 18 shots, and was never seen on an NBA court again. Still on a squad in Turkey, he’s spent the past decade playing in Spain, Germany, Italy, France and the D-League.
  • Philadelphia’€™s 2003 first-round pick (Dahntay Jones): Believe it or not, Jones is still in the association, for now, receiving a training camp invite from the Brooklyn Nets. He averaged 0.6 points in 33 appearances for Doc Rivers‘ L.A. Clippers in 2014-15, his 11th NBA season and seventh different team. In the end, though, Jones’ career numbers as a wing aren’t all that different from Banks’ at the point.

There isn’t much to say here beyond the fact Ainge made out a whole lot better in this deal than Grizzlies counterpart Jerry West, and not many folks can say that. Ostensibly, swapping the No. 13 and 27 picks for Nos. 16 and 20 is an even trade, but not when one of those picks turns out to be a title-winning starting center.

How much Ainge deserves credit for Perkins is up for debate, though, since Banks was his prize on draft night. The Celtics had promised Banks they would take him if he fell to No. 16, convinced the UNLV product not to work out for other teams, and then still moved up to get him, for fear he wouldn’t last another three picks.

“We knew that if he went and worked out for every team in the NBA, there wasn’t a chance that we would get him. Not a chance,” Ainge told reporters after the draft. “Everybody on the basketball staff was celebrating.”

As for Perkins, then-coach Jim O’Brien wasn’t quite as sold on the senior out of Ozen High in Beaumont, Texas. “It’s just a chance that you’re taking,” he said. “You get a guy that can help you, and you’re taking a chance.”

You win some, you lose some, and sometimes you’re just damn lucky the best guy in the deal was picked last.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach