Brad Stevens is patiently waiting for his team to rise from mediocrity. (Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports)
Everyone knows injuries have impacted the Celtics to start this season of promise.
But what Brad Stevens is trying to get across to his team is that the losses due to man-games missed has not been the biggest issue. The Celtics have simply been a mediocre team just under a third of the way through the year.
And Stevens can’t blame it all on injuries.
What does he think of the record so far?
“It’s 13-12,” Stevens said before Friday’s win over Charlotte that improved it to 14-12. The Celtics entered Friday’s action actually a half-game behind the 14-12 Knicks.
“It is what it is. I thought this was going to… I thought we had a lot of tough, tough challenges, especially at the start of the season, ahead of us,” Stevens said. “There were a couple of things, obviously, that you can’t predict going into a new year, with regard to availability. But I said at the beginning of the year, we’re as close to second or third as we are 10th. Still are.”
Al Horford missed nine games with a concussion and one due to a paternity leave. Jae Crowder missed eight games with an ankle sprain. Thomas returned Friday after a four-game absence due to a sore groin. Marcus Smart missed three games with a bum ankle.
“I don’t think we should use that as an excuse,” Stevens said. “I think at the end of the day, that’s part of the game. Certainly, we’ve missed some guys [who have] missed some games. My hope is that we can get a little bit of a steady play here and see how we look healthy.”
Avery Bradley took it a step further before Friday’s game.
“We know we need to get back to playing the right way,” Bradley said. “And pulling off some wins in a row is important for us. I would call it a must-win after losing three close ones. We always want to take care of home, and like you said it’s a team that’s in the East that we’re going to see again. These games really count for us. It really matters when it comes down to the end of the year as far as seeding in the playoffs.”
The Celtics and Hornets are very similar in their approach this season. They are two teams looking to take that next step after making a late-season run last season. The Celtics and Hornets finished tied with the Hawks and Heat with 48 wins.
“Yeah, there’s no question. It’s been that way for the last couple of years and I think it boils down to… we always talk about you’ve got to maintain an even keel and you’ve got to control what you can control, and that is playing as consistent as possible every single night. I thought we played some really good basketball against Toronto last week, some really good basketball against Oklahoma City, not as good against San Antonio. But I think we have to do what we are doing, better, to beat those teams.”
Charlotte is 14-12 and that’s good enough, despite a three-game skid, to be leading the Southeast Division.
“I was talking to Brad before,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “I hesitate to even look at standings at this stage of the game, because the schedule is such a big part of it. Some teams played a lot more games on the road, other teams have been out West already and we haven’t. I think until you play 40-45 games… obviously you don’t want to lose contact with everybody, but you just have to worry about your team and building a team game that’s balanced.”
New CBA and the Celtics: On Wednesday, the NBA announced that the league and the Players Association reached a tentative agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, pending ratification by players and team owners.
In the statement, the league announced that “in order to give both sides enough time to review the terms of the agreement and vote to ratify, the parties have agreed to extend the mutual deadline to opt out of the existing CBA from Dec. 15, 2016, to Jan. 13, 2017.”
Multiple reports indicate that the deal is for at least six years and the Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps has a thorough explanation of some of the leaked details of the new pact, including what exactly is the new “designated player exception” (DPE).
What does that mean for the Celtics?
The new rule has the potential to impact free agents, like Blake Griffin, as well as potential trade targets like Paul George or the always-coveted but highly flammable DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings could still decide they would rather move on from the Boogie man, but now have the option to offer Cousins a longer, more lucrative extension this summer. In other words, the league is trying to provide incentives to teams like Sacramento and Indiana to hold onto their own free agents instead of just dumping them. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have to more closely weigh short-term goals versus long-term planning and how the Nets’ likely lottery pick is going to figure into all of this. Then there’s Kevin Durant. If Ainge thinks he can lure Durant to Boston and if Durant opts out in Golden State after one year, that could significantly change how Ainge views the marketplace and more importantly, Boston’s place in it.
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The new CBA will make contract extensions far more attractive. Certain players who don’t qualify as DPE-eligible players will also be able to receive extensions earlier in the life of a contract, and will be able to sign longer extensions. That could keep players away from free agency, which is not good for a team like the Celtics that would prefer all sorts of movement, especially among the stars.
Then there’s the report from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that the new CBA raises the “over-36” rule to “over-38” which would benefit LeBron James and Chris Paul. That could provide a $100 million windfall for King James and up to $50 million for Paul. Why? Simply put, it would allow James and Paul to sign max deals two years shorter and then sign another max deal after that.
Remembering Sager: The Celtics wore their SagerStrong shirts during warmups Friday and on the bench during the game. The legendary NBA sideline reporter lost his battle with cancer this week at the age of 65.
“His impact has been really well-communicated throughout the interviews and the tweets and the articles,” Stevens said before Friday’s game. “I didn’t know Craig very well. I maybe met him once or twice but what I took from just being around him the brief amount of time that I was, but also from around the game, is how close-knit the basketball community is and how much he impacted that community. And how inspiring his fight was and the way he went about his everyday life through that fight. We’ve all been affected personally by cancer and cancer sucks.
“I thought there’s another inspiration for people to look up to who are going through tough times.”