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Eastern Notes: Ainge, Kuzminskas, George, Scola

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge was able to quickly rebuild the Celtics by maximizing the return for his stars when the team got too old, writes Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders. Ainge sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets for a package of draft picks and traded Rajon Rondo to the Mavericks instead of letting him become a free agent. This summer’s signing of Al Horford accelerated the building process, and Hamilton believes it makes the Celtics legitimate contenders in the East. Boston is also set up well for the future, with only Horford, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas under contract for 2017/18. Even if the Celtics pick up their team option on Marcus Smart, they may have more than $50MM to spend on free agents next July.

There’s more out of the Eastern Conference:

  • Mindaugas Kuzminskas provides enough offense to become a rotation player for the Knicks, according to Trevor Magnotti of Upside and Motor. The 6’9″ Lithuanian forward signed with New York earlier this month after playing in Europe for the past five seasons. Knicks president Phil Jackson said the team wanted to find a mobile small forward who could shoot from distance. That describes Kuzminskas, who gets most of his points on cuts to the basket, but is also a streaky shooter from 3-point range. However, there are questions about his defense, which Magnotti warns might limit his playing time until he proves he can contribute on that end.
  • Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski says Paul George is playing the best basketball of his life two years after the broken leg that had many concerned about his career, writes Mark Medina of The Los Angeles Daily News. The Pacers‘ star, who had 18 points in Friday’s exhibition win over Argentina, said he had to put that scary incident out of his mind to be effective again. “It’s behind me,” George said. “I don’t play the game expecting to get hurt. I know it’s a possibility. But there’s no thought in my mind I’m going to get hurt. I play this game because I love it. I just play hard.”
  • Newly signed Nets power forward Luis Scola will be Argentina’s flag bearer at the Summer Olympics, according to the Associated Press. “I had the chance to play four Olympics, to play 10 years in the NBA, to carry the flag for my country, win an Olympic gold medal,’’ Scola said. “I mean, different things that happened along those days that I couldn’t even dream of those because it would be too wild to dream.”
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