Brad Stevens

Atlantic Notes: Stevens, Fizdale, Load Management

Brad Stevens‘s new-look Celtics are off to their best start in his tenure as head coach, with a sterling 5-1 record. A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston opines that the Celtics’ winning ways are attributable to five key factors: an easy connection with new point guard Kemba Walker; strong second halves on offense and defense; a relative dearth of contract drama; no idle chatter of Stevens mulling a return to the NCAA; and Stevens’ willingness for self-reflection following the disappointment of the 2018/19 Celtics.

Here’s tonight’s full run-down of Atlantic notes:

  • Marc Berman of The New York Post posits that it’s way too early for Knicks head coach David Fizdale to be on the coaching hot seat. Though the Knicks are tied with the Zion Williamson-free Pelicans at a league-worst 1-6 record, Berman suggests that the front office duo of Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry have saddled Fizdale with a head-scratching assortment of talent, heavy on mediocre frontcourt pieces but light on outside shooting or clutch end-of-game leadership.
  • In a piece for The Athletic, Frank Isola supports Fizdale’s staunch defense of playing promising Knicks rookie RJ Barrett extended minutes, an argument echoed by former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and by Barrett himself. “Has anyone stopped to consider that maybe by playing Barrett a lot of minutes David Fizdale is advancing Barrett’s career forward?,” Van Gundy said to Isola. “Is there anyone who really believes that the way you get better is by not playing and by not practicing?”
  • On the other side of the wins-losses spectrum, the Raptors appear to be taking a similar approach to the struggling Knicks when it comes to one hot-button health topic. “I don’t really see much point in (load management) right now for anyone we’ve got,” head coach Nick Nurse said on Monday, per Ryan Wolstat of The Toronto Sun.Kyle [Lowry] will be somebody maybe we do something with down the road, maybe Marc [Gasol] as well. But it’s not really in the forefront of my mind this year like it was last year.” The Raptors famously conserved the play of eventual Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard last season. 33-year-old Lowry is currently leading the league with a heavy 38.8 minutes played per game, while backcourt mate Fred VanVleet is logging 37.8 minutes a night.

Celtics Notes: Theis, Strus, Langford, Williams

Daniel Theis is making a strong case to start at center for the Celtics, A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston reports.

Theis, who has only started five of the 129 regular season games he’s played with Boston over the past two seasons, has more experience in Brad Stevens’ system than any other big man on the roster. That could give him an edge over Enes Kanter and Robert Williams. He’s also adept at making defensive switches.

“If you watch closely, that’s a tied-together group on that end of the court,” Stevens said of playing Theis with the other starters. Theis is making $5MM this season but his $5MM salary for 2020/21 is not guaranteed.

We have more on the Celtics:

  • Max Strus is a serious candidate to get the 15th and final spot on the opening night roster, Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald tweets.  The shooting guard just had his two-way contract converted to a standard two-year deal with a partial guarantee. The guarantee is worth $415K, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. However, he could still be waived, Murphy adds. The 23-year-old Strus went undrafted after playing his college ball at DePaul.
  • Stevens offers high praise for his first-year players, including Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Tacko Fall, and Carsen Edwards, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe tweets“That’s as good of a group of rookie workers that I’ve ever been around …those guys grind,” he said.
  • The team has picked up the 2020/21 options on Jayson Tatum and Williams. Get all the details here.

Danny Ainge On Celtics: “Are We Good Enough?”

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge admits the team’s talent level will be a greater concern this year, writes Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. The Celtics entered last season as clear favorites to win the East, but expectations are lower now that Kyrie Irving and Al Horford both left in free agency.

“I think that last year’s questions were more based on how is it going to jell? There was not a question of how much talent we had,” Ainge said to reporters before today’s open practice. “This year, the question is, are we good enough? And can players step up and take advantage of the opportunities that they’re given to become more elite?”

Signing Kemba Walker helped to ease the loss of Irving, and Enes Kanter will likely take over in the middle. Ainge said he’s encouraged by the early results from training camp as the players work to erase the memory of last year’s disappointment.

Ainge addressed several other topics in the session with the media:

On Gordon Hayward‘s progress nearly two full years after a severe ankle injury:

“I think, right now, there’s been a lot of buzz about Gordon and his comeback and I’m worried that it’s getting a little out of hand. Like, I think he’s Gordon. He’s back to being Gordon. And we’re very excited about that. I sometimes worry, like, ‘Oh my gosh, they think it’s somebody else.’ But I’m excited about Gordon. I’m excited about Kemba. Jaylen [Brown] and Jayson [Tatum] had really good summers. They’ve looked really good in training camp. Obviously they have a great comfort level with the system. And Marcus [Smart]. So, we know who all of those guys are. I think there are lots of questions in lots of other places on the roster.”

On coach Brad Stevens’ status after the team failed to meet last year’s lofty expectations:

“If 49 wins is the worst season in your coaching career, you’re probably going to be OK. But Brad just keeps getting better. These experiences, he’s a young coach, works harder than anybody, very bright. I have all the confidence in the world that last year was a learning experience for him, just like all of our young players. Like I said many many times before and I’ll continue to say, he’s the least of our worries. He’s prepared, and I think these experiences are going to make him a great coach.”

On the competition at center without Horford and Aron Baynes:

“Most of [the bigs] are new. I think Daniel [Theis] has the most experience of that group of guys with our group. I think he’s got a little bit of a head start, just mentally and emotionally and understanding what Brad wants. I think I can see some of the new-ness of the other guys. I think Robert [Williams] has taken big strides from last year to where he’s at. I think his work this summer, you can see it already. So that’s an advantage for him. Those are question marks that I’m not sure how good it’s all going to fit and work but I think, individually, they all can contribute.”

Atlantic Notes: Thomas, Tatum, Simmons, Dinwiddie

According to Ian Begley of SNY.tv, discussions between the Nets and veteran forward Lance Thomas have centered around Thomas having a regular season roster spot.

The Nets have 15 players on guaranteed deals and can add an extra player to their roster during the last 20 games of Wilson Chandler‘s 25-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. When that suspension is over, however, the Nets would have to waive Thomas or someone else to get back to 15 players.

Begley adds that Thomas has a good relationship with Kevin Durant from their days together in Oklahoma City, so that will only help Thomas’ chances of staying on with the Nets should he be signed.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • Celtics head coach Brad Stevens says that Jayson Tatum is ready to go for the opening of camp next Tuesday, telling Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald that Tatum is “fine” after suffering an ankle sprain while playing for the U.S. national team. “He’s ready to go from what I’ve been told… I don’t know if he will do anything 5-on-5 this week, but we anticipate no issues when camp starts next week. At least, that’s the latest that I got.”
  • The Sixers have officially announced several new hires and promotions for the 2019/20 season, including the addition of former NBA big man Roy Hibbert as the team’s new player development specialist, which was reported back in August.
  • Sixers All-Star Ben Simmons tells Rob Maaddi of the Associated Press that he found his love of the game again this summer. “I kind of got back to who I was and having fun with the game. I felt like the past season I lost that enjoyment side of it but I feel like this summer has been huge for me. Just the work I’ve been putting in, I kinda fell in love with putting that work in again and I’ve been in the gym every day working and the results have been paying off so I’m excited for the season to start.”
  • Shams Charania of The Athletic sat down with Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to get some more details on how the 26-year-old is turning his contract into a digital investment vehicle.

Atlantic Notes: Stevens, Feaster, Donaldson, Ainge

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens will have a new-look roster to work with this season, writes Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe, and while replacing All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving with fellow All-Star Kemba Walker will be the easy part, replacing defensive stalwarts Al Horford and Aron Baynes should prove a bit more challenging.

Another question is who starts — Gordon Hayward or Jaylen Brown? Do both of them start, with Marcus Smart back on the bench? According to Stevens, it really doesn’t matter, as long as the lineups mesh together.

“We’re obviously going to have to figure out lineups that work best together,” Stevens said. “Everybody is going to make a big deal over who starts, but we all know who the five guys are that are going to play the very most on our team, and everybody can probably write that down right now, and then it’s a matter of who fits best. They’re not all in the same position, but we’ve got to figure out who’s going to play the big spot and with which groups.”

Enes Kanter figures to get most minutes at center starting out, but young big Robert Williams could push for more playing time as the season progresses. The Celtics will also rely on Daniel Theis and Vincent Poirier for frontcourt depth.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • According to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston, the Celtics have hired Allison Feaster as director of player development. Feaster is a former WNBA player and Harvard graduate who also worked in the G League.
  • Raptors data analyst Brittni Donaldson has been promoted to an assistant coach on the staff of head coach Nick Nurse, per a tweet from Stadium (Twitter link).
  • In a piece for NBC Sports Boston, Blakely writes that Danny Ainge is concerned with Stevens happiness this season, saying “My biggest concern through all of this was, I want my coach to be happy who he’s coaching and that’s the hardest job. I’ve been at this business a long time. It’s…you gotta have fun. You really have to have joy. That doesn’t mean every minute is going to be happy. Everybody is going to face adversity and challenges and trials through the course of a season. But, it still has to be fun.”

Atlantic Notes: Miller, Prokhorov, Celtics, Scott

The Knicks have hired Mike Miller as an assistant on David Fizdale’s staff after he served as their G League coach since the 2015/16 season, according to a team press release. Miller, not to be confused with the longtime NBA player, compiled a 108-92 record with the Westchester Knicks. Derrick Alston, who served as an assistant to Miller, has been promoted to head coach of the G league team, Steve Popper of Newsday tweets.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Mikhail Prokhorov, who recently sold his interest in the Nets, inquired about other NBA franchises — including the Knicks — before he was approved as the majority owner of the Brooklyn franchise. His top basketball adviser, Sergei Kushchenko, revealed that to TASS in a story relayed by NetsDaily.com. ”We were looking over various options at that time,” Kushchenko said. “Among them were the New York Knicks, who asked for a bizarre sum, the Phoenix Suns and the New Jersey Nets. We decided to focus on the New Jersey Nets since it was a completely different market then in addition to the prospect of the new arena’s construction along with a full-fledged business framework.” Prokhorov was also scared away by the Knicks’ debt load, according to NetsDaily.
  • Celtics coach Brad Stevens will have a dilemma if he wants to get all of his best players on the court during crunch time, Matt John of Basketball Insiders notes. The team’s top five include Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, which would leave them without a true power forward or center in those situations.
  • Sixers forward Mike Scott said some advice from Clippers coach Doc Rivers helped him after he was dealt to Philadelphia last season, Kevin Murphy of The Athletic writes. Scott emerged as a key reserve after he was included in the Tobias Harris blockbuster and earned a two-year, $9.8MM contract in free agency. “I feel I didn’t play well in L.A., and I think for the most part it was on me,” Scott said. “I was still trying to figure it out. When I got here, I said, ‘[The heck with it], I am going to ball-out and try to do what Doc says.’ Do the little things and see what happens.”

Lowe’s Latest: Walker, Brogdon, Mavs, Rubio, Butler

The Celtics might be the frontrunner for Kemba Walker‘s services but devoting most of their cap space to the All-Star point guard would leave them without any proven frontcourt players and limited ways to acquire them, ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes in an in-depth look at free agency. The addition of Walker would force coach Brad Stevens to use either Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum or Gordon Hayward at power forward, Lowe notes. Walker also ran more pick-and-rolls with the Hornets than Kyrie Irving did with the Celtics, yet Irving was sometimes accused of being a ball hog, Lowe adds.

Here are some other interesting tidbits from Lowe’s column:

  • Bucks restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon will lose a suitor if the Celtics ink Walker. The Suns, Bulls, Mavericks and Pacers could potentially extend Brogdon an offer sheet but some teams are concerned about his foot issues.
  • The Mavericks are not looking to sign any high-level free agents.
  • The Pacers are looking to make a run at point guard Ricky Rubio. They are also likely to let power forward Thaddeus Young walk and go with a frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Indiana rejected trade offers for Turner at the draft.
  • The Heat could get involved in the Jimmy Butler sweepstakes via a sign-and-trade.
  • The Nets have no interest in doing a sign-and-trade with the Timberwolves involving restricted free agent D’Angelo Russell if it means taking back Jeff Teague or Andrew Wiggins.

Celtics Preparing For An Offseason Of Change

Slightly over a year ago, the overachieving Celtics were competing with LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the conference finals. The landscape in the Eastern Conference has changed dramatically over the ensuing 13 months and Boston has not been left out of the league-wide shake-up.

The franchise is now operating as if Kyrie Irving and Al Horford won’t be back. Irving has been in communication with the Celtics since the season ended and the point guard has been “forthright” about his intentions, sending both public and private signals that he’ll be departing in free agency, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. Brooklyn will likely be Irving’s next destination.

Early in the season, Irving declared to a packed crowd at the TD Garden that he would be re-signing the club once his contract expired. That was before a 2018/19 season in which ‘chemistry’ became a buzzword akin to the words ‘disrupter’ or ‘synergy’ in corporate speak.

A number of factors contributed to the uneasiness in Boston’s locker room. Jackie MacMullan (via Dane Delgado of NBC Sports) hears that coach Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused some issues. Stevens wanted Hayward to regain confidence and he gave the wing opportunity after opportunity on the court to show his pre-injury form.

Stevens has a history with Hayward from their Butler University days, though the coach would have taken the same approach with any player coming back from a major injury. Hayward continued to struggle, proving he wasn’t ready for the minutes and with many mouths left unfed, the crabs-in-a-barrel mentality festered.

Next season, different elements will contribute to the team’s locker room chemistry. Hayward will outlast Irving in Boston, as the veteran wing has two more years left on his deal (the final year is a player option worth slightly less than $34.2MM). Horford appears set to be elsewhere, and new faces will surround the tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as the team hopes of remaining competitive in an enhanced Eastern Conference.

Last spring, the narrative out of Boston centered around how the team was ready to compete in the present but was also built for the future. The Celtics’ story is a lesson in never underestimating how much things can change in just one year.

Celtics Notes: Horford, Irving, Stevens, Future

Celtics center Al Horford hopes to stay with the Celtics past this season and could take more of a team-friendly number on a new deal, Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald writes, citing a league source.

Horford has a player option worth $30MM+ for the 2019/20 season. He could choose to opt in and become a free agent next summer, opt out and negotiate a new contract, or opt out and sign with another team for his 12th NBA season.

“I’ve enjoyed being in Boston,” Horford said after the team’s Game 5 loss to Milwaukee, according to Bobby Manning of SB Nation. I just have to wait and see what we’re going to do as a team, and the steps that management’s going to be taken forward.”

Horford appeared in 68 games with Boston on the year, averaging 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.3 blocks per contest. He remains a key cog in the team’s gameplan on both ends of the floor.

Whether Horford stays with the Celtics could largely depend on where Kyrie Irving chooses to go in free agency, as well as whether Boston chooses to pursue an Anthony Davis trade with the Pelicans.

There’s more tonight out of Boston:

  • Frank Urbina of Hoops Hype examines the potential landing spots for Irving, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Urbina lists the Lakers, Clippers, Nets, Knicks and Celtics as possible destinations for Irving, one of the most talented free agents on the open market.
  • Brad Stevens needs to take this summer to do some soul searching on how to move forward after a disappointing 2018/19 season, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe writes. The Celtics were eliminated in five games to the Bucks last round and now head into the offseason with uncertainty surrounding their roster, but the team has a talented coach in Stevens who could benefit from looking back on why the campaign went wrong.
  • David Aldridge of The Athletic examines where the Celtics can go as a franchise heading into the summer. The team has an array of future assets, current stars and competitive roster that general manager Danny Ainge could work with for next season and beyond.

Eastern Notes: Knight, Sixers, Bucks

Brandon Knight, who was sent to the Cavaliers at this season’s trade deadline, is embracing his role as a mentor to Collin Sexton, Joe Vardon of The Athletic writes.

“I don’t know what the process was before I got here … I do know since I’ve gotten here I try to talk to [Sexton] as much as I can,” Knight said. “I see myself a lot in him as a young guard having vets around me, having to learn when to score and when not to score, trying to use my speed but also trying to slow down. There’s a lot of things I had to deal with. So when I see him do certain things I’m like, ‘Man, I used to do that.’ ”

Knight and Sexton were each selected eighth overall in their respective drafts. Knight started for most of his career and he knows what it’s like to feel the pressure of being a top selection.

“It took me a couple years,” Knight said. “If we can get him to do that — what I learned year four — by year two, how much better will our team be? I just try to tell him those little things.”

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Sixers assistant coach Billy Lange has interviewed for the St. Joe’s head coaching job, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Lange has been with the team for six seasons.
  • The Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks‘ G League affiliate, has fired coach Jordan Brady, according to the team’s Twitter feed. “We greatly appreciate Coach Brady and his staff for their efforts the past 2 seasons,” GM Dave Dean said. “While they have played a significant role in the organization’s growth on the court and in the community, we feel it’s in the best interest of the Herd to explore other options.”
  • Something needs to change in Boston, Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports contends. Inconsistency has plagued the Celtics all season, prompting Forsberg takes a look at some potential lineup changes that coach Brad Stevens could make.