Jayson Tatum

Celtics Notes: Walker, Tatum, Playoff Seeding

The Celtics may get a hidden benefit from the league-wide shutdown because it gives Kemba Walker more time to recover from his left knee issue, writes Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Walker played in the last three games before the hiatus, but was limited to about 30-32 minutes per night. He had missed six of the previous seven games due to persistent knee soreness.

Bulpett talked to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge about the importance of having Walker fully healthy for the rest of the season.

“I think managing all of our players is important, but, yeah, managing Kemba is very important because Kemba has the ability, as we saw in November and December, to be very, very special,” Ainge said. “And he was doing a lot of the same things that we see Jayson (Tatum) doing now. It’s important that we have those guys playing their best to give us the best chance in the playoffs.”

Ainge admits the “wear and tear” of playing for Team USA during the World Cup last summer may be having an effect on Walker, but he doesn’t believe the organization should have handled the situation any differently.

Ainge addresses a few other topics in the interview:

  • Without mentioning Kyrie Irving by name, Ainge acknowledges that the switch from Irving to Walker has been good for team morale. The reports of locker room turmoil that surfaced frequently last season have virtually disappeared. “I think that all of the guys’ attitudes this year have been pleasant, great, and there’s been more on the same page,” he said. “Last year, we just had more mouths to feed, and it just didn’t work. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. And this year we have less mouths to feed, so to speak, and it’s been better. But it would be nice to have everybody healthy, because I think we’re going to need everybody in order to reach where we want to be.”
  • Ainge is optimistic about the young core the team has in place, led by Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. “I think (Tatum’s) getting a lot of opportunities, a lot of chances,” Ainge said of the third-year forward, who is coming off his first All-Star appearance. “He’s been playing really well. I don’t want to jinx any of that. I’m excited about his development and Jaylen’s development and Marcus’. I think that they’re all getting better right before our eyes.”
  • The second seed in the East may be out of reach if the NBA only plays a few games before the playoffs begin, but Ainge doesn’t believe seeding is the most important factor heading into the postseason. “It’s something that we would like, of course, but it’s not more important than being healthy,” he said. “And it never is. Listen, I think home court is important in the playoffs. I don’t think it’s an end all-be all, but I do think it’s important.”

Atlantic Notes: Kemba, Knicks, Thybulle, Tatum

Kemba Walker will return to action on Tuesday night for the Celtics as they host the Nets, head coach Brad Stevens confirmed today (Twitter link via Tim Bontemps of ESPN). Walker, who has missed Boston’s five games since the All-Star break due to a nagging knee injury, will play approximately 20-25 minutes, according to Stevens.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • New Knicks president of basketball operations Leon Rose made a good first impression in his initial meeting with players on Monday, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Rose also met with Mike Miller and his coaching staff, and while the new head of basketball ops could end up replacing many of those coaches in the spring, Miller wasn’t fazed by the situation. “I don’t need any assurances from anyone as we go through this,” he said. “I trust the process, I trust what we’re doing. I’m perfectly fine working the way we’re doing day to day.”
  • Sixers rookie Matisse Thybulle has expressed interest in representing Australia in the 2020 Olympics, per The Australian Associated Press (link via ESPN). Thybulle, who said his Australian passport is up to date, will make a decision after the season. If he does suit up for the Boomers, he could be playing alongside 76ers teammate Ben Simmons for head coach Brett Brown.
  • Within an article on Jayson Tatum‘s ascension to stardom, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer revisits the Celtics‘ decision to move down from No. 1 to No. 3 in the 2017 draft. According to O’Connor, before zeroing in on Tatum, Boston was exploring acquiring extra assets in a trade down from No. 1 in the hopes of flipping them for Paul George, who was ultimately sent to Oklahoma City instead.

Celtics Notes: Tatum, Walker, Garnett, Sullinger

Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker have been teammates since Walker signed with the Celtics last summer, including their time together with USA Basketball for the FIBA World Cup, but they will be on opposite sides in tonight’s All-Star Game, writes Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Tatum was drafted by Team LeBron while Walker went to Team Giannis, and they can’t wait to face each other on the court.

“Playing against Kemba’s going to be fun,” Tatum said. “Hopefully we get matched up once or twice so I can take him to the post. I’m going to go right at him, so that should be fun.”

“I’m going to hit him with his own move,” Walker responded. “I already got it down pat. I’m going to hit him with a step-back to the right or left, which he usually does. I’m going to get him. He’s been talking some trash, I seen. Said he’s going at me.”

There’s more Celtics news to pass along:

  • Tatum failed to defend his title in Saturday’s Skills Competition, being eliminated in the first round by the PacersDomantas Sabonis, notes Marc D’Amico of NBA.com. Tatum blamed the defeat on a lack of practice time. “I didn’t get no practice in before. I shoulda practiced,” he said. “They let you practice like 30 minutes before they open the doors or something. I got busy taking pictures and other stuff.”
  • Kevin Garnett expressed thanks on Saturday for the Celtics’ decision to retire his number and took a swipe at the Timberwolves, who still haven’t made that decision, relays Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe“Listen, I have some great years in Minny, but when comes to management, it’s not even close,” Garnett said. “Minny, they run their team one way. Boston has a culture of basketball. They run it a whole other way and I respect that.”
  • Evan Turner believes his former Celtics teammate, Jared Sullinger, is capable of returning to the NBA, Bulpett adds in a separate story. Sullinger, 27, is in his third year of playing in China. “He’s supposed to be entering his prime. I mean, it’s crazy when you play with him and he’s not in the league,” Turner said. “But, I mean, the league it’s not easy, but sometimes it’s little stuff. It’s right fit. It’s timing. You know, you went from signing with Toronto, broke his foot, was rehabbing and they trade him off to an organization that was kind of like rebuilding (Phoenix, which waived him a day later), just trying to get rid of stuff, and that’s how he ended up lost in the shuffle. So unfortunately that’s what happens every now and then.”

Celtics Notes: Tatum, Buyout Market, Hayward, KG

Prior to Thursday night’s game against the Celtics, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers raved about Jayson Tatum, suggesting that the young forward is already “one of the better players in the league,” adding that it will be “amazing” to see where he ends up after a few more years of development, per Darren Hartewell of NBC Sports Boston.

Although Rivers joked before the game that he didn’t need to see “any more growth” out of Tatum on Thursday, the 21-year-old gave the Clippers fits, turning in arguably the best performance of his career in a double-overtime win. He went off for a game-high 39 points on 14-of-23 shooting and made a handful of plays on both ends of the floor that helped clinch the win.

“He was incredible,” Kemba Walker said of his All-Star teammate, according to Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. “He made every right play. He made every big shot. He was the best player on the court tonight.”

Tatum won’t be among the starters in Sunday’s All-Star game like Walker will, but the former No. 3 overall pick has emerged as the Celtics’ best all-around player this season, Forsberg argues. Tatum’s ascent is well-timed, as he’ll be extension-eligible for the first time during the 2020 offseason. Barring a major slump or injury in the second half, it’s hard to see how his next contract won’t be worth the maximum salary.

Here’s more out of Boston:

  • Appearing this week on radio show Toucher & Rich, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said there’s nothing on the buyout market that interests the team for the time being, per Forsberg (Twitter link). That includes free agent point guard Isaiah Thomas — Ainge praised the former Celtic, but suggested the fit may not be right with Boston’s current roster, as Forsberg relays.
  • Whether or not Gordon Hayward picks up his 2020/21 player option this spring, the Celtics are “very interested” in retaining the veteran forward long-term, a league source confirmed to Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal. Hayward isn’t necessarily a lock to exercise his $34MM option, since he could command a larger overall payday on a longer-term contract.
  • The Celtics announced on Thursday that they intend to retire Kevin Garnett‘s No. 5 jersey at some point next season, as Taylor Snow details at Celtics.com.

USA Basketball Announces 44 Finalists For 2020 Olympic Roster

USA Basketball has formally announced a preliminary group of 44 players who are candidates to be part of the program’s roster for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The final roster will only consist of 12 players, so most of these finalists won’t actually play for Team USA at the Olympics. Some will likely withdraw from consideration, while others simply won’t make the final cut. However, these players have all expressed interest in being involved in the process.

“This is the first step in USA Basketball identifying the 12 players who will represent the United States as members of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Men’s Basketball Team in Tokyo,” said USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo.

“… Over the course of the remainder of the NBA season we’ll continue to monitor all of the athletes. Selecting the 12-man USA roster will obviously be an extremely challenging and difficult process, and we will again attempt to select the very best team possible to represent our country and who we hope will be successful in our difficult mission of repeating as Olympic champions for a fourth consecutive Olympics.”

Although the U.S. men’s team has won three consecutive Olympic gold medals, the program had a disappointing showing at last year’s World Cup, finishing in seventh place. Team USA will be looking for a bounce-back performance in Tokyo this summer, with many players from that World Cup squad among the 44 finalists announced today.

Here’s the full list of players who are candidates to play for Team USA at the 2020 Olympics:

  1. Bam Adebayo (Heat)
  2. LaMarcus Aldridge (Spurs)
  3. Harrison Barnes (Kings)
  4. Bradley Beal (Wizards)
  5. Devin Booker (Suns)
  6. Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers)
  7. Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
  8. Jimmy Butler (Heat)
  9. Mike Conley (Jazz)
  10. Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  11. Anthony Davis (Lakers)
  12. DeMar DeRozan (Spurs)
  13. Andre Drummond (Cavaliers)
  14. Kevin Durant (Nets)
  15. Paul George (Clippers)
  16. Draymond Green (Warriors)
  17. James Harden (Rockets)
  18. Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)
  19. Joe Harris (Nets)
  20. Tobias Harris (76ers)
  21. Gordon Hayward (Celtics)
  22. Dwight Howard (Lakers)
  23. Brandon Ingram (Pelicans)
  24. Kyrie Irving (Nets)
  25. LeBron James (Lakers)
  26. Kyle Kuzma (Lakers)
  27. Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
  28. Damian Lillard (Blazers)
  29. Brook Lopez (Bucks)
  30. Kevin Love (Cavaliers)
  31. Kyle Lowry (Raptors)
  32. JaVale McGee (Lakers)
  33. Khris Middleton (Bucks)
  34. Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  35. Victor Oladipo (Pacers)
  36. Chris Paul (Thunder)
  37. Mason Plumlee (Nuggets)
  38. Marcus Smart (Celtics)
  39. Jayson Tatum (Celtics)
  40. Klay Thompson (Warriors)
  41. Myles Turner (Pacers)
  42. Kemba Walker (Celtics)
  43. Russell Westbrook (Rockets)
  44. Derrick White (Spurs)

Atlantic Notes: Hayward, Tatum, Raptors, Nets

With Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown banged up as of late, Gordon Hayward has taken on a slightly larger role for the Celtics and has played some of his best basketball of the season, averaging 20.7 PPG on .517/.458/.885 shooting in his last six games. Hayward’s strong play may attract interest from teams around the NBA, who could check in with Boston about the forward’s value, writes A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“Teams will do their due diligence when it comes to Gordon… watching him lately, he’s looked really good,” a league executive told Blakely. “But I still don’t think at the end of the day, (the Celtics) will move him.”

Even if Hayward remains with the Celtics through the deadline, as expected, teams figure to keep a close eye on how he finishes the season. He’ll have the opportunity to opt out of his contract this summer and become an unrestricted free agent. For now though, he’s just focused on the current season, telling Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal that he’s not thinking about trade or free agency possibilities.

“We haven’t talked about that,” the Celtics forward said. “We just try to talk about, at least with me, what can we do now to try to help us win. I haven’t talked about any of the other stuff.”

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Speaking to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Celtics forward Jayson Tatum admitted that last season “really wasn’t any fun,” pointing to Kemba Walker as a unifying force for this year’s team. “Everyone knows Kemba is great,” Tatum said, “and the rest of us have worked really hard to put last year behind us.”
  • The Raptors‘ lack of a true superstar could limit their upside this spring, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic, who notes that it will be very difficult for the team to make a trade that really moves the needle for the postseason.
  • Terence Davis‘ ongoing positive progress for the Raptors may make the club more inclined to stand pat at the trade deadline rather than pursuing a marginal rotation upgrade, writes Blake Murphy of The Athletic.
  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider-only link) examines potential trade options for the Nets, concluding that it’s probably more realistic for the club to pursue another piece during the offseason than at next week’s trade deadline.

Celtics Notes: Smart, Brown, Tatum, Kanter

Celtics guard Marcus Smart is on the upswing after a brutal case of viral conjunctivitis caused an infection in both of his eyes, sidelining him for much of December, writes ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. Smart isn’t playing today in Toronto, but thinks he’s at “about 80 percent” and is focused on getting his conditioning back to its usual level. Mostly, he’s relieved that the worst of his eye issues appear to be behind him.

“I thought I was going to go blind for a while. I think it was the worst case of viral conjunctivitis that they’ve seen,” Smart said. “… I couldn’t see. I had outdoor sunglasses everywhere. Even in the dark I was wearing sunglasses. It was that bad. Just every morning I would wake up just having sticky discharge coming out of my eyes, sealing my eyes shut. It was really just gross.”

With Gordon Hayward back in their lineup today, the Celtics appear to be getting close to getting fully healthy. In the meantime, let’s round up a few more notes out of Boston:

  • Although the Celtics look capable of vying for a spot in the NBA Finals, finding the one last piece to cement their place as a contender will be difficult, according to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe, who outlines why the club may not be able to make a significant trade this winter. We touched on a similar topic last week.
  • Terry Rozier is impressed with how his former teammates Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum has looked this season, suggesting that the two young wings are “superstars in the making,” as Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald details. “I’m not just saying it. Them guys put the work in,” Rozier said. “They really care. They want to learn the game, and them boys can really play.”
  • Celtics big man Enes Kanter isn’t taking today’s game in Toronto for granted. Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston explains why Kanter’s safety may be at risk when he travels outside the United States.

Celtics Notes: Trades, Tatum, Irving, Stevens

The Celtics are concerned about facing Sixers center Joel Embiid in a potential playoff series, and the trade market may not offer the help they need, writes Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. Embiid posted 38 points and 13 rebounds in Thursday’s win over Boston, giving Philadelphia a 2-0 record against its arch rivals. Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis combined for 36 points and 14 rebounds, but the Celtics might prefer one center who matches up better with Embiid and some of the other front line talent in the Eastern Conference.

Forsberg notes that the Celtics’ options are limited because they don’t have any substantial contracts to trade outside of their core players. That eliminates an option like Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams, who has a $25.8MM salary. The Celtics might have to send Gordon Hayward to the Thunder in return, which Forsberg says they won’t consider.

A more realistic possibility that Forsberg identifies is the KnicksTaj Gibson, who is making $9MM this year and has a non-guaranteed contract for next season. Gibson has fared well against Embiid in limited minutes and played alongside Kanter when they were both with the Thunder.

There’s more today from Boston:

  • Jayson Tatum believes Kyrie Irving has been made an unfair scapegoat for last year’s disappointing season. Brown defended his former teammate this week in an interview with ESPN’s Maria Taylor (video link). “No, it’s not Kyrie’s fault. There was 15 guys on that team and coaches and front office,” Tatum said. “Everybody played a part in that. I feel like he gets a lot of blame undeservingly. He’s a great person. We still have a great relationship. He helped me out a lot, on and off the court, my first two years, that I’m thankful for. But no, he shouldn’t get all the blame, any of the blame.”
  • Coach Brad Stevens thinks the league is on the right track by experimenting with its schedule and considering an in-season tournament, relays Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. He admits it’s hard to deliver “your best product” 82 times a season. “I do appreciate the NBA looks at things and says, ‘We’re not just going to stay status quo because it’s status quo,’” Stevens said. “We have to continue to look at what’s best for the game, what’s best for the players, all the people in the travel party, all that stuff. So I appreciate the leadership in the league.”
  • The Grizzlies have moved into eighth place in our Reverse Standings with three wins in their past four games, Forsberg tweets. The first-round pick that they owe the Celtics is top-six protected for 2020, then unprotected after that.

Celtics Notes: Walker, Smart, Wanamaker, Tatum

Celtics players view the injury that Kemba Walker suffered Friday in Denver as a chance to prove they can overcome adversity, writes Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. The team provided an update on Walker’s condition in a tweet this morning, declaring him doubtful for tomorrow’s game with the Kings because of a neck sprain. There’s no word on how long he might be out of action.

Walker was carried off the court after colliding with teammate Semi Ojeleye while chasing a loose ball. He was taken to an area hospital, but was released in time to join the Celtics for their flight back to Boston. Bulpett notes that Walker experienced neck problems while playing in the FIBA World Cup this summer.

“You always miss one of your better guys, but it’s just the circumstance right now,” Marcus Smart said. “He’s injured. But I think it gives us a lot of confidence to understand that we can still compete with anybody when he’s gone. So when he comes back, I mean, we’re just going to be that much better, you know? So that’s what it’s about. I can’t wait ’til he gets back, personally.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • Smart is unhappy with the way the Nuggets handled an exchange with a fan during Friday’s game, Bulpett relays in a separate story. Smart claims he was taunted after going out of bounds, and he doesn’t believe security did anything about it. “We’re going to end up protecting ourselves eventually, and it’s not going to be pretty for the fans, and we don’t want that,” he said. “The league doesn’t want that, we don’t want that as players, but at some point you’ve got to stand up and you’ve got to protect yourself as a man.”
  • Brad Wanamaker has shown some encouraging signs that he can fill in for Walker while he’s sidelined, notes A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. Wanamaker averaged 11 PPG during the five-game road trip while shooting 51.5% from the field and 50% from 3-point range.
  • Jayson Tatum is probably the NBA’s thriftiest player, according to Kathleen Elkins of CNBC. Tatum, who has a $7.83MM salary this season, puts all his checks from the Celtics into savings and lives on the money he makes from endorsements. “When I picked my agent, I told him I want to do as much off-the-court stuff as I can,” Tatum recently told The Boston Globe. “Right now I’m young, so I try to do everything as much as possible. … Tomorrow is not promised. You’re not promised the next contract. You want to save all the money you can.”

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Musa, Kerr, Knicks

Joel Embiid‘s numbers are down in the major categories and the Sixers center feels that must change in order for the team to get rolling, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Embiid, who has missed four games during the Sixers’ 8-5 start, is averaging 22.9 PPG, 11.4 RPG and 1.4 BPG. He averaged 27.5 PPG, 13.6 RPG and 1.9 BPG last season.“I need to do more,” Embiid said. “I felt like I haven’t done enough. So that’s what I think I need to do.”

We have more from around the Atlantic Division:

  • The role of Nets second-year shooting guard Dzanan Musa has expanded with Caris LeVert sidelined by a thumb injury, Brian Lewis of the New York Post relays. Musa has averaged 9.0 PPG in 21.0 MPG over the last four games. “We need his scoring on that second unit now, with no Caris,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “You can’t just have Spencer (Dinwiddie) out there taking every possession.” We’re going to need Musa to play well.”
  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes the FIBA World Cup helped the Celtics get off to a fast start, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe writes. Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown all played for Team USA. “You could tell [Team USA] was a head start for them,” Kerr said. “You could tell over the summer that those guys would click, and they absolutely have.”
  • Small, quick guards have lit up the Knicks lately, Howie Kussoy of the New York Post notes. Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham, Chicago’s Coby White and Cleveland’s Collin Sexton have all enjoyed big games against them, forcing head coach David Fizdale to consider going smaller in his backcourt. “The battle that we are fighting is the speed guard who can shoot, those little guards that can get anywhere on the floor that can shoot the ball from the moon,” Fizdale said. “Those guys have been giving us headaches.”