Marcus Smart

Eastern Notes: VanVleet, Smart, Porter, Giannis

Having thrived as the Raptors‘ starting point guard without Kyle Lowry in the lineup for the team’s last 11 contests, Fred VanVleet may be raising the value of his next contract with each game, writes Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca. During that Lowry-less stretch, Toronto has a 9-2 record and VanVleet has averaged 21.2 PPG, 7.5 APG, and 2.4 SPG with a .402 3PT%.

VanVleet will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and Lewenberg speculates that Malcolm Brogdon‘s four-year, $85MM deal from this past offseason could end up being the baseline for the Raptors’ point guard if he keeps up his current pace.

In an appearance on Brian Windhorst’s ESPN podcast (hat tip to RealGM), Bobby Marks said he heard from one team last week that believes VanVleet may even command between $25-30MM next summer, with a handful of rebuilding clubs among the candidates to make a run at the Raptors’ up-and-coming star using cap space. “I almost fell off my chair when they told me that,” Marks admitted.

When I ranked 2020’s free agents last month, I placed VanVleet all the way up at No. 7 and questioned whether that was too high. The way his season is going, he may rank even higher the next time we revisit that list.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been banged up all year, a trend that continued on Sunday when he took a shot to his abdomen while drawing an offensive foul. Smart, who missed the rest of the game, has been reluctant to sit out at all this season, but admitted to Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald that he may not be able to return right away from his latest injury, which he believes is an oblique issue. A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston explored what it would mean for the C’s if their hard-nosed guard misses some time.
  • Otto Porter is the Bulls‘ highest-paid player and the team has badly missed his experience on both ends of the floor during his absence with a foot injury, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. “He settles us down a bit, maybe at times we need that,” head coach Jim Boylen said of the veteran forward. “He makes timely shots. He’s one of our better shooters. And he has positional size, which is a huge part of that big wing position. We miss those things.”
  • Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has been better this year than he was last year when he won the MVP, Alex Boeder of NBA.com contends. Boeder identifies an improved three-point shot and a lower turnover rate as evidence of the Greek Freak’s leap.

Chris Crouse contributed to this post.

Atlantic Notes: Walker, Embiid, Kanter

Celtics point guard Kemba Walker will return to the court tonight less than a week after he collided head-to-head with teammate Semi Ojeleye and had to be taken off the court in a stretcher.

“It was a scary moment for myself,” Walker said (via Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com). “When I was in the moment, it was pretty tough to be in, obviously. I know it was scary for everybody…It was tough, but thank God I’m OK.”

Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com (video link) hears that scouts around the league aren’t worried about Joel Embiid. Embiid has struggled this season (by his standards) with a new-look roster around him on the Sixers.
  • Enes Kanter says he is “disappointed that former Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving won’t be making a return to the court in Boston today, as Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston relays. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, and now he’s hurt and not playing? I’m really disappointed. But there’s two games, of course, and he’s going to come back. And… we’re going to welcome him somehow,” Kanter said.
  • Former Celtics guard Tony Allen said he’s long been a fan of Marcus Smart‘s game and applauds Smart’s improvement from behind the arc, Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald passes along. “I won’t say he’s my protégé, really, but he’s become that 3-and-D player everyone wants,” Allen said. “With what he does defensively, he’s also become a shooter. He’s really transitioned to the new game.”

Marcus Smart Opens Up About Kyrie Irving

Kyrie Irving didn’t officially leave the Celtics until July, but he started withdrawing from his teammates long before then, Marcus Smart tells Jay King of The Athletic. Smart offers a look inside what was frequently portrayed as a dysfunctional locker room last season as Boston failed to meet lofty expectations.

“It’s not that we didn’t know how to act (around him),” Smart said. “It’s that we didn’t know how he was going to act. We didn’t know what his moods were and we didn’t know what Kyrie was going through. And that made it tough on us because if somebody’s going through something in their life and you don’t really know what it is, it’s kind of hard to see what’s wrong with him, it’s kind of hard to (provide) some help. It’s not against Kyrie, it’s just a defense mechanism as a human being you have. And he wasn’t here long enough to really be able to open up the way he probably wanted to, and it probably got to him a little bit.”

Smart’s comments come before Irving and the Nets are scheduled to make their first trip of the season to Boston tomorrow night. Irving, who is sidelined with a shoulder impingement, won’t play and may not be in the building, but King notes that the memory of his two years with the Celtics will affect the franchise for years to come.

The toxic atmosphere played a role in Al Horford‘s decision to opt out of his contract and sign with the Sixers. The loss of Irving and Horford cost the Celtics any chance to make a play for Anthony Davis after years of building up assets. Davis can opt out of his current deal next summer and wouldn’t consider re-signing in Boston unless he was surrounded by star power.

The height of Irving’s popularity with Celtics fans came at an event for season ticket holders last October when he promised to re-sign with the team. But he slowly walked back those comments throughout the year as the Celtics underachieved and he was frequently seen as the cause.

Boston entered last season as heavy favorites to win the East based on the strong playoff performance of young players like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier, who reached the conference finals the previous year while Irving and Gordon Hayward were sidelined with injuries. But there was an uneasy balance as those players weren’t always willing to take a back seat with the two stars returning.

Irving didn’t help matters with comments to the press about the difficulty of managing “the young guys.” He admitted during Brooklyn’s media day in September that he failed the Celtics as a leader and said the death of his grandfather last October affected him emotionally.

“A lot of basketball and the joy I had from it was sucked away from me,” Irving said. “There was a facial expression that I carried around with me throughout the year. Didn’t allow anyone to get close to me in that instance, and it really bothered me.”

A pivotal part of the year came after the Celtics took a 1-0 lead over the Bucks in the Eastern semifinals after sweeping the Pacers in the first round. A witness tells King that Irving “disconnected” from the team at a voluntary practice the next day, sitting by himself in the stands while his teammates worked on the court. He shot 30.1% for the rest of the series as Boston was eliminated in five games.

The Celtics moved on quickly from Irving once he made his free agent decision. They reached a deal with Kemba Walker and started to rebuild the team-first culture that coach Brad Stevens has always emphasized. The result, according to sources inside the organization, is a much more positive and relaxed atmosphere.

“We don’t have to worry about doing stuff on our own,” Smart said. “We don’t have to worry about being in our own minds and just think it. We can actually talk. Last year, everybody didn’t know what to say. They didn’t know if they could speak, if they could speak to anybody, or somebody, or a group, and they didn’t know how the reaction would go. It was just different. This year is different. Everybody’s not holding anything in. If we have anything to say, we’re saying it and we’re moving on from it.”

Kemba Walker Collides With Teammate, Has Neck Sprain

NOVEMBER 24: Tim Bontemps of ESPN reports that Walker’s injury, incurred in his collision with Ojeleye in a Nuggets game on Friday, has been ruled a neck sprain. Bontempts reports that Walker has been listed as doubtful for tomorrow’s tilt against the Kings.

Bontemps relayed that Boston head coach Brad Stevens mentioned that Walker might be able to play through the pain, but preached caution: “Head injuries and neck injuries are scary. That’s why he’s doubtful to be honest.”

NOVEMBER 22: Kemba Walker, one of the prizes of this summer’s free agent class, has concussion-like symptoms after colliding with teammate Semi Ojeleye, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets.

Early indications are that Walker did not suffer a serious injury, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. Walker has been transported to a Denver area hospital for further evaluation, the team’s PR department tweets.

Walker was injured in the first half of Friday’s game against the Nuggets while trying to make a steal. He had his head down trying to control the ball and banged into Ojeleye’s mid-section. He was taken off on a stretcher.

Walker has been a major part of Boston’s hot start, averaging 22.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG and 4.8 APG. Walker signed a four-year, max deal with the Celtics early in free agency.

If he needs to miss multiple games, Marcus Smart, Brad Wanamaker and rookie Carsen Edwards could all receive increased minutes.

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.”

Celtics Notes: Rivers, Tatum, Brown, Irving

The Celtics are off to the best start in the East, and even Clippers coach Doc Rivers has noticed how much better the atmosphere surrounding the team has been, writes Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. Rivers, whose team hosts the Celtics tonight, attributes the difference to personnel changes.

“Last year you had Gordon (Hayward) and Kyrie (Irving) both coming back from being out,” Rivers said. “Gordon hadn’t played the whole year before, and Kyrie hadn’t played in a while either, so they hadn’t really played together. And they just never could get their traction. The rest of it, I stay out of. I’ll let y’all deal with that.”

Rivers was referring to locker room differences that sabotaged a team that entered the season as a favorite to reach the NBA Finals. He noted that coach Brad Stevens seems much happier on the sidelines this year.

“It’s a great lesson for all of us. Chemistry is so important,” Rivers said. “Chemistry and youth, you know, they had both going at them. They were expecting guys in their second year to just take over, and sometimes that takes a little while. It’s just good to see them playing well now.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • The Celtics have been enjoying success with smaller lineups, but that might not work in the playoffs against Joel Embiid and the Sixers or other tall teams like the Bucks and Raptors, states Brian Windhorst of ESPN. A source tells Windhorst that Boston won’t offer its core players in any deal, including Marcus Smart and Hayward, who have been mentioned as trade possibilities before. Outside of their top five, the only players making more than $4MM are centers Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter, which becomes challenging for matching salaries.
  • President of basketball operations Danny Ainge addressed the possibility of adding another big man in an interview with Bulpett. “It’s always about who,” Ainge said. “It’s not, like, how tall they are. It’s not like you can just go find any seven-foot guy and put him out there and all of a sudden you’re going to be better. It depends on who that is and whether they’re better than Marcus Smart guarding the center. So I don’t worry so much about that. I mean, obviously we have stars at every other position and we really don’t have stars at our big positions. So everybody thinks that that’s what we need to do, but it all depends on who that is.”
  • Roster changes have allowed Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to expand their roles, giving the Celtics two big wings that most teams can’t match up with, observes Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer.
  • Celtics fans may not get a chance to welcome Irving back in his first scheduled game in Boston since leaving in free agency, tweets Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Irving missed his third straight game tonight with a shoulder impingement, and Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson refused to speculate if he will be healthy enough for next Wednesday.

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.”

Atlantic Notes: Hollis-Jefferson, Celtics, Smart, Sixers

Raptors forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is finally making the most of his time during his first season with the organization, Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports writes.

Hollis-Jefferson, who signed a one-year deal with Toronto this past summer in free agency, had a slow start to the 2019/20 campaign. His poor play in training camp caused some within the franchise to worry, but the 24-year-old has given strong performances over the last week — including a 16-point, 11-rebound outing in a win against Portland on Wednesday.

“It was tough,” Hollis-Jefferson said of his slow start, as relayed by Lewenberg. “I’m human, I have feelings and I’m a competitor. I’m emotional, I wear my heart on my sleeve, so it was definitely tough. People will tell you that. I’m not one to shy away from it but for the most part I always thought about my (1-year-old) son (Rylen). Just what he would think and how he would feel if he were older. So that kind of helped me get over it. And then just talking to guys. There are some great guys in here who understand the grind and the situation. When you have good people around it makes life a little bit easier.”

Hollis-Jefferson, a proven physical defender at 6’6″, 217 pounds, is expected to be a key cog in the team’s rotation going forward. For his career, he averages 9.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 23.6 minutes per game.

Here are some other notes from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • Patrick Dunne of NBC Sports Boston examines the historical significance of the Celtics’ 10-game win streak, which was ended by Sacramento on Sunday night. Boston has lost just two games this season, dominating teams on both ends of the floor despite dealing with various injuries. This was the team’s 29th time achieving a win streak greater than 10 games.
  • It’s time to stop acting surprised about the improved three-point shooting from Celtics guard Marcus Smart, Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston opines. Smart posted a career-high in three-point percentage last season (36.4%), with his average gradually improving since his sophomore season in 2015-16. He’s connected on 31 of 76 attempts from behind-the-arc in 11 games this year (41%).
  • The early struggles for the Sixers are baffling for fans and team staffers alike, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. “If you’re sick and you don’t know why, then that’s a problem,” coach Brett Brown said after the team lost in Oklahoma City on Friday. “We’re in a tough spot right now. But it’s a long year. I think it doesn’t take much for me to understand where we have to get better, and it’s really that simple.” On the plus side for Philadelphia, the Sixers dominated the Cavs 114-95 on Sunday to extend their record to 8-5.

Celtics Notes: Brown, Hayward, Green, Smart

Jaylen Brown suddenly has a much larger role in the Celtics’ offense after Gordon Hayward suffered a fracture in his left hand last night, writes Sean Deveney of Heavy. Brown responded right away, scoring 30 points in the win at San Antonio, with 18 of those coming after Hayward left in the game in the second quarter.

It’s a chance for Brown to prove he’s worth the four-year, $115MM extension that Celtics management gave him last month. It was a surprise to many after Brown’s scoring average dipped to 13.0 PPG in a disappointing second season, but he believes it was a matter of what he was being asked to do.

“I wouldn’t say (the game) slowed down,” he said. “I just think a different role, more opportunity. I keep preaching that. I don’t think I had the same opportunity last year.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • Hayward will meet with doctors tomorrow to determine if surgery is necessary, and coach Brad Stevens believes it might be the quickest path to playing again, Deveney relays in the same story. “It sounds like, should he decide that, the surgery option might actually be a better timeline,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “We’ll see what that all plays out to be. Who knows? It’s too bad.” The injury happened shortly before halftime as Hayward collided with LaMarcus Aldridge on a screen. He was wearing a cast on the hand as the team returned home.
  • The emergence of Javonte Green gives the Celtics another weapon to help survive the loss of Hayward, notes A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. Green has modest stats through six games, averaging just 3.0 points per night, but his numbers per 36 minutes (19.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 55.6% shooting) are similar to Hayward’s. Green earned the Celtics’ final roster spot after making a strong impression during Summer League and in the preseason.
  • Marcus Smart was fined $15K for criticizing the officials after Thursday’s game in Charlotte, according to Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston. “I wish they would call the game the right way, you know?” Smart said. “A lot of calls that they called, I didn’t understand where the fouls were. And it just seems like, whenever I get the ball and I’m on offense, I can’t get a call.”

Celtics Notes: Hayward, Walker, Fall, Smart

The Celtics may finally have the version of Gordon Hayward that they invested a four-year max deal in, writes Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. Two years ago, Hayward suffered a severe ankle injury that wiped out virtually his entire 2017/18 season and limited his effectiveness throughout 2018/19.

But through the first six games of this season, he seems back to his All-Star self, averaging 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per night while emerging as the leader of Boston’s offense. The latest example came last night as he hit 17-of-20 shots from the field and posted 39 points in a win at Cleveland, then told reporters that he hopes to leave concerns about his ankle in the past.

“I don’t think about it,” Hayward said. “I haven’t thought about it for a while. Hopefully you guys can stop asking me questions about that.”

There’s more Celtics news to pass along:

  • Some of Kemba Walker‘s former Hornets teammates shared their memories of him with Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer in advance of Walker’s return to Charlotte tomorrow night. Walker spent eight years in the city and set nearly every franchise scoring record before signing with the Celtics this summer. “If you didn’t know basketball, and you walked into our locker room, you wouldn’t guess that guy was the star,” Nicolas Batum said. “He never acted crazy with any of that star stuff, like skip practice or be lazy today.”
  • With the G League season starting soon, fan favorite Tacko Fall will probably only make brief appearances with the Celtics, according to Tom Westerholm of MassLive. Fall is limited to 45 days in the NBA, and the team wants to maximize that time in case early-season injuries to its centers continue. “We’ve played multiple games now down two bigs,” coach Brad Stevens said. “So now we’re going to have him come up for one day (at a time) a lot I think, rather than a week at a time or two weeks at a time.”
  • Marcus Smart had an injury scare during a collision last night, relays John Karalis of MassLive“The oblique again, the exact same one, and it knocked the wind out of me,” Smart said in reference to the torn left oblique that limited his availability in last year’s playoffs. “It was scary because I thought the same thing was about to happen that happened last year. But thank God the oblique is stronger and it’s able to withstand hits like that, so that’s good.”