Bynum key to the Howard deal for Celtics

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Bynum key to the Howard deal for Celtics

With a player as talented as Dwight Howard on the move, you had to know the repercussions would be felt throughout the entire NBA landscape - Celtics Nation included.

And while Howard's move out West certainly puts the Los Angeles Lakers back in the thick of the title chase (acquiring two-time league MVP Steve Nash to run the point doesn't hurt, either), Boston can't worry about what's going down in La-La land.

They've got bigger problems closer to home.

With the major offseason additions and subtractions by most teams just about complete, the rosters you see now are pretty much what you'll see when games matter.

That said, Boston had every reason to feel that defending NBA champion Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers were their biggest Eastern Conference obstacles in getting back to the pinnacle of the sport - the NBA Finals - and making one more run at Banner 18.

You have to add Philadelphia to the list now.

One of the residual effects of the proposed Howard trade is that it will send Andrew Bynum to the Sixers, and ship out Andre Iguodala to Denver.

Such a move bodes well for Philadelphia on two fronts.

It gives them a much-coveted center in Bynum, and it alleviates the logjam of wing players that developed on the Sixers roster this past season.

Now all of a sudden, Philadelphia has the versatility to hurt teams in both a half-court set with Bynum in the post or pick-and-pop action with Spencer Hawes, in addition to getting out to run in transition the way they did this past season with the likes of Thaddeus Young and Evan Turner on the wings.

Boston's run atop the Atlantic Division - five straight years and counting - may be legitimately threatened for a change.

"I still see Boston as the team to beat in the Atlantic," said one NBA executive on Friday. "Philadelphia is better now, obviously. But Miami getting Ray Allen out of Boston gives them something they didn't really have last year, and that's quality, veteran depth. They're still the team to beat. Boston and Indiana have great depth as well. And everybody seems to be writing off Chicago. Big mistake. They'll be right there, too. Like I said, Philly's going to be better. But there's a lot of teams they have to get past, and I'm not convinced they'll do it."

Indeed, the depth of the Celtics, maybe more than anything else, is why they'll likely begin the season picked to win the Atlantic Division for a sixth straight season. And as Celtics Nation bemoaned the fact that Boston was so thin in the frontcourt last season, the C's have done what teams are supposed to do when you can't acquire a dominant big man like Howard or Bynum in their prime - add depth.

Kevin Garnett will begin the season as Boston's starting center. Behind him will be veteran Chris Wilcox. In addition, Boston drafted power forward Jared Sullinger (The C's have already said he will play some center) and center Fab Melo. Boston also signed another defensive-minded big man, veteran Jason Collins for added insurance.

While there's little dispute that Bynum is at worst the second-best center in the NBA behind Howard, his success has come in part by playing with all-star caliber talent in the frontcourt (Pau Gasol) and on the perimeter (Kobe Bryant).

He won't have that kind of talent around him in Philadelphia, so there are some concerns as to how effective will he be now that he has to shoulder a greater amount of the load in order for his team to be successful.

So, with most of the talk in the coming days centering around Howard being the latest great big man acquired by the Lakers (Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal, to name a few), the C's could care less.

They have their own big-man issues to worry about.

The '86 Celtics Interviews podcast (Ep.8): Dan Shaughnessy

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The '86 Celtics Interviews podcast (Ep.8): Dan Shaughnessy

Boston Globe columnist, and former Celtics beat writer, Dan Shaughnessy sits down with CSN for an extended discussion on "The '86 Celtics Interviews" podcast. Shaughnessy talks about the greatness of that team and the players' surprising reaction when they found out he was moving from the Celtics to the Red Sox beat.

Starter, bench or DNP: Zeller ready for any role with Celtics

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Starter, bench or DNP: Zeller ready for any role with Celtics

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Tyler Zeller. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON – The NBA is a league full of highs and lows for players.

There are few who understand this as well as Tyler Zeller, a player who has gone from starting to being a backup to not playing at all – at times in the same week.

And through it all, you never heard him gripe about it publicly or privately to teammates.

It’s among the many reasons you constantly hear his teammates talk about how much they respect the way he has handled some extremely difficult situations.

This past season was especially tough for him considering he was heading into free agency and looking to do all he could to not just win, but showcase what he could do as player.

There were many nights when Zeller didn’t have that opportunity, but he understood.

The Celtics have been and will continue to be a team that’s about finding ways to win and on many nights coach Brad Stevens decided to go in a direction that didn’t include Zeller playing.

As the summer dragged on and the Celtics’ joined the handful of teams that came up short in landing Kevin Durant, Zeller’s return became more likely.

And Zeller’s patience was rewarded with a two-year, $16 million contract with the second year of the deal being a team option.

Now that he’s back in the fold, what’s next?

The ceiling for Zeller: Part-time starter

It may not happen on opening night and it may not happen in the first week, or even first month, of the season.

But at some point, Tyler Zeller will be in the Celtics’ starting lineup.

And when he’s there, he’ll do a lot of good things that he has proven he’s capable of doing.

When it comes to running the floor in transition, Zeller has distinguished himself as one of the Celtics best big men.

The Celtics are big on playing with space and pace and there are few 7-footers who can run the floor as well as Zeller.

In fact, his PACE (number of possessions per 48 minutes) last season was 101.93 which was tops among all Celtics frontcourt players and second overall to guard Marcus Smart (102.46).

It’ll get the Celtics a few easy buckets here and there, but it won’t score enough points with the coaching staff to keep a starting job, which would then relegate him back to being one of the team’s frontcourt reserves.

Still, Zeller is a luxury that few teams have: a player who won’t get (overly) bent out of shape even if his minutes resemble this.

The floor for Zeller: On the roster

Zeller has spent the bulk of his NBA career as a back-to-the-basket center, but showed more desire to score more from the perimeter last season, which is one of the reasons why he shot a career-low 47.6 percent from the field.

He’s trying to expand his game because of the direction that the NBA is going with big men who need to be able to score further away from the basket in addition to providing a presence around the rim.

While Zeller has decent mechanics on his perimeter shot, it’s clear that he’s not yet totally comfortable being a “stretch big.”

According to NBA.com/stats, Zeller shot 30.9 percent from the field last season on wide open shot attempts from at least 10 feet away.

With the addition of Al Horford and the return of Amir Johnson as well as Kelly Olynyk, Boston has a nice group of stretch centers they can put on the floor. And let’s not forget about Jonas Jerebko, who closed out the playoffs as a starter for Boston.

Minutes will once again be hard to come by for Zeller with any kind of consistency.

In fact, there’s a very good chance that he will have some games in which he doesn’t play (coaches decision) at all.

And depending on injuries, he may have to be inactive at times just to ensure Boston has depth on the perimeter.

Whether he’s starting, coming off the bench or not suited up at all, Zeller is an important part of this Celtics squad. Above all else, he provides depth, which continues to be one of the hallmarks for this franchise under Stevens.

With Celtics on the rise, so is Isaiah Thomas’ brand

With Celtics on the rise, so is Isaiah Thomas’ brand

READING, Mass. – As Isaiah Thomas stood before a media scrum in the middle of his first basketball camp in New England, it was hard not to notice the Citi corporate backdrop behind his 5-foot-9 frame. And as you walk around gym at Reading Memorial High school, another sign with Body Armor SuperDrink, Hard Rock Café, Wilson and Welch’s Fruit Snacks among other sponsors, adorn a nearby wall.

Thomas’ rags to riches story is impressive when you stick to what he has accomplished on the basketball court.

But when you factor in the growing number of sponsors that have jumped on the Thomas bandwagon since he arrived in Boston, it’s clear his reach extends far beyond being just another player in the NBA.

Thomas will be the first to acknowledge that the perception of Boston and the reality that he has experienced in increasing his brand and overall awareness, are not one and the same.

“Ever since I’ve been here, people here have shown me nothing but love,” Thomas told CSNNE.com recently. “I know I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in, and I’m thankful that Danny [Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations] went and got me. Coming here has really been the best thing to happen for me, both as a player and as a person.

Thomas added, “Being a Celtic is something special; something that I don’t take for granted.”

The evolution of Thomas from the last player selected in the 2011 NBA draft, to being a sought-after player for the most storied franchise in NBA history, is the kind of Hollywood script that would become the lining to some hot shot producer’s trash can because it’s just not believable.

And yet it is indeed the story of Isaiah Thomas’ life, one that has made him a player whose magnetic smile, upbeat demeanor and talent have elevated him to a level few would have envisioned.

For Thomas, he sees the increased interest he has generated being about one thing: winning.

Prior to his first game with the Celtics, they were 20-22.

Thomas’ arrival in the middle of the 2014-15 concluded with Boston getting to the playoffs by winning 20 of its final 30 regular-season, which was a win total that was the third-highest in the league in that span of time.

And last season, Thomas’ first full season in Boston, the Celtics (48-34) finished in a four-way tie for the third-best best record in the Eastern Conference.

“Everything has gone up since I became a Celtic, and that goes with winning,” Thomas told CSNNE.com. “When you win and you’re seen a lot more, things start to happen for you. That says a lot about this organization and where I stand.”

Thomas’ standing as both a favorite of fans and corporate America isn’t all that surprising to Celtics officials.

“What makes Boston different than a lot of markets is how fans embrace the players and not just from a talent perspective, but from their personalities and the intangibles that they bring,” Rich Gotham, president of the Celtics, told CSNNE.com. “That’s what endears players to the Boston market and why fans follow them so closely. It affords them opportunities. A guy like Isaiah Thomas is a great example; we knew fans would love the guy. We knew what a competitor he was. We knew with him being a smaller guy, he was going to be the underdog-personality that fans like.”

Added Thomas: “People liked me a little bit when I played for those other teams and back home as well. But ever since I got on the Celtics, it skyrocketed. Everywhere I go people notice me and that says a lot because I blend in with everybody; I’m short just like everybody.”

While Thomas is admittedly short in stature, he continues to grow into a giant pitch man ranging from the shoe contract he signed with Nike last fall, to Citi, Good Humor Ice cream and Slim Jim beef jerky, just to name a few.

“It’s a blessing,” Thomas said of the uptick in endorsement opportunities. “I dreamed of things like this; for people to come for me for things like this … it’s a surreal moment.”

Thomas adds [seemingly on cue], “I’m excited for Citi … and everybody who is trying to partner with me.”