Celtics Question of the Day: Will Wilcox be the most improved?

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Celtics Question of the Day: Will Wilcox be the most improved?

When the season ends for the Boston Celtics and there's no victory parade down Causeway Street, there's a sense among all the returners that an opportunity was lost.

That disappointment serves as the fuel to ignite players to push themselves harder, longer during the offseason.

When that happens, it doesn't take too long for the transformation to manifest itself onto the floor.

Boston returns a handful of players from last season who all come into the 2012-2013 season with that goal -- to be a better player -- in mind.

But when you look at the players from last season who are returning, no player seems more poised for a significant improvement than Chris Wilcox.

It's not often that you look at a roster like the C's and point to a journeyman (Boston is the fifth NBA franchise he has played for) as being poised for a strong bounce-back season.

But Wilcox's situation is, to say the least, unique.

When he signed with Boston prior to last season, many were surprised that the Celtics gave the 30-year-old the mid-level exception which was worth about 3 million when he was viewed by some NBA teams as a minimum-salaried player.

It didn't help that Wilcox struggled early on with both his play and injuries, opening the door for then-26-year-old rookie Greg Stiemsma to play more minutes.

Stiemsma, a free agent this summer, signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves after a strong season with the C's in which he averaged 2.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and team-leading 1.6 blocks per game.

Eventually Wilcox found his niche with the C's, establishing himself as a viable big man option off the bench.

And then came the news.

A routine physical turned up a heart condition that required season-ending surgery.

Not only did the Celtics lose even more depth in the frontcourt which was already thin to begin with, but Wilcox would miss out on making the playoffs for the first time in his NBA career.

And making matters worse, he was developing into the kind of impact big man off the bench that the C's would desperately need in the postseason.

He appeared in 28 regular season games for the C's with four starts.

In those 28 games, he averaged 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds while playing 17.2 minutes per game.

Upon closer inspection, there was a noticeable spike in his last 14 games in which he averaged 7.2 points and 5.6 rebounds while playing 21.9 minutes. In his first 14 games with the C's, Wilcox averaged just 3.6 points and 3.1 rebounds while playing 12.5 minutes per game.

"I definitely have something to prove this season," Wilcox told CSNNE.com. "I feel as though I have some unfinished business in Boston, for sure."

With his health no longer an issue, the biggest challenge for Wilcox will be to avoid the random (or fluke-like) injuries that sidelined him at times last season prior to his season-ending heart surgery.

His presence, when healthy, helps the C's in so many ways.

He can come off the bench behind Kevin Garnett and provide hustle, energy and some much-needed frontcourt muscle. When you throw in the fact that he's one of the few Celtics veterans who can still play above-the-rim with some consistency, he then becomes an offensive threat on lobs and potential put-back opportunities on misses.

Throw in the fact that he has added motivation having never been to the playoffs, and it adds up to a player who is poised for the kind of breakout season both he and the C's will need.

And that will keep those dreams alive of driving down Causeway Street in late June.

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

BOSTON – The trip to the TD Garden is one that Jared Sullinger has made many times but never like this. 

The former Celtic was back in town with his new team, the Toronto Raptors who signed him to a one-year, $5.6 million deal after the Celtics rescinded their qualifying offer to him and thus made him an unrestricted free agent. 

“I had a feeling it was going to go that way once they signed big Al (Horford), that they were going to let me go,” Sullinger said prior to Friday’s game.  “We were prepared for it. It is what it is. I’m happy these guys are doing well.”

And he hopes to say the same for himself sometime in the future after undergoing surgery to have a screw inserted in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot – the same foot he had season-ending surgery on during the 2014-2015 season with the Celtics. 

There’s no specific timetable as to when he’ll be back on the floor, and Sullinger is cool with that plan. 

“I don’t know. They’re hiding the protocol from me so I won’t rush; we’ll see,” said Sullinger who is still in a walking boot. 

The 6-foot-9 forward played well in the preseason and solidified himself as the team’s starting power forward. 

Now that he’s out with another injury, he’ll have to once again try and prove himself either later this season when he returns, or this summer when he becomes a free agent again.

For now, Sullinger is happy to be back in town, seeing lots of familiar faces, friends and ex-teammates that he says he still keeps in close contact with. 

“Some of these guys I considered like brothers to me,” Sullinger said. “IT (Isaiah Thomas), Jae Crowder to name a few. So I watch from a distance, I support from a distance. They’re playing well.”

In addition to his former teammates, the lines of communication remained open between him and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens as well. 

Stevens said the two exchanged text messages right before he had foot surgery, and afterwards. 

“Obviously, everyone here wishes a speedy recovery and hopefully he gets back on the court soon,” Stevens said. 

Sullinger has been an effective player during his time in the NBA, with career averages of 11.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. 

But this will be the third time in his five NBA seasons that he will miss a significant amount of time on the court due to an injury or recovering from an injury. 

Stevens acknowledged that he feels for Sullinger who once again has to go through rehabilitation in order to get back on the floor.

“I like Jared a lot,” Stevens said. “He’s a heck of a player, he’s a really smart guy. Got a lot of respect for him and it stinks that he’s got to go through that but he’ll come back strong I’m sure.”

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics have no answer for Lowry

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics have no answer for Lowry

BOSTON — For most of Friday night’s game, the Boston Celtics played the kind of game that on most nights would result in a victory. 

But Toronto is one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference with talent, depth and an undeniable desire to win at all costs. 

One strong quarter by the Raptors was just enough to put away the Celtics, 101-94. 

And it came in the third when Toronto outscored Boston 33-18 which turned out to be the only quarter the Raptors (16-7) outscored the Celtics. 

“They got hot; made some tough shots,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “The tough shots kind of hurt us.”

The tough shots and a flawless 8-for-8 performance from the free throw line. 

While it’s a 48-minute game, there was no getting around the fact that it was Toronto’s dominance in the third that ultimately determined the game’s outcome. 

“If you look at it from our perspective it’s what went wrong; if you look at it from theirs, they ratcheted up the defense quite a bit (in the third quarter),” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “It was hard for us to break their … break their wall of defense.”

In the third quarter, Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the field, 30 percent (3-for-10) on 3’s and a woeful 5-for-10 from the free throw line. 

“We started making everything difficult for them and not letting them get that easy in and try to take advantage of that,” said Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Friday night’s game.

 

STARS

Kyle Lowry

The Celtics had no answer for the All-Star point guard who led all players with 34 points, 21 of which came in the second half. 

Avery Bradley

Bradley was the lone Celtics starter who seemed to be in a good shooting flow, tallying 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting which included five made 3’s. 

DeMar DeRozan

The Celtics made him work a lot harder than he usually does to score, but he still managed to tally 24 points – just four points below his season average – on 9-for-25 shooting.

 

STUDS

Al Horford

He made a few more turnovers than usual, but Horford still put together a relatively balanced performance. He had 19 points and seven rebounds with six assists and a blocked shot. 

Norman Powell

The X-factor in Friday’s outcome had to be Powell. A 5.8 points per game scorer this season, Powell had 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting along with a game-high five steals. 

 

DUDS

Jae Crowder

With Isaiah Thomas (right groin) out, the Celtics really needed its core starters to step up and have a productive night offensively. Crowder just didn’t have it going on Friday, scoring just seven points on 2-for-11 shooting which included a number of 3s that rimmed in and out on him.