Celtics struggle without Garnett in the lineup

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Celtics struggle without Garnett in the lineup

PHILADELPHIA For those who questioned Danny Ainge's wisdom in ponying up big money for Kevin Garnett to return to Boston (three years, 34 million), you might want to tuck away for safe keeping Monday night's 107-75 preseason loss to Philadelphia.

Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers unveiled a Kevin Garnett-less roster.

From there, the Sixers proceeded to undress the C's in every way imaginable before handing them one of their worst preseason losses ever, 107-75.

Preseason defeats never stick around in the players' minds too long, and Monday night's defeat is no exception. But for good measure, the C's have another game tonight -- the first for this season's team at the TD Garden -- against the Brooklyn Nets with Garnett presumably back in the lineup.

Now the Celtics don't have to get rocked by 32 points for Doc Rivers to know his team is better -- a lot better -- with Garnett on the floor.

The difference with Garnett on the floor has always been there, evident by him being either first or second on the C's roster in all but the 2008-2009 season (he missed the final 25 games and the all of the playoffs with an injury) in plusminus on the team.

"Kevin always makes a difference, clearly," Rivers said. "The way we mentally approached the game (against Philadelphia) on a whole, with Kevin we would have lost by 22. We still would have lost the game."

Brandon Bass is among those not looking to make too big a deal about Garnett being out of the lineup for one night in the preseason.

"Doc's trying a bunch of different things," Bass said. "Ten games into the regular season, that would be a great question if Kevin don't play. But right now, it's preseason. Doc's trying different things to see what works best for us."

True, this is the time to experiment both with different combinations as well as how the team can function without some core guys available.

But the lack of intensity from the outset on Monday and the way that so many players seemingly gave into the struggles of the game and not fight through them, was disturbing - preseason game or not.

Boston's biggest problem on the floor appears to be in their pick-and-roll coverages, which have been inconsistent even with Garnett in the lineup.

A lot of that has to do with guys simply not being on the same page defensively, the kind of thing that Garnett has a tendency to clean up.

"Some of our guys got frustrated early because other guys forgot plays or didn't know things," Rivers said. "That's a lesson, too. You have to be able to grind a game out. We're going to play 82 regular season games, and I guarantee you we're not going to be great in all of them. But you can still win the game if you have mental toughness."

And that is among the many things that Garnett brings to the floor every night.

So is his constant chatter during games which provides his teammates with a vocal reminder of what they need to do and maybe just as important, keeps them all on a "defensive string" which has been a major factor in Boston's defense ranking among the NBA's best since Garnett arrived in 2007.

"Our main focus right now is communication; our communication with obviously Kevin missing (against Philadelphia), was way down," said C's guard Rajon Rondo. "Kevin's not always going to be there for us, so somebody has to pick it up including myself."

Blakely: No. 1 pick isn’t necessarily the road to title contention

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Blakely: No. 1 pick isn’t necessarily the road to title contention

BOSTON – Celtics fans are slowly but surely getting over the disappointment of the team not landing the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft lottery earlier this month.
 
As cool as that would have been, the conference finals serve as a reminder that while having the top pick can be a good thing, most teams have to take a different route when it comes to getting on track towards and NBA title.
 
Of the four remaining teams in the playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the only one that has truly been elevated to their current lofty status courtesy of landing the number one overall pick (first with LeBron James back in 2003 and more recently with Kyrie Irving in 2011).
 
That means the rest of the remaining field built their way up into an NBA power relying on a combination of making wise draft picks and shrewd additions via free agency and trades.
 
So much of that has to do with leverage, something the Celtics have plenty of on all three fronts.
 
They have the potential to free up enough salary cap space to sign a pair of max players, a first for this franchise. Boston also has eight draft picks in next month’s draft (three in the first round, five in the second), the most of any team leading up to the draft since it went to a two-round system in 1989.
 
Those picks plus a roster full of really good but not great talent, gives them the kind of ammunition to pull the trigger on a trade that could add that much-needed All-Star caliber talent.
 
But it’s like a high school chemistry experiment as the Celtics try to figure out the right combinations to avoid having it all blow up in their face.
 
For now, the emphasis has to be on the June 23 draft.
 
A big part of that planning process involves figuring out what to do with the No. 3 pick, the highest selection the Celtics have had since they took Jeff Green (and traded him that night) with the fifth overall selection in 2007.
 
If the Celtics keep the pick, it will certainly bring about some controversy regardless of who they select.
 
By taking Dragan Bender of Croatia, the Celtics will be selecting the youngest player in the draft (he turns 19 in November) who may take years to develop into a legitimate contributor.
 
Selecting Providence College’s Kris Dunn, arguably the best perimeter defender in this draft, seems a bit redundant considering all the guards Boston has under contract whose strengths are essentially the same as Dunn’s.
 
Buddy Hield of Oklahoma is another option. He’s the best shooter in this draft, but doesn’t provide much other than scoring. Is that really worthy of a No. 3 overall pick?
 
Regardless of who the Celtics take with the No. 3 pick (and that’s assuming they keep it and not trade it away which is indeed an option), one thing we know for sure.
 
History tells us that if the Celtics keep the pick, he will wind up being a pretty good player.
 
In the past 20 years, the No. 1 overall pick has produced 12 All-Stars.
 
Among top six picks in that same span of time, the No. 3 selection has generated the second-highest number of All-Stars (8), while the No. 2, 4, 5 and 6 picks each had five All-Stars.
 
That’s important to note because the need to have multiple All-Stars is paramount to a team’s chances at making a deep playoff run.
 
Take a look at the four remaining teams.
 
There’s the defending champion Golden State Warriors, whose roster includes a quartet of current (Stephen Curry; Klay Thompson and Draymond Green) and former All-Stars (Andre Iguodala).
 
Cleveland’s roster includes a similar breakdown of recent (LeBron James; Kyrie Irving; Kevin Love) and not-so-recent (Mo Williams) All-Stars.
 
And then there’s Oklahoma City (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) and Toronto (Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan) who each have a pair of All-Stars.
 
For Boston, the team's lone All-Star is Isaiah Thomas, who knows all too well that he can’t carry this team to a deep, meaningful playoff run without getting some All-Star caliber help.

The top two picks in this year’s draft – Duke’s Brandon Ingram and LSU’s Ben Simmons – are head and shoulders above the rest of the draft class, but the Celtics are in a good spot if you’re talking about adding a key piece to a potential title contender. 

Report: Ainge in Israel this weekend scouting Dragan Bender

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Report: Ainge in Israel this weekend scouting Dragan Bender

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and his son, Austin Ainge, the team’s director of player personnel, will be in Israel this weekend scouting Dragan Bender, the potential No. 3 pick in the draft, the Boston Herald reported. 

Bender, a 7-foot-1, 18-year-old from Croatia, won’t be playing in games this weekend but will be practicing for Maccabi Tel Aviv.  Bender is a bench player for Maccabi, averaging 4.3 points and 2.6 rebounds. Still, his size and potential to develop  have him projected to go as high as No. 3.

Here’s CSN’s scouting report of Bender.

Danny Ainge was in Croatia earlier this week scouting 6-11 Ante Zizic. 

 

Report: 76ers look to deal Okafor or Noel in draft trade

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Report: 76ers look to deal Okafor or Noel in draft trade

There’s a high likelihood the Philadelphia 76ers will trade Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel in connection with the June 23 draft, in which the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, ESPN’s Chad Ford reported.

The Celtics, who have the No. 3 pick, have been rumored to be willing to part with it in a deal that includes Okafor.

Ford said in an interview with Philadelphia-area radio station ESPN 97.3:

You will not see the Nerlens Noel-Jahlil Okafor pairing at the start of next season. I think that they'll gauge the interest of both players. I think that there might be a slight preference for Noel, to keep him around with the Sixers, and I think you might be right, there might be a slight, better value for Okafor out on the market, but I think everyone agrees that that combination of those two players doesn't necessarily work.

The Sixers are expected to choose LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram with the top pick.  Ford and Marc Stein also reported Philly’s willingness to deal Okafor or Noel in this ESPN article. 

As a deal with the Celtics for the No. 3 pick, Ford told 97.3:

Absolutely…If I was Philadelphia, it would be done tomorrow. I don't know if Boston would do it, but for Philadelphia, 100 percent. That would allow them to actually I think bring in another guard, an elite guard, whether that's Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray, and suddenly now you've got a very, very bright future. I think that's an easy call for the Sixers if Boston would do it.