Blakely: Paul to L.A. a big blow to Celtics now and later

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Blakely: Paul to L.A. a big blow to Celtics now and later

WALTHAM Losing out in the Chris Paul sweepstakes certainly hurt the Boston Celtics.

Having the winner be the Los Angeles Lakers?

Like a swift kick to the it hurts, a lot.

As part of a three-team blockbuster deal involving New Orleans, the Lakers and the Houston Rockets on Thursday, Paul winds up in La-La Land while the Hornets receive Lakers forward Lamar Kardashian, oops, I mean Odom; along with Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a protected first-round pick from the Rockets. For their part in the deal, Houston will receive Lakers forward Pau Gasol.

Making matters worse for Boston, the Celtics had every reason to believe that Paul was going to be donning the Green and White soon, even going so far as to start making plans for a physical.

But two league sources said the Hornets made one more round of calls to teams on Thursday, letting them know that they were on the verge of pulling the trigger on a deal. While they didn't explicitly say the team they were going to strike a deal with was the Celtics, all indications were that Boston had emerged as the team to beat once Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers refused to include Stephen Curry and Eric Gordon, respectively, in a trade.

Aware that the Hornets were looking to deal soon, a handful of teams which included the Lakers, stepped their efforts up to land the four-time all-star.

Once the Rockets said they were on board, it was just a matter of time before Paul was on his way to becoming a Laker.

And the Lakers may not be done, either.

Because they did not have to include Andrew Bynum in Thursday's blockbuster trade, the Lakers immediately become one of the favorites to land Orlando's Dwight Howard via trade this season.

For the Orlando Magic to trade Howard, they would want a number of things for him, including a young, talented big man.

Bynum, 24, would qualify.

Los Angeles' gains put the Celtics' plans of remaining among the NBA's elite beyond the current Big 3, in serious jeopardy.

The thinking for the C's in trying to acquire Paul was that his presence along with a strong season, would be enough to convince Howard to sign with the Celtics this summer when he becomes a free agent.

But with Paul joining the Lakers, one of just a handful of teams Howard would want to play for, Boston's rebuilding plans have hit a major snag.

Not only does Paul's decision impact the C's this season, but the domino effect is sure to be felt this summer when the Celtics will be flush with cash to spend on free agents, but none, with the exception of New Jersey's Deron Williams, being in the same class as Paul and Howard.

And so the search to extend the Big 3's window, or create a new one, will continue.

But the C's have more pressing matters than that; namely, mending the damaged relationship that now exists between Rajon Rondo - the primary chip the Celtics dangled out there for the Hornets to bite on - and the franchise.

Everyone remembers how hard he took the team's trading away of good friend Kendrick Perkins in February to Oklahoma City.

Conventional wisdom says he'll sulk and become more distant from his teammates - two things that became all too common following the Perkins trade.

But remember this.

There was a time when Paul Pierce's maturity was in question here in Boston.

And while he certainly didn't enjoy seeing his name tossed about in potential trades, it seems to have helped Pierce in terms of his growth and maturity into being a leader, the face of this franchise.

Rondo has that opportunity now.

There's one thing Rondo has been consistent with, and that's doing the unexpected.

So for him to put this behind him quickly, focus on the season ahead and not allow it to be a distraction or a deterrent to his play, would catch many by surprise and just as important, show the kind of growth that a leader-in-training should have.

That doesn't mean he won't be the subject of trade rumors again.

But to use it as motivation to play better, for his naysayers it would be like a swift kick in the it would hurt, a lot.

Celtics co-owner pleased with present, future of team

Celtics co-owner pleased with present, future of team

BOSTON – Like most of us around New England, Wyc Grousbeck heard all the early praise doled out on the Boston Celtics as being one of the elite teams in the East prior to this season starting. 

“I felt before the season that maybe we were being overrated,” Grousbeck, co-owner of the Celtics, told CSNNE.com. “That we were maybe a top-10 team in the league and the top few in the East, maybe. But it still felt like a longshot.”

And here they are, preparing to play Game No. 75 this season, against Milwaukee, with the best record (48-26) in the Eastern Conference. 

“They’ve grown into themselves,” Grousbeck said. “They’re playing better than I probably thought.”

But Grousbeck has been around the NBA long enough to know there is still much work to be done. After all, the Celtics’ focus remains on winning an NBA title. But Grousbeck is wise enough to know that while that is the goal, it often takes longer to accomplish than anyone – himself included – would like. 

It’s even trickier when you consider how the East is still relatively close despite their being just a handful of games remaining. 

“There’s a bunch of teams scuffling around in the East, and we’re scuffling around with them,” Grousbeck said. “We gotta do something in the playoffs.”

This will be Boston’s third straight season advancing to the postseason. Each of the first two appearances ended with a first-round exit. 

But this year is different. The Celtics are on pace to finish with home court advantage at least through the first round of the playoffs. But if they’re able to win the games they are favored throughout the remainder of this regular season, they will finish with the top seed in the East and with it, home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

And as we’ve seen of late, home court has indeed been an advantage for Boston which comes into tonight’s game having won its last seven at home, which includes the first four games of a current six-game home stand. 

The success Boston has had thus far has raised the expectations of many. 

And while Grousbeck certainly wants to see the Celtics have more success than they have had the last couple of years in the playoffs, there’s no mistaking he is pleased with the direction of the franchise that just four years ago was a lottery team.

“There’s no reason to put a ceiling on the season,” Grousbeck said. “I think this season already looks good to me. I love our coach. I love our young players. I love our draft picks and our potential cap room (this summer); all of our fans. So I’m already happy with where the team is going.

Grousbeck added with a grin, “If we can speed it up all the better.”

Fully healthy Celtics prepare for Giannis Antetokounmpo

Fully healthy Celtics prepare for Giannis Antetokounmpo

BOSTON – Brad Stevens began his pre-game press conference with a seldom-used proclamation. 

“Everyone’s available,” he said. “Doesn’t happen very often.”

Jonas Jerebko, who did fully participate in the team’s practice on Tuesday due to a sore left knee, was questionable for tonight’s game. His availability can only help the Celtics in tonight’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the hottest teams in the NBA. 

The Bucks (38-36) have won 12 of their last 15 games which includes a 118-108 win at Charlotte on Tuesday. 

Tony Snell lit up the Hornets for a career-high 26 points. Rookie Malcolm Brogdon had a double-double of 14 points and 10 assists. 

And then there’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, a matchup nightmare who had 20 points and eight rebounds.

“He does some things,” Stevens said. “That’s the best way to say it. He keeps adding to it. Him in transition is like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody like him.”

Indeed, the Greek Freak has been a vital cog in Milwaukee’s resurgence from a team bound for the lottery (again), to one that could potentially wind up as the fifth seed in the East. 

“As he’s become more skilled,” Stevens said. “He continues to put you in a worst bind. He’s tough; he’s good.”

Celtics guard Avery Bradley said there’s a long laundry list of things Boston must do tonight to emerge victorious. At the top of that has to be finding ways to attack Milwaukee’s length which stands out in a league full of lanky, long-armed players.

“Ball movement, getting the ball to the next side, not letting them load up their defense, shot fakes, drawing fouls … I can go down the list,” Bradley said. “But the most important thing is moving the ball; making them defend side to side, making them have to guard us so they’re not in position to block shots or make shots tough on us.”