Blakely: Paul may have to choose between Celtics and Hornets

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Blakely: Paul may have to choose between Celtics and Hornets

WALTHAM New Orleans guard Chris Paul has made it clear that Boston is not his first (or second, or third) choice as far as teams to play for.

But the way trade talks have gone for the New Orleans Hornets in their efforts to trade the four-time all-star, the Celtics may be Paul's only choice.

And that reality is starting to set in for Paul, who may be softening his opposition to playing for the Celtics.

"It may not be what he wants, but going to Boston or staying in New Orleans may be his only options now," said a league source from one of the teams that could emerge as a potential third team involved in the trade. "And of the two, I think it goes without saying, that playing for Danny (Ainge) and Doc (Rivers) and those guys is the better choice of the two."

While no deal between Boston and New Orleans is imminent, it's clear that the Hornets are giving more serious thought to making a trade with Boston.

As reported by Yahoo! Sports on Wednesday, the New Orleans Hornets have ratcheted up their information-gathering efforts on Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo.

He would be the centerpiece of a deal from the Celtics' side of things, that would include Jeff Green or Glen Davis, as well as multiple draft picks.

The Hornets aren't overly thrilled with adding those players, which is why the Celtics have been working the phones trying to find a third team that could provide some of the assets that would make New Orleans more open to dealing Paul.

Arguably the biggest challenge for the Hornets thus far has been finding a team that's willing to add Paul and potentially lose him after just four months, while at the same time getting "fair market value" for him.

Multiple league sources have said Paul doesn't want the Hornets to be left with nothing following his departure, which is why he told team officials before the season started that he wouldn't sign an extension which allows them to do what they're doing now -- pursue possible trades.

"He saw the heat, no pun intended, that LeBron took when he left Cleveland. Chris didn't want to go through that," said another league official.

So wherever Paul takes his talents, he plans to leave something more than just memories behind.

However, his reluctance to sign an extension with whatever team trades for him -- or give a commitment to re-sign when he becomes an unrestricted free agent in the summer -- is why teams have been reluctant to give up too much talent for what may be a four-month run.

The Hornets want young players (preferably players still on their rookie contracts) and draft picks for Paul.

That's why a package centered around Rondo is one that, in comparison to the potential offers that could come from Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors -- two teams that Paul favors more than Boston -- is less appealing.

But without a commitment beyond this season, both the Clippers and Warriors have been reluctant to give New Orleans what they want.

The Hornets want a trade package from the Clippers that includes guard Eric Gordon, something the Clippers have said -- for now at least -- they're not willing to do. The Clippers are especially leery of Paul's situation after being burned by Elton Brand a few years ago.

A free agent at the time, Brand bolted for Philadelphia after helping woo Baron Davis to the Clippers.

As for Golden State, New Orleans wants a deal that includes them landing Stephen Curry, but the Warriors have told them and Curry that he's not going to be included in any potential trade with New Orleans.

"They want me here," Curry told reporters recently. "Obviously, there's the business of basketball and there are things that may happen with a GM having to make a decision for the best interest of the team. When you have a guy like Chris Paul, who is a franchise player, that's something you really have to think about it with anybody on the roster. I understand that. I'm not going to be upset if they entertained that."

While the Hornets are continuing to see if other teams want to get involved, the Boston Celtics remain the one option that's not going anywhere.

And at this rate, the C's may ultimately wind up being the only option left standing.

Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

Celtics-Pistons preview: C's need to defend their top-four spot in East

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- On Friday night, Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan absolutely torched the Boston Celtics. The game before that, it was Chicago’s Jimmy Butler giving the Celtics major fits with a barrage of baskets. 

Both were All-Star starters this year, the kind of lofty status that helps explain how the Celtics were so defensively-challenged in their efforts in limiting them.

Detroit doesn’t have a bona fide high-scoring perimeter star like those other teams, but don’t think for a minute that tonight’s game will be a breeze for the Celtics. Boston (37-21) comes in having lost two in a row to Chicago and Toronto, respectively. The Raptors loss was especially painful because it assured the Raptors would get the higher seed in the playoffs if these two teams finished with an identical record. 

Boston hopes to secure an edge over the Pistons tonight with a victory that will give them the season series, three games to one. While it may seem a bit early to get too caught up in tie-breakers and their importance, the last thing Boston wants is to finish the regular season tied with one or more teams, and wind up with the lower seed because they lost the head-to-head series. 

“You hear people say every game counts; it’s true,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “We need to win as many games as we can because you never know which game could be the difference between having home court or not.”

If Boston continues to find ways to win and finish with a tie-free, top-four finish in the East, they will begin the playoffs at the TD Garden for the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens.

Meanwhile the Pistons are currently eighth in the East and, like the Celtics, they too opted to stand pat at the trade deadline. And like Boston, they are looking for growth from within as they try to make their way up the Eastern Conference standings. 

“We’re not real happy with how we’ve played up to this point overall,” said Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons’ president of basketball operations and head coach. “But we still have a young group. As much as you would like the progress to be steadily uphill, it’s not always. That doesn’t mean you lose faith in your guys. At the end of the day, we ended up standing pat, which is pretty much what we expected to do.”

One of Boston’s biggest concerns coming into the game will be rebounding. It was among the many factors contributing to Boston’s loss on Friday. But as much as execution at both ends of the floor will be a factor, effort will be just as vital if not more, to the success of the Celtics in the playoffs. There were plenty of reasons as to why Boston lost on Friday night, with effort being near the top of the list. 

“They played harder than us,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder. 

And that was surprising when you consider what was at stake – a chance to push their lead over Toronto to five games with a couple dozen to go.

Rookie forward Jaylen Brown has heard all the reasons and explanations as to why the Celtics have hit a mini-hiccup following back-to-back losses. And he has also heard how Boston blew a golden opportunity to beat Toronto with Raptors all-star Kyle Lowry still out. 

“We didn’t have one of our key guys, either,” said Brown, referring to Avery Bradley still being out with a foot injury. So it’s basketball at the end of the day. It doesn’t’ matter who is on the floor. You have to do your job; we just have to do our job.”

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
 
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
 
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
 
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
 
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
 
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
 
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
 
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
 
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
 
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
 
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
 
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
 
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
 
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
 
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”