C's shoot straight with Melo


C's shoot straight with Melo

Boston's three newest Celtics were introduced this morning at a press conference in Allston, and as you'd expect it was a pretty laid back and lighthearted affair. Or at least that's the impression I got from stories, highlights and Twitter.

It looked like a lot of smiling and posing; a lot of pleasantries, to use the parlance of our times. Hell, the Celtics even performed an entire set of Fab Melo material.

"And is he your academic advisor, too?" Danny Ainge asked Melo, after the rookie introduced the crowd to business manager Rodrigo Viegas. (By the way, Rodrigo is already my favorite Boston sports sidekick since Nelson de la Rosa.)

"We have no tests, I told (Melo) that yesterday, Rivers said in an interview with ESPN New York Radio. I jokingly told him, I said, Listen were going to introduce you tomorrow and wed going to do a Read to Achieve thing (with young students). Are you OK with that?

It was a bundle of laughs, but also an interesting and strategic way for the Celtics to approach Melo's questionable time at Syracuse.

Bottom line: They didn't run away from it. They put everything out in the open. They literally made it a laughing matter. In the process, they let Melo know that it's not a big deal. They made it harder for other people to make it a big deal. By joking about Melo's past, the Celtics were essentially B-Rabbit tossing the mic to Papa Doc (the media) at the end of 8 Mile:

"Now tell these people something they don't know about me!"

And I loved it. At times, this Celtics regime has been accused of (and taken pride in) being Belichickian, but today was not one of those times. Today, the Celtics were real. They handled a potential media firestorm with grace and confidence, and the result is likely one less thing for Melo to worry about moving forward.

If I have one concern, it's that Doc and the Celtics won't realize when the jokes stop being funny. For instance, back when Big Baby was here, Doc loved taking jabs at Baby's weight. Why? Partly, because it would always get a laugh from reporters. But also because Davis was an easy target, and a guy Doc thought needed to be tougher. After so many years, the jokes became predictable, unproductive and only added to the tension between two.

Just something to think about if Doc's still making "stupid" jokes this winter. But for now, it's all good. The first press conference is in the books and the education of Fab Melo can begin.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists


Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

NEW ORLEANS - Chris Webber and Rollie Massimino are one step from the Hall of Fame.

The career 20-point-per-game NBA scorer and the coach who led Villanova to a stunning upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game were among the 14 finalists unveiled Saturday for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Webber played 15 seasons with five franchises, plus was part of Michigan's famed "Fab Five" group that headlined college basketball in the early 1990s.

"I don't know what I'm most proud of," said Webber, who averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in his career and was a five-time NBA All-Star. "I'm proud to be in the room with all these great individuals."

Other first-time Hall of Fame finalists include longtime NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut women's star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self, and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

"I still can't believe I'm here," McGrady said. "This is not even a dream come true."

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include star point guard and Olympic gold medalist Tim Hardaway, winningest all-time boys high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach and four-time Division III national champion Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU women's national champion team Wayland Baptist University.

"We are grateful to the 14 finalists in the Class of 2017 for the impact they have had on the game we cherish," Basketball Hall of Fame Chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "To be named a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame is an incredible accomplishment."

Inductees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. Enshrinement ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are scheduled for Sept. 7-9.

Massimino, now an 82-year-old cancer survivor who is still coaching at NAIA school Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida, is a finalist for the first time. His Hall of Fame hopes have been backed by plenty of current and former coaches in recent months - including current Villanova coach Jay Wright, who presented Massimino with a championship ring from the Wildcats' 2016 NCAA title.

"Some days, we do take him for granted," Keiser guard Andrija Sarenac said. "But then you see him on TV so much, you see all these videos made about him, the movies about Villanova and everything, and it just hits you. You realize that he's a legend. I mean, your coach is a walking legend. With the energy and everything he comes in with, it's inspiring."

Finalists need 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee to be enshrined. Among this year's candidates who did not make the finalist group: Muggsy Bogues, Ben Wallace, Kevin Johnson, Maurice Cheeks, Mark Price, Lefty Driesell and Eddie Sutton.

Former New York Times sports writer Harvey Araton and former Turner Sports broadcaster Craig Sager will be recognized during Hall of Fame weekend as this year's Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients.

"A tremendous honor," said Sager's wife Stacy.

This year's lifetime achievement award recipients are former UConn coach Donald "Dee" Rowe and Michael Goldberg, who spent nearly four decades as executive director of the NBA Coaches Association. Goldberg died earlier this year.

"He bridged the gap between ownership and coaches," said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, who spoke about Goldberg on Saturday while wearing a bow tie - one of the signature wardrobe accessories that Goldberg donned for years. "He was just such a great guy."

Thomas on Skills Challenge loss: 'I guess it wasn’t the fourth quarter'

Thomas on Skills Challenge loss: 'I guess it wasn’t the fourth quarter'

NEW ORLEANS – Here’s hoping you got a chance to see Boston’s Isaiah Thomas compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday.

Because after yet another defeat, Thomas says he’s calling it quits on the event.

“That’s my last time doing it,” said Thomas who competed in his third Skills Challenge. “I can’t get a win. It’s fun, but it sucks losing. I hate losing no matter what it is.”

And the loss, which came in the semis to Utah’s Gordon Hayward, came about because of Thomas’ inability to knock down a 3-pointer.

“I couldn’t make a shot. I guess it wasn’t the fourth quarter,” quipped Thomas afterwards.

Although each player had their own set of challenges to wade through, Thomas admitted he went on the defensive when both players were trying to move on to the finals with one made 3-pointer.

“I knew he was shooting kind of fast,” Thomas said. “A couple of those shots, I was just trying to hit his ball; I was trying to make sure he didn’t make it.”

Regardless of how the Skills Challenge ended – New York’s Kristaps Porzingis was the winner - it doesn’t take away from what has been a strong start to the season for both Thomas and the Celtics.

But he understands the challenge that awaits him and the Celtics going forward as they try to continue rolling along as one of the top teams in the NBA despite having a roster that has been riddled with injuries this season.

“We’re like a next man … everybody has a next man up mentality,” Thomas said. “We don’t use excuses on why we lose games or why players are out, stuff like that. We don’t think about it when players are out.  When we know somebody’s out, it’s like, ‘OK, next man up. We have to take advantage.’”