Sullinger proving worthy of Celtics starting job

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Sullinger proving worthy of Celtics starting job

BROOKLYN, NY When Jared Sullinger slipped down to the Boston Celtics on draft night, there was a sense that the C's were stealing a top-10 talent.

Not only has Sullinger proven himself worthy of being a regular in the starting rotation, but he's taken a step further and has positioned himself to be a starter.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers has not decided whether to start Brandon Bass or Sullinger at power forward.

But the more Rivers talks about that position, the more he sounds like a man who at the very least is leaning towards giving the starting nod to Sullinger.

When asked whether he likes Sullinger with the starters, Rivers said, "I do. I don't know if that's the way I'm going to go, but I do like that.

Rivers added, "and I like Brandon with the second unit because he gives us another scorer, a guy who can play."

The evolution of Sullinger from the disappointment of draft night into a potential starter for a title contender as a rookie, speaks volumes about how he has taken all the criticism and questions about his health and responded with the only thing he can to silence them - play great basketball.

"He still has a lot of work, but he does a lot of good things," Rivers said. "He has a veteran mind; does not play like a young guy, except he makes rookie fouls, he does things. But he's just a good spirit. It's good to have him in the locker room."

And it's even better having him on the floor.

As much as his success during the preseason can be attributed to shear talent, Sullinger is quick to say that his willingness to embrace the teachings of all of the team's veterans - and not just the big men like Kevin Garnett - has been vital to his early success.

"You have to come in, you have to learn," said Sullinger, who then rattled off the name of just about every Celtic player older than 25 years of age as someone who has helped him thus far. "You got so many things you are hearing, so many things you are soaking up, you have no choice but to be better everyday."

But as impressive as Sullinger has been, Rivers is still noncommittal on him or Bass as the team's regular starting power forward.

"Having said that, I don't know what type of team we have," Rivers said. "And I'm not sure we'll have a set lineup this year. I think there will be nights where they will have a quick four (power forward) and we'll start Brandon. And there will be nights when they don't, and you start Sully."

Starting or coming off the bench, it doesn't matter to Sullinger.

He's just happy to help anyway he can for a Celtics team that was quick to dismiss the questions surrounding his health and selected the two-time All-American with the No. 21 overall pick.

"It was a blessing in disguise," Sullinger said of being passed over by more than half of the league. "The way this team is made up, how close knit we are, it's helping me out tremendously."

Blakely: Celtics make a healthy choice in standing pat at the deadline

Blakely: Celtics make a healthy choice in standing pat at the deadline

BOSTON -- For the second year in a row, the NBA trade deadline has come and gone with the Boston Celtics making no moves.
 
The Celtics were focused on trying to land either Chicago’s Jimmy Butler or Indiana’s Paul George, but Boston’s efforts never gained momentum in the final hours leading up to Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.

And while there were a handful of potential deals that would have made Boston slightly better, that improvement -- and the cost attached to it -- was just more than Ainge and the Celtics were willing to pay. 
 
And so they hit the final stretch of the season with a roster that – for now at least – looks identical to what they had at the start of the season with one difference --health. 
 
Most of this season, the Celtics have had multiple players out with injuries or various ailments. Currently, Avery Bradley (right Achilles) is the lone Celtic dealing with a significant injury. 
 
And after Bradley practiced some on Thursday, there’s a chance that he might be on the floor Friday night at Toronto. 
 
But there is no question that a significant segment of Celtics Nation is disappointed that Boston didn’t engineer a trade of some sort.
 
“We’re trying to upgrade our team,” said Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations. “But it is a delicate balance between short-term goals and long-term goals. Obviously, both are very important. We’re excited where we are on a long-term basis. And this year we didn’t make any trades. Last year we didn’t make any trades.”
 
But in standing pat a year ago, the Celtics solidified their salary cap space to where they could have offered a pair of max contracts to Al Horford – which they did – as well as Kevin Durant who met with Boston but ultimately decided to sign with Golden State. 
 
And by not including their first-round pick last season, the Celtics have Jaylen Brown who is one of the better rookies in this year’s class. 
 
“So we’re happy with the direction that we’re moving,” Ainge said. 
 
But standing pat was not on the agenda for the teams surrounding Boston in the East.
 
Boston’s inability to strike a deal is in sharp contrast to what teams surrounding them did during this trade season. 
 
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the team Boston and the rest of the East are chasing. They acquired Kyle Korver earlier this month, a player who ranks among the NBA’s all-time great 3-point shooters. 
 
Washington added Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn today, providing some much-needed firepower for a Wizards second unit that ranks among the NBA’s lowest scoring groups. 
 
Toronto recently traded for Orlando’s Serge Ibaka, giving the Raptors a defensive-oriented big man who can stretch the floor. 
 
Also today, the Atlanta Hawks picked up Ersan Illyasova from Philadelphia, which should help them space the floor better.
 
Each of those teams addressed a very specific need, something the Celtics were hoping to do. 
 
But more than a player, the Celtics could benefit from a roster with improved health. 
 
The team’s preferred starting five -- Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson -- has a 15-6 record this season. To put that in perspective, that’s a winning percentage of .714 which would be tops in the East and third overall in the NBA for this season. 
 
And with most of the players seemingly back to full strength health-wise now, it’s understandable to some extent why Ainge would be willing to stick with this group for the rest of the season. 
 
“As you’ve been watching lately, we’ve been winning a lot of games with everybody,” Ainge said. “Players ten through fifteen contributing to our wins. We like the depth of the team, we like the youth of the team, we like the energy and enthusiasm of the team and I’m very anxious and excited to watch in the second half.”
 
But just like when they stood pat last year, the decision puts the onus on the players and the coaching staff to step their game up. 

“I roll with the guys in this locker room until something changes,” Isaiah Thomas said prior to the trade deadline. “I always mean that.”
 
Said Jae Crowder: “We have to take care of what we can control and that’s night-in and night-out, try to get wins.”

Blakely: Celtics make a healthy choice in standing pat at the deadline

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Blakely: Celtics make a healthy choice in standing pat at the deadline

BOSTON -- For the second year in a row, the NBA trade deadline has come and gone with the Boston Celtics making no moves.
 
The Celtics were focused on trying to land either Chicago’s Jimmy Butler or Indiana’s Paul George, but Boston’s efforts never gained momentum in the final hours leading up to Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.

Boston’s inability to strike a deal is in sharp contrast to what teams surrounding them did during this trade season. 
 
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the team Boston and the rest of the East are chasing. They acquired Kyle Korver earlier this month, a player who ranks among the NBA’s all-time great 3-point shooters. 
 
Washington added Bojan Bogdanovic from Brooklyn today, providing some much-needed firepower for a Wizards second unit that ranks among the NBA’s lowest scoring groups. 
 
Toronto recently traded for Orlando’s Serge Ibaka, giving the Raptors a defensive-oriented big man who can stretch the floor. 
 
Also today, the Atlanta Hawks picked up Ersan Illyasova from Philadelphia, which should help them space the floor better.
 
Each of those teams addressed a very specific need, something the Celtics were hoping to do. 
 
But Boston had some very clear parameters from which they refused to budge. 
 
The Celtics were not interested in giving up significant assets for a 25-game rental player who would most likely be a reserve playing limited minutes. 
 
In addition, the Celtics were hesitant to break up a core group that’s playing well despite key members of that core being limited or unavailable for long stretches altogether. 
 
Regardless of the rationale behind standing pat, the Celtics will be criticized in some circles for not making a deal that would have better positioned them to make a run at Cleveland or better solidify their standing as the No. 2 team in the East. 
 
But just like when they stood pat last year, the decision puts the onus on the players and the coaching staff to step up their games. 
 
Danny Ainge’s decision to keep this group intact speaks to some degree about the confidence he has in them to continue to get better. 
 
But they still may bolster their roster depending on whether recently-traded Andrew Bogut reaches a buyout agreement and thus becomes a free agent who can then sign with any team of his choosing.
 
Bogut was traded to Philadelphia from Dallas, along with Justin Anderson to Philadelphia for Everett native Nerlens Noel.