They'll flip the switch, but will the lights go on?


They'll flip the switch, but will the lights go on?

By Rich Levine

Before we can make a legitimate guess on how the next two months will play out for the Celtics, there are two questions we need to consider.

The first ones easy, so lets just get it out of the way.

Can the Celtics flip the switch?

The answer is yes. A big, fat Shaq-sized YES.

Heartbreak over departed teammates? Stress over impending free agency? General frustration over whos doing what, when and where?

When the ball goes up in Game One, all the baggage of the last six weeks will be sorted and neatly stowed away in Waltham and Boston will once again be a team that only cares about team.

Trust me.

Theyll be playing with the same level of desire and intensity that we saw a few months back. Theyll be angry and focused. It might not be Ubuntu but . . . I dont know, is there a Serbian translation for Ubuntu? Lets call it that.

Whatever it is, it will be there.

I think the problem is that sometimes we expect these guys to play the entire 82-game season in a vacuum. Like nothing from the outside world, or even somewhere as close as the locker room, should ever affect what happens on the court.

And thats probably unfair.

Have you ever been in a funk at work? Mad your boss? Pissed off about how much your getting paid or how youre being treated? Maybe its the way theyre treating one of your friends and co-workers? Or maybe its a co-worker whos got you so mad in the first place?

It happens to everyone. No matter what you do or how much you make.

You can drive yourself crazy with that stuff, too. It can take you off your game. It can definitely affect your production. But eventually, something snaps you out of it. Something, whatever it is, comes along and gives you the strength and motivation to get on with your life, and go back to being you.

And then you move on.

Obviously, its one thing for a single person to overcome that adversity, and another when youre dealing with an entire roster of ultra competitive multi-millionaires.

But the playoffs are the universal wake-up call.

Especially in that locker room.

They know how much is on the line here: Careers, legacies, history. This is bigger than anything theyve gone through this season. Yeah, maybe this year didnt play out exactly how they imagined, but now theyre in the playoffswhere excuses go to die.

Theyll figure it out. Lets not forget who were dealing with

Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce. Ray Allen. Doc Rivers.

On Sunday, the Celtics will flip that switch, find that focus and cohesion, and give you their absolute best.

In the words of Marquis Daniels: Beleedat.

Which, finally, brings us to question No. 2 . . .

Once that switch flips, will there be enough watts in the bulb?

When you move beyond the emotional drama, and get down to the bare bones of the next two months, ultimately thats the question: Even at their best, are the Celtics good enough to be the best?

And were not talking about an ideal world, where Shaqs healthy, Jeff Greens James Posey and Troy Murphys Troy Murphy. This is real life. Where Shaqs a huge a question mark, Jeff Greens still working on Jeff Green and Troy Murphys a downgrade from Mikki Moore. Where Miamis playing a little better, Chicagos playing a lot better, both teams have home-court advantage and the match-ups, especially with Chicagotheir defense, depth, MVP and powerful front courtlook more terrifying by the day.

Can Boston still do it? Is it possible?

Yeah, of course. It doesn't look great, but well never say impossible. Not with this group.

Regardless of any and all issues, or how long and devastating the road appears, well never completely write them off. Even if Doc Rivers swears that this time is so much different, the team doesnt sound nearly as confident (publicly, at least), and the competition looks far more imposing.

Theres enough to still believe, or just hope that these guys can reach down deep, defy the odds and become last years team.

And its kind of crazy how that all worked out.

There was a time not so long ago when all we used to talk about was how these guys were nothing like last years team.

For most of this season, that was pretty much the best way to describe the Celtics. And as far as the team was concerned, there was no greater compliment.

Over the course of the summer, theyd been haunted by nightmares of the previous regular season, and the memory of walking off the Staples Center floor, yellow and purple confetti everywhere. And from the moment they arrived at Media Day back in September, the Celtics tried like hell to exorcise those memories, and that culture, from the locker room.

They overstressed the importance of regular season. They convinced themselves that home court was to blame for their Game Seven collapse. They doused an old pair of Rasheed Wallaces sweatpants in gasoline and sacrificed them to the NBA Gods.

Fine, maybe one of those things didnt happen, but whatever. The Celtics did do, it worked. You watched this team play over those first few months, and couldnt help but make the comparison. Or more, the distinction

Theyd fall behind early to a crappy team, fight into the fourth and pull it out in the end: No way they wouldve won this game last year.

Theyd lose one or even two games in a row and respond with four, five or at one point 14 straight wins: You see, last years team would have gone in the tank!

No matter what, it was always different than last year, and the Celtics were always better for it.

Last year was their biggest fear.

Today it feels like a dream.

But over the next two months, it needs to become their reality.

It all starts to play out on Sunday, when the Celtics will officially flip that switch, and just hope it burns bright enough for another historic run. This time, with an extra 20 minutes left in reserve.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Pick or trade? Celtics find themselves in similar position to 2014 Cavs

Pick or trade? Celtics find themselves in similar position to 2014 Cavs

BOSTON – Even before the Boston Celtics landed the top overall pick in next month’s NBA draft, there has been talk about Boston potentially trading it away.

While Danny Ainge has made no secret about being open to all options involving the top overall pick, there are a couple of things to remember.

Moving the number one overall pick is not a decision that’s made lightly.

That’s why only twice since the ABA-NBA merge in 1976, has the number one overall pick not played for the team that selected him.

But in looking at the two instances when it did happen, 1993 with Chris Webber (drafted by Orlando, traded to Golden State) and 2014 with Andrew Wiggins (drafted by Cleveland, traded to Minnesota), the Wiggins deal best resembles the kind of situation that the Celtics now find themselves in with the top overall pick in hand.

In 2014, Cleveland wound up with the number one overall pick for the second straight year. In 2013, they shocked many in selecting UNLV’s Anthony Bennett which turned out to be a huge mistake.

But the following year, taking Andrew Wiggins out of Kansas with the top pick was more of a no-brainer.

The Cavs were soon faced with the kind of problem every team would love to have.

Just a couple weeks after the draft, LeBron James announced that he was taking his talents back to Cleveland.

The number one pick and James returning to Cleveland?

Does it get much better than that for a Cavs fan?

As it turned out … yeah. It got a hell of a lot better, actually.

While a James-Wiggins-Kyrie Irving Big Three will probably win you a lot of console championships, in the real world of NBA basketball it wasn’t going to work.

The Cavs knew this, which is why they made no secret about willing to part ways with the top pick (Wiggins) for the right player.

That player was Kevin Love, who had grown tired of all the struggles he endured with the Timberpups who never grew up enough to win enough games to get to the playoffs.  

Minnesota, understanding that they may be better off down the road without Love, decided to move him for a bunch of pieces centered around Wiggins who went on to become the league’s Rookie of the Year.

Cleveland’s motivation for making the deal had a lot to do with being in the best position to compete for a title right now, without having to do major work at the front-end of their rotation.

LeBron James. Kyrie Irving. Kevin Love.

Fill in the rest of the roster with good players who are great fits, and just like that ... you're a title contender. 

Boston finds itself in a similar position to the Cavs in 2014.

Unlike most franchises with the top overall pick, Boston doesn’t need that player to come in and carry the franchise from Day One.

Remember, Boston advanced to the Eastern Conference finals this season with one of the younger teams in the playoffs.

Of the players under contract for next season, Al Horford – he’ll be 31 years old on Saturday – is the oldest player.

So with all that youth still developing their games, still figuring out how best to impact the Celtics, Boston knows they would be much better served if they can convert that top overall pick into a proven, established All-Star that can move them that much closer to title contention sooner rather than later.

That’s why Cleveland was so eager to trade the pick, knowing it would likely return a proven star for a team that at the time felt they were one piece away from being a true title contender.

Boston, which lost to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals last week, is at least one high-impact performer (I believe two personally) from posing a stronger threat to the Cavs’ dominance than we saw in a conference finals that Cleveland ended in five games.

There are a few big names that the Celtics have shown interest in the past, and they could once again come into play this offseason.

Indiana’s Paul George is a player Boston has had its sights on for a while now. The only real concern the Celtics have with George is whether he’ll re-sign with them next summer when he becomes a free agent.

Rumors have circulated for a few months that the Palmdale, Calif. native is longing to be closer to home and play for the Los Angeles Lakers who have identified him as a primary free agent target when he becomes available.

Indiana might be motivated to move him sooner to ensure they’ll get something for him if he does, in fact, decide to move on.

But are the Celtics willing to risk giving up the number one overall pick (along with other key assets) for a player who may only be around for one season?

And while it is a long shot and on paper makes little sense, New Orleans’ Anthony Davis shouldn’t totally be discounted, either.

The Pelicans are a franchise right now that’s not going anywhere with their current allotment of talent, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

They gave up their first-round pick this year as part of the DeMarcus Cousins trade, so they’re not on the clock until the 40th selection, or 10th pick in the second round.

It would take a significant amount of assets to acquire Davis, but considering his age (he’s just 24 years old), talent, and versatility at both ends of the floor, he becomes an instant game-changer if the Celtics can get him.

Boston also likes Jimmy Butler of Chicago, although the Celtics aren’t likely to need to give up the number one pick to get him.

The Bulls have been hesitant to move Butler for many reasons.

For one thing, he’s a hell of player.

In addition, his contract (he has three years left on a five-year, $92.3 million deal that began with the 2015-2016 season) is very team-friendly for a player regarded as being among the top-15, top-20 in the NBA.

With the salary cap steadily rising, Chicago would likely have to pay significantly more than that if they traded for say, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, who each hit free agency in the summer of 2018.

No matter what direction the Celtics decide to go with the number one overall pick, there will be some risk involved.

But with that risk comes the tremendous potential to be rewarded with a great player who could be just what this franchise needs in order to bring home Banner 18. 

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.