OFFSEASON

Celtics currently losing their veteran gamble

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Celtics currently losing their veteran gamble

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WALTHAM Before the season kicked off, Celtics coach Doc Rivers had a pretty good feeling that he would be down a big man or two at some point.

But Rivers never saw this coming.

Roll call, please.

Kevin Garnett has missed eight straight games - and counting - with a right calf strain.

Jermaine O'Neal has soreness in his left knee that has limited him to just 17 games played this season. It's to the point now where the Celtics' big man is considering additional surgery on the knee.

Rookie center Semih Erden has battled a series of injuries all season, but is now being limited by a sore groin injury that may keep him out of Friday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

"Hey, it's what we are," said Rivers.

When you throw Kendrick Perkins into the mix of injured Celtics big men, you get a vision of a team that has shown amazing resiliency, all things considered.

But it also speaks to the high-stakes gamble Danny Ainge and the Celtics took this summer in assembling this roster.

When most of the elite teams in the NBA bolstered their rosters with younger, more athletic talent on the perimeter, the C's mindset could not have been any more different.

In addition to re-signing veterans Paul Pierce, 33, and Ray Allen, 35, the Celtics also beefed up their front line with the additions of Jermaine O'Neal, 32, and Shaquille O'Neal who at 38 years of age, is the oldest player in the NBA.

There's no disputing the team's success thus far this season.

Boston (29-9) has had the best record in the Eastern Conference for most of the season, and the C's have done it basically with a patch-work lineup of veterans who have been in and out of the lineup because of injuries.

"We knew our big guys would not play every game," Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, told CSNNE.com in an interview earlier this month. "We needed a whole team of centers to get through the year, especially with Perk's condition. That's sort of panning out."

But even Ainge could not have anticipated the depth of this team at center, would be tested so mightily, so quickly.

"It started happening a little earlier than we hoped," he said.

While the goal is clearly to be as healthy as possible when the postseason arrives, that challenge becomes even more daunting with each passing day with the team's injury total seemingly on the rise.

Boston did get some good news - sort of - on Thursday.

Garnett was able to participate in more than half of the team's practice, which was the most he has done with the C's since suffering his lower leg injury at Detroit on Dec. 29. The C's had initially anticipated he would return by Wednesday's victory over Sacramento, but the team is content on keeping him sidelined for at least one more game.

"He looked pretty good," Rivers said of Garnett's practice. "Besides his wind and stuff, his movement was very good. I want to see him in another practice. He's getting close."

The same can not be said for O'Neal, whose left knee may require surgery.

Appearing on WEEI's Dale and Holley show on Thursday, O'Neal said surgery "was definitely something that we talked about the first time I was out for an extended period of time."

The Celtics kept him out of action for six weeks to rest the left knee.

He was only able to return for two weeks before the knee began giving him the problems that now have his future up in the air.

O'Neal said that surgery is something that will get done, either in-season or during the offseason.

"You don't want to miss an extended period of time," O'Neal said. "I already did that. So, you make your decisions as a player. You listen to the staff, and if they have a certain way, then you try that. And if that doesn't work, you've got to go with the next-best scenario."

With his status up in the air, Rivers was asked if the Celtics might look outside of their current 15-man roster for help in the frontcourt.

"We have 15 players, so right now we probably wouldn't do that," Rivers said.

The plan is to treat this setback just like they've treated previous ones - ride it out until some of the injured bodies get healthy.

"We've been dealing with this all season, so it's not that big a deal to us," Boston's Marquis Daniels told CSNNE.com. "We're here for each other, pick each other up when we're down. But when one man goes down, that means somebody else has to step up. It's been like that all season for us."

Yes, it does seem a bit risky to bank on players continuing to step up when teammates are down.

But it's a risk that the Celtics are more than willing to take as they continue to focus on one thing -- Banner 18.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

OFFSEASON

Yabusele, Zizic may not be able to play in Summer League for C's

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Yabusele, Zizic may not be able to play in Summer League for C's

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics turned quite a few heads when they used two of their three first-round picks on international players.

They were part of a record-setting night for international players, with 15 being selected in the first round – the most ever in NBA history.

But like many international draft picks, it is far from a given that you’ll see either Guershon Yabusele and Ante Zizic, who were selected with the 16th and 23rd picks, respectively, next season.

While it’s not uncommon for teams to draft international players in the first round and do so with the plan being to keep them overseas for another year or two, the potential hold-up for Boston’s two international picks has more to do with coming to terms on a buyout amount with their current teams.

“We’ve had initial discussions with their representatives,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, when I asked him about it during the team’s press conference to introduce the newest Celtics on Friday. “We have not concluded anything yet. We’re still in that discussion. And I’m not sure about summer (league).”

While it remains an option, a league source told CSNNE.com that it’s unlikely that either player will participate in either of Boston’s summer league squads which will play in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

Ainge agrees that there are a number of positives one can take from drafting an overseas player in the first round.

But the decision by Boston to draft Yabusele and Zizic in the first round had a lot to do with one thing – talent.

“The reason that these two guys are here . . . is because they’re good players,” Ainge said. “The fact that they have people that want them on their teams on the international top level competition, tells you how good players they are. They could easily find jobs overseas at the top level. They’ve earned that reputation. They’re both very productive. Guerson very productive and Ante very good rebounding  . . . now we’re trying to figure out the best way they can help us for their development. We’re working with their representatives on that plan.”

Yabusele, a 6-foot-8, 275-pound power forward, averaged 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds in 28.7 minutes with Rouen Metropole Basket in the LNB Pro A league in France. While appearing in 34 games last season, he grabbed 10 or more rebounds 11 times while tallying eight double-doubles.

Zizic, a 6-11, 250-pound center, distinguished himself as one of the better players in the Adriatic League this past season. He was voted by fans, media and coaches as the Adriatic League’s Top Prospect after averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 24.8 minutes while shooting an impressive 60.7 percent from the field.

OFFSEASON

If not this year for Durant-to-Celtics, then next?

If not this year for Durant-to-Celtics, then next?

BOSTON – The Celtics are considered long shots at landing Kevin Durant during free agency, which begins next week.

Still, if they come up short this summer, league sources tell CSNNE.com that the Celtics will be on a “watch list” of sorts by Durant’s camp when the former league MVP is expected to hit the free agent market once again in the summer of 2017.
 
The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Durant will have teams meet with him in New York beginning next week. In addition to the Celtics, his current team Oklahoma City will sit down with him, as well as Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
 
Durant can re-sign with the Thunder for as many as five years with the total value of his contract worth slightly more than $150 million.
 
However, by signing a one-year deal or a two-year pact with a player option for the second season, Durant would make a projected $25.9 million for the 2016-2017 season and can then hit the free agent market again in 2017 when the salary cap is expected to cross the nine-figure threshold.
 
And at that time, if he decides to stay with the Thunder, he can ink a five-year deal that, when combined with his salary in 2016-2017, would be more than $230 million over six years – that’s about $80 million more than he would get by re-signing a long-term deal with the Thunder now, and would more than double what he would make by signing a maximum-salaried four-year deal with another team.
 
That’s why it makes a lot of sense for him to sign a short-term deal now and better position himself for a bigger payday the following summer when his starting salary will likely be on the north side of $35 million.
 
For the Celtics, Durant going through free agency back-to-back years affords coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics one more opportunity to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference standings while still being a team that’s clearly in need of adding at least one additional All-Star talent to play with Isaiah Thomas.

In his three seasons as the Celtics coach, Stevens has improved the team’s win total each season.
 
However, they have failed to win a playoff series after having been knocked out in the first round each of the past two seasons.
 
While Durant is the team’s No. 1 priority on the free agent market, the Celtics will quickly pivot their attentions to other highly-regarded players as well with Atlanta’s Al Horford being among their targets.

Depending on how quickly Durant’s free agency gets taken care of, the Celtics might be able to turn their attention towards potentially re-signing Evan Turner, who was sixth in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year voting last season.

OFFSEASON

Celtics' Isaiah Thomas continues recruitment of Durant with tweet

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Celtics' Isaiah Thomas continues recruitment of Durant with tweet

With the Celtics reportedly in the running in the Kevin Durant Derby, C's guard Isaiah Thomas is continuing his recruiting pitch with this playful tweet.

Thomas said in a radio interview earlier this week that the Celtics "definitely have a shot" at landing Durant and a few months ago, Thomas' essay in the Players Tribune is perhaps his best sales job of all.