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

Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

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Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

LOS ANGELES - Just two games into the U.S. basketball team's pre-Olympic tour, coach Mike Krzyzewski already sees the start of something big.

Kevin Durant scored 19 points, Klay Thompson added 17 and the Americans rolled to a second straight blowout exhibition victory, 106-57 over China on Sunday night.

DeMar DeRozan scored 13 points in his hometown, and DeMarcus Cousins had 12 points and seven rebounds in the second stop on the five-city tour leading the Americans to Rio de Janeiro. The victory over an overmatched opponent was impressive, but Krzyzewski liked it more for the composed, cohesive manner in which the new teammates worked together.

"We should have won, but the way we won was excellent," Krzyzewski said. "We're really growing together as a group."

After opening their showcase tour by trouncing Argentina in Las Vegas on Friday night, the U.S. team posted another rout at a packed Staples Center. Krzyzewski is finding it difficult to disguise his early optimism, praising his team's work in their brief practice time together.

And while they're still learning their teammates' tendencies and solidifying player rotations, the U.S. team looked remarkably connected for long stretches against China, which has no current NBA players.

Durant noticed it, as did Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who kicked off the festivities by blocking a shot on China's first possession and throwing down an alley-oop dunk on the Americans' first possession.

"We've only been together a week, but it seems like we've been teammates for years," Jordan said.

Jordan scored 12 points and led a strong defensive effort with three blocks for the Americans, who held the Chinese to 30.9 percent shooting. Krzyzewski believes the American team will excel at defensive switching because of its abundance of versatile players.

"I think we're learning more about one another, and our defense was there pretty much the whole game," Krzyzewski said.

The Americans haven't lost a game since the 2006 world championships, winning 65 straight games. They're 47-1 in exhibitions since NBA stars took over the roster in 1992, going undefeated since 2004.

While LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard all declined the chance to play in Rio, the Americans who accepted the opportunity appear to be serious about winning without some of the nation's top stars.

"We're young, but we've got a bunch of seasoned pros," said Kyrie Irving, who had 10 points and four assists. "We've been on a lot of journeys, and we've crossed paths before, but now we're all coming together at the right time."

Anthony was the only holdover in the Americans' starting lineup from Las Vegas while Krzyzewski works on chemistry and coordination. He put Paul George in with the starters alongside Anthony, Jordan, Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, whose family watched from courtside.

Both teams had early shooting struggles, but the Americans took charge with impressive speed late in the first quarter.

Durant, one of the two returning American gold medalists from London, heard boos from the LA crowd during pregame introductions. He quickly found his outside stroke with 14 points and four assists in the first half, and Cousins overpowered the Chinese down low for 12 first-half points on the way to a 55-29 halftime lead.

The Chinese team's most recognizable name to North Americans is Yi Jianlian, the Milwaukee Bucks' choice with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He spent five seasons with four NBA teams before heading back to the Guangdong Southern Tigers.

Yi led the Chinese with 18 points. Zhou Qi, the 7-foot-2 center drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round last month, scored two points on 1-for-6 shooting. Exciting guard Zhao Jiwei scored 14 points.

The teams meet again Tuesday in Oakland, where Durant will play in front of his new home fans for the first time since defecting from Oklahoma City to the Golden State Warriors earlier this month.

They'll also meet Aug. 6 in the opening game of Olympic competition in Brazil.

OFFSEASON

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

You’re probably thinking the summer fireworks are finished after the Celtics brought back Tyler Zeller, added ex-Celtic Gerald Green, and signed rookies Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil. It’s true, these moves do lower the likelihood of a multifaceted trade, but it doesn’t totally extinguish the odds of something seismic happening.

The Celtics still retain their flexibility, since none of these deals have actually been finalized. Even after they are, they’d still have the pieces required to make a deal work for a superstar like Blake Griffin. It’s not hard to make a valid trade for one player, but it is difficult if it’s a multi-step process like a Russell Westbrook renegotiate-and-extend trade.

“This is not necessarily what the team will be,” a source told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach. “There’s probably changes coming.”

Well, yeah. Changes have to come. The Celtics don’t really have a choice here.

Assuming Jaylen Brown is signed, they’ll have 18 players with at least partially guaranteed contracts. So at least three players will have to be exported before the season, since the NBA requires a maximum of 15 players on a roster.

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ current projected depth chart:

  STARTERS BENCH RESERVES ON THE BUBBLE
FRONT COURT Amir Johnson Kelly Olynyk Tyler Zeller  
Al Horford Jonas Jerebko Jordan Mickey Ben Bentil*
Jae Crowder Jaylen Brown* Gerald Green James Young
BACK COURT Avery Bradley Marcus Smart RJ Hunter John Holland*
Isaiah Thomas Terry Rozier Demetrius Jackson  

So, something has to happen. It’s just a matter of what. You can choose to believe the Celtics aren’t actually trying to make a blockbuster move. Or you can choose to believe the signals that have been firing off this month from the Celtics themselves indicating they’re “not done.”

It wouldn’t be difficult for the Celtics to get closer to 15 players by completing a blockbuster trade for a player like Griffin.
 
Perhaps some combination of veterans (Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley, and Jonas Jerebko) with youth (Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, and James Young) and draft picks (2018 Nets pick) could bring in Griffin and Paul Pierce.

Saturday’s moves make sense regardless of any transactions to follow.

Zeller is a bargain at just $8 million as a steadying presence on both ends of the floor. But, if Johnson were dealt, he’d be able to slide right up the depth chart as the team’s backup center.

Green shot 37.2 percent on spot up threes, per SportVU, over the past three years, so he provides spacing as a scorer who can catch fire. Considering Brad Stevens’ track record of sapping every ounce of talent out of each of his players -- hello, Jordan Crawford! -- it’s possible the Celtics will be getting the Green who scored an efficient 15.8 points per game just two years ago in Phoenix, and not the subpar Green who struggled to stay on the court last year in Miami.

If one or two of Boston’s young wings were dealt, Green, on a mere veteran minimum contract, would have an even easier path to playing time as a spark off the bench.

It’s difficult to read into the signings of second-round picks Jackson and Bentil, but either way the should both spend the season developing with the Celtics’ D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

The Celtics haven’t made a move yet, but they also haven’t done anything to suggest they’re entirely done. These moves could be precursors to something significant, or not. But at the least they provide depth to an already impressive roster.