Celtics lean on new Big Four as they take flight

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Celtics lean on new Big Four as they take flight

Early this morning, the Boston Celtics landed at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, ready to kick off a week-long trip that they hope will shape the course of their season.

As you know, this marks the second time in six years that the Celtics have collectively traveled overseas. As you know, the last time they began the season out there, they won a title back here. And as you know, regardless of everything that team went through between the moment they touched back on American soil and the moment the confetti started raining down on the parquet, the 2007-2008 Celtics always considered their international adventure to be an essential part of their success. Europe was where they conceived their championship dream . . . and nine months later, they popped out a shiny, new Larry OBrien.

Was that trip the reason that Boston blew out Atlanta in Game 7? Was it the reason PJ Browns jumper and Paul Pierces foul shot found the bottom of the net against Cleveland? Was it the reason they erased a 24-point deficit in Game 4 against the Lakers?

Who knows? But more importantly, who cares? All that matters is that the players believe it, and theyll head into this years trip believing the same thing. That with this tour through Istanbul and Milan, theyve been afforded a leg up on the competition; a mechanical walkway on their steep climb up Mt. Ubuntu. While last season couldnt have started under more trying circumstances thanks to the insanity of the lockout, the Rondo rumors, Jeff Greens surgery, and Garnett and Pierce showing up in worse shape than Josh Beckett these Celtics have their house in order. Theyre not thinking about the last season. Theyre thinking about 2007, and how to recreate that magic on the way to shocking the world one more time.

At home in Boston, it feels a little crazy to compare this years team to the one that raised Banner 17. First, because the NBAs a very different place. In 2007, the Celtics were major contenders from the get-go. On paper, they were deeper and had arguably more prime talent than any team in the league. These days, its all about the Super Teams, and sadly, the C's dont have one. And while Boston is most definitely still a contender, this season, even at their best, Boston will need a little help and a lot of luck to make it back to top.

And it will also take a hell of an effort from the four guys who are still around from the last time the Celtics were there.

Back in 2007, Doc Rivers was a lovable but unproven coach with a more promising future on TV than on the sidelines. When he inherited the Big 3, hed yet to win a single playoff series as a coach, and was fresh off leading Boston to their second-worst record in franchise history.

Paul Pierce was still a few weeks shy of his 30th birthday. He hadnt won a playoff series in four seasons, and missed the postseason entirely in the previous two. A few months before leaving for Italy, Pierce had made peace with the end of his Celtics career. Not because he wanted to, but because he had to.

Kevin Garnett had just made the biggest decision of his life. A man who thrives on consistency and is obsessed with loyalty, KG picked up and left everything hed known and loved since he was 18 years old. All in the name of avoiding a spot on a list alongside Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Patrick Ewing.

In 2007, 21-year-old Rajon Rondo didnt have a clue. But after two tumultuous years in college, and one uneven season on the worst team in the East, he was handed the keys to a Maserati.

And that brings us back to today. 2012, where a lot has obviously, and naturally, changed in the lives of Celtics four championship hold overs.

Rivers is now one of the two most respected coaches in the league. He could tell his team that a group trip to the dentist is good for chemistry, and everyone would follow. While we once wondered if Rivers had what it takes to coach in this league at all, these days theres no one in the game who relates to players and understands todays NBA better than Rivers.

Then, there's Pierce. Now a few weeks short of his 35th birthday a Hall of Famer and an NBA champion The Truth doesnt have much left to accomplish, and seems to have once again made peace with the end of his Celtics career, as well as his NBA career. Last week, he told reporters that he wants to retire with KG (regardless of when that is), even suggesting that if Garnett had walked away last season, the Captain would have followed.

Pierce saw what happened to Ray Allen last season. He knows how quickly you can be replaced in this league (especially at his age). He knows that the Celtics will look to reduce his minutes this season, and that, for the first time in a while, they actually have a roster to make that happen; a roster with younger, faster, more athletic players that just might be a better fit with Bostons superstar guard one of which is now making 9 million a year.

No doubt that Pierce is still an enormous part the Celtics plans, but despite the fact that hes coming off his first 20-ppg season since 2007, he'll probably have to swallow some pride.

Garnett long ago accomplished what he set out to here in Boston, and five years later finds himself with more pride in the Celtics than he ever imagined in Minnesota. His relationship with Rivers, his friendship with Pierce, his love for Rondo and his connection with the fans have impassioned KG to ungodly levels. And it doesnt hurt that, at 36, hes still one of the leagues best defenders and one its best centers.

This season wont be an easy one for Garnett, though. We all know what he puts his body through over the course of an NBA season. We all know how he feels about playing the five. And its hard to imagine hell feel much better after a full season going head-to-head in the East with Andrew Bynum, Brooke Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Roy Hibbert.

As for Rondo, at this stage, its not enough to call him one of the NBAs best point guards. Hes now one of the NBAs best players, period. And while he's yet to prove it over the course of an entire season, all signs point to Rondo being more ready than ever to make that leap. He's even been given the public blessing of the president, the coach and the two elder statesmen to finally spread his freakish wings and take this team to another level.

And in the media, we've taken these blessings and turned them into a monster.

In the public narrative Rondo's taken the torch. Now, it's all in on him. In 2012, the Celtics are Rondo's team!

And I don't think that makes sense. I don't think it's fair.

First of all, what does that mean?

It's Rondo's team?

Does that mean that Garnett will now be less vocal than he's been at any point over the last 17 years? That Pierce is less likely to call a team meeting if he thinks things are going the wrong way? That either of them would hesitate to put Rondo in his place if they think he's acting out of line?

Do we really think these guys Garnett, Pierce and Rivers are just about to hand the team to Rondo and get out of the way? Of course not. That would be stupid. And anyway, these Celtics have never been about having one guy run the show. It always been a group. A team.

He may have surpassed his teammates in terms of present-day skill level and game-to-game dominance, but Rondo's not the leader. He's a leader. And after all the Celtics have gone through with him these last five years, for now I'd say that's enough. It should be enough.

But like I said, it's not just about Rondo. This "passing of the torch" doesn't fall solely on his shoulders. It's about Boston's new but old Big Four Rondo, Pierce, Garnett and Rivers navigating the ups, downs, pressures and realities of their ever-changing lives and careers, while simultaneously finding a way to always put the team first.

As long as those four all four are in the right place, the rest of the team will follow. And you can bet they'll come home next week believing in that 2007 magic.

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

Phil Jackson: Knicks' biggest mistake was not trading for Jae Crowder in 2014

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Phil Jackson: Knicks' biggest mistake was not trading for Jae Crowder in 2014

BOSTON -- Phil Jackson will be the first to admit he has made some mistakes during his tenure in the New York Knicks' front office.

Among the miscues was a deal that would have landed them Jae Crowder.

"One of the first deals I engineered when I came back to New York was to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, plus a second-round pick that the Mavs owed to the Celtics," Jackson told the website, www.todaysfastbreak.com.

Jackson later revealed that in conversations with Boston leading up to the 2014 NBA draft, he was given an option to either keep the second-round pick which was to be conveyed to Boston from Dallas, or take Jae Crowder and allow Boston to keep the second-round pick from the Mavs.

"I liked Crowder but I thought he wouldn’t get much of a chance to play behind Carmelo (Anthony)," Jackson said. "So I took the (second-round) pick which turned out to be Cleanthony Early.”

Ouch!

With Crowder left out of the six-player deal between New York and Dallas, the Celtics were able to engineer a trade with the Mavericks six months later that sent Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell to Dallas in exchange for Brandon Wright, Jameer Nelson, draft picks and what many believed at the time to be a “throw in” player by the name of Jae Crowder.

Less than two years later, Crowder is the lone player acquired by Boston in that deal who remains on the Celtics roster.

And as we have all seen, Crowder is far from just a warm body on the Celtics’ roster.

The 6-foot-6 forward has emerged as a core member of this young, up-and-coming Celtics squad, a key to Boston going from being a team rebuilding just three years ago to one that’s poised to be among the top teams in the East this season.

And the play of Crowder has been a significant part of that growth.

Last season was his first as an NBA starter, and the 26-year-old made the most of his opportunity by averaging career highs in just about every meaningful category such as scoring (14.2), steals (1.7), assists (1.8), rebounds (5.1), field goal percentage (.443) and starts (73).

Meanwhile, Early has had a pair of injury-riddled seasons which have factored heavily into him seeing action in a total of just 56 games (9 starts) while averaging 4.3 points and 2.2 rebounds while shooting 34.6 percent from the field and a woeful 26.3 percent on 3s.

“While Cleanthony has missed lots of time in the past two seasons with us,” Jackson said, “He still has the potential to be a valuable player.”

That said, Jackson knows he screwed that deal up, big time.

Even with the potential Early brings to the game, Jackson concedes, “I should have taken Crowder."

 

Can Jerebko parlay playoff starts to a bigger role with Celtics?

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Can Jerebko parlay playoff starts to a bigger role with Celtics?

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Tyler Zeller. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON – Considering all the different storylines that developed among the Celtics at the end of last season and this summer, it’s easy to forget that Jonas Jerebko was in the starting lineup.

With sporadic minutes in the regular season, Boston found itself trailing the Atlanta Hawks 2-0 in their best-of-seven playoff series.

So what did coach Brad Stevens do?

He shook up the starting lineup by inserting Jerebko. who helped Boston even up the series at two games apiece before the Hawks bounced back and ended the Celtics season after six games.

Those last four games against the Hawks – the only games Jerebko started all season - served as a reminder to many that the 29-year-old could still be an impact performer.

It was the kind of run to close out the season that Jerebko will certainly be focused on trying to build upon this season.

The ceiling for Jerebko: Starter

While he will likely begin the season as a reserve, Jerebko will certainly come into camp with a little more bounce in his step courtesy of a strong showing in the playoffs.

After averaging just 4.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in 15.1 minutes in the regular season a year ago, Jerebko became a major force in the playoffs for Boston.

In his first game as a starter, Jerebko had a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds as Boston won Game 3, 111-103.

He was even more impactful 48 hours later with another a second straight double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) in yet another Celtics victory.

The Hawks made some adjustments in Games 5 and 6 to close out the series, but it wasn’t before Jerebko had put together the best postseason stretch of his career.

Compared to the regular season, Jerebko more than doubled his playing time in those final four games by averaging 31.3 minutes to go with 11.5 points and 7.8 rebounds.

Jerebko will be hard-pressed to return to that role at the start of this season.

Boston signed Al Horford to a four-year, $113 million contract, so you know he’s starting.

And Amir Johnson’s defense and ability to run the floor so effectively will likely result in him resuming a starting role, too.

That leaves Jerebko joining what looks to be a very talented and deep Celtics bench.

Even though he’s unlikely to start, Jerebko will get his share of opportunities to play.

At 6-foot-10, Jerebko has the size to play both power forward and center. And depending on the opposing team’s lineup, Jerebko has the potential play some small forward as well.

It was that versatility that made Stevens turn to Jerebko in the playoffs last season to replace Jared Sullinger, who signed with the Toronto Raptors in the offseason.

And while the idea of Jerebko as a starter seems a bit far-fetched at this point, he is yet another Celtics reserve who has proven himself to be ready to play and play well when given an opportunity to step on the floor regardless of what that role may be.

The floor for Jerebko: Seldom-used reserve

Despite a strong finish last season, Jerebko will once again have to fight and claw for any minutes on the floor. While the Celtics certainly were aided by his versatility, this season’s roster has a number of players who, like Jerebko, can play multiple positions at both ends of the floor.

NBA veteran Gerald Green is 6-8 and will play shooting guard and small forward. But depending on the lineup, it’s not a stretch to envision him playing some power forward. Ditto for rookie Jaylen Brown and starting small forward Jae Crowder sliding up one position.

Beginning the season on the rotation fringes is nothing new to Jerebko, whose role was very much up in the air when the Celtics traded Tayshaun Prince to Detroit prior to the 2015 trade deadline for Jerebko and Gigi Datome.

Gradually, Jerebko earned his minutes and proved he was indeed a valuable piece of what Stevens and the Celtics were trying to build here in Boston.

And now, with a season-plus of time with the Celtics under his belt, Jerebko finds himself once again being challenged to show that he’s more than just a body on the roster.

 

Report: Celtics renounce draft rights to 2013 pick Colton Iverson

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Report: Celtics renounce draft rights to 2013 pick Colton Iverson

By Dan Feldman, NBCSports.com Pro Basketball Talk

The Celtics bought the No. 53 pick in the 2013 NBA draft to get Colton Iverson out of Colorado State, and he thanked them by allowing them to keep his rights the last three years.

Iverson rejected the required tender – a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum, teams must extend to retain exclusive negotiating rights to a second-round pick – year after year to sign overseas. Accepting the tender would’ve likely meant Iverson going to Boston’s training camp and getting waived. Perhaps, the timing of that would’ve limited his European options that year. But it would’ve made him an NBA free agent – or, best-case scenario, he could’ve made the Celtics and drawn an NBA paycheck.

As it was, Iverson limited himself to joining Boston and only Boston. If another NBA team wanted Iverson, it would have had to trade for him.

And what does Iverson get for that loyalty? A Celtics contract with at least a partial guarantee?

Nope.

Just a head start on finding another team – which he could’ve gotten for himself three years ago.

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

This is why second-round picks should be more aggressive about accepting the required tender. Even if you get waived, you open NBA options.

Iverson is a strong 7-foot center who plays with physicality. He can help in certain matchups, and he’d make sense as a third center on teams that have first- and second-stringers playing a different style.

But Iverson is 27, and his NBA window may be closing if it hasn’t already.

It’s a shame he spent so many years beholden to Boston, which didn’t want him.

It was probably just courtesy of the Celtics to renounce his rights now rather than have him sign the tender. They would have guaranteed him no money with the tender, and they could have gotten a few minor benefits with it – an extra body for training camp, the ability to assign his D-League rights to their affiliate after waiving him and the slightest chance he impresses enough in the preseason to hold trade value.

But them forgoing those potential advantages, even if out of courtesy, also sends a signal about how little they value him. Teams don’t do these types of favors for players they actually covet.