OFFSEASON

Celtics searching for late-game answers

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Celtics searching for late-game answers

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

SAN ANTONIO Near the end of games, opponents have no idea what to expect from the Boston Celtics.

Sadly, the C's play of late appears as though they're just as clueless.

When you look at the problems Boston has had lately down the stretch in close games, it's difficult to gauge whether it's confusion, choking, or a little bit of both right now.

Earlier this month, point guard Rajon Rondo pointed out how the Celtics don't have any go-to plays down the stretch.

Upon his return to the lineup in Monday night's loss at Indiana, after missing the previous game at Minnesota with a right pinkie finger injury, he reiterated that point.

"The past couple of years, we always had two or three plays we could call and get a . . . not necessarily make the shot, but get at least a decent shot in the possession," Rondo said.

He said he doesn't know why that hasn't been the case this season, but understands that it is a major problem for the Celtics as they limp toward the end of the regular season for the second year in a row.

"Right now," Rondo said. "We're a little bit all over the place."

Many will look at the late-game execution issues being a byproduct of Kendrick Perkins being traded last month, and that having so many new faces has impacted the team's ability to close out games.

If only it were that simple.

Boston's end-of-the-game lineup usually includes the Big 4 of Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, along with Glen Davis or Jeff Green.

Folks tend to forget that even when Perkins was with the Celtics, Davis was often on the floor to finish games. And when Perkins was out at the beginning of the season while recovering from a torn MCL and PCL suffered last year in the NBA Finals, Davis was the fifth guy.

But you have to remember, players across the league have more bounce to their game in, say, November and December than they do in March and April.

The impact of not having Perkins is more apparent in the wear and tear that you're starting to see on both Garnett and Davis. Because those two, more than any other Celtics players, have had to pick up the slack that was left by Perkins in addition to all the slack left by a slew of injuries to Boston's big men.

"Kevin and Baby Davis most of the time, they've been without Boston's injured centers for most of the year," said Jermaine O'Neal, who was signed in the summer to be Boston's starting center but has been limited to just 17 games due to injuries. "You want to do whatever you can to give them a break."

Although Davis and Garnett won't acknowledge it, the pounding that their bodies take over the first three quarters of games, has affected their ability to play at a high level in the fourth. And with Nenad Krstic still learning how to mesh his game with their play, it adds another layer of difficulty to a team that's trying to jell on the fly.

With this team, all it takes is one player to be out of position or off his game, and the entire group suffers.

That's why having Jermaine O'Neal return to practice this week, is so important. He's targeting a return to the court on Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs, but coach Doc Rivers isn't as optimistic.

"I doubt it," Rivers said when asked about O'Neal coming back so quickly. "There's a chance. The only way is if we had some type of other injury or something. Even then, I doubt I'd do it."

Boston would certainly benefit from the size and rebounding that O'Neal could bring to the floor. But maybe just as important, he's a big body with six fouls to give.

Having that extra body could come in handy, especially down the stretch of a close game.

Rondo would love for two or three plays to emerge that the Celtics could go to down the stretch, but he knows most games wouldn't come to that if the defense played better when the game was up for grabs.

"Regardless if we score," Rondo said, "the last five minutes of the game we have to find a way to get stops."

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

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.

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics agree to deals with Zeller and picks Jackson, Bentil

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Report: Celtics agree to deals with Zeller and picks Jackson, Bentil

On a busy Saturday for the Celtics, they have brought back center Tyler Zeller and agreed to deals with draft picks Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe reported.

Earlier Saturday, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News reported that the Celtics will sign guard Gerald Green. 

Himmelsbach reports that Zeller's is a $16 million, two-year deal with the second-year not guaranteed. Jackson, the point guard from Notre Dame who was the 45th overall selection in the draft, has a guaranteed deal and Bentil, the forward from Providence who was the 51st player drafted, has a partially guaranteed deal. 

Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald reported that the second-year of Zeller's deal is a team option and that Green agreed to a one-year deal at the $1.4 million veteran mininum based on his nine years of NBA service.

The 7-foot Zeller averaged 6.1 points and 3.0 rebounds in 11.8 minutes a game last season. 

R.J. Hunter, James Young, Bentil and John Holland are in position to fight for the final roster spot, Himmelsbach reports, pending more deals, which the Celtics are reportedly working on. A source told Himmelsbach, that while there are probably changes coming, "There is no big deal right now." 

Bulpett reported that Celtics' talks with the Philadelphia 76ers involving a deal for Sixers' big man Jahlil Okafor have, according to sources, grown "stale" and that the moves Saturday put 2014 draft pick James Young's roster spot in jeopardy.

With Green, Zeller, and No. 3 overall pick Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have has 15 guaranteed contracts and three partial or non-guaranteed deals. 

 

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics to bring back Gerald Green with one-year deal

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Report: Celtics to bring back Gerald Green with one-year deal

The Celtics will sign free agent Gerald Green, the guard they drafted with the 18th overall pick back in 2005, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News reported.

Green, 30, played for the Miami Heat last season and averaged 8.9 points a game. Deveney reports Green will sign a one-year guaranteed contract. 

Green has been well-traveled since being traded by the Celtics in the Kevin Garnett deal in 2007, the year he won the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk contest. He has played for seven other NBA teams and played two seasons in Russia. His best season was 2013-14 in Phoenix when he averaged 15.8 points a game for the Suns. 

Deveney also reports that sources around the league continue to indicate the Celtics are looking to make a trade for a "star-caliber type" player. Last week, he reported on their interest in the Clippers' Blake Griffin.