Celtics still have much to prove

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Celtics still have much to prove

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

MIAMI With all that the Celtics have gone through over the past four years, the city of Bostons far beyond overreacting to one bad loss. But that doesnt take away from the fact that Sundays 99-90 defeat in Miami was especially bad.

The Cs may have crawled back within single digits before the final buzzer, but the game itself was never really in question. The Heat took control from the opening tip, executed their game plan almost at will, and exposed the Celtics in ways we all feared they were capable of.

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade dominated the action and dictated the tempo, and in the process raised the game of some of their less-talented teammates (I said "some," Mr. Bosh). When the benches were injected into the mix, the Celtics still couldnt keep up.

For 48 minutes, the speed and athleticism thats become the calling card of this Heat team far surpassed the grit, guile and wisdom of the Celtics. In fact, if you were watching the two teams for the first time, youd have sworn it was Miami that had played together for so long, experienced so much and was so impervious to the insanity of playoff basketball. The toughness? That edge the Celtics have always held in the postseason? For one night, it was gone. In Miamis possession. They were the enforcers. They were the Celtics and the Heat at the same time.

Throw in the fact that Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett never really showed up, and Paul Pierce only did so sporadically before being tossed, and the Celtics never had a shot. At the end of the day, it was nine points, but it was so much more.

But then again, it was only one game. For all that happened, and all the bad vibes that came flowing out of South Beach, the Celtics are only down 1-0. Its the same place they were exactly one year ago today, the morning after dropping an eight-point decision in Cleveland in Game 1 of their second-round series with the Cavs. We all know how that worked out, so for that reason, and many, many others, no one will write the Celtics off after their most recent Game 1 debacle. To do so would be an insult to all this team has accomplished, and an oversight of all that Miami hasnt. Maybe you cant sit here and say with confidence that the Celtics will come out like gangbusters on Tuesday, but you cant rule out the possibility. For the optimist, thats still the expectation, but even the pessimist has to leave the window open. After all, these are the Celtics. Theyve made us look like fools before.

But before looking forward to Tuesday, its probably worth taking a quick look back. Not too far, either. Just to the Knicks series.

Im not sure anyone ever completely grasped what went on there, or was entirely sure what to take from it. On one hand, it was a sweep; the only sweep of the first round. What more could you ask for, right?

But there was also a weird sense of uncertainty that lingered from that series. The underlying feeling that even in winning four straight, the Celtics never looked completely in sync.

That they were unbelievably close to dropping Game 1, before Doc Rivers and Ray Allen barely saved the day. That they were unbelievably close to dropping Game 2, despite the Knicks playing without two of the three proven players on their roster. Game 3 was impressive, definitely the most promising of the four, but in that last game, against a team that had nothing left to play for, the Celtics still gave you plenty of reasons to scratch your head. They won four games, but who they beat and how they did it was never entirely satisfying. Of course, you could never complain. You dont complain about a sweep. Thats be like bitching about a few hours of rain on your vacation. Sure, its not ideal, but you still spent the day getting drunk under a cabana instead of sitting at your desk playing Angry Birds. Its still great.

But even if we werent complaining, we were certainly allowed to question how much, if anything, those wins meant to the big picture; if the Celtics were, in fact, that much better than they were at the end of the season. And Sundays loss to the Heat didnt do much to answer those questionsor at least not in the way you wanted.

Of course, I still picked the Celtics to win this series in seven. I did, and still do think that they have what it takes to get to Chicago, but no one can ignore the fact that if you take away those four whatever-they-were wins against the Knicks, the Celtics we saw on Sunday looked a hell of a lot like the team we saw lose the last time they were in Miami. Back when everything was a mess, every loss meant the end of the world, and we were convinced that, even at their best, Boston no longer had the firepower to contend with the healthier, stronger and more dynamic Heat.

Again, maybe that was just for one night.

Or in this case, now two.

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

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.