Deadline looms for Celtics

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Deadline looms for Celtics

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

OAKLAND It was a solid start to the home stretch of the season.

Not that beating the Golden State Warriors is a champagne-popping accomplishment when youre a team with expectations like the Celtics, but all things considered, and assuming Kendrick Perkins' bruised knee is only that, Tuesday night couldnt have gone much better for Boston.

If were being honest, its a game we probably could have forgiven them for losing, but they escaped the trap and kicked off their historically troublesome post-All Star trip in style. They won in Oakland for the first time since the Jiri Welsch era. They looked fresh. They appeared energized. And while there were undoubtedly some sloppy moments, the Cs were sharpest when it mattered most.

Although, mattered most is obviously a relative term.

In reality, what matters most for these Celtics has nothing to do with the Warriors, or snapping quirky losing streaks or a successful West Coast swing.

It has to do with the title, and for now, with the elephant in the locker room.

No, no. Shaqs in Florida. Were talking about the NBA trade deadline, and the move the Celtics have to make.

It wasnt supposed to be like this, you know. For most of this season, we had the Cs pegged as deadline bystanders. We thought theyd done all their dirty work last summer, when Danny Ainge assembled the deepest bench in the league as the perfect complement to the best starting five in the league. And once all 15 guys on the roster reached guaranteed-contract status, we figured that was it. Boston was built for the long haul, and as the curtain closed on the deadline, it was the other teams who would be left to scramble, who would be subjected to the non-stop speculation and forced to spend their days refreshing the rumor mill like Zuckerberg at the end of Social Network.

Meanwhile, Celtics fans could watch the festivities like spectators during feeding time at the zoo. Ainge could shut off his cell phone and spend the deadline day dreaming about Jimmer. Everything was cool.

But as the season went on, things started heating up, and now the Celtics are left in a little predicament. Now, they need help, and if they cant find it (or create some room for it) by Thursday at 4 p.m., the big picture will get a little blurry. And the supposed-to-be insignificant deadline could become their downfall.

OK, now its time to bring myself back off the ledge. Or just clarify that Im not even standing on it. Im not trying to say that if the Celtics cant get something done before the deadline that theyre destined for disaster; that theyll fall to the fourth seed and get swept by the Hawks in the first round. The Celtics, as theyre presently constituted, are still one of the best teams in the league. I feel like an idiot for even mentioning this. We all know what they bring to the table, and the level of talent, intensity and desire that sits in that locker room every night.

But at the same time, with less than two month before the playoffs begin, this team has more question marks than a biography of King Hippo.

First, you have to assume theyve lost Marquis Daniels for the season. Its not for sure, but you have to treat it that way. You cant count on him for the playoffs. And if hes not there, the Celtics have a huge hole at small forward. Daniels was supposed to be this years Tony Allen but the good Tony Allen. The guy who could step in and help contain the Wades, LeBrons, Kobes or even guys like Deng or Joe Johnson. But now, that might not exist.

Same goes for Jermaine ONeal who, again, might very well be back for the postseason, but would you be shocked if he wasnt? Be honest, what would surprise you more: Jermaine comes back and gives the Celtics a solid 20 minutes a night through June, or Jermaine comes back for a few games before shutting it down again?

As for Shaq, well, the team is definitely taking it slow, and theyre obviously going to do everything they can to get him ready for the real thing, but come on: The knee, the calf, the hip, the Achilles. At this point he has more injuries than tattoos. And thats not a surprise. No one expected 82 games; we knew it would be a struggle. And now it is. Its almost March and the injuries are multiplying like Gremlins.

Then theres Nate Robinson, who started the season strong, who looked like hed figured it out and finally become a guy Doc could trust every night. But thats not the case. Hes still Nate, which obviously isnt all bad. He can still do things that only Nate can do. But on the other hand, he can still do things that only Nate can do.

Theres a lot of optimism around Delonte West, and right fully so. When healthy, there may not be a more essential player off the Boston bench. When healthy, Delonte can play point guard or shooting guard. Maybe more importantly, he can defend point guards, shooting guards and even some small forwards. Hes a proven big-game player with big-game experience and never operates at anything less than ludicrous speed. Doc Rivers has called West the most competitive player hes ever coached . . . and Rivers has also coached Kevin Garnett. So there you go. But Delonte has also missed all but six games this season. If he plays, youre in business, but if you dont have some sort of backup plan, well, youre just careless. At this point, it cant be: Damn, Delonte went down again. Just our luck. You have to be prepared.

And thats really what it comes down to as the deadline quickly approaches. Its about preparation. Its about knowing that, yeah, theres a chance that Marquis comes back, the ONeals get healthy, Nate recaptures that preseason focus and Delonte stays the course.

But you have to be prepared for the alternative. You cant have the worst-case scenario come true and be left with Von Wafer and Semih Erden in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Right now the Celtics have six players that they can absolutely count on every night. And theyre six fantastic players. But thats not enough in the postseason. Thats not enough now.

The Celtics won by 22 points on Tuesday. But even in a blowout, the Big Four all played 35-plus minutes. Obviously, some of that was due to the All-Star break, and getting them back into the flow of the real NBA season. But part of that was also due to the fact that Doc doesnt really trust his second unit, or that he doesnt even have a second unit. Theyve been decimated by injuries, unable to develop a chemistry and thats a huge part of any playoff run. It will be a huge part of this one, one way or another.

By now, you know about the Celtics options heading into the deadline. Youve heard the names like Kirk Hinrich, Rip Hamilton, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Charlie Bell and Troy Murphy.

Some of them (most notably Hinrich, Hamilton and Murphy) would only be available after a buyout, and if that was the case, then the Celtics wouldnt have to acquire them before Thursday. But theyd more than likely have to clear a roster spot before then. Theyd have to move someone or someones before the deadline to even give them the flexibility to add a bigger, more reliable and productive name.

Theres been some talk about trading Robinson (that the Celtics actually offered him and a draft pick for Corey Brewer before the Knicks jumped in), but theres also a good chance that no one wants him. Maybe they have to look into trading Semih Erden, although they can obviously use his big body for now. Avery Bradley is getting a lot of interest from other teams as well, and considering that the point-guard spot is pretty secure in Boston for the foreseeable future, then maybe thats an option the Celtics need to investigate further. And really, Im sure they are.

Im sure Ainge and Co. are exhausting every option there is, because they know, as well as you and I, that this team needs help right now. That the once meaningless trade deadline is now more significant than we ever imagined.

And that while Tuesday nights win in Golden State was a terrific way to kick off the home stretch, it wont mean much if this team ends up limping to the finish line.

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

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.