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

Brown: 'An honor' to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.

Brown: 'An honor' to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.

BOSTON – Although he’s only been with the Boston Celtics a short period of time, rookie forward Jaylen Brown is no stranger to making strong statements on the basketball court.

But for all the highlight-quality dunks and acrobatic lay-ups many of us have been a witness to, his most powerful moment may have come Monday night when he addressed the TD Garden crowd in delivering a speech in honor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on MLK Day.

“We can talk all day about how Martin Luther King (Jr.) impacted us,” Brown said after Boston’s 108-98 win over Charlotte. “It still wouldn’t do justice. I just wanted to do my part and express how me and my teammates feel about the great Martin Luther King and everything him and that generation did for us.”

His speech moved many, including head coach Brad Stevens.

“I thought that was great; I thought it was great,” Stevens said. “And he went a little bit over his allotted time, I think, but I wish he would have kept going because I thought he did a terrific job of capturing what I think we all feel, and I thought it was extremely eloquently done.”

The only hiccup Brown felt he had during the speech was losing his train of thought briefly due to the echo he heard when talking into the microphone.

But that didn’t take away from the powerful message Brown delivered that he said he did not practice too hard for.

“It was all off the top of my head,” he said.

However, he said some of the message he delivered came from what he learned in a student activism class at Cal last year which is a reminder to us all just how young Brown is.

But as we saw in front of a sold-out crowd of 18,624, Brown is comfortable being the center of attention for important moments.

“It was an honor to be chosen to commemorate somebody like Martin Luther King, and represent my team and represent the NBA and the Celtics organization,” Brown said. “I’ve been celebrating this day for a long time. I’ve been studying and appreciating Martin Luther King and everything he’s done for a while. When they asked me, I was excited.”

Stars, studs and duds: Olynyk finding his stride off Celtics bench

Stars, studs and duds: Olynyk finding his stride off Celtics bench

BOSTON – It’s easy to forget that Kelly Olynyk went several months without doing anything basketball-related as he was on the mend from shoulder surgery.

His return had its share of ups and downs, but it seems the 7-foot center has found his stride and he’s making opponents pay for it.

For the second time in as many games, Olynyk came up big for the Celtics as Boston continued on its winning ways with a 108-98 win over Charlotte.

Olynyk, who scored a season-high 26 points in Boston’s win at Atlanta on Friday, had an efficient 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting against the Hornets on Monday.

Assertive. Aggressive. Contract year.

It doesn’t matter how you describe what or why Olynyk is ballin’ so hard lately.

The point is he’s doing it a better job of recognizing opportunities to make plays and executing whatever role he’s being asked to play.

“Just feeling good with the second unit,” Olynyk said. “I’m just trying to be aggressive and help the starters out.”

In the past, teams have mixed up their defensive coverages on Olynyk which frequently left him being guarded by a quicker but smaller player, or a big man with limited mobility.

Often Olynyk settled for long range shots and 3’s, regardless of the defender.

But as we’ve seen the last couple of games, he has hurt teams with his scoring around the rim which has in turn opened things up for his teammates or himself.

“We need him to play like that all the time,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “When he’s aggressive, looking for his shot, shooting open shots, even getting in there getting rebounds, offensive put-backs, that only helps us as a unit. And he’s done a great job of that the past couple games. We need that from him.”

And as he gets further removed from his offseason surgery, opportunities for him to be an impactful player for Boston will only grow.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Monday’s game.

 

STARS

Isaiah Thomas

The Celtics win, and Isaiah Thomas has another offensive flurry in the fourth quarter. So what else is new? He led all scorers with 35 points which included 17 in the fourth quarter.

Kemba Walker

He’s still playing at a level that puts him in the All-Star conversation, but it’s not going to happen with the Hornets continuing to struggle. They’ve lost five in a row now despite Walker’s 24 points on Monday.

 

STUDS

Al Horford

Boston is playing more inside-out basketball of late, and that’s opening things up for both Horford and his teammates. Against the Hornets he had 22 points on 8-for-14 shooting along with six rebounds and four assists.

Kelly Olynyk

For the second straight game, Olynyk had a strong, impactful performance for the Celtics utilizing his strengths as a perimeter threat and a 7-footer who can take advantage of smaller defenders around the rim. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go with nine rebounds, four assists and a steal.

Marvin Williams

He was the only other Hornet besides Kemba Walker who really impacted the game significantly. Williams had 21 points on 8-for-14 shooting which included 3-for-6 shooting from 3-point range.

Jae Crowder

The 6-foot-6 Crowder continues to have a sneaky-good season for the Celtics, particularly with his 3-point shooting which ranks among the league leaders. On Monday he had 15 points which included a trio of 3-pointers to go with seven rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot.

 

DUDS

Nicolas Batum

Avery Bradley put most of his effort and attention into defending Batum and man, did it ever pay off. Batum grabbed 10 rebounds, but wound up missing nine of his 11 shots from the field to finish with just four points.