Finally, Rondo's back

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Finally, Rondo's back

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON This is one of many, many stories that will be written about Rajon Rondo after Tuesday nights playoff victory at the Garden.

And for very good reason.

In Bostons 96-93 win over Spike Lees soldiers, Rondo led the Cs with 30 points and seven assists, and added four rebounds, two steals and only four turnovers in 42 minutes of action. Then again, with the way he was moving, those 42 minutes might as well have been 70. He pushed the tempo, and attacked the hoop with an ease and consistency that very few can. He scored 14 points in the first quarter alone, during which he ran up and down on the Knicks like theyd been collectively implanted with Shaquille ONeals ACLs. He was far and away the most dominant player on the court, and the sole reason for the Celtics inspiring start.

I just thought, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce gave me great outlet passes, he said, and I tried to attack the rim.

And he did so at an unbelievable rate. One that had Don Nelson and Doug Moe clicking their glasses, and one that had Rondo, whod typically rather share a bubble bath with Chris Paul than come out of a game, begging for a breather.

I just got tired in the first quarter, he said. I told Doc Rivers to give me a rest. Im comfortable playing the minutes Im playing. It was just that first session was like a track meet.

And Rondo was Usain Bolt.

By the second half, Carmelo Anthonys one-man show had stolen the headlines, and in the games decisive moments, Garnetts grittiness and Rivers superior coaching may have made the biggest difference. But on a night that left much to be desired from the Celtics perspective (I thought we were lucky to win, Rivers said afterward), Rondos performance will have the most lasting effect on how the season ultimately pans out.

Its no secret that the Celtics will only go as far the Rondo takes them. Hes the engine that drives Bostons success, and they can only be at their best when hes at his running, driving, dishing; making things so much simpler for his teammates while creating chaos for the opposition.

But before Tuesday night, it remained to be seen whether he was up to the task.

Were not talking about actual skills andor physical talent. Sure, the jumper can be an issue, and the foul shots are infuriating, but Rondos ability to take over a game has never been in question.

Instead, its his will.

In the weeks, and now, nearly months since the Celtics dealt Kendrick Perkins (whether or not the actual trade is to blame) Rondo wasnt the player Boston needed him to be. He was reluctant to run, unwilling to attack and seemingly terrified to earn a trip to the foul line. For part of that stretch, a bum pinky garnered some of the blame, but that never seemed entirely legitimate. There was something else going on. We just werent sure what it was.

Thats how it goes with Rondo. Youre never sure what hes thinking.

What happens inside the locker room is one thing, but outside hes a blank slate. Hes always playing poker. He always leaves you guessing, scratching your head over what the hell must be going on inside his. And thats how Boston spent the home stretch of the regular season: In a state of Rondo-fueled confusion.

But through it all, the assumption was always that the playoffs would force out those demons; that the bright lights of the national stage would awaken the post deadline malaise. Hes too proud and competitive. He knew how much the postseason meant to not only his own legacy, but to the Big Three's. He also sat out the last week of the regular season, so you knew his body would be ready. You knew Rondo would be ready.

But in Game 1, he still wasnt there. The numbers were decent. For most players, 10-9-9 is more than respectable. But for Rondo and the Celtics, in the big picture, it wasnt enough. There were still fast breaks left on the table. There were still lanes, sometimes wide open, other times only blocked by a hobbled, 34-year-old Chauncey Billups that were passed up in favor of an unnecessary kick out. He was still unwilling to put the team on his back, and this was a team that needed it. Not even for an entire 48 minutes. After all, thats asking a lot. Considering the beating he takes, its asking too much. Sure, they always need his presence. They need his consistency. He's the point guard. He's the engine. But the dominance, those moments when no one is better, can be saved for stretches.

For stretches like the first quarter of Tuesday nights win, when he basically just stepped in and said, OK, guys. Follow me.

Thats what had been missing. And even if it wasnt the deciding span of the game, it marked the return of the Rajon Rondo that the Celtics essentially lost at the trade deadline. The guy who will make the biggest difference in what this team can and will ultimately accomplish.

That was what we talked about, he did it, it was terrific, Rivers said. We got away from it because they started scoring; they scored 26 points in the fourth quarter. But it was good to see he can do that.

Why it took until tonight for him to actually "do that," we may never know. In fact, there may be a time where we just stop trying to figure out Rondo all together.

If he spends the next four years playing as coy and elusive off the court as he is dynamic on it, Rondo will leave Boston as the same enigma he is now.

But for all the mystery, theres one thing we know for sure:

On a team of stars, Rondos is the one that must burn brightest.

And if the Celtics are going to accomplish any of what this city hopes they will, the story we write today will have to be retold many times over.

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.