J. O'Neal is showing the Celtics what he can do

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J. O'Neal is showing the Celtics what he can do

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

CHICAGO Inside the mind of Boston Celtics big man Jermaine O'Neal, you'll find images of confetti streaming down from high atop the ceiling.

There are people, lots of them. The only thing that might be in greater numbers, are the tears shed by O'Neal.

They are tears of joy because all the long, painful hours he put in trying to recover from a potential season-ending knee injury, have paid off as he helped the Celtics bring home Banner 18.

It's all in his head -- for now.

But such imagery from O'Neal isn't all that surprising when you consider the six-time All-Star is also a movie producer with his most recent project, "Inheritance," slated to be released some time this year.

Nearing the end of his basketball career, O'Neal tells CSNNE.com that this is something that he will explore even more so when he's done playing.

For now, he's more focused on helping produce an NBA championship.

And the road map to making that happen includes several weeks spent here in Chicago with training guru Tim Grover as part of his recovery from left knee surgery in February.

"It was basically like training camp, with two-a-days for like three weeks," O'Neal told CSNNE.com, adding that Sunday was the only day he took off during those weeks.

There's little doubt that since O'Neal returned to the Celtics, he looks more like the guy that started 72 games last year for the Miami Heat, than the injury-riddled player Celtics fans had seen pre-left knee surgery.

His numbers in the four games since his return won't wow you -- 4.8 points, 2.8 rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game.

But there's no mistaking the 6-foot-11 center has made an impact in the one area the Celtics have been sorely lacking since trading away Kendrick Perkins on Feb. 24 -- interior defense.

Boston has ranked among the NBA's leaders in scoring defense all season, and is currently tops in the NBA by giving up just 90.8 points per game.

In the last four games -- three Celtics wins -- that number has dropped to 89.3 points per game. O'Neal has started the last two games, and the Celtics have given up just 86 points per game.

Now that can't all be attributed to the return of O'Neal. But having him back certainly hasn't hurt.

Coach Doc Rivers has been singing the praises of O'Neal ever since he returned to the lineup.

He was especially pleased with the way O'Neal played in Boston's 99-82 win over Philadelphia on Tuesday.

O'Neal had nine points, three rebounds and a blocked shot in just under 13 minutes.

"JO was terrific," Rivers said. "You know, he was aggressive, he was attacking, his defense was phenomenal. He's just been really good since he's been back; just buys in; we rarely go to him but he gets the ball in the right places because he's in the right spots. Defensively he's been very good."

Glen Davis is also among the Celtics glad to see O'Neal back on the floor.

"Having Jermaine makes it easier for all of us," Glen Davis told CSNNE.com. "He gives us another guy with size, around the basket, who can defend. It helps you at both ends of the floor, really."

Because of his added post presence, the Celtics can now get out in transition more following a defensive stop.

He's even had moments since returning when he has been able to out-run his defender up court and finish around the basket.

You hardly saw that at all before the injury. Part of that was because he wasn't healthy.

O'Neal admitted that there were also some trust issues as well.

"Because I wasn't healthy, the guys really didn't know what I could do to help offensively," he told CSNNE.com. "So when I came back, it was just a matter of showing them, showing Doc that I was back, that they could go to me if they wanted to and I would come through. We never really had a chance to establish that the way I would have wanted to, before the surgery."

O'Neal understands that he will never be a No. 1, 2 or even 3 option with this team.

That's okay.

Simply being part of a squad that's playing for something bigger than a paycheck, he says, is all he wants now.

And while this isn't his first time being part of a title contender, he admits it's more special because of the timing.

"Opportunities before," O'Neal said, "it was like how many opportunities am I going to have? That was the thought process. But now, there's no guarantee I'm going to play after next year," he said. "There's no guarantee we're going to play at all next year, as a league. You have to value these opportunities, because they are not a given."

When O'Neal entered the league straight from high school, he was part of a talented Portland team that included former Celtic Rasheed Wallace.

Although he didn't play much early on, those teams routinely made it deep into the playoffs.

And after he was traded to Indiana, the Pacers soon made deep playoff runs an expectation when former Celtic great Larry Bird was the head coach.

But those times are in the past now.

Those teams, that success, that Jermaine O'Neal . . . nothing but memories now.

He's looking to create some new ones now.

And they all center around one thing: Banner 18.

"I get emotional about it because I know that feeling; that feeling . . . you want that feeling," O'Neal said. "You want to go through that. God willing, I'll get that opportunity because I may not get that opportunity again if I don't get it this year."

And that, O'Neal said, would be the perfect storybook ending to his playing career a story that just might be at movie theater near you someday.

"You never know," said O'Neal, smiling. "You never know."

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

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.