OFFSEASON

O'Neals return Sunday, but Shaq leaves early

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O'Neals return Sunday, but Shaq leaves early

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON There was an O'Neal in the starting lineup for the Boston Celtics - but not exactly the one most have grown accustomed to seeing.

Jermaine O'Neal, making his first start since returning to the lineup following left knee surgery, had a solid night in Boston 's 101-90 win over Detroit.

But it was the Celtics' other O'Neal, Shaquille, who generated the most interest during the game and afterward.

S. O'Neal returned to the lineup on Sunday after missing 27 games with an assortment of right leg injuries. His return didn't last long, as S. O'Neal suffered a right calf strain early in the second quarter.

S. O'Neal's track record for injuries this season has been a lengthy one.

J. O'Neal isn't much better, although he said he felt good after Sunday's game.

"It's just going to be about progression," J. O'Neal said. "Today was probably the first day I felt sore coming to a game."

While J. O'Neal's stats (five points, six rebounds in 18 minutes) don't exactly jump out at you, it was indeed another sign of improvement that he's getting closer to being the solid contributor he was just before undergoing surgery on his left knee in February.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers was pleased with what he saw from J. O'Neal whose minutes will continue to be limited.

But those limited minutes become tougher to keep in check when there are unexpected injuries.

That's exactly what happened in Sunday's win over Detroit.

"The problem was when Shaq went down, then we brought Jermaine in and he was at his minutes that I wanted to play him, literally coming out at halftime," Rivers said. "That's why I only played him four minutes (in the second half). It's killing your rotation. Any rotation right now that we even think about having, we're just throwing them out of the window because of stuff that's happened
One of the challenges J. O'Neal is dealing with is adjusting to the changes that Boston has made since he returned from left knee surgery.

Not only have some plays been modified, but the Celtics have several new faces that he now must get used to playing with with some regularity.

Even with all the changes and to some degree, uncertainty that comes with those changes, J. O'Neal has a solid spot in the Celtics' rotation moving forward if he can stay healthy.

So far, so good.

While there are many who are concerned about J. O'Neal having some type of setback following left knee surgery in Feb. 5, it's not something J. O'Neal said he is worried about or gives any thought to.

"I've never been concerned about the knee being sore and having set-backs," J. O'Neal said. "It's more about the body being sore with the banging and stuff like that."

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

OFFSEASON

Celtics take two in international players in record breaking NBA Draft

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Celtics take two in international players in record breaking NBA Draft

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics turned quite a few heads when they used two of their three, first-round picks on International players.

They were part of a record-setting night for international players, with 15 being selected in the first round – the most ever in NBA history.

But like many international draft picks, it is far from a given that you’ll see either of Boston’s international first rounder picks Guershon Yabusele and Ante Zizic who were selected with the 16th and 23rd picks, respectively.

While it’s not uncommon for teams to draft international players in the first round and do so with the plan being to keep them overseas for another year or two, the potential hold-up for Boston’s two international picks has more to do with coming to terms on a buyout amount with their current teams.

“We’ve had initial discussions with their representatives,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, when I asked him about it during the team’s press conference to introduce the newest Celtics on Friday. “We have not concluded anything yet. We’re still in that discussion. And I’m not sure about summer (league).”

While it remains an option, a league source told CSNNE.com that it’s unlikely that either player will participate in either of Boston’s summer league squads which will play in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

Ainge agrees that there are a number of positives one can take from drafting an overseas player in the first round.

But the decision by Boston to draft Yabusele and Zizic in the first round had a lot to do with one thing – talent.

“The reason that these two guys are here, … is because they’re good players,” Ainge said. “The fact that they have people that want them on their teams on the International top level competition, tells you how good players they are. They could easily find jobs overseas at the top level. They’ve earned that reputation. They’re both very productive. Guerson very productive and Ante very good rebounding … now we’re trying to figure out the best way they can help us for their development. We’re working with their representatives on that plan.”

Yabusele, a 6-8, 275-pound power forward, averaged 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds in 28.7 minutes with Rouen Metropole Basket in the LNB Pro A league in France. While appearing in 34 games last season, he grabbed 10 or more rebounds 11 times while tallying eight double-doubles.

Zizic, a 6-11, 250-pound center, distinguished himself as one of the better players in the Adriatic League this past season. He was voted by fans, media and coaches as the Adriatic League’s Top Prospect after averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 24.8 minutes while shooting an impressive 60.7 percent from the field.

OFFSEASON

If not this year for Durant-to-Celtics, then next?

If not this year for Durant-to-Celtics, then next?

BOSTON – The Celtics are considered long shots at landing Kevin Durant during free agency, which begins next week.

Still, if they come up short this summer, league sources tell CSNNE.com that the Celtics will be on a “watch list” of sorts by Durant’s camp when the former league MVP is expected to hit the free agent market once again in the summer of 2017.
 
The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Durant will have teams meet with him in New York beginning next week. In addition to the Celtics, his current team Oklahoma City will sit down with him, as well as Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
 
Durant can re-sign with the Thunder for as many as five years with the total value of his contract worth slightly more than $150 million.
 
However, by signing a one-year deal or a two-year pact with a player option for the second season, Durant would make a projected $25.9 million for the 2016-2017 season and can then hit the free agent market again in 2017 when the salary cap is expected to cross the nine-figure threshold.
 
And at that time, if he decides to stay with the Thunder, he can ink a five-year deal that, when combined with his salary in 2016-2017, would be more than $230 million over six years – that’s about $80 million more than he would get by re-signing a long-term deal with the Thunder now, and would more than double what he would make by signing a maximum-salaried four-year deal with another team.
 
That’s why it makes a lot of sense for him to sign a short-term deal now and better position himself for a bigger payday the following summer when his starting salary will likely be on the north side of $35 million.
 
For the Celtics, Durant going through free agency back-to-back years affords coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics one more opportunity to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference standings while still being a team that’s clearly in need of adding at least one additional All-Star talent to play with Isaiah Thomas.

In his three seasons as the Celtics coach, Stevens has improved the team’s win total each season.
 
However, they have failed to win a playoff series after having been knocked out in the first round each of the past two seasons.
 
While Durant is the team’s No. 1 priority on the free agent market, the Celtics will quickly pivot their attentions to other highly-regarded players as well with Atlanta’s Al Horford being among their targets.

Depending on how quickly Durant’s free agency gets taken care of, the Celtics might be able to turn their attention towards potentially re-signing Evan Turner, who was sixth in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year voting last season.

OFFSEASON

Celtics' Isaiah Thomas continues recruitment of Durant with tweet

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Celtics' Isaiah Thomas continues recruitment of Durant with tweet

With the Celtics reportedly in the running in the Kevin Durant Derby, C's guard Isaiah Thomas is continuing his recruiting pitch with this playful tweet.

Thomas said in a radio interview earlier this week that the Celtics "definitely have a shot" at landing Durant and a few months ago, Thomas' essay in the Players Tribune is perhaps his best sales job of all.