Rondo needs a jumper against Bryant

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Rondo needs a jumper against Bryant

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON There are more than a few reasons to write off Thursday nights loss to the Lakers as insignificant. Not in terms of the standings or playoff seeding, but in terms of how it might affect a potential Finals rematch.

After all, the Celtics were a mess. They were short three seven-footers. They were missing their two most versatile reserves. Of the players who did dress, the C's back-up point guard went down after less than four minutes; both shooting guards and their starting center found foul trouble. Theres only so much one team can take, especially when the two-time defending champs are on the other side.

And while theres no guarantee that the Celtics will be 100 percent healthy should they meet the Lakers again in June, you have to assume theyll be feeling better than they did on Thursday. Theyll have to be. If the Celtics start the playoffs with one center, one point guard, one small forward and a one-man bench, there will be no June. We all know that. So, as a result, theres a temptation to look at Thursdays loss and shrug it off.

Eh, they caught them at a bad time. The win in LA meant more. Those were the real Celtics.

And maybe thats true.

But at the same time, to look at Thursdays loss and just see injuries, foul trouble and tired legs is to overlook the re-occurrence of the Celtics biggest issue when it comes to L.A. A problem thats existed since this rivalry renewed back in 2008, and has persisted for the better part of the last three and a half seasons.

Rajon Rondo. Kobe Bryant. And the defense that drives the Celtics bonkers.

You know the deal by now.

When the Lakers and Celtics meet, Kobe guards Rondo except he doesnt actually guard him. He lets Rondo guard himself. The Lakers have so little respect for Rondo's jump shot that Kobe sags off the Celtics point guard, dares him to shoot, and uses the extra space to wreak havoc on the offense. He doubles the Cs big men, hedges off screens and pretty much just disrupts the overall flow. Bostons half-court offense never looks more inept than it does during those stretches against L.A. and theres no secret to the Lakers success.

Its Rondo, Kobe and that damn defense.

To this you might say, What's the big deal? They still won in 2008 and came within 20 minutes of winning again last year. To which Ill say, youre right. it doesnt always come down to Kobe vs. Rondo. (Although ask yourself, how many memories do you have of Rondo from either of the two NBA Finals, vs. any other roundopponent?)

There are times when the Celtics are more successful in pushing the tempo and get Rondo in transition, and at that point there are few players in the league more dominant. There are times (think Ray Allen in Game Two of last years Finals) when one player will catch fire and neutralize Kobe's ubiquity. There are times (think Game Four of last years Finals) when the games decided by the bench. There are times when, for whatever reason, the Lakers just decide to switch it up and throw a more natural match-up at him.

There are times when the Lakers unique approach doesnt spell disaster.

But there are still so many times when it makes an enormous difference, and after last night, you can add another to the list.

Kobe didnt win the game with his offense, said Celtics coach Doc Rivers after the 92-86 defeat, Kobe won the game today with his defense. I thought defensively he was absolutely phenomenal. He was everywhere. He was trapping. He was helping, you know, off Rondo all night and trapped the post, blocked shots.

Youve heard it all before, and if these two teams meet in the Finals, you'll hear it again. Regardless of whos healthy, fresh or free of foul trouble, Kobe will continue to raise hell. His ability to sag off Rondo will continue to be L.A.'s most consistently successful method for stopping the C's.

Well, unless Rondo can finally develop a jumper.

And really, its about time that he does.

We're talking about one of the best point guards in the league here. A two-time All-Star. Hes a guy who thrives off being the best. He might be the most competitive guy in that locker room, and on this team thats saying a lot.

Yet somehow this is still a problem; somehow he's comfortable with the reality that the Celtics' biggest rival doesn't respect his game enough to play real defense. That doesn't seem right.

And it's not like he has to become Stephon Curry, either. He doesnt need to become a shooter. He just has to develop some semblance of a mid-range game. If only enough to keep them honest.

All it will take is for a guy who has more talent than 95 percent of the league's point guards to develop a skill that 75 percent of them already have. He just needs to somewhat consistently hit a 17-foot jump shot.

That, and the Lakers' most important and devastating strategy is suddenly null and void. The game changes. The rivalry changes.

The Lakers opened up Thursday's game with Kobe on Rondo. One minute into the game, Rondo hit a 19-foot jumper, and on the very next possession they switched Fisher on him. And they stayed that way for a while.

And wouldnt you know, the offense flowed.

After that initial jumper, Rondo only made one more the entire night, and that was with the Lakers up nine with less than three minutes left in the game. The Lakers never had to worry about switching up. And when Kobe wasn't in the game, they used Shannon Brown to the same thing. And the offense stalled.

I dont want to say its that easy, but it at least makes it easier.

Hit a few jumpers and they can't, and wont play as much of that defense.

Does it mean the Celtics win every game? No. Does it mean they definitely wouldve won on Thursday? No. After all, they played without Shaq, Jermaine O'Neal, Semih Erden, Marquis Daniels, Delonte West and Nate Robinson. Plus, Ray Allen, Kendrick Perkins and Von Wafer were all in foul trouble.

But while the team can and will get healthy, the Kobe problem isnt going anywhere. At least not until that jumper becomes a part of Rondos arsenal.

Listen, Rondo was a soldier on Thursday night. He killed himself for 44 minutes. He kills himself every night. There's no player who's more fun and exciting to watch. There's no player who means more to the Celtics' overall success. Against pretty much every other team in the league, Rondo's game is strong enough to dominate.

But when it comes to the Lakers, for now, there will be nights where it won't be.

And if these two teams meet again in June, those nights take on far more meaning.

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.