OFFSEASON

Defense no longer Celtics' identity

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Defense no longer Celtics' identity

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

HOUSTON When you look at all the changes the Boston Celtics have made lately, it's clear that they have added more weapons offensively.

But at what cost?

The Celtics are still one of the NBA's upper echelon teams defensively, even with all the new faces.

But as far as defense remaining this team's identity?

The more you watch them play, the more this point becomes debatable.

You can add one more reason to question this team's foundation being about defense, following Friday night's 93-77 loss at Houston.

Houston only shot 43.8 percent from the field, and scored less than 100 points - the kind of defensive benchmarks you would ideally like to see every game.

But what's lost in the numbers, is how that defense was impacted by the Celtics offense not getting off to a good start.

Houston opened the game with an 8-1 spurt, fueled in large part by the Celtics' inability to make shots that on most nights, usually fall in.

Those missed shots seemed to result in some frustration that eventually seeped into the team's defensive efforts.

And just like that, the Celtics found themselves on the short end of a potential blowout - before halftime.

"We showed them seven, point-blank shots at the basket (at halftime) that didn't go in," Rivers said. "I thought we got a little frustrated because we were missing shots."

Rivers added, "that's uncharacteristic of us. But I definitely thought our offense led to our bad defense."

That is a damning commentary when you consider how much stock the Celtics put into being a stout, gritty defensive-minded team.

"Even though we missed shots, we missed lay-ups, that should never discourage us of how we play night-in and night-out on the defensive end," said Paul Pierce. "We got our work cut out for us if we want to retain home court (throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs), if we want to be on top of the East. We have to wake up inside if we're going to consistently play the type of Celtics defense that got us this record."

Kevin Garnett is the anchor of the Celtics defense, which has been among the NBA's best ever since Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces with Paul Pierce to form the Big Three in 2007.

And as much as Garnett prides himself and his teammates in putting defense first, he can't say with any degree of certainty whether or not the C's allowed their offensive woes early on against the Rockets impact their play at the other end of the floor.

"I want to say no, because we're a defensive team and we can't let offense dictate defense," Garnett said. "But it certainly seemed that way. They got into an early rhythm and it was hard to turn them off."

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

OFFSEASON

Future uncertain for Johnson and Jerebko as Celtics pursue Durant

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Future uncertain for Johnson and Jerebko as Celtics pursue Durant

BOSTON -- When you’re the Boston Celtics and you have your sights set on a star like Kevin Durant, the potential impact on your roster is undeniable.

That’s a good thing, right?

Well . . . not exactly.

One of the options that the Celtics are considering during the free agency period is whether to waive Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko before July 3 which would create additional salary cap space to potentially sign Durant and another near max-salaried player.

But here’s the problem.

Boston could potentially waive Johnson and Jerebko, fail to get Durant or another elite free agent and see the duo gone for nothing in return while they play their way into a big contract toiling in the NBA’s basement with one of the league’s worst teams.

How you ask?

Multiple league sources contacted by CSNNE.com Tuesday night indicated that if the Celtics waive both players, it’s “very likely” that both will be claimed off waivers.

According to a league office official, waiver priority goes to the team with the worst record attempting to claim a player.

And what team had the worst record in the NBA last season?

Yup. The 10-win Philadelphia 76ers.

And what team was right behind them, or ahead depending on how you look at things?

The lowly, 17-win Los Angeles Lakers.

Johnson is due $12 million next season while Jerebko is due to earn $5 million, chump change in this new age of the NBA with the 2016-2017 salary cap expected to be around $94 million.

In addition, both players would join clubs in contract years. Couple that with each being relatively productive and there’s the potential for each player to have a really big season.

Johnson was the Celtics’ top rim-protector last season, in addition to being a solid pick-and-roll defender. He also averaged 7.3 points, 6.4 rebounds with 1.7 assists and 1.1 blocked shots per game. 

And Jerebko shot 39.8 percent from 3-point range last season, and finished up the playoffs in the starting lineup.

The Celtics are well aware of how valuable both players were to Boston’s success last season, and how their production relative to their contracts makes them extremely important to whatever team they play for.

To lose them for what would essentially be a lottery ticket in the Durant sweepstakes, is certainly a gamble that it remains to be seen if the Celtics are willing to take.

Best-case scenario for Boston is to know where they stand with Durant within the first 24 hours of free agency which would then allow them time to make a more informed decision about Johnson and Jerebko’s futures.

As you can imagine, the Celtics are as eager as any team to know what Durant plans to do this summer.

Because the way things are starting to take shape with Boston’s pursuit of the former league MVP, he’s going to have an impact on the Celtics’ roster one way or another.