Celtics

30 teams in 30 days: Booker, Jackson only reasons for optimism in Phoenix

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30 teams in 30 days: Booker, Jackson only reasons for optimism in Phoenix

First, let’s start with the good in Phoenix right now. 

Don’t worry. This won’t be very long. 

Devin Booker.

The 20-year-old scores the ball … a lot. 

OK.

That’s enough positivity for a team that’s positively awful heading into what will likely be an eighth straight season without a trip to the postseason.

Booker’s shot mechanics are textbook perfect, so it’s no surprise that he averaged 22.1 points per game last season.

But he took more than 18 shots per game while shooting less than 43 percent from the field and just 36.3 percent from 3-point range.

He embodies what makes Phoenix a fun team to watch, but one that isn’t built to be successful.

They score a ton of points (they ranked ninth in the league last season), but did so by taking a ton of shots (88.5 per game ranked 2nd in the NBA) while playing turnstile-defense which is evident by their bottom-three status in key defensive categories such as defensive rating (109.3, 28th in the NBA), opponent points off turnovers (18.1, 28th) and opponent fast break points (16.), 29th).

That’s why the Suns did all they could to ensure that Kansas’ Josh Jackson, arguably the best two-way wing player in last June’s NBA draft, was still on the board when it was their turn to pick with the fourth overall selection.

After Boston swapped out the number one pick to Philadelphia for the Sixers’ number three selection and a future first-rounder, Phoenix was concerned that the Celtics might draft the Kansas star at No. 3.

Jackson’s workout for Boston was cancelled at the last minute (the Celtics’ brass was on a plane in route to California to watch him when they got the news from his agent that his workout was being called off), which pissed off Boston’s front office and made it a lot easier for the Celtics to pass on Jackson – just the way Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough, a former assistant GM in Boston, wanted it.

“You guys know my connection to the Boston Celtics and the respect I have for Danny Ainge,” McDonough said during the introductory press conference after they selected Jackson. “But you guys also know how competitive I am, and it is a competition. The process is what it is, and we played by the rules, I guess. I’m just thrilled Josh Jackson is sitting next to me and is a member of the Phoenix Suns.”

Booker’s scoring ability and Jackson’s potential as a two-way standout give the Suns hope that their days of being among the worst teams in the NBA, won’t last much longer.

But considering the holes they have in the frontcourt and the team’s porous defense, this season is looking a lot like it’ll be another playoff-less campaign.

Key free agent/draft/trade additions:  Alan Williams (re-signed).

Key losses: None.

Rookies of note: Josh Jackson.

Expectations: 23-59 (5th in the Pacific Division, 15th in the West)

Celtics won't be broken by Hayward's injury

Celtics won't be broken by Hayward's injury

BOSTON -- These are tough, heart-tugging times for the Boston Celtics, who are less than 24 hours removed from the gruesome left-ankle injury suffered by Gordon Hayward in the first quarter of their 102-99 loss at Cleveland on Tuesday.
 
Hayward is scheduled to have surgery today, and potentially could be out for the entire season.
 
As much as their hearts go out to Hayward and his family, the Celtics know they can’t spend too much time sulking. The nature of this business won’t allow them, evident by the fact the C's step back on the floor tonight to host the Milwaukee Bucks.
 
“You hurt for him,” said coach Brad Stevens. “He’s put in a lot of great work. I thought he had his most comfortable week as far as feeling like he was going to play really well. It’s a tough, tough deal but I guess that’s part of it, the risk of injury. I really feel for him.”
 
But in the same breath, Stevens is a realist.
 
He's been in the league long enough to know that grieving for a lost player won’t help that player in the short-term. Or the team, for that matter.

MORE ON GORDON HAYWARD

 
The best way the Celtics can help Hayward is to continue to compete in his absence.
 
We saw that in last night’s loss to the Cavaliers.
 
When Hayward was carted off the floor, the Celtics were ahead, 12-9. The lead disappeared and was eventually replaced by an 18-point deficit, only for Boston to chip away and eventually go ahead in the fourth quarter.
 
But down the stretch, too much LeBron James and Kevin Love would prove to be too much for the Celtics to overcome.
 
While the loss was disappointing, it gave the team some insight into how to fight on now that one of its main guys will be out for a significant amount of time.
 
We saw Jaylen Brown emerge from being a second-year pro on the rise into a matchup problem who dropped a career-high 25 points on the Cavs.
 
And Jayson Tatum reminded us all that he’s a teenager in age only, finishing with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. The last rookie to tally a double-double for the Celtics in his opening night debut was Larry Bird in 1979, who had an identical 14-point, 10-rebound line.


 
But Bird didn’t have to play most of that game with one of the then top-three Celtics out for all but the game’s first five minutes.
 
When it comes to adversity, NBA players don’t have the luxury to pick which ones to handle and which ones to pass on. They either step up to the challenge or be consumed by it.
 
Under Stevens, Door Number One is the only option under consideration.
 
And since Stevens has been in Boston, his players have risen to the challenge.
 
That doesn’t mean they'll win every game, but they've shown the ability to at least be competitive. And in defeat, they'll refuse to use injury as an excuse.
 
That means younger players like Brown and Tatum will assume a larger role at both ends of the floor if Boston is to make it through these tough times relatively unscathed.
 
Veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Smart will be leaned upon more heavily to be leaders, both on and off the floor.
 
And Stevens, considered by many to be one of the better coaches in the NBA, will once again be tasked with making on-the-fly adjustments with his lineup and rotations under less-than-ideal conditions.
 
Nobody hurts more than Stevens when it comes to Hayward’s injury. Remember, he's known him longer than anyone associated with the Celtics, having recruited Hayward to play for Butler. It was the platform that launched both of their NBA careers.
 
Which is why the way he approaches not having Hayward is the example for all his players to follow.
 
Shortly after the loss to the Cavs, Stevens was asked about moving on while handling the emotional dynamics of losing Hayward for an extended period of time.
 
“We’ll be ready to play [tonight],” Stevens said with a heightened level of seriousness in his voice that spoke to how important it was to him and his players that they came out and performed at their best on Tuesday against Cleveland.

And that's the blueprint required for them going forward if they hope to be successful in handling adversity as it comes their way.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Could Gordon Hayward return this season?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Could Gordon Hayward return this season?

0:41 - Kyle Draper, Brain Scalabrine, Tommy Heinsohn, and Mike Gorman break down the Celtics loss to the Cavs and Gordon Hayward’s injury.

4:22 - Tom Curran, Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their reactions to the gruesome injury to Gordon Hayward and how it impacted the game.

9:39 - Dr. Chris Chihlas joins BST to give his medical opinion on Gordon Hayward and if he thinks there is a chance Hayward could return this season. 

13:40 - Chris Mannix and A. Sherrod Blakely discuss what the feeling was like in the arena when Hayward went down but how there is actually a 'cautious optimism' surrounding the injury.