Celtics

Ainge: Talk with Thomas 'one of the most difficult conversations I ever had'

Ainge: Talk with Thomas 'one of the most difficult conversations I ever had'

BOSTON – In Danny Ainge’s line of work, difficult conversations with players are a given.

But the talk Ainge had to have with Isaiah Thomas about being traded to Cleveland, stands out from all the rest.

“It was one of the most difficult conversations I ever had,” Ainge told CSN following the introductory press conference for Irving and Gordon Hayward on Friday. “I.T., everybody in Boston is grateful for I.T. and all that he’s done.”

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The Celtics have put together a Big Three that consists of Al Horford, Gordon Hayward and Irving with Thomas playing a pivotal role in all three being in Celtics uniforms today.

Thomas was instrumental in recruiting Horford and Hayward to sign with Boston. And because of his play with the Celtics, the Cavaliers agreed to trade Irving for a package that included Thomas, a two-time All-Star who led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring (28.9 points per game) last season.

“We wouldn’t be here today with Kyrie and Gordon and Al Horford, if I.T. didn’t exist,” Ainge said. “If I.T. hadn’t helped us get back on the map. . . we’re probably not sitting here having this press conference. Gordon Hayward probably isn’t impressed with the team. Horford and everything else.”

When Thomas arrived, the Celtics were in the second year of their rebuild after trading away franchise cornerstones Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on draft night in 2013. 

Thomas helped the Celtics get to the postseason in his first year where they were swept by Irving and the Cavs in the first round. 

The following year, the Celtics were eliminated in the first round once again, only this time it was at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks with the series lasting six games. 

This past season, Boston finished with the best record in the East and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals where they were knocked off by Cleveland in five games. 

Hayward acknowledged not having Thomas around is unusual considering he was among the key Celtics players to try and recruit him to Boston, Hayward knows all too well that in the NBA the only thing you can count on happening sooner or later, is change.

“Sometimes these things, change, it happens,” Hayward said in an exclusive interview with CSN. “I learned that in Utah my rookie year.”

Legendary Jazz coach Jerry Sloan unexpectedly resigned as head coach which was soon followed by All-Star point guard Deron Williams being traded.

“Those things happen,” said Hayward who added, “then you’re presented with Kyrie Irving coming to Boston to play with him, another tremendous player. I couldn’t be more excited.”

Celtics notebook: In All-Star Game, LeBron James asserts his command

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Celtics notebook: In All-Star Game, LeBron James asserts his command

LOS ANGELES – With the All-Star Game a thing of the past now, those who participated in the game will get a couple days of rest before the NBA grind of a season starts back up.

Meanwhile, their teammates and the rest of the league will return after nearly a week without games, seemingly enough time to recharge and re-focus for the remainder of the season.

All-Stars like Stephen Curry will try to maximize the next couple days which will serve as their all-star break.

“I think that’s kind of a double-edged sword of being an All-Star,” Curry said. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, an amazing honor, but if you’re thinking about it in the perspective of getting rest and really taking advantage of the full slate of All-Star break, it doesn’t really start for us until (after Sunday’s game).”

But it’s not just getting a chance to recharge physically, Curry said. 

“That’s a big part of it too,” Curry said. “Not even just your body, but get a refresh mentally to know that when you get back to practice on Wednesday that that’s when the real grind starts.” 

A 'HORFORD-LIKE' ALL-STAR GAME

It wasn’t a big shot or a dunk or any other offensive play that decided the outcome in Team LeBron’s 148-145 all-star game win over Team Steph.

On the final play, it was a game decided by the little things such as a last-second double team or a clutch rebound or a “hockey assist,” the kind of plays that we often see made by Al Horford which made Sunday’s all-star game on some levels, have a Horford-like feel.

“Guys were looking for each other. It was good to see,” said Horford, playing in his fifth all-star game. “It was good basketball. You obviously have your one-on-one plays. But probably for the first time I’ve played in this game, I felt it was more of a game. So that was fun to see.”

OH SO CLOSE . . . 

If Team Steph had held on for the win over Team LeBron, there was a very good chance that Compton, Calif. native and USC alum DeMar DeRozan would have been the game’s MVP.

When told of this, DeRozan replied, “You just want to break my heart some more, huh?”

He added, “Hey, just being out there was a blessing, man, honestly. Just being able to be part of that. I’m just happy to be out there competing with them guys.”

However, being so close to home did make for a special weekend.

“I mean, it was a dream come true,” said DeRozan who had 21 points and six rebounds. “This is one of the moments that I’m going to forever live with. Being able to be a part of this, to come from where I come from and come out here and be a starter for an All-Star game in my hometown, it definitely was a dream come true.”

JAMES TAKES PRIDE IN BODY, NOT PROVING HE'S STILL A GREAT PLAYER TO YOUNGSTERS

LeBron James remains a commanding figure in the NBA, showing no signs of slowing up even at a time when most players his age are slowing down.

And while an influx of young talent has certainly come into the league and made their mark, there’s no getting around the fact that James can still dominate games on several levels.

“What I take pride in is taking care of my body,” said James, who is 33 years old. “Taking care of my body. Making sure I’m available every night and continue to get better and better. I don’t really take it as a young guy, okay, I need to show him I’m still able to do this. I need to continue to show myself, you know, because every night I step on the floor I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level. I feel great.”

RAPTORS' CASEY: COACHING VS. LOWRY, DeROZAN 'WAS TOUGH'

Dwane Casey was happy to be the head coach of his first all-star game, but there was a definite downside to it: coaching against his best players, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

With the new format, Casey was coaching Team LeBron while DeRozan and Lowry played for Team Steph.

“That was tough, that was tough,” Casey said. “You look out there and you’re yelling at guys to get up on them, to push them, and to play DeMar’s left-hand or right-hand, and push him left. All those things you fight as a coach.

Casey added, “Those are the things that you feel bad about, but, again, those two have carried us and pushed us, and taken us in the conversation of being one of the top teams in the league. I love both of them as sons, and I’m proud of them for where they came from, and they’ve made themselves into multi-time all-stars.”

For DeRozan, this was his third straight all-star selection and fourth overall, while Lowry made his fourth straight all-star appearance.

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New All-Star format a success, but one tweak could make it even better

New All-Star format a success, but one tweak could make it even better

LOS ANGELES – Both players and coaches involved with Sunday’s All-Star game like the new format, but will surely look to tweak a couple of things.

Among the more likely changes will be the process involved in not just selecting the team, but making the selections known to the public. 

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan has an idea, one that’s shared by some players, media and maybe most important, NBA fans. 

“Televise it,” DeRozan said. “Give the people what they want to see. I think everybody wants to see it. At the end of the day every single person that gets picked, you are an All-Star, so it doesn’t matter where you really go, so I think televise it.”

MORE - Irving, Horford give seal of approval to All-Star changes

The new format involved their being two captains – LeBron James and Stephen Curry – who picked their respective teams from the 22 remaining All-Stars regardless of conference affiliation. 

The NBA also increased the amount of money given to each player on the winning team - $100,000 – while the losing team members each received $25,000.

Regardless of what the changes may be going forward, it’s clear that players see this new format as the blueprint for how All-Star games should be structured going forward.

“This kind of changed the culture of it a lot, for the better,” said Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler. “It’s only going to get more and more competitive because guys see how it was for the last five minutes of that game. Everybody wants to compete.”

Here are five takeaways from the 67th NBA All-Star game with Team LeBron defeating Team Steph 148-145. 

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Kyrie Irving

There were others who scored more, had more assists and certainly grabbed more rebounds than Kyrie Irving. But one of the more telling developments in the game was how Irving returned to the game in the fourth down 10 points, and didn’t leave until Team LeBron emerged with the win seven minutes and 16 seconds later. Even in an All-Star setting, Irving’s impact on winning stands out. Along with his 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, Team LeBron was a +16 when Irving was on the floor – tops among all All-Star starters. 

 

LeBron James

The calendar says he’s 33 years old. But other than that, there’s nothing about LeBron James that even remotely looks like his time as the best player on the planet will end anytime soon. In a game full of stars on the rise as well as established stalwarts such as himself, James totally crushed it Sunday night in walking away with his third All-Star game MVP trophy after a double-double of 29 points and 10 rebounds to go with eight assists.  

 

DeMar DeRozan

We know him as the king of the mid-range game. But as we saw on Sunday, DeRozan has a lot more offensive versatility that he’s capable of unleashing. He’s arguably the biggest reason why Toronto has the best record in the East right now. Playing for Team Steph, DeRozan tallied 21 points attacking the rim off the dribble and of course, knocking down mid-range jumpers

 

Jimmy Butler

A bit under the weather, Butler never set foot on the court to play. The league’s leader in minutes played this season (37.3), Butler wasn’t expected to play a ton of minutes anyway. Still, it would have been nice to see him out there even if it was for a minute or two. He’s one of the league’s best two-way players whose play has been instrumental to the Timberwolves looking very much like a playoff team this season. “I have to rest,” Butler said. “I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

 

Joel Embiid

The ring leader of Philadelphia’s “Trust the Process” movement, Joel Embiid, was impressive in his All-Star debut. For Embiid, it’s one thing to believe you are one of the NBA’s best players. It’s an entirely different matter to step on the floor with the game’s best talent and validate yourself as one of the game’s best players.  “During the season, I thought I was a top-five or top-10 player in the league,” said Embiid who had 19 points and eight rebounds. “And before the game I wanted confirmation of it. I felt like I could hang with them.”

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