Celtics

Shaq travels with Celtics; no timetable on return

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Shaq travels with Celtics; no timetable on return

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

HOUSTON Shaquille O'Neal is back.

Sort of.

The 7-foot-1 center, who has missed the last 18 games with an assortment of right leg injuries, is traveling with the Celtics as they kick off a three-game road trip that begins here on Friday.

Despite being with the team, O'Neal is not expected to play against the Rockets.

Prior to Boston's 92-80 win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers talked about O'Neal and the likelihood of him returning to the floor soon.

"Shaq shot on Wednesday and felt pretty good," Rivers said. "I don't know what the time frame is for his return. The fact that he's on the floor means sooner than later, I hope."

The past couple of weeks, O'Neal has hinted that he'll return at some point this month.

"When they say 'go,' I'll go," O'Neal told CSNNE.com. "I'm ready to go when they tell me."

Rivers said he wants to see O'Neal make it through a practice and return afterward with no significant pain before he'll be comfortable putting the 38-year-old center on the floor again.

The Celtics did not practice on Thursday.

And with Friday's game at Houston followed by a Saturday night matchup at New Orleans, the Celtics won't practice on Sunday.

However, the C's have held modified practice sessions with the slew of new faces, and O'Neal may participate in those sessions not only to help with his conditioning, but also to show Rivers that he is in fact ready to start playing again.

The Celtics have been overly cautious in bringing O'Neal back too soon for a variety of reasons.

At the top of that list is a fear that a premature return will lead to another injury, which is a risk the C's aren't willing to take, especially with the playoffs only a month away.

And by trading away Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics understand that their margin for error is slim in terms of having effective big men.

Whenever O'Neal does return he is expected to resume his job as the team's starting center, which should do wonders for that first group.

Prior to his injuries, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were enjoying one of their finest seasons ever shooting the ball.

Both credited their starts with the attention that O'Neal receives when he's on the floor.

"He's so big, and has been so dominant for so many years, you can't ignore him," Pierce told CSNNE.com. "And me and Ray, we don't really need a whole lot of space to get our shots off. Having him gives us even more space, so all we're really doing on a lot of nights, is knocking down open shots."

The man setting up a number of those open shots, Rajon Rondo, could also benefit from O'Neal's return.

Rondo, the league's assists leader, was racking up unprecedented numbers with the Big Shamrock in the middle.

While the Celtics have managed to be successful without him, there's no doubt that the C's are a much tougher team to match up with defensively with O'Neal on the floor.

"When Shaquille gets back, that's going to bolster our second unit also," Pierce said. "If he's in the starting lineup that pushes Nenad Krstic there, or vice versa, they are only going to get better."

Krstic, who came to Boston by way of the Feb. 24 trade with Oklahoma City, has been a surprisingly effective player for the Celtics.

While the centerpiece of the trade with the Thunder, Jeff Green, has been solid, Krstic has been the one in the Celtics starting lineup producing in a way that no one -- including Rivers -- anticipated.

"The way we play, if the guy is open they're going to throw it to him," Rivers said. "If it's a shot, he should try and score. If not, he should move and set a pick. He's getting wide open touches and he's taking advantage of it, and he's doing his job."

In 10 games -- all starts -- Krstic is averaging 12.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Maybe just as important, the C's are 7-3 with Krstic as the starting center.

"Nenad is a consummate professional," his agent, Marc Cornstein, told CSNNE.com. "He studies hard. He recognized that this was a new opportunity for him. He relishes the chance to win a title and be a contributing factor in that."

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

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

Stevens knows hanging banners is ‘what it’s all about’ in Boston

BOSTON – When Brad Stevens took the Boston Celtics job in 2013, he knew what he was getting into.
 
Yes, the Celtics at that time were rebuilding which usually means years and years of slow but steady progress – if you’re lucky.
 
And then after maybe a few years of struggling to win games, a breakout season occurs and just like that – you’re back in the playoffs.

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 But here’s the thing with the Celtics.
 
While most rebuilding teams spend years working their way towards being competitive, Stevens hit the ground running and in just four years, he led the Celtics from being a 25-win team to one that was just three wins away from getting to the NBA Finals.
 
He has the kind of basketball resume that’s impressive on many levels.
 
But Stevens knows good isn’t good enough in this town.
 
“We’re here in Boston,” he said. “Winning is good, but hanging one of those (banners) up is what it’s all about. That’s what makes this such a special franchise.”
 
And for Stevens, a franchise where the expectations for success under his watch have never been greater than they are now.
 
Boston only returns one starter (Al Horford) from last year’s squad which advanced to the Eastern Conference finals after having won an East-best 53 games.
 
However, they added a pair of All-Stars in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving to join Horford. In addition, they drafted Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
 
Boston also has a slimmed-down Marcus Smart (he lost 20 pounds from a year ago) as well Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier who will both benefit from having another NBA season under their belts.
 
And while it’s a small sample size and consists of just two teams (Philadelphia and Charlotte), the Celtics breezed their way through the preseason with a flawless 4-0 record which included at least one game in which they did not play their usual starters which shows how impactful their depth may be this season.
 
That success can only help, especially with a challenging schedule that includes seven of their first 11 games being on the road. 
 
Still, the potential of this Celtics team has never been greater than it is right now since Stevens took over in 2013.
 
And just like the increased expectations of the team, the same can be said for Stevens who is considered one of the better coaches in the NBA.
 
Marcus Morris will begin his first season with the Celtics, but had a lot of respect for Stevens well before he was traded to Boston from Detroit this summer.
 
“You hear a lot of good things about him from other players,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “And once you get in here and start working with him and seeing what he does every day, you see what they’re talking about. He’s a good coach, man.”
 
This team’s success will hinge on how the players perform, but there’s an added element of pressure on Stevens to find the right combinations that will position the Celtics for success.
 
“We have a lot more guys who can do a lot more things on the court, so it will be a little more challenging for us to figure out how to best play with each other, and for Brad to figure out which combinations are the best ones,” Boston’s Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “But we’ll figure it out. Brad’s a really good coach, a really smart coach. And on our team, we have a lot of players who are smart, high basketball I.Q. guys. We’ll be OK.”
 
Basketball smarts aside, the Celtics’ success will hinge heavily on how quickly they can bring a roster with 10 new players up to speed quickly.
 
It’s still early, but players like what they’ve seen from the collective body in terms of team chemistry.
 
“I think that’s the beauty of a lot of guys on the team,” said Gordon Hayward. “It’ll be different each night with some of the different roles we play.”
 
Which is why the Celtics, while lacking experience as a team because of so many new faces, are still seen as capable of winning because they have a number of players who can impact the game in many ways.
 
But as good as they are, it still comes back to Stevens doing a good job of putting them in the best positions to find success individually as well as for the Celtics team.
 
When you look at how time with Stevens jumpstarted Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder’s careers, or how it helped revitalize the career of Evan Turner, it’s obvious that he has the Midas touch when it comes to getting the most out of players.
 
For Boston to have the kind of success they believe they are due for, it’s going to take the contributions of many.
 
And even that might not be enough.
 
But having the path being bumpier than expected is something Stevens embraces.
 
“Here in this league,” he said. “You have to love challenges.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Smart 'not worried' about lack of contract extension with Celtics

Smart 'not worried' about lack of contract extension with Celtics

CLEVELAND – For the third year in a row, a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics is unable to come to terms on a contract extension prior to the deadline.

That means Marcus Smart will become a restricted free agent this summer. Last year it was Kelly Olynyk (now with the Miami Heat) and in 2015 it was Jared Sullinger (now with Shenzhen Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association).

Both the Celtics and Smart's camp intensified their discussions in recent days as the October 16th 6 p.m. EST deadline drew near.

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While there was progress made, there wasn’t enough to get a deal done.

Smart has repeatedly indicated that he wants to re-sign a long-term deal to stay in Boston.

And the market for the 6-foot-4 guard became clearer based on the contracts that some of his fellow rookie class of 2014, were receiving.

Denver’s Gary Harris agreed to a four-year, $84 million contract after establishing himself as one of the better young two-way talents in the NBA last season. And at the other end of the financial spectrum, you would have to look at Phoenix’s T.J. Warren who signed a four-year, $50 million contract.

More than likely, Smart’s deal next summer will fall somewhere between the deals those two players received.

As much as Smart would have preferred to get a deal done heading into the season, it’s not something that he’s going to cause him to lose any sleep.

“Get it done now, or get it done in six months, I’m OK either way,” he told NBC Sports Boston. “I’m not worried about it.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE