Celtics

What's wrong with the Celtics?

965835.jpg

What's wrong with the Celtics?

A week ago today, the Celtics beat the Mavericks in double overtime to improve their record to 12-9 and climb three games over .500 for the first time this season. Although things were far from perfect, with wins in three of their last four games, the Celtics looked ready to leave mediocrity in their dust and officially join the ranks of Eastern Conference contenders.

At the very least, they were improving. They were getting better. There was still a long way to go, but there was a renewed confidence in their ability to get there.

Anyway, heres what I wrote on the morning after that Mavericks game:

The Celtics now head out on the road for a three-game trip at Houston, at San Antonio, at Chicago with some serious momentum-building (or killing) potential. Of course, either way, its not the end of the world. The Celtics could lose all three or go 1-2 and (short of a horrific injury) there wont be any reason to panic. In the same breath, going 3-0 or 2-1 wont necessarily mean a thing. But it will keep this team trending in the right direction, and at this point, what else you can ask for?
So with that being re-said, it would be hypocritical to overreact to last nights loss in Chicago, or to the collective three-game stretch that took all of Boston's momentum and squashed it with the weight of 15 Thomas Hamiltons.

After all, they do this every year, right? The same way that the Patriots defense spends every fall driving people nuts, before turning it around down the stretch, the Celtics are the regular season slackers who wake up when it matters most.

They did it in 2010. They did it in 2012. In both cases, everyone swore that after this theyd never write the Celtics off again. That theyd never lose touch with the relative insignificance of the NBA regular season. But here we are again. Its almost Christmas and the Celtics are struggling. They're still looking for a rhythm, identity andor even the slightest sense of urgency.

AND EVERYONE'S STARTING TO PANIC.

OK, not really. But there's no doubt that the Banner 18 Bandwagon's losing steam. You look at this team right now, even with Avery Bradley, and it's hard to envision them running with the other contenders. Not Miami. Not OKC (yeah, I know). Certainly not the Spurs. The Celtics just aren't good enough. And we're all back in that same place we swore we'd never be again.

In an attempt to justify that, here are three reasons why this year is different from 2010 and 2012. So far, at least:

1. That one big stretch: In 2010, the Celtics started the season 23-5. Last year (even though they started 4-8 and eventually limped into the All Star break), Boston went on a mid-January tear that saw them win nine of 10 games. In both cases, they gave us an extended glimpse into their potential. They temporarily flexed their muscles to the fullest. And Doc always used that as a source of confidence in the face future failures. For the most part, he was always the calming force.

Doc's reaction after last night's game?

"This is not a good team right now."

And he's right. This particular team hasn't proved anything yet, and even though it's early, they've had plenty of opportunities. Their next chance? I'd say Christmas Day in Brooklyn. Between the two earlier losses, the fight at the Garden and the national spotlight, the Celtics can make a serious statement against the Nets.

After that, the rest of us will start believing as soon as Doc does.

2 . Too healthy: In 2010, the Celtics fought through nagging injuries to KG and Pierce, as well as Rasheed Wallace's beer belly. In 2012, they lost Jeff Green right off the bat, had Pierce start late and then watched the entire roster slowly disappear.

So far this year, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Jason Terry, Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee have missed a combined ONE GAME due to injury.

One game.

Of course, the absence of Avery Bradley is a big one. Over the last few months, the Bradley narrative has gone from forgotten to underrated to overrated to so-overrated-that-I-think-he's-back-to-being-underrated. Does that sound right? Either way, I'm a huge Bradley guy. I think a lot of people are seriously underestimating his value to this team what his presence does for Rondo, how much his athleticism and cutting ability helps the offense, just how ridiculously dominant he is on the defensive end. I mean, in so many ways, Bradley's the Celtics best defensive player. How will his return to the starting line-up NOT make the C's better? That's exactly what happened last year. Why is this time different?

Anyway, my point is that even as important as Bradley is, the Celtics have been insanely, almost unbelievably fortunate on the injury front. And they don't have much to show for it.

3. Defense: The Celtics have given up 100 or more points in 11 of their first 24 games. Last season? That happened only nine times over the course of 66 games.

And while last year is skewed by the clunkiness of the post-Lockout regular season, and this year will improve with the return of Bradley, there's no question that this defense is still a work in progress. That it's not what it used to be.

Pierce has lost a step. KG's lost a step (even if he's still unbelievably effective). Rondo plays less defense than any perennial All-Defense guy in NBA history. Jason Terry's never been known for his defense. Neither has Chris Wilcox. Jeff Green still looks lost within the Celtics scheme, like he's out there deep in conversation with himself.

Courtney Lee is a solid, but he's probably Boston's best chance of acquiring a big man, and that's their BIGGEST NEED OF ALL, and . . . ah crap. I promised not to overreact. So let's wrap it up.

For now let's just keep in mind that even though they're in a bad place right now, the Celtics are still capable of doing great things. It sounds crazy to say that this morning, after three straight ugly losses and a generally depressing two months, but we've all been here before. We all know better than to assume too much before Christmas or at any point before April. Instead, all you can do is just hope Avery comes back without a hitch. That Rondo stays motivated. That everyone stays healthy. That Doc changes his tune. That the conversation in Green's head finally comes to an end. And finally, just remember that they're still only 12-12. It still could be a lot worse.

For instance, imagine if they were 12-12 heading into that Dallas game?

12-12 on 12-12-12?!

I feel like we all dodged a bullet.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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.

MORE:

 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.

MORE:

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