Celtics

O'Connor: Zizic would go top-10 in 2017 draft

O'Connor: Zizic would go top-10 in 2017 draft

It seems the Celtics can throw yet another piece onto their treasure trove of assets. 

The Celtics stashed two of their first-round picks from the 2016 draft overseas and in the process have seen 23rd overall pick Ante Zizic establish himself as a very promising NBA prospect. 

The Croatian center, currently playing in the Turkish League, has boosted his stock with a strong season in what’s expected to be his last before joining the Celtics. Appearing on Toucher and Rich Thursday morning, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor said that Zizic has improved to the point that he would be a top-10 pick in the 2017 draft. “He looks really good,” O’Connor said. “I liked him last year when I first watched him. I thought, ‘Good energy big man. He’ll have a solid career,’ but then the more you watch him, the more you see. 

“This year, he’s really taken a step forward. All his strengths look better. All the things he was already good at like screening, rebounding and rim-protection, he looks better. But he’s also starting to flash a little bit of a mid-range jumper, and he’s never had bad mechanics, but now that shot’s starting to fall. So maybe he can be more than that energy big man. Maybe he’s a little bit more dynamic than that. 

“If I’m the Celtics, I value him as you’re getting a top-10 pick this yea. I think he’d go around nine or 10 in this draft.” 

NBA rumors: Celtics, Mavs at 'front of the line' trying to lure Kemba Walker

NBA rumors: Celtics, Mavs at 'front of the line' trying to lure Kemba Walker

The Boston Celtics' pursuit of All-Star point guard Kemba Walker in NBA free agency is serious, according to reports Tuesday.

The New York Times' Marc Stein reported Tuesday the Celtics were emerging as a "stealth suitor" for the Charlotte Hornets guard, who will be an unrestricted free agent beginning June 30. Stein added more reporting regarding the Celtics and Walker in another tweet later Tuesday afternoon.

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer termed the Celtics' interest in Walker as "serious."

The Celtics will be in need of a top-tier point guard if Kyrie Irving leaves Boston in free agency, and recent reports (as well as the latest betting odds) indicate the Brooklyn Nets are the most likely destination for him. Boston could always re-sign restricted free agent Terry Rozier, but Walker is a clear upgrade over the Celtics' backup point guard.

Walker was an All-Star starter last season (his first ASG appearance) and averaged a career-high 25.6 points in 82 games for the Hornets. He is eligible for a super-max contract extension with the Hornets that would be worth more than $200 million over five seasons. That's a lot of money, but the Hornets are nowhere near a legitimate NBA title contender, so Charlotte would not be the best option for him if winning is very important.

The Mavericks reportedly are a contender to sign Celtics forward Al Horford, who's also an unrestricted free agent. Luka Doncic, the newly crowned 2018-19 Rookie of the Year Award winner, handled the ball a lot for the Mavs last season, but he's not a true point guard. A Walker-Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis trio for the Mavericks could help them compete in what should be a wide open Western Conference title race next season as a result of the Golden State Warriors being decimated by injuries.

Click here for the top 35 NBA free agents available this offseason>>>

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Boston-bleeding Marcus Smart ready for whatever's next for Celtics

Boston-bleeding Marcus Smart ready for whatever's next for Celtics

BOSTON — Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart said he won’t begrudge Kyrie Irving and Al Horford if they elect to depart this summer but he was staunch in suggesting that Boston remains a destination for championship-seeking players.

Smart, decked out in a Celtics-green cobra shirt and a black bandana, met with reporters Tuesday during a break in his annual youth camp on the campus of Brandeis University and went to bat for the city when asked about the notion that players might not want to come here.

"I think it kind of speaks for itself. We’ve got the Patriots, we’ve got the Bruins, we’ve got the Red Sox, we’ve got the Celtics. You name me another city that’s got four teams in different categories like that that’s all known for winning championships,” said Smart. "It gets no better than that. 

"I don’t know who is saying that, or why they’re saying it, who knows? But, for me, being here and experiencing it for myself, Boston is definitely a place you want to be, especially if you’re trying to compete for a championship.”

Smart said he’s talked with Irving since the end of the season but steered clear of basketball topics. He admitted Irving’s potential departure, and that of Horford, did catch him by surprise a bit, though he’s become numb to change during his time in the NBA. Smart is focused on what he can do to get Boston back on track after a maddening year.

"I see my role as bigger than ever now,” said Smart, who started alongside Irving much of last season but could slide into the first-unit point guard role depending on how Boston’s offseason plays out. "Just because, once again, being that longest-tenured Celtic, going into my sixth season and really understanding [coach] Brad [Stevens] and this organization, and the system that he likes to run, and just, that’s who I am. 

"And I’ve got to be that times 10 now, because we are going through some things. We did have a bad year. We’ve just got to keep everybody on the same track.”

Smart said he’s bullish on Boston’s outlook moving forward.

"I'm excited. We're excited. As competitors, you have a season like we did last year and it leaves a funny taste in your mouth,” said Smart. "We use that as our motivation and to keep going. We're very excited. Whatever team or whatever people or whoever is on the board or whoever is on this roster with us, we're excited to have them to go out there and fight.”

Smart praised Boston’s quartet of recent draftees, which included a pair of backup point guards in Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters. He said he’s unlikely to meddle in free agency, letting Danny Ainge and his staff handle that, but offered to make a pitch if needed.

Reflecting on last season, Smart hinted that the tensions reported in Boston’s locker room might not have been as catastrophic as suggested. Right after the season, Smart went to bat for Irving when it was suggested he caused much of Boston's issues this season.

"Even in the regular season, it wasn't a disconnect,” said Smart. "It was just a lot of people kind of got in and -- it was like a telephone game. You tell one person this and by the time it gets back to you, the whole narrative had changed. That's kind of how it goes. Like I said, you can only control what you can control. You focus on what you can focus on. As a player, you focus on getting into the gym, getting yourself better and you let the front office handle the front office stuff and you do what it is you need to do for the team."

Still, Smart sounds eager to wipe the slate clean and start a new season.

"Hey, the thing is, the Raptors just won the championship, right? But they’ve got to start back over from the beginning just like we do,” said Smart. "So we all start back over at the starting line, we all start at zero, and we all get a chance to do it. So everybody’s starting over, regardless if they have the same team or not, they’ve all got to start from the beginning. 

"That’s how we take it. We take it as we come in, and we have an opportunity to do something special, and we get another chance to do it.”

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