Celtics one of several teams to vie for Dwight Howard

Celtics one of several teams to vie for Dwight Howard

BOSTON – Dwight Howard has reportedly begun the buyout process with the Brooklyn Nets, seeking to become a free agent this summer and in doing so, latch on with a title contender.

Several teams will vie for his services, including the Boston Celtics.

Remember, Howard was considered a “Plan B” option for Boston a couple years ago if the Celtics failed to land their top choice Al Horford who as it turned out, was replaced in Atlanta by Howard.

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"I want to be in a situation where I have an opportunity to help a team win," Howard told ESPN’s Chris Haynes. "That's my only goal. All I need is a real chance and a clean slate where it's not people talking about my past."

Boston enters this summer looking to bolster its defensive presence in the middle with Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe both unrestricted free agents.

Monroe, who was acquired after he agreed to a buyout with the Phoenix Suns, is expected to play elsewhere next season.

But Baynes, an integral defensive stalwart for Boston this past season, is someone the Celtics would like to re-sign.

However, his emergence defensively this past season might make him too pricey for the Celtics.

And while it remains to be seen what Howard will be looking for salary-wise from Boston, a chance to play for a title contender might be enticing enough for him to come to terms on a salary that the Celtics feel comfortable with going forward.

The addition of the 32-year-old Howard would provide Boston with one of the better defensive centers over the past decade, in addition to an upgrade scoring-wise at the position.

Last season in Charlotte, Howard averaged a double-double of 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds per game which placed him prominently in the all-star discussion in February.

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The top overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft by Orlando, Howard has been one of the league’s most decorated players since his arrival.

Howard is an eight-time all-star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, in addition to leading the NBA in rebounds five times and blocked shots twice along with several all-NBA selections. 

His resume is impressive.

But throughout his career, Howard has often been cast as a player who doesn’t care enough about winning, isn’t a great leader and someone who’s more harmful than helpful to a locker room. 

Those perceptions will certainly factor into whatever team decides to pursue him.

But to Howard’s credit, he’ll do what he can to show what folks have heard and what those around him say about him, are two completely different narratives.

Kent Bazemore is a former teammate of Howard’s in Atlanta.

"(Dwight's) gotten so much of a bad rap, but he's a great teammate," Bazemore told ESPN. "For such a long season, his energy and his laughing helps you get through. And if you're going through a tough stretch personally, it's good to have that type of person around. Before he signed in Atlanta, there was all this bad stuff said about him. ... I found that he has a good heart and he works hard every day to turn that perception around."

If Howard joined the Celtics, he would already have a close friend on the team in Jaylen Brown.

Both are from Georgia and have shared the same trainer in the past.

When asked about Howard earlier this season, Brown said that Howard has been a mentor of sorts for him, advising him on the things to do and not do early on in your pro career.

Howard will be the first to acknowledge he has made some bad decisions in his career, which is why he has made a point when given the opportunity to pass on the lessons he learned so that others like Brown won’t repeat those same mistakes.

“When you’re talking to a guy trying to be in the NBA and stuff like that, you just always want to be real,” Howard told NBC Sports Boston. “For us growing up, we didn’t see the stuff that players went through. I didn’t know what to expect. I only saw the TV, what was on TV, the cars, the houses, that stuff. Once I got in, it’s a different side. That’s the side I wanted to talk to him (Brown) about, just try to … I don’t want him to make any of the mistakes I made as far as away from the game. On the court, he’s going to handle himself. But away from the game, just so he doesn’t make those little mistakes that could cost you in the end.”

Now  Howard has accomplished just about every individual honor a player can throughout the course of what has been on paper at least, a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

But as his career nears an end, Howard has that thirst to win at the highest levels, something that has often been questioned about him in the past.

Can he get that thirst quenched in Boston?

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Danny Ainge has established a good track record of getting the best player available

Danny Ainge has established a good track record of getting the best player available

The last couple of years have answered the question of whether Danny Ainge can draft. When making his first choice in 2016 and 2017, he was higher on his guy than most. In both cases, he was right. 

No major publication considered Jayson Tatum the best player last year; Ainge would have taken him No. 1 but was able to trade down because the Sixers were trading up for Markelle Fultz and the Lakers for some reason wanted to sign up for the Lonzo Ball life.

Jaylen Brown at No. 3 in 2016? You remember the boos, and you can understand why they happened. Fans were confused. If they'd been checking nbadraft.net like we all did, they expected him to be the ninth pick. 

Yet in both cases, Ainge and Co. were clearly right. Holding a high pick with no consensus option awaiting him, they wound up with the best player available. 

What's more impressive is that they've also done it later in the draft, and the further down the board you go to make your first pick, the easier it is to take a guy who won't amount to anything, let alone prove to be the best possible selection. 

That's what the Celtics did three years ago with Terry Rozier at No. 16. At the time, Bleacher Report Senior NBA writer Howard Beck deemed that selection the "biggest reach" of the draft; at the very least, the Celtics were heavily criticized for taking him where they did.

Go look at that draft and the players who were selected after Rozier. Would you rather any of those guys over Rozier? Maybe Josh Richardson? Maybe? Probably not, though? 

Now, here's where we need to note that the 2015 draft, for as good as it looks now for the Celtics, could have greatly derailed what's been an excellent rebuild. As the legend goes, Ainge intended to trade a whole lot to get from No. 16 to No. 9 in order to select Justise Winslow, who just had a worse third NBA season than Rozier. 

How badly did Ainge want to move up? According to ESPN's Chris Forsberg that summer, Ainge offered Charlotte "as many as six draft picks, including four potential first-round selections," only to have the deal rejected. Keep in mind that the Celtics still had three Brooklyn picks (which would turn into Brown, Tatum and Kyrie Irving) at that point. 

At any rate, the basketball gods saved Ainge from himself and he followed it up by making the right selection. The latter has happened three straight years now. 

Before that, the Celtics looked more human at the draft. Using 2010 as the cutoff (they didn't have a first-round pick in 2009, so 2010 seemed like a good place to keep it semi-recent), the Celtics have had their fair share of not-quite-misses-but-not-quite-home-runs. The Marcus Smart pick (No. 6 overall in 2014) could have been better spent on Dario Saric. Jared Sullinger (21st overall in 2012) could have instead been Draymond Green (No. 35). Three picks after the Celtics took JaJuan Johnson at 27 (via New Jersey), the Bulls took Jimmy Butler.

Of course, there's no more devastating "what if?" to play than looking back at 2013, when the Celtics got Kelly Olynyk at No. 13 (via Dallas), only to later learn they'd passed on the best player in that draft (Giannis Antetokounmpo). 

Yet that three-year run on not getting the best player has been sandwiched by stronger drafting. In 2010, the C's' selection over Avery Bradley at No. 19 proved to be the best pick they could have made. 

The Celtics are slotted to pick at No. 27 Thursday, a spot that promises very little, though they've got more than enough ammunition to move up. Even if they get whoever proves to be the best NBA player of the guys on the board, there's no promise that said player will have much of an NBA career. Their last three top picks have shown that if they do jump up, they'll get the right guy. 

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Celtics were first to show "high level of interest" in Donte DiVincenzo

Celtics were first to show "high level of interest" in Donte DiVincenzo

In an interview with the Boston Globe ahead of Thursday's 2018 NBA Draft, Villanova University coach Jay Wright said the Boston Celtics were the first team to show a "high level of interest," in Donte DiVincenzo. 

"I think Danny Ainge might have been the first guy I talked to about Donte,” he said. “They saw something in him really early. They liked his competitiveness and his ability to shoot the ball."

Wright went along to explain that the Celtics questioned DiVincenzo's defensive ability, but that they really liked him nonetheless. Boston owns the 27th pick in the NBA Draft this Thursday, and could consider taking the former Wildcat if he is available. 

The Celtics brought DiVincenzo in for a pre-draft workout early in the draft process, while Ainge reportedly took him out to lunch after it had concluded

DiVincenzo averaged 13.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in his redshirt-sophomore season. He shot 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three point range, leading the Wildcats to their second NCAA National Championship in three years. 

It is possible the Celtics won't be able to select DiVincenzo with the 27th pick with the way his draft stock has risen, but Ainge has plenty of future draft picks to consider trading up if he has deemed DiVincenzo "his guy."

The 2018 NBA is scheduled to begin on June 21st at 7 p.m. EST. 

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