Celtics

Celtics gain roster flexibility in shedding Guerschon Yabusele

Celtics gain roster flexibility in shedding Guerschon Yabusele

The Guerschon Yabusele era, revered for its throwback velour tracksuits and bow-and-arrow slinging post-3-point celebrations, ended Wednesday when the Boston Celtics waived the 23-year-old big man.

The Celtics are on the hook for his $3.1 million salary and are essentially signaling that they see a greater value in an open roster spot than waiting for Yabusele to become an in-season trade asset.

Boston has some flexibility now to maneuver in advance of training camp. The team can use its open spot to ensure summer league celebrity Tacko Fall stays on their roster, though there’s no rush to do such until rival teams begin inquiring about his availability. The Celtics planned to sign second-round pick Tremont Waters and undrafted Max Strus to their pair of available two-way deals but could also elevate one of those players to Yabusele’s roster spot if they preferred to make Fall a two-way player.

The Celtics might be content to patiently examine potential trade possibilities with a goal of adding more proven talent, the open roster spot allowing the acquisition of an additional player should the team need that spot in an uneven swap.

It felt like Yabusele was playing for his roster spot heading into summer league. Even with the Celtics thin on bigs with the departures of Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Marcus Morris, the team’s burst of offseason signings — Enes Kanter, Daniel Theis, and Vince Poirier — combined with the drafting of Grant Williams hinted that the jury was still very much out on whether Yabusele could be a contributor.

A subpar start to Vegas summer league spelled Yabusele’s demise. Pressing or not, he had a dismal summer debut then dislocated his pinkie finger diving for a loose ball in Ggame 2. Yabusele never showed the confidence and poise of a player in his third summer league and the lack of encouraging signs made the choice to move on a bit easier.

The natural tendency when a team lets go of a disappointing first-round pick is to point at all the players they missed on that were drafted after him. Scream and yell about the likes of Caris LeVert all you’d like, but the Celtics had prioritized players with draft-and-stash potential after nabbing Jaylen Brown at No. 3 in the 2016 draft. That made Yabusele and Ante Zizic that much more attractive at spots Nos. 16 and 23.

What you can lament is how the Celtics at least utilized Zizic as part of the trade package that brought back All-NBA guard Kyrie Irving. The Celtics are moving on from Yabusele and eating his money assuming no one picks him up on waivers (which seems unlikely when he would be a minimum-salary pickup after the fact).

In cutting Yabusele loose now, the Celtics give him a chance to find an opportunity elsewhere in advance of training camp. His locker room presence will be missed as teammates genuinely liked Yabusele's fun-loving nature. But Boston can use his spot to find a far more impactful player (or at least one they can try to develop to be such).

The Celtics are still well below the tax line so they can afford to eat the money without fear of the big-spender penalties. If they elected to stretch Yabusele’s money out over multiple seasons, it might afford them some extra money to negotiate a deal with second-round picks like Carsen Edwards and Waters, who the team could lock up for longer than what they could otherwise on minimum deals.

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Kobe Bryant's death a reminder of the fragility of it all

Kobe Bryant's death a reminder of the fragility of it all

NEW ORLEANS — Gordon Hayward had managed to keep his emotions in check for much of a somber postgame media session on Sunday night.

He admitted he was heartbroken over the news of Kobe Bryant’s death, said he wouldn’t have been bothered if the NBA had canceled all the day’s games, and reflected fondly on the week he spent training with Bryant in Newport Beach in 2016.

“I still have all the e-mails saved,” said Hayward.

But then Hayward, father of three young girls, was asked about explaining the tragedy to his daughters and tears welled.

"I don’t think my daughters probably know what happened,” Hayward said. “But that’s why every time you leave you want to say goodbye. It’s been tough, it’s been tough.”

Blinking back tears, he hustled from a media session in which he had noted, "Being a father, my stomach was hurting. It still is hurting.”

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From the back of the media scrum, I stared at the text from my wife on my phone. My 10-year-old daughter, who I wasn’t even sure knew who Bryant was before today, was hysterical back home. She had questions about what happened to Bryant and his daughter, questions about why it made her so sad, questions about why I couldn’t be home with her on this day, questions about the safety of air travel.

So in a nearly empty Smoothie King Center, we FaceTimed and I did my best to provide answers. I explained how it made me sad, too. How I couldn’t fathom how some of these players did their jobs today. How I wanted nothing more to be home with her, her sister, and mom, at that very moment.

How when I hear Hayward talk about that awful feeling in his stomach, I can relate. I think we’re all dealing with it.

Flying to New Orleans on Sunday morning, there was a palpable energy about Boston’s first game against Zion Williamson. The Celtics are in the midst of a brutal stretch in which they will play 23 games in 42 days. They haven’t had more than one day off between games, all while cramming three back-to-backs this month, and it’s admittedly hard to get excited for every game in this avalanche.

But Sunday was going to be different. Williamson’s return last week made this a must-see matchup. In a dizzying January, this one would stand out. And then the TMZ story took over our Twitter feeds in the early afternoon and everything else seemed insignificant.

Just tweeting out lineup information seemed callous and unnecessary. The NBA elected to eliminate pregame access to allow players to process the day’s events and grieve, and the news was met with little protest from reporters.

As Brad Stevens tried to make sense of the day, just hours removed from the news, I couldn’t help but think about Stevens the father. The 43-year-old who enjoys nothing more than watching his teenage son play basketball or his 10-year-old daughter play soccer.

Stevens undoubtedly had the same knot in his stomach that Hayward did. He had the impossible task of trying to tell a locker room full of Kobe idolizers that they needed to focus on basketball.

“We’re not going to say anything about the game, we’ll just talk about why the game matters,” said Stevens.

The Celtics and Pelicans paid tribute to Bryant as best they could. There was a 24-second moment of silence with chants of “Kobe!” filling the arena when the shot clock on the JumboTron reached zero. Both Boston and New Orleans took 24-second violations on their first possessions as the crowd roared and again chanted his name.

For brief stretches, basketball was an OK diversion, though the energy didn’t come close to what we had envisioned on the flight down. Yes, every Williamson leap brought oohs and aahs but the day’s events lingered over everything.

Celtics players all seemed to put up a social media tribute for Bryant. Jayson Tatum, who worked out with Bryant last summer, had a particularly poignant one calling Bryant his hero and his idol. Tatum politely declined to chat with reporters after the game.

Jaylen Brown told the story after the game about how Tracy McGrady had been his favorite player growing up but, when it came time to ask his mother for tickets to a game, he demanded it be a Bryant game.

"Mentality, his thirst to win, all of that stuff that you saw and felt when he was out there. How he carried himself like a champion in everything he did, and that mindset is still going to remain forever, that Mamba Mentality is going to be around forever,” said Brown.

Added Brown: "He inspired so much and I’m just so sad that I never got to shake his hand. That’s what kills me the most. I was looking forward to that day. I never got to meet Kobe Bryant, never got to play against him, but extremely inspired and honored to just be able to play and be able to celebrate his name.”

Inside the Celtics’ locker room, Marcus Smart sat at his chair long after the game. Asked about Kobe’s passing, Smart said glumly that it still didn’t seem real.

“Still in shock and non-belief about the situation,” said Smart. "I mean, just what Kobe meant to this game of basketball, the things he did to open up passageways for guys, and just the hard work that he’s put in, the dedication that he’s given over the years, his life to the game. This is a tough one. It’s a tough one for anybody that grew up watching him, who’s a fan, who has a loved one, it’s tough.”

In the face of tragedy, we often hear how the basketball court is a sanctuary for many. But it just didn’t feel like it on Sunday.

As Hayward noted, "It was different today. I think being a father too, my heart is just broken, for his wife, his other daughters. I think everyone that’s a father understands that, or a mother, so it was difficult.”

My daughter proved that you didn’t even really need to know Bryant to be impacted by the tragedy. It’s a reminder to everyone to cherish the moments you have and understand the fragility of it all.

Sunday reminded us, yet again, that there are things that just so much bigger than the next big game.

Celtics-Pelicans Takeaways: NBA suffered massive loss in Kobe Bryant's death

Celtics-Pelicans Takeaways: NBA suffered massive loss in Kobe Bryant's death

The Boston Celtics’ 123-108 loss to New Orleans hurt for sure. 

But the Celtics and the entire basketball world were suffering a much greater pain on Sunday following the death of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday. 

Several teams honored Bryant’s memory on Sunday, with other franchises looking to do so going forward. 

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said no player will ever wear No. 24 again for the Mavericks. Bryant wore jersey No. 24 and No. 8 during his 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers.

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As for the Celtics, they found themselves in catch-up mode most of the night and went into the half trailing by 20 points. 

Boston was able to cut the deficit in half by the time the game moved on to the fourth quarter. 

But down the stretch, the Pelicans came up with all the big plays at both ends of the floor to secure what would be Zion Williamson’s first victory in a regular season NBA game. 

The loss snapped Boston’s three-game winning streak.

But the truth is, few Celtics fans - or fans in general - were giving much thought to wins and losses on this night. 

Regardless of who won or lost, Bryant’s death sent shockwaves throughout the basketball community that are still being felt and will continue to be felt for some time.

ZION WILLIAMSON

He still didn’t play major minutes, but that didn’t keep him from making a major impact. Williamson, in his third NBA game, tallied a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds in just 27 minutes. 

The scary part about Williamson's game is that he’s dominating the action in limited minutes while still learning lots of ins and outs of play. 

As he gets older and matures and better understands how to use his vast array of skills to be impactful, he'll become an even bigger nightmare for foes to deal with. 

KEMBA’S IN-GAME BOUNCEBACK

After a rugged start (zero points, 0-for-6 shooting in the first quarter), Walker bounced back with a strong night that put the Celtics within striking distance in the fourth quarter. 

But Walker couldn’t quite muster up enough big shots in order for the Celtics to get the win, despite leading all scorers with 35 points to go with five rebounds and four assists with two steals and a blocked shot.

The slow start by Walker (he wasn’t the only one struggling early on by the way) was among the factors that forced the Celtics to play from behind most of the night. 

INJURY ROULETTE

Jaylen Brown comes back to the lineup, but Jayson Tatum (groin) and Enes Kanter (hip) remain out. 

Sunday’s game was yet another night of injury roulette for the Celtics who continue to play most games short-handed with the missing player being one of their core, go-to guys. 

It makes it extremely difficult for the Celtics to develop continuity, or determine if the roster needs to be addressed prior to the trade deadline.