Celtics

Celtics' Irving expected to officially become free agent tonight

Celtics' Irving expected to officially become free agent tonight

BOSTON -- Barring an unexpected change of heart that no one - including the Boston Celtics - anticipate, Kyrie Irving will officially become an unrestricted free agent at midnight by not opting into the final year of the five-year, $94.3 million deal he signed in 2015 while in Cleveland.

By hitting free agency, the six-time All-Star is bypassing the $21.3 million he would have been due for the 2019-2020 season, to instead sign a longer deal that could pay him significantly more regardless of whether he re-signed with Boston or plays elsewhere.

It became clear months ago that Irving had every intention of becoming a free agent this summer, when he explained why not signing a four-year, $101 million extension didn’t make any sense.

But who Irving signs with, remains a mystery.

On October 4, Irving indicated he wanted to re-sign with the Celtics this summer which was well received by Celtics fans and ownership.

But a few months later, “Ask me July 1” was his response when asked about a return to Boston.

Despite the opt-out, Irving still hasn't ruled out Boston as a destination, according to a Boston Herald report late Wednesday. 

Still, the uncertainty is why a handful of teams such as the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets made sure they created enough salary cap space to sign Irving to a four-year, $141 million max deal as well as leave enough room for a second, max-salaried player to join him.

Most league sources have for months talked about Irving taking his talents away from Boston this offseason, with the plan being to team up with at least one other perennial superstar - New Orleans’ Anthony Davis or Golden State’s Kevin Durant being the two most talked about. Irving reportedly parted ways with his longtime agent and joined Roc Nation Sports, the agency that represents Durant.

But this offseason has brought about unexpected developments that make the chances of Irving leaving Boston to play with either Davis or Durant, far more complicated.

Davis’ current team, the New Orleans Pelicans, won the NBA draft lottery and will select Duke phenom Zion Williamson which makes it more daunting for any of the teams pursuing Davis who were planning to use having the top overall pick (New York Knicks; yup, I’m talking about you) as a trade chip to get a Davis deal done.

And when New Orleans’ recently hired president of basketball operations David Griffin reportedly told teams what he’s looking for in a Davis deal - a proven All-Star, a young player with All-Star potential, and a pair of first-round picks - that shrunk the number of potential teams significantly which is why there’s more talk that a third team would have to be involved.

As for Durant, his Achilles injury has the potential to sideline him for most if not all of next season.

When he does return, there’s no telling how much of an impact the injury will have on his overall game.

Still, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Boston on Wednesday that regardless of the diagnosis and timetable for his injury, there will still be teams besides Golden State willing to offer the future Hall of Famer a multi-year, max contract.

But the injury certainly makes it more of a jump ball as to whether he will indeed hit free agency or pick up the $31.5 million option he has for the 2019-2020 season and spend it rehabbing with the Warriors.

However, let’s for a minute buy into the narrative that regardless of his health, Durant is out of the Bay after this season.

And let’s keep with the popular theory that he takes his talents to New York and signs with the Knicks.

Knowing he would be out for most if not all of this upcoming season with no assurances he would be the same dominant player we have seen for years, would Irving be willing to take that chance?

Because if Durant is out, would Irving be in a better situation basketball-wise with that team than the one he is in now?

And if you’re the other New York team in the mix for Irving - Brooklyn -  are you willing to sign Irving and Durant knowing one will be out for a significant period of time?

Irving hitting the free agency market, that was a no-brainer.

But the next move he makes?

Not so much.

Anthony Davis' agent sends C's warning amid trade rumors>>>

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Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

Kemba Walker stays ready, even in blowouts, when it matters for the Celtics

BOSTON -- Kemba Walker had every reason to think that his night was over going into the fourth quarter. 

Boston had a commanding lead against a Cleveland Cavaliers squad that’s considered one of the worst teams in the NBA. 

But as the game got a little too close for head coach Brad Stevens’ comfort, he turned to Walker.

And Walker responded with a barrage of 3-pointers that left the Cavs as nothing more than collateral damage in the wake of Boston’s 110-88 win. 

Walker finished with a game-high 22 points which included a trio of 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that put the Cavs (5-18) away for good. 

Boston led by as many as 29 points in the second half, only to see that lead down to as little as 14 points in the fourth with seven minutes to play. 

That’s when he called on Walker who came up with one big shot after another. 

And the way Walker responded in the fourth quarter when called upon by Stevens was a reminder of just how important it has become for the best players to be locked in from the opening tip-off to the final horn - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Said Stevens: “I just told the team afterwards, ‘If you want to be special then model after Kemba because Kemba sits over there thinks his night’s done, gets put back into the game, drills three 3’s and ends it.

Stevens added, “Special is not for everybody.”

Having spent his first eight seasons with the Charlotte Hornets, Walker knows exactly what the Cavs were thinking as they steadily chipped away at Boston’s lead.

Understanding the mindset of a team and players on the comeback trail has helped Walker appreciate and embrace the need to always stay on top of his game and ready to go - even when victory seems all but a given. 

Walker understands how a player can lose focus on the game and become relaxed down the stretch in what appears to be a blowout in the making. 

“It’s possible,” Walker says before adding, “But at the end of the day you have to stay engaged through the whole game. You just never know. In this league, 20-point leads go so fast. Teams can score in bunches really fast. You have to stay engaged.”

Which is exactly what he did. 

That not only helped Boston get the victory on Monday, but also served as a great example for the team’s younger players on how to handle themselves when things get sidetracked after going just the way they want them to for most of the game. 

“He set a great example, what he’s done in this league for a very long time,” Tatum said. “That’s why he’s one of the best players in the league.”

And a leader on this team. 

“As one of the leaders I feel I have to stay engaged,” Walker said. “Just like … you never know what to expect.  This league, guys can score so fast and easy. You just never know when teams will come back. It can get a little nerve-racking and Brad felt he had to put me back in. I knew once I got in there, I had to be more aggressive, look for my shot a little more and that’s what I did.”

Blakely's Takeaways: C's home dominance keying hot start>>>

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Jaylen Brown on Grant Williams' 3-point woes: 'We were calling him Ben Simmons'

Jaylen Brown on Grant Williams' 3-point woes: 'We were calling him Ben Simmons'

After an 0-for-25 streak to begin his NBA career, Grant Williams finally hit his first 3-pointer on Monday night.

The Boston Celtics rookie has taken his struggles in stride and laughed off nicknames given to him by his teammates throughout the cold spell. The funniest nickname of all, though, was revealed by Jaylen Brown after Monday's win over the Cavaliers.

Blakely's Takeaways: C's home dominance keying hot start

"Yeah, we were calling him Ben Simmons," Brown said.

Hilarious.

Simmons' 3-point shooting woes are well-documented. The Philadelphia 76ers star has only attempted 21 3s in his three-year career and made two of them (2-for-4 this season). So comparing Williams to him definitely was a low blow, but maybe that's the motivation the 21-year-old needed to drain the first of his career and get on a hot streak.

The C's will take on the 76ers at TD Garden on Thursday, so all eyes are sure to be on both Williams and Simmons whenever the young guns are open behind the 3-point line.

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Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pacers, which tips off Wednesday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.