Celtics

Celtics-Magic preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

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Celtics-Magic preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

BOSTON – When Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about what he saw in the team’s newest (10-day) addition Jarell Eddie, his response was, “shooting  . . .  shooting.”

Indeed, shot-making has been the one area of play that has been problematic for the Celtics most of this season.

Boston comes into today’s game against Orlando (13-32) shooting just 44.8 percent from the field which ranks 25th in the NBA.

In the month of January, Boston has been even worse, connecting on just 41.8 percent of their shots which ranks 29th in the league this month.

While the addition of Eddie had more to do with the recent flu bug that has made the rounds throughout the Celtics lineup and the uncertainty a couple days ago surrounding Kyrie Irving’s sore left shoulder (it has improved and he’s expected to play today), adding Eddie speaks to a greater problem -- guys making shots -- that has to be addressed in some capacity sooner or later.

Boston always has the option to pursue a trade. They also have an $8.4 million disabled player exception they can use on free agent players, with the most likely pool of talent that they will choose from consisting of players who would have been bought out by their current teams.

Or there’s raiding the G-League for talent, which is what they did in signing Eddie to a 10-day contract.

Regardless, there’s a growing sense that this team has to add more scoring punch to the mix or at a minimum, improve the overall offensive execution of the roster as it stands now.

“We have to do our stuff better,” Stevens said. “The start of the season it was predictable, losing Gordon (Hayward who suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season-opener) and having to adjust. The middle portion of games we were pretty darn good. And then I thought we were reasonable in London, reasonable against New Orleans. But the other three of the last five games, we weren’t very good.”

Boston’s offense should get a boost from Irving’s return to the lineup after missing Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia with a sore left shoulder.

And while it was just one game, Irving understands the challenge that lies ahead in getting Boston’s offense to play better and more consistently.

“We have very unique talents on this team,” Irving said. “When you’re trying to put that together and guys are coming back into the lineup and getting their rhythm still and guys are in and out sometimes … big picture, down the stretch, we’re going to need everyone to be on the same page.”

Marcus Morris has been one of the players who has been in and out of the Celtics lineup because of a sore left knee.

However, the schedule has eased up to where he’ll be able to play more games, for longer stretches.

He comes into today’s game having scored in double figures each of the last three games.

“I’m just trying to get healthy. I know what I can do,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “My confidence is always going to stay high, no matter if I miss or make shots.”

In the last three games, he has averaged 15.0 points while shooting 45.7 percent from the field.

While Morris’ play of late is promising, it doesn’t diminish the concern Boston should have for an offense that for the most part, has been sputtering this season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Curran: Why do Celtics want a player who quit on his team?

Curran: Why do Celtics want a player who quit on his team?

It’s in Danny Ainge’s DNA to be in on everybody at every moment.

And because he’s willing to constantly tinker, barter, wheedle and maneuver, the Celtics will likely enter the 2018-19 season as odds-on favorites to be the best team in the Eastern Conference.

But there comes a time when you have to stop flip, flip, flipping your houses. Just settle in and live in one for a while. The Celtics owe it to themselves to allow the team Ainge and Brad Stevens conjured from relative dust to play together.

MORE TOM E. CURRAN

Especially when it comes to Kawhi Leonard.

The lion’s share of the local conversation surrounding Leonard since it came out Friday that he wants to be traded and no longer wants to be a “Spur for life”  has revolved around what he can do for the Celtics and what Boston should give up to get him.

He’s a “top-five player.” He’s a “Durant stopper.” The Celtics have more than enough to go get him.

He also just quit on his team, has a year left on his contract before he can flee, and purportedly wants to play in Los Angeles.

I don’t get it. How does a guy go on wildcat strike for almost an entire season, never even attempt to publicly explain what his particular problem was, and still have that messy little detail brushed away like it isn’t a red flag?

Our guy Sherrod Blakely is one of those saying caveat emptor when it comes to Kawhi, but with the draft bearing down and the fact the Celtics reportedly had Kawhi interest back at the trade deadline, we are going to hear more and more spitballing about why adding him is a great idea!

All we have are intimations of what went sideways for Leonard in San Antonio. The quadriceps tendinopathy that limited him to nine games is just the root of the problem. The Spurs dodged, ducked and parried the issue all year. Leonard eventually went to get a second opinion in February. He’s pissed at Spurs GM RC Buford. He’s pissed at the medical staff. He’s all set with his Spurs teammates who tried to convince him in March to rejoin the team during a players-only meeting.

It may all just boil down to Leonard deciding he was going to protect his No. 1 asset -- his body -- as he approaches free agency after next season. That’s no sin. You don’t have to look any further than the case of Isaiah Thomas and his hip injury for a cautionary tale about playing through pain and the massive financial loss that decision can lead to.

But if you’re going to make the decision to sit and collect your paycheck while your teammates are thinking you’ve deserted them and not say anything to explain, then you have to accept that you’re going to forfeit trust.

Which is what Charles Barkley said this week. “I blame Kawhi for a lot of his stuff,” Barkley told ESPN. “If he wants to leave, he’s got to come out and say he wants to leave. . . If he wants to leave, just say, ‘Hey, I’ve had enough of San Antonio’, don’t use the doctor's excuse . . . I think that is cowardly using the doctor's excuse. He is upset at the Spurs’ misdiagnosis . . . 

“Do you think the Spurs doctors really wanted to make a mistake on arguably the second- or third-best player in the world?” Barkley asked. “They might have screwed up, I don’t know the answer to that question. But the notion that they tried to do this and alienate one of the two or three best players in the world is laughable.”

MORE LEONARD

Aside from not knowing when (or if) Leonard is going to be willing to play again are the factors that exist in Boston.

Their best player, Kyrie Irving, is up at the end of next season. If Kyrie isn’t involved in a deal to land Leonard then the Celtics are looking at a scenario where they could potentially lose both players after next season. And they will have given up a huge asset (the Kings pick in next year’s draft, Jaylen Brown, etc.) for the privilege of leasing Leonard who, it’s been reported, just wants to get to LA. At that point, maybe Irving looks around and sees a Celtics team that doesn’t have near the upside it did just a year earlier.

Any team that puts together a package for Leonard will be flirting with the unknown. And it’s naïve to think plenty of teams aren’t going to shrug and say, “Who cares? It’s Kawhi Leonard. Two-time Defensive Player of the Year. This is a player you bet on.”

Those teams that don’t have as much to lose as the Celtics. Boston can’t afford to be wrong on Kawhi Leonard. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Chris Mannix on Kawhi Leonard to Boston; how healthy is he?

Chris Mannix on Kawhi Leonard to Boston; how healthy is he?

Chris Mannix talks with Toucher & Rich about the Celtics' interest in Kawhi Leonard, and what it would probably take to get him. Also, would the Spurs trade him to a team in the West, and how healthy is Kawhi right now?