Celtics

Countdown to Celtics Camp: Who visits the hardware store?

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Who visits the hardware store?

For Day 3 of our Countdown to Camp series, we asked our panel to take a trip to the hardware store and predict which Celtics player might bring home some of the NBA’s hardware by winning a postseason award.

Outside of maybe only Most Valuable Player, there’s an argument to be made that a Celtics player, coach, or executive could muscle their way into the conversation for the league’s other top honors. Alas, you’d have to rewind to the 2007-2008 season to find the last time the Celtics found themselves in that spotlight when Kevin Garnett won Defensive Player of the Year and Danny Ainge was Executive of the Year.

Celtics players haven’t muscled their way into the voting much in recent seasons. Last year, only Marcus Smart charted on an award while finishing eighth in Defensive Player of the Year. Jayson Tatum was third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2017-18, while Al Horford was fifth in Defensive Player of the Year balloting that season. Isaiah Thomas was fifth in both MVP and Most Improved voting for the 2016-17 campaign.

But if the Celtics are to outkick most prognosticator’s expectations this season, they’ll need someone on their roster to at least vault into the conversation for these awards.

So who is most likely to earn themselves a shiny trophy?

Our vote went to Marcus Smart for Sixth Man of the Year. With the glut of wing depth this season, we believe there’s a strong chance that Smart will initially shuffle back to his familiar bench role, allowing coach Brad Stevens to trot out a versatile starting lineup featuring Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and a big (with Enes Kanter the early favorite to hold that starter job initially).

Stevens has long preferred to deploy Smart in a reserve role, allowing Smart to set the tone for the second unit while also providing another ball-handler for the second group. The Celtics went away from that last season when Smart elevated from a bench role in November and started 60 games overall. Kyrie Irving routinely advocated for Smart, noting how much he enjoyed playing alongside him at the start of games, which only solidified Smart’s spot with the first unit.

A similar script could certainly unfold this season. But it would be the most Marcus Smart thing if he’s the player that embraces shuffling to the second unit and allows Hayward, Tatum, and Brown to play with the first group.

Yes, the Sixth Man award tends to honor a high-scoring player on one of the league’s top teams. But if the Celtics overachieve this season, there will be extra attention on the player(s) that spearheaded the second unit. Smart, with his All-Defense pedigree and improving offensive efficiency, could dive into the conversation for Sixth Man the same way he pounces on a loose ball.

Abby Chin: Gordon Hayward, Sixth Man of the Year

I believe Hayward will be almost — if not fully — back to his Utah self this season. But, with the glut of talent on the wing, and Hayward's ability to facilitate the offense on that second unit, it might make the most sense for him to come off the bench again. I think Hayward will finish games on the court, he just may not start there.

 

Sherrod Blakely: Brad Stevens, Coach of the Year

The Celtics will finish with a record that exceeds the expectations of many, and will include wins over East favorites Philly and Milwaukee.

 

Max Lederman: Gordon Hayward, Most Improved

Hayward has been in the lab all summer working on getting back to the player he was before the injury. He had a few flashes last season, but was a shell of his former self. I know this award tends to go to a young breakout player but I think a really strong start to the season could make some folks consider taking a different approach with their votes.

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How Jaylen Brown tricks Marcus Smart into helping him improve

How Jaylen Brown tricks Marcus Smart into helping him improve

BOSTON — Marcus Smart was entertaining teammates with an impossibly spot-on impersonation of former teammate Al Horford at one end of the floor Monday so Jaylen Brown had to know it wasn’t going to be as easy as asking Smart to join his post-practice 1-on-1 work.

See, there’s a science to getting full-intensity Smart when you really want to sharpen your knives. We’ll let Brown explain:

“Ever since I've been here, since my rookie year, I've been trying to take advantage of playing Marcus 1-on-1 and baiting him into playing me,” said Brown. “I’ve been talking trash so that he'll be motivated to play me and I can work on my game.

"Marcus is probably one of the best defenders in the league. Motivated Marcus is tough to score against. But you have to talk a little bit of trash to get him going.”

And if you don’t?

“He might just bull——, or throw up some bull—— [shots],” said Brown. "He’ll laugh and joke but as soon as you start talking trash to him, he’ll be looking to bust your ass. He’ll be super engaged pretty quickly.”

Brown wouldn’t divulge exactly what he said to press Smart’s buttons on Monday but, whatever it was, it had the desired effect. A sweatshirt-clad Smart immediately threw himself full throttle into a rotating game of 1-on-1 against Brown and camp invitee Kaiser Gates.

The frisky 1-on-1 matchups that ensued were maybe more interesting than Boston’s breezy preseason win over Cleveland Sunday and the Brown/Smart battles stole the show. Each player had their moments and Brown bellowed loudly after one successful stop, though it was Smart who had the walk-off moment after muscling home a tough layup with Brown defending.

While many Celtics players scrambled off the floor before the team’s afternoon flight to Cleveland, Brown was one of the last to depart. After the 1-on-1 work with Smart, Brown and Gates shuffled to another court for additional shooting drills. When Gates asked Brown a question about positioning on the way off the court, it spawned yet another round of 1-on-1 battles between the two players who have bonded over shared Atlanta roots.

For Brown, these lengthy workdays — and especially those sessions with Smart — are all part of a plan to dispel a notion that he peaked two seasons ago. He admits he’s frustrated by the notion that he underperformed a year ago during Boston’s train-wreck of a season.

“People always expect better, but the most frustrating thing is people always said that I was having a bad year [last season],” said Brown. “Maybe it was because of the role I was in, or compared to the year before and what I was expected to do, but people always said I had a bad year. I made the best of the situation that I was put in. People always said like, ‘You still had a bad year.' I don't know what else I could have done, to be honest. I don't know.”

His plan, though, is to simply make sure the same can’t be said this time around. Brown politely steers the conversation back to the future when pressed on last year.

“This year I just want to come out and play basketball. That's it,” said Brown. "I think we've got some good guys, we got some talent. … I worked really hard, night in and night out. I watched a lot of film. I'm probably my biggest critic. I just want to come out and just play.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens believes that last year’s struggles will aid both Brown and Jayson Tatum.

"You should be ever-evolving, you should be ever-growing. That doesn’t mean that the path is not rocky at times. That’s part of it,” said Stevens. "Jaylen, not playing at times during his rookie year, you can see he’s always kind of kept that chip on his shoulder ever since and has always been really good. He’s just gotten better and better. This has been his best preseason.”

Riding some of the momentum he built near the end of the FIBA World Cup in China, Brown has displayed a more complete game this season. He’s sharpened his ball-handling. He’s improved his court vision. He’s stronger and more willing to joust with bigger forward.

Brown is having a particularly efficient preseason despite not shooting the 3-ball well yet. He’s averaging 9 points over just 18 minutes per game while shooting 52.4 percent from the floor overall. The Celtics are plus-47 in his 54 minutes of floor time (most of it from Sunday’s lopsided win) and own an absurd defensive rating of 63.9 when Brown is on the floor. His assist percentage (15.8%) is twice what it was last season (7.9%).

But it’s the eye test that really sells Brown’s improvements. He’s aggressive and confident going at the basket. He’s routinely finishing with his left hand. Brown looks ready to showcase the strides he’s made. He’s eager to show that last season isn’t a reflection of the player he will be.

No, if he can score against Smart, the rest of the league should be no problem.

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Report: Celtics exercise Jayson Tatum's fourth-year option

Report: Celtics exercise Jayson Tatum's fourth-year option

The Boston Celtics have made an important yet expected move.

According to Sham Charania of The Athletic, the Celtics have exercised their fourth-year option to retain star forward Jayson Tatum.

Tatum was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. The Celtics selected him after trading down from the No. 1 overall pick. The Philadelphia 76ers would select Markelle Fultz at that juncture.

All first-round picks in the NBA sign four-year deals with two team options on the final two seasons. Given Tatum's performance, it was a foregone conclusion that the Celtics would exercise this option. It was just a matter of when.

Tatum will make $9.9 million in the final season of his rookie deal. During the 2020 offseason, he will be eligible to sign an extension with the Celtics, much like Jaylen Brown, the team's No. 3 overall pick in 2016, is eligible to sign one with the team right now.

Last year, Tatum averaged 15.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.1 steals while playing 31.1 minutes per game for the Celtics. They are hoping that he will make a bigger leap during his third season and really emerge as one of the NBA's rising stars.

Celtics Spotlight: Can Jayson Tatum make the leap in year 3?>>>

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