Celtics

C's-Bird deal shows how two-way contracts should work

C's-Bird deal shows how two-way contracts should work

BOSTON – When the NBA decided to institute two-way contracts as a roster option for teams, no one knew how it would turn out.

There have been some failures, for sure.

But there have been a decent number of success stories, with the latest being Boston’s Jabari Bird who signed a two-year deal with the Celtics on Thursday.

The 6-foot-6 wing was drafted by the Celtics with the 56th overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft and was soon signed to a two-way contract which meant he could spend as many as 45 days with the Celtics while the rest of his professional basketball career was with the Celtics’ Gatorade affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

For a late second-round pick like Bird, it was the best of both worlds: a chance to play in professional basketball and within that, potentially get some time in the NBA.

The path that Bird has taken, from being a two-way player to one who is now a member of the team’s 15-man roster, is exactly why the two-way system was implemented.

The time Bird spent with the Red Claws, being put in a system that mirrored what the Celtics were doing, made for a seamless transition when his opportunity to play with Boston manifested itself.

While many marvel at how well he played with Boston’s summer league team earlier this month and how he made the most of playing time at the end of the season, die-hard Celtics fans go back to the team’s first win of the season – at Philadelphia – when it was Bird’s play that played a major factor in Boston netting its first win of the season.

Called upon because of Gordon Hayward’s injury, Bird stepped in to do what so few had felt he was capable of – defending at a high level.

His task that night was clear: stay as close as possible to J.J. Redick.

Where he goes, you should already be there.

And to Bird’s credit, he did as good a job as any other Celtic which drew praise from both players and the coaching staff.

For months, that was about as good as life in the NBA got for Bird which as he would later tell NBC Sports Boston, is the life you live when you are in the league on a two-way contract.

“Like anybody else, you want to play in the NBA,” Bird told NBC Sports Boston. “But you have to be patient, and be ready when you’re time comes. You don’t know when it comes, but Brad (Stevens, Boston’s head coach) always tells us, ‘stay ready, stay ready.’ I did that all season and for the most part, things worked out when I got a chance to play.”

For Bird, a prep All-American in high school, signing with the Celtics has fulfilled a dream that not that long ago seemed as though it was a given when you consider his size, athleticism, and the direction and pace of the NBA game today.

But injuries at Cal left many seeing his game as promise unfulfilled, only to have injuries once again impact his availability for the Celtics and Red Claws earlier this season.

However, we saw in summer league just what a healthy Jabari Bird could do.

His play in the summer was a direct reflection of the time he put in during the offseason to strengthen his body and his overall game, often driving an hour to for a 6 a.m. workout.

“He has always wanted to be in the gym,” Bird’s trainer Packie Turner told NBC Sports Boston. “But you could tell, he could see how close he was and came in committed to doing everything he could to make it happen, now.”

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Podcast: Terry Rozier 1-on-1, what’s been the key to Celtics' 7 game win streak?

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Podcast: Terry Rozier 1-on-1, what’s been the key to Celtics' 7 game win streak?

1:30 - Terry Rozier joins Celtics Post Up and talks about the Celtics thrilling OT win over the Wizards. 

7:15 - Evan Drellich joins Early Edition to discuss rumors that the Red Sox are out on Craig Kimber, and the latest from the MLB Winter Meetings. 

12:30 - Chris Simms of NBC Sports discusses the Patriots heartbreaking loss to the Dolphins, and gives his pick for the Patriots matchup against the Steelers. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

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Even Kyrie can't stop watching Marcus Smart highlights

Even Kyrie can't stop watching Marcus Smart highlights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On his way to meet with reporters on Wednesday night, Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving took a moment to dap up teammate Marcus Smart as they crossed paths near the media scrum. It wouldn’t be the only time that Irving showed appreciation for his new partner in Boston’s starting backcourt.

“I’m so grateful he’s on our team, you know, really,” said Irving, who might not have had a chance to hit all the big late-game shots if not for Smart’s energy jolt that woke up a lethargic Celtics team in the second half when they rallied from 11 down to win.

Smart has been a double shot of espresso for a Celtics team that stumbled groggily through the first 20 games of the season. Boston is 7-0 since Smart and Marcus Morris elevated to starting roles last month, and Smart’s impact isn’t lost on Irving.

"I just watched some of [Smart’s] highlights in college, as well as some of his playoff highlights, defensively and offensively, and it’s just unmatched,” said Irving, a well-documented connoisseur of basketball highlights from all levels. 

Then Irving paused a moment, seemingly to allow reporters to digest the notion of him combing the YouTube archives for Smart sizzle reels.

“So, yeah, in my downtime I watch Marcus Smart highlights.”

NBA players, they’re just like us! It makes sense that Irving would be consuming Smart film, likely trying to figure out how the duo could work best together as a stating tandem. Or maybe, like the rest of us, Irving just found himself falling down a Smart wormhole after watching any of Smart’s floor-burn plays.

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Smart was spectacular in the second half of Wednesday’s win, a game in which coach Brad Stevens asked him to essentially serve as the team’s center in super small late-game lineups. And whenever the Celtics really needed a bucket, it was Irving running high pick-and-rolls as Smart gleefully set the sort of screens typically reserved for lumbering big men.

All this while Smart spent handfuls of defensive possessions guarding the likes of 6-foot-10 Markieff Morris or 6-foot-11 Thomas Bryant at the other end of the court.

"Smart now has officially done it all because he's played every position for us [because] he's never played the 5 and I think, [Wednesday], at the end of the game, Markieff [Morris] was guarding him and he was the one setting a lot of the screens,” said Stevens.

Smart guarding opposing bigs for a couple possessions is nothing new. He’s taken turns in the past on the likes of Kristaps Porzingis or Anthony Davis. But he usually had someone like Al Horford nearby to help in a pinch. On Wednesday, the Celtics were playing without Horford, all while Aron Baynes was restricted coming back from an ankle injury and Daniel Theis found early foul trouble. So Smart took on the challenge of defending bigs, joking his game plan was simply, “don’t get buried in the post.”

Smart changed the tenor of the game with his usual hustle and grit. He chased down loose balls, he took charges, he boxed out opposing bigs wile denying second-chance opportunities, and he even came up with some game-changing offensive boards of his own in crunch time.

Smart wasn’t perfect and Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. both produced strong shooting numbers against him (the Wizards wings combined for 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting versus Smart, per the NBA’s data tracking). And yet Smart’s energy so clearly changed the complexion of the game and eye test confirmed his positive impact.

The NBA’s defensive tracking data reflects strongly on Smart’s play this season. Opponents are shooting 38.8 percent against him this year, per NBA data, or 5 percent below what those players have averaged overall this season. Smart has relentlessly contested perimeter shots and opponents are shooting 29.5 percent against him on anything beyond 15 feet.

Synergy Sports’ defensive data has Smart allowing a mere 0.77 points per play. That number alone ranks Smart in the 90th percentile among all NBA players but, narrow to those with at least 250 possessions defended this season, and Smart elevates to fifth overall among 113 qualifiers. The only guard allowing less points per play is Memphis’ Mike Conley (who ranks 1st on that list at 0.686 ppp). 

But stats may never tell the full story with Smart. He just  has a knack for making impact plays — hence his “Young Gamechanger” nickname and the #winningplays hashtag that so frequently appears when he’s on the court in the fourth quarter.

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Some grumbled when the Celtics signed Smart to a four-year, $52 million extension this summer. Smart had found a cool market as a restricted free agent but Boston clearly wasn’t willing to let him play his way into a big payday from somebody else next summer. Boston signed Smart to a deal that, at an average value of $13 million, will almost certainly seem like a bargain as salaries continue to inflate.

Those that obsess over Smart’s offensive numbers lose sight of what makes him so vital. Smart has quietly put together one of his more efficient offensive seasons, shooting a career-best 38.5 percent overall, all while attempting a career-low 3.4 3-pointers per game. Smart’s 6.9 points per game is by far the lowest of his NBA career and yet he has maybe never been so impactful as he is this season.

Teammate Marcus Morris was detailing some of Smart’s big-play moments from Wednesday night when he stopped to sum up those contributions.

"You know, Smarty type of things,” said Morris.

Pressed on what Smart brings to the Celtics, the typically loquacious Morris struggled to put it into words.

"Can't describe it,” said Morris. "You know, he's a bulldog. He's been doing that since he's been in the NBA. Even when I was on a different team, he was doing the same thing. He continues to do it. He's a guy that you love to have on your team.”

Just ask Irving. Or anyone else in Boston’s locker room.

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