Danny Ainge praises 'best player' Kemba Walker, offers take on Celtics' No. 1 trade deadline need

Danny Ainge praises 'best player' Kemba Walker, offers take on Celtics' No. 1 trade deadline need

Ahead of the 2020 NBA trade deadline, it seems that Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge is happy with how the team's roster is performing. But one player in particular has earned his respect over the course of the season: Kemba Walker.

Appearing on NBC Sports Boston's Celtics Pregame Live, Ainge offered effusive praise of Walker and called him the team's current "best player."

"I think Kemba has been our best player this year," Ainge said. "He's made a lot of big shots for us at crucial times. He brings great effort and intensity to the game. He brings energy to his teammates. He's a selfless player. 

"I think he's at that stage of his career where he really only cares about winning. He's letting Jaylen [Brown] and Jayson [Tatum] have their moments. He's letting Marcus [Smart] handle the ball some and Gordon [Hayward]. He's been very willing to share understanding that this is going to be to his benefit."

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It's hard to argue with that analysis. And beyond Walker's performance on the court, he has had a big impact on the team's off-court chemistry, which was an issue with the 2018-19 squad.

Ainge gave Hayward his stamp of approval as well, and seemed to be frustrated that people aren't paying attention to just how efficient Hayward has been this season.

"I don't think people are paying attention. Gordon is the most unselfish of all our five main players. He gives the ball up the most. We're trying to get him to even be a little bit more aggressive because he's our most efficient offensive player," Ainge said.

Hayward is shooting 50.6 percent from the field this season, good for third-best on the team among players taking three-plus shots per game. He has made an impact as a passer too, averaging the third-most assists per game behind Walker and Smart.

Ainge also offered his thoughts on the Celtics ahead of Thursday's NBA trade deadline. While the team has been rumored to be interested in big men like Clint Capela, Ainge had a different take on what the No. 1 need is.

"I think our No. 1 need is health," Ainge said. "I think we're going to look to see if there's ways to strengthen the end of our bench. We like all of our guys. We do have probably too many really young guys."

Ainge added: "We don't want to make a deal just to make a deal" while confirming that the Celtics were comfortable with the three centers they have on the roster in Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, and Robert Williams.

"We're not getting beat at the center position," Ainge said. "We're getting 17, 18 points per night. We're getting double-figure rebounds. We're just doing it as a team."

Of course, that could just be cover as the C's explore their options before the deadline, but given that Theis and Kanter have exceeded expectations this year, perhaps the C's will be content to keep them around instead of sacrificing assets for another center. Especially if Williams is progressing in his return from a hip injury.

We'll soon see what the Celtics do at the deadline. But for the moment, it seems that Ainge is content with their current roster.

Blakely: All-Star snub clearly a motivating factor for Jaylen Brown

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Kemba Walker sheds light on decision to sign with Celtics over Knicks

Kemba Walker sheds light on decision to sign with Celtics over Knicks

Kemba Walker was this close to becoming a New York Knick instead of a Boston Celtic last summer.

Before signing a four-year, $141 million contract with the C's, Walker considered the Knicks in free agency. The 30-year-old said last fall he believed Boston was "just a better fit" for him despite New York being his hometown team.

Walker shed more light on whether he had serious interest in joining the Knicks during this week's episode of The Ringer's "R2C2" podcast.

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“To be honest, yes. Yes. Very serious, very,” Walker said ... "Before Boston actually came along, the Knicks were one of my top priorities, actually, because I was thinking they were gonna get another player. But it didn’t work out.”

Watch below:

New York was rumored to be in the running to sign Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Durant, but both stars chose the Brooklyn Nets instead. It was a rough offseason for the Knicks, to say the least.

In his first year as a Celtic, Walker is averaging 20.8 points and 4.8 assists per game. The four-time All-Star has dealt with a nagging knee injury over the last several months but is encouraged by the progress he's made in the Orlando bubble.

"For me to feel like myself again, it definitely feels good. Just gives me a lot of confidence heading into those games," Walker said on the "R2C2" podcast.

The C's will need a healthy Walker if they're to have a shot at Banner 18.

To listen to the full episode, go here.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Romeo Langford, Robert Williams shine vs. Raptors?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Romeo Langford, Robert Williams shine vs. Raptors?

The Boston Celtics gave their best performance of the NBA's restart in Wednesday night's blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, and a boost from two of their most recent first-round picks played a key role in the victory.

Boston's bench scoring has been hit or miss in the seeding games so far, but the second unit didn't disappoint against the Nets. Second-year center Robert Williams scored a career-high 18 points with five rebounds and three blocks. Rookie guard Romeo Langford didn't make a huge impact offensively with only four points, but his defense was fantastic. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The Nets are one of the worst teams in the Orlando bubble, so while the performances of Williams and Langford are no doubt encouraging, the Celtics need these guys to make a similar impact versus the top teams in the Eastern Conference, too. 

On a new episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast, our C's insider Chris Forsberg gives his take on Williams' and Langford's play so far, and what the future holds for them with the playoffs approaching.

"Here's what I think Brad will take away. He'll sit back and he'll say, none of these guys have really stepped up and grasped their opportunity through the scrimmage games and early seeding games, and with a chance because Kemba (Walker) was out and the starters didn't play a lot of minutes (against the Nets), (the young guys) finally sort of grasped the opportunity," Forsberg said. "But again, it's what you do from there. ... It's not like you have one good game and (Celtics coach Brad Stevens) just throws you in there. If I had to guess which rookie is still most likely to have the biggest impact, I'm starting to lean toward Langford because he has shown defensively that you can put him in there and even in small bursts of minutes be able to give you something, and to be a steady presence. I think that's important.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Rob Williams, Langford help C's carry momentum vs Raptors? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"It's nice to see Rob Williams out there, and there were still a good amount of defenses lapses -- a lot of which he makes up for because he's so athletic. But when I convene the Robert Williams fan club for our weekly meeting tonight, I'm going to tell the congregation, look, let's not get too high or too low, we have to see Rob come back and build off (Wednesday night). My hope is that Rob is the first guy in the gym, even on an off day after two games. That he's in there working, busting his butt and showing that he's ready for that opportunity. If he does that, he's got a better chance to get some minutes. If he got a DNP (against the Raptors), I wouldn't be shocked because that's how Brad operates. But Grant (Williams), Romeo -- one of those guys is going to get a chance in the playoffs and they have to be ready for that opportunity."

Robert Williams could see some action versus the Raptors for the simple fact that Toronto is a pretty big team. He would be a good matchup against Raptors center Marc Gasol or power forward Serge Ibaka. Grant Williams also has good size and a high defensive IQ, so he could match up against those Raptors big men as well. 

Coaches typically shorten their rotations in the playoffs and only give minutes to players they can trust. But there are plenty of scenarios, including foul trouble, injuries, etc., that force guys at the end of the bench to play a role. For the Celtics to make a deep playoff run, they'll need young players such as Langford and both Williams' to give them some good minutes against contending teams. 

One of the best ways to find out which players are capable of handling that burden is actually giving them minutes before the playoffs, and Friday's game against the Raptors is a good opportunity to see how these young guys respond.

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast on your favorite podcast app or watch it on YouTube below.