Celtics

Danny Ainge 'really excited' for Gordon Hayward's next season with Celtics

Danny Ainge 'really excited' for Gordon Hayward's next season with Celtics

BOSTON — Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge sounds bullish about Gordon Hayward’s chances of bouncing back to All-Star form during the 2019-20 season.

Ainge expressed optimism about Hayward, who struggled this year to find consistency while working his way back from what was ultimately two surgeries following the gruesome ankle injury that all but erased his 2017-18 season. After a strong finish to the 2018-19 campaign and encouraging stretches in Boston’s opening-round sweep of the Pacers, Hayward struggled to impact the series against the Bucks. 

“I’m really excited for Gordon’s upcoming season,” said Ainge. "He’s working hard right now in the gym. He’s here every day with five or six coaches and bodies out there working extremely hard. He’s put a lot of time in. I’m anticipating great things from Gordon this next year. 

"I don’t really look at it as fading in the Milwaukee series. I look at it as sometimes it’s just opportunity. There’s only one ball out there. And I’m not worried about Gordon Hayward. I’m not worried about his future or how good a player he is. He’s doing everything he can. If he doesn’t become the player that he wants to be then it won’t be from a lack of trying. But I’m very excited and optimistic about his future.”

Ainge held a wide-ranging 21-minute press conference on Wednesday at the Auerbach Center, the first time he’s met with reporters since suffering a heart attack during Boston’s playoff run, and while Kyrie Irving’s future was the focal point of a conversation centered around Boston’s cloudy summer plans, Ainge offered thoughts on Hayward and a some of Boston’s other players and coaches.

Ainge saved some of his biggest praise for coach Brad Stevens, who had taken much of the blame for Boston’s roller coaster play this past season.

"Brad and I talk every day. Things are going great. There's no other coach I'd rather have than Brad. He's the best,” said Ainge.

Later Ainge added: "It was a very difficult job. I knew it'd be difficult from the beginning of the year and we talked about that but I think it was even more difficult than I anticipated and he anticipated. Again, I think he's going to be a lot better because of the year he went through. He's the least of our worries. 

"We know that he's going to work to become the best that he can be and that he's going to learn from it. I wish every one of our players would put the time, effort and energy into what Brad does, but there's no other coach I'd rather have than Brad Stevens.”

Some other topics Ainge touched on: 

* Asked about the possibility that Al Horford could opt out of the final year of his deal (and $30.1 million) and negotiate a potential extension to stay in Boston, Ainge said, "That will be discussed. That’s one of the priorities on our list as well.”

* Questioned about the young core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier, Ainge said simply, “I think that they all had great moments in the season and I think there’s a lot they still need to get better at.”

* Pressed on Rozier and his outspoken nature following the season, Ainge said: "You guys know I’m a big fan of Terry’s. I don’t always agree with how everybody handles the media, just like they probably don’t agree with how I handle the media and things that I say. We don’t always think alike, that’s what makes the game fun. But I’m a big fan of Terry’s, I think that, if Terry was in the right circumstance and the right role, I think he would love playing in Boston, is my opinion. And, if not, then I think Terry would let me know that. But Terry and I have a very good relationship, as Terry does with Brad as well.”

Click here for A. Sherrod Blakely's NBA Mock Draft 4.0>>>>

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.

Does Jayson Tatum deserve MVP consideration? Kendrick Perkins thinks so

Does Jayson Tatum deserve MVP consideration? Kendrick Perkins thinks so

Let's get this out of the way: Giannis Antetokounmpo is the clubhouse leader to win his first NBA MVP award this season.

In leading the Bucks to a league-best 48-8 record, the Greek Freak is averaging 30 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.

But there's another player who might be forcing his way into the conversation, at least according to Kendrick Perkins: Jayson Tatum.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

The 21-year-old is blossoming into an NBA superstar before our very eyes, tying his career high with 41 points in a loss to the Lakers Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center.

How good was Tatum? Jaylen Brown called his performance "surreal." LeBron James called him an "ABSOLUTE PROBLEM." But Perk went even further on ESPN's "Get Up" Monday morning.

"He is a superstar in the making. Listen — Jayson Tatum overnight went from an All-Star to possibly in the MVP conversation," Perkins said. "When you watch Jayson Tatum, before the All-Star break, he killed the Clippers and Kawhi Leonard. Flat-out outplayed them. And then you watched him last night, he was putting on a clinic all across the board. He was in his suitcase. Not his bag. He was in his suitcase."

Tatum's 41-point outburst was the latest in a string of eye-opening performances where the first-time All-Star has taken his game to another level. In February, he's averaging 29.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game on 48.3 percent shooting (46.8 percent from 3-point land).

Will that make him an MVP candidate? Not this year, but if this trajectory continues, the sky is the limit for Tatum. And if so, Celtics fans will really love how Perkins concluded his thought.

"When you look at Jayson Tatum, I wouldn't be surprised if this kid would be a Celtic for life."

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Trail Blazers, which begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

NBA Power Rankings: Playoff push begins in earnest now

NBA Power Rankings: Playoff push begins in earnest now

LOS ANGELES — The NBA All-Star break is the unofficial starting point for the second half of the season. 

But more than that, it begins in earnest the playoff push that most of the league’s teams will be focused on. 

Teams near the top are trying to secure home-court advantage for as many rounds as possible, while teams that have been middle of the pack are trying to seal up a postseason spot. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

And then there are those on the outside looking in, teams that have little to no choice in approaching every game with a must-win mentality. 

Doing those things while keeping players relatively healthy and fresh for a postseason run, creates some difficult decisions for coaches and front-offices this time of year. 

“Trying to keep guys healthy for the playoffs … we call that a good problem,” one Western Conference executive whose team is currently on the outside of the playoff picture told NBC Sports Boston. “It means you’ve played well enough to where the playoffs isn’t a concern; it’s where you end up.”

Click here for NBC Sports Boston’s latest NBA Power Rankings.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Trail Blazers, which begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.