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.”

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Kemba Walker ready to adjust his role and share the scoring with his new Celtics teammates

Kemba Walker ready to adjust his role and share the scoring with his new Celtics teammates

Celtics point guard Kemba Walker admits that, in order for his new team to maximize its potential, he needs to alter his offensive approach. Fresh off inking his max contract, the eight-year veteran said he’s on board with deferring to the new talent that now surrounds him.

“[My role] does [need to change], and I’m looking forward to it,” Walker said on the latest Celtics Talk Podcast. "It’s something new. It’s not as big of a burden, I feel like, on my back. It’s like, I had to be perfect every night in Charlotte. Had to be. I had to have a great game, offensively, if not, it will be a struggle for us to win. Like I said, with the personnel, we have on this team and the way these guys can score, it’ll be different.”

The Celtics landed Walker on a four-year, $141 million deal. With the Hornets, Walker was forced to shoulder much of the scoring burden and sometimes even big outputs weren’t enough to will Charlotte to wins (Walker had seven games of 40-plus points last season and Charlotte lost six of them, the only win coming against Boston).

Walker ranked ninth in the NBA in usage rate last season at 30.8 percent. That was one spot ahead of ball-dominant Russell Westbrook and two spots ahead of Kawhi Leonard. Which is to say that Walker is used to finishing possessions but seems on board with giving it up more. Kyrie Irving ranked 17th in the NBA in usage at 28.6 last year.

Walker cited young players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as reasons he wanted to come to Boston and he’s eager to use his talents to get them scoring opportunities. A healthier Gordon Hayward is going to demand more possessions as well and the team can lean on his ball-handling skills, especially when Walker isn’t on the court.

Walker said he’s excited about the potential. 

"I think there will be a lot of space. I’m a willing passer as well. I’m very unselfish,” said Walker. "I love to score, don’t get it twisted. Whenever I have an opportunity to score, I’m going to score. But, when I draw defenders and see open guys, I’m going to get rid of that thing. I’m excited. I’m looking forward to kinda changing my game as well, just giving the ball up a lot more.”

Coming off a season in which Irving’s missteps as a leader contributed to friction with younger players, Walker’s arrival begs the question of whether he can maximize their talents. While he’s expressed a desire to help those players grow — while also suggesting that he yearns to learn from them and their playoff experiences -- Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge remains staunch that Walker simply needs to be the best version of himself.

"I don't really look for other people to draw out anything from anybody,” said Ainge. "I expect him to be at his best, that's all. Work hard and be who he is. He doesn't have to try to draw anything out from any of the other guys...It's not anybody's responsibility to draw the best out in every other player.”

Added Ainge: "I see Kemba as a good fit with anybody. He's a really good player. He's smart and is experienced and wants to win. He's accomplished a lot of things individually and he just really hasn't been able to accomplish the team goals since winning the national championship in college. But I think that's what he is hoping for. He's at the stage of his life where that's all that matters.”

Walker landed on the All-NBA third team this past season. He averaged a career-best 25.6 points per game but has shot just 41.8 percent from the floor from his career and 35.7 percent beyond the arc. The Celtics are hoping that with more skill around him, Walker can ratchet up his overall efficiency. He averaged 5.9 assists per game last season and that number could spike if Tatum, Brown, and Hayward elevate their offensive output this season.

It is, of course, easier to say you want to morph your game in July than it is to actually do it on the court in October. But Walker has repeatedly stressed a desire to win after limited playoff exposure in Charlotte. Given some of the losses on the defensive side of the ball, particularly in the frontcourt, it’s imperative that the Celtics play with high efficiency on the offensive end. Walker’s ability to maximize opportunities for himself and his teammates could be key in Boston’s success in the 2019-20 season.

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NBA Rumors: Clippers offered Marcus Morris large contract at start of free agency

NBA Rumors: Clippers offered Marcus Morris large contract at start of free agency

It's been a tumultuous offseason for Marcus Morris.

The former Celtics forward stirred up some controversy when he backed out of his agreement with the Spurs to sign with the Knicks in free agency. San Antonio offered Morris a two-year, $20 million deal, but he ultimately chose New York's one-year, $15 million offer instead.

That decision led to Morris parting ways with his agent, Rich Paul, and the Spurs reportedly being "pissed" about the 29-year-old's change of heart.

Apparently, San Antonio's offer wasn't the only one Morris turned down. According to Frank Isola of The Athletic, he also declined a three-year, $41 million offer from the Clippers at the start of free agency.

Isola writes:

Morris, however, lost out on a much more lucrative contract with the LA Clippers, who were prepared to pay him $41 million over three seasons. A Clippers source said the three-year deal included a provision for Morris to receive 50 percent of his salary on Oct. 1.

Morris was hoping to earn $40 million over two years but the Clippers couldn’t offer that deal if they wanted to sign Kawhi Leonard to a max contract. Once Morris took that stance, the Clippers moved on and acquired Portland’s Maurice Harkless in a four-team trade that included Jimmy Butler signing with the Miami Heat. Harkless will earn $11 million next season, or $2 million less than what Morris would have made with the Clippers.

The Clippers certainly aren't losing sleep over Morris declining their offer. They went on to sign superstar Kawhi Leonard and trade for another star in Paul George.

As for Morris, he might regret overestimating his market value early in the offseason. Fortunately for him, he'll get another shot at it next July with a new agent.