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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Kawhi Leonard injury: Clippers star reportedly expected to play vs. Celtics

Kawhi Leonard injury: Clippers star reportedly expected to play vs. Celtics

All signs are pointing toward one of the NBA's top-five players playing in Wednesday night's showdown between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.

Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard has missed the last three games with a left knee injury, but ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk and Adrian Wojnarowski have reported the two-time NBA Finals MVP is expected to play versus the C's.

Leonard has played in nine of the Clippers' 14 games this season. Whether he's actually injured or just using load management to keep himself fresh for the playoffs, it's exciting that he's likely to play against a Celtics team with championship aspirations after a strong start to the campaign.

Boston leads the Eastern Conference standings with an 11-2 record and owns the sixth-best defensive rating in the league. Celtics guard Marcus Smart was named to the NBA's All-Defense first team last season, and he's making a compelling case in 2019-20 to be the Defensive Player of the Year award winner. Smart likely will be tasked with guarding Leonard, and that matchup will be awesome to watch. 

Leonard is averaging 26.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and six assists per game this season, and the Clippers are 7-2 with him in the lineup. He's not the only superstar forward the C's must stop, though. Paul George is back after missing the first few weeks of the season. He's averaging 29.3 points in 24.3 minutes over three games.

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Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

NBA Rumors: These Celtics players are off-limits in trade deadline talks

NBA Rumors: These Celtics players are off-limits in trade deadline talks

The Boston Celtics may need to upgrade their frontcourt if they want to compete with the beasts of the NBA's Eastern Conference.

But to get something good, you need to give something good in return ... and the Celtics don't seem willing to do that at the moment.

Here's what ESPN's Brian Windhorst reported in his column Wednesday about the prospects of Boston trading for a big man before the Feb. 7 NBA trade deadline:

While one could have some fun with the Trade Machine, Boston has made it clear to anyone who has asked that their core players are absolutely not available. That includes, sources said, both (Gordon) Hayward and (Marcus) Smart, players who have been floated as possible trade chips in the past.

Windhorst didn't confirm who Boston's other "core players" are, but we can fill in the gaps: If Hayward and Smart are off the table, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown aren't going anywhere, either.

Can the Celtics really make an upgrade in the frontcourt without moving one of their five best players?

If they do, a trade almost certainly would need to include the Memphis Grizzlies' first-round pick, which is top-six protected for 2020 and is Danny Ainge's best trade chip. The C's also should get the Milwaukee Bucks' first-rounder in addition to their own.

But even if draft picks can lure a big man like Clint Capela, Kevin Love or LaMarcus Aldridge, the Celtics still would have a hard time matching salaries: Outside the five "core players," only Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis (both big men) are making more than $4 million on Boston's roster.

Seven-footers like Joel Embiid and Brook Lopez could pose a problem for the Celtics in the playoffs, so expect Ainge to do his big man due diligence, even as the C's enter Wednesday as the East's No. 1 seed at 11-2. A major trade at the deadline may be easier said than done, though.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.