Celtics

Jabari Bird works hard . . . and plays well

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Jabari Bird works hard . . . and plays well

During Las Vegas Summer League play, the Celtics' Jabari Bird has been a human highlight reel-in-waiting every time he's stepped on the floor.

But while people may see Bird's breakout performances, they haven't seen what led to them: The 6 a.m. workouts near San Francisco that he would drive an hour to attend earlier this summer, and the film sessions breaking down the 400 or so shots he would take -- and make -- per workout.

There is an under-the-radar, stealth-like grind about Bird that has helped him stand out as one of the top players for Boston’s Summer League team . . . and, just as important, better secure a place for himself in the NBA next season.

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“Everybody here at Summer League has to be impressed by the way he’s playing,” Celtics assistant and Summer League coach Jay Larranaga told reporters recently.

Bird will look to continue his strong play tonight in the Celtics' Summer League playoff matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers at 8 p.m. He was given a rest and didn't play in yesterday's 74-72 win over Miami, so will take team-high averages of 16.8 point and 6.0 rebounds into tonight's game. He's also shooting 57.1 percent from the field and is second on the C's in steals (1.8 per game).

The numbers are strong, clearly. But Bird’s work ethic, more than the eye-popping moves on the floor, is what has allowed him to stand out in Las Vegas.

Player development trainer Packie Turner of Unlimited Potential Basketball has worked with Bird dating back to his junior season at Cal and has been pleased with how the 24-year-old has made the most of his opportunity this summer.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Turner who has worked with two-time league MVP Stephen Curry, his brother Seth Curry, and Sacramento’s Skal Labissiere, among others. “[Bird] can defend, he can shoot,  he can score. Three-and-D (defense) guys are everywhere now.”

And it is that versatility that promtped Boston to take Bird with the 56th overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, and later sign him to a two-way contract.

Bird had an injury-riddled first season shuffling back and forth between the Celtics and their Gatorade League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. But after the C' shad secured the second-best record in the East, with no shot at moving up to the top spot, Bird was among the players to see extensive playing time late in the season.

And to his credit, he didn’t disappoint.

He played so well that there was a swelling level of interest among Celtics fans who wanted to see Boston carve out a spot on the playoff roster for Bird. (However, players signed to two-way contracts are ineligible to be on their respective team’s playoff roster.)

Bird had a taste of being active on an NBA roster, and he clearly wanted more.

Turner could sense something was different with Bird shortly after his rookie season had ended and he returned to the Bay Area, setting up workouts with an earlier-than-usual start time of 6 a.m.

“He has always wanted to be in the gym,” 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.”

Bird, a prep All-American before choosing the Cal Bears over a bevy of college suitors, was a high-flyer from the jump. But Turner wanted to see him expand that athleticism beyond playing above the rim.

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“I thought back then he used [his athleticism] vertically, but didn’t use it laterally,” Turner said. “He’s gotten a lot better laterally using his athleticism. That’s an area we can get better with as far as how he attacks side-to-side . . . just big explosive movements and not getting upright in those moments. He knows how to do it around the rim, a lot of put-backs; he’s active around the glass. I want him to use that same athleticism on a step-back, or a move to clear space.”

We have seen more of that in Summer League, which has made Bird a more versatile, more attractive target for teams. The Celtics made him a qualifying offer earlier this summer, making him a restricted free agent.
 
Bird has shrugged off talk surrounding his basketball fate beyond this summer, aware that thinking too much about it can do no good.
 
“I’m not too concerned with what’s going on as far as my future and things like that,” Bird told NBC Sports Boston near the end of the regular season when he got his first opportunity to play decent minutes. “I’m trying to control what I can control, and that’s going out and play hard every game."

Bird added: “I’m just trying to show everyone in this organization that I’m a good ballplayer.”

Jaylen Brown, a teammate of Bird’s at Cal, was among the first to put folks on alert that Bird had NBA-caliber talent.

“I’m telling you, he’s a really, really good player,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston. “When he gets his chance, and he’ll get it, he’ll show everyone. You’ll see.”

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Anything is Podable Episode Four: Building the Roster

Anything is Podable Episode Four: Building the Roster

Even with three All-Stars in Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, Danny Ainge and the Celtics knew that, in order to win a championship, the team needed a strong supporting cast of role players.

Episode Four of NBC Sports Boston’s “Anything is Podable” takes a look at how Ainge constructed the rest of the roster and how one word, “ubuntu,” set the tone for a memorable season.

Giving the team a shooter off the bench, as well as another veteran presence in the locker room, Eddie House was perfect for the 2008 Celtics.

“I remember going to a practice when he was a young player,” said Ainge regarding House. “Just watching him shoot, and shoot, and just amazed at what a great shooter this kid was.”

“I saw him have his 56 and 60 back-to-back point games in the Pac-10 and it was amazing.”

Long a fan of House, Ainge went out and got his guy, but he wasn’t finished yet.

James Posey, a veteran wing who had experience both starting and coming off the bench, was nearing a deal with the Nets, but one call changed everything.

“I actually told my agent, I’ll just go to New Jersey,” said Posey. “Then Eddie House called me.”

House convinced Posey to spurn the Nets in favor of the Celtics, giving Boston another veteran off the pine.

With the roster taking shape, what the team needed now was an identity.

Ubuntu.

Mentioned to Doc Rivers at a trustee meeting at Marquette University, the word that means “I am who I am because of you,” became the team’s mantra.

“I looked this word up and I spent, no exaggeration, hours and days on this word,” said Rivers. “Everything about the word epitomized what we had to be.”

Ubuntu was the rallying cry of the 2008 Celtics and it all started with a Board of Trustees meeting at Marquette.

Anything is Podable is a ten-part series diving into the story of the 2008 Celtics and their championship season, with exclusive, never-before-heard interviews with team executives, former players, and media members.

Narrated by Kyle Draper, it’s the perfect way for Celtics fans to pass time this offseason and get excited for 2018-19, a season in which the Celtics have as good a chance at raising their 18th championship banner as they’ve had since that magical 2008 season.

Fans can subscribe to the podcast through the link below and check out the other nine episodes for a look at this exclusive series.

Report: Knicks given slight edge over Celtics as Kyrie's free-agent destination

Report: Knicks given slight edge over Celtics as Kyrie's free-agent destination

Those pesky Kyrie-to-the-Knicks rumors have been around even before Yahoo's Chris Mannix mentioned the Celtics were "scared" of Kyrie Irving heading there next summer. They picked up steam this week with another report of The Big Apple as a destination for Irving and Jimmy Butler to join forces.

Now, ESPN's NBA Forecast Panel gives the Knicks a slight edge over the Celtics to land Irving, 46.9 percent to  43.8 percent.

Here's part of the panel's explanation on ESPN's "The Jump": 

It would take some salary-cap machinations for New York to lure Irving to play close to where he grew up in West Orange, N.J. They would likely have to risk losing Kristaps Porzingis in free agency next summer by not giving him a big-money extension this season. 

There's also a potential pursuit of Kevin Durant in free agency next summer as the Knicks - playoff-less since 2013 and title-less for 45 years - make another attempt to spend their way back to relevance. 

Irving has made it clear he's not going to cost himself millions by signing an extension with the C's this season ("Contractually, financially, it just doesn’t make any sense”) and is headed to free agency, so, with training camp more than a month away, get used to a season full of questions about his future. And expect the Knicks speculation to heat up before the four C's-Knicks games (Oct. 20 and Feb. 6 in New York and Nov. 21 and Dec. 6 in Boston). 

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