Celtics

Morris' tough love exactly what Celtics need now

Morris' tough love exactly what Celtics need now

BOSTON -- When the Marcus Morris trade with Detroit went down in 2017, I made a point of reaching out to some of my Detroit connections (I spent nearly a decade covering the Pistons when they were really good in the 2000s) just to see what the Celtics were getting in Morris. 

The most commonly used words in describing him were “tough” and “versatile.”

But the one word no one uttered about him was leader. 

However, reflecting upon the incident he had with Jaylen Brown in the 115-99 loss at Miami on Thursday, there is absolutely no question that what we saw on that video was a brand of leadership from Morris that this Celtics team desperately needs. 

Kyrie Irving preaches patience when it comes to his youthful teammates all the time, while trying to balance that with still challenging them. 

And Al Horford is a respected veteran who is also a man of few words, preferring to instead lead by example.

Those are all noble approaches to leadership. 

But when the stakes are as high as they are for the Celtics this season, there has to be someone willing to initiate those frank, straight-no-chaser, high accountability-driven conversations that are uncomfortable because more likely than not, feelings will get hurt. 

Morris?

Yup. 

He’s that dude!

“To be the team we want to be, we have to be open with each other and be able to discuss things that are going on, on the court,” Morris told reporters in Orlando. “If it leads to a little bumping, pushing and shoving...it’s nothing. You move past that type of stuff and keep going.”’

And that is essentially what he and Brown have made of the incident that stemmed from Brown not getting back quick enough on defense, which led to a Miami Heat lay-up and on the sideline, Morris pushing Brown before Marcus Smart - yes, Marcus Smart - intervened. 

Morris, Brown and coach Brad Stevens downplayed the incident, acknowledging that those kinds of run-ins happen all the time in the NBA especially when you’re talking about a highly competitive team with winning a title as a legit and realistic goal. 

They’re right. 

But the issue that so many had with it, was that it happened in the middle of a game with thousands of eyeballs and at least one camera phone that captured the incident for the entire world to see. 

“It’s not weird. You see it all the time,” Brown said when asked about seeing the incident go viral. “In this case, it’s nothing major.”

Actually, it’s a pretty big deal but not for the reasons you might be thinking. 

Morris has been the most consistent player on this team all season, the one player who seems to understand what playing with a sense of urgency all the time really means. 

But as much as they need his scoring and rebounding and defense to win games, they also need him to become more of a leader. 

And the way he leads is the way he plays - hard, in your face, no apologies. 

It has the potential to leave some with hurt feelings and in the heat of the moment, tempers will likely flare. 

But Morris doesn’t care. 

He wants to win it all this year, something he has not been the least bit coy about acknowledging. 

And to do so, it’s going to take all the Celtics to be at the top of their game and come as close to reaching their full potential talent-wise as they can. 

If you’re doing that, he’ll be your biggest cheerleader. 

If you’re not, he’ll let you know. 

How you handle that, is your business. 

Helping the Celtics win games, whether it’s with his play or leadership, is his. 

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Kyrie Irving's high school coach sees him going to Knicks

Kyrie Irving's high school coach sees him going to Knicks

BOSTON -- When it comes to Kyrie Irving’s future, it seems everyone has an opinion...including his high school coach. 

Kevin Boyle, Irving’s coach at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J., is among those optimistic that the 6-foot-3 guard will sign with the New York Knicks this summer after he becomes a free agent. 

“I think there’s a good chance in my opinion that Kyrie ends up here [in New York],” Boyle told SNY.tv’s Ian Begley, while making it clear that he was speaking as a fan and not someone who knows what Irving’s plans are for next season. “In my gut, I would think that would work best for him and I would think that [the Knicks] have a really strong chance of that happening.”

It would be a mistake to dismiss Boyle’s opinion, especially when you see that he has worked with some of the NBA’s top players when they were in high school. 

In addition to Irving, Boyle has also coached Joel Embiid, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (he was a teammate of Irving’s in high school), D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons as high schoolers.

All of those players, except for Kidd-Gilchrist, have gone on to become an NBA All-Stars. 

This season, the Knicks aggressively went about creating roster vacancies and salary cap space to absorb two, maximum-salaried players in what will be a summer where elite, difference-making talent will be available and that includes Irving. 

Because the Knicks now have a pair of max salary slots, Irving is believed to be one of the primary targets of New York, along with Golden State’s Kevin Durant. 

And the Knicks, owners of the No. 3 pick in the draft next month, are likely to select R.J. Barrett of Duke - another player Boyle has coached.

He tells SNY.tv that pairing Irving and Durant with Barrett might make for better chemistry than the group that Irving played with in Boston this past season. 

"Because they [the Celtics' young players] were starting to get established in the NBA, starting to have a lot of success the year before [without Irving in the playoffs],” Boyle said. “With RJ, he has a great balance with respect and learning. [He'll think], 'Hey, I'm getting better, whether it's [behind] Kyrie or another guy, it's their show right now and I'm learning how to play with him or under them until it's my turn. I think he'll be receptive to that and I think he'll be a perfect complement to those guys."

After arguably his best individual regular season in terms of scoring efficiency and defense, Irving went from difference-maker to a dud in the Celtics' second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, who needed just five games to end Boston’s season. 

Irving had arguably his worst four-game stretch last season in four consecutive losses to Milwaukee.

In those final four games, Irving averaged 19 points while shooting 30.1 percent from the field and 18.1 percent (5-for-27) on 3-pointers, to go with 4.3 assists - all below his season averages. 

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Celtics Exit Interviews: Can Hayward regain his All-Star form?

Celtics Exit Interviews: Can Hayward regain his All-Star form?

2018-19 STATS

11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists. 46.6 FG%, 33.3 3PT%, 109.8 Offensive Rating

This was supposed to be the comeback season for Gordon Hayward after missing all but the first five minutes of the 2017-2018 season with an ankle/leg injury. His season was one of both highs and lows, with the latter being more prevalent in the playoffs with his numbers down across the board relative to what he did during the regular season.

ROOM FOR GROWTH CHECKLIST

1. Consistency: There were just too many games, even after his health was no longer an issue, when he would be just out there providing little at either end of the floor. He’s too talented and too important to this team to have too many games like that going forward.

2. Aggressiveness: Part of Hayward’s struggles this past season had to do with him not attacking the ball more, at both ends of the floor. He’s a much better two-way player than what we saw this past season.

3. Focus: Hayward will have a normal offseason where the focus will be on improvement and not just simply getting on the floor, which was the case last summer. With that uncertainty behind him now, look for Hayward to lock in on what he has to do this offseason to improve to where he’s closer to being the All-Star player he was prior to arriving in Boston. 

HIS FUTURE

Hayward just completed the second year of the four-year, $127.8 million contract he signed in 2017. And while the first two years have not gone the way Hayward or the Celtics want, there’s no urgency on Boston’s part to trade him and he seems genuinely happy to be a Celtic. Plus, finding a taker for the remaining $66.8 million he’s owed seems unlikely. That said, all signs — for now at least — point towards Hayward being back in the fold as a Celtic next season. 

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