Celtics

NBA Notebook: Could Marcus Morris be on the move from the woeful Knicks?

NBA Notebook: Could Marcus Morris be on the move from the woeful Knicks?

BOSTON -- For teams who have gone through a bit of buyer’s remorse after signing players this summer, Dec. 15 can’t get here soon enough. 

That’s the earliest teams can move on from deals they signed this offseason. 

Still, in conversations with various league officials and scouts, don’t expect to see much if any movement right away. 

“No one is in this huge rush to get from under a deal or anything like that,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “There will be a deal done here and there, but I don’t think you’ll see any blockbuster deals involving the guys who signed in the summer.”

One player I’m told to keep an eye on is ex-Celtics forward Marcus Morris, now with the New York Knicks. 

He’s having a career season and the organization loves the tough, rugged brand of basketball that he brings to the floor.

“But is he worth more to the Knicks on their roster, or as a trade chip,” a Western Conference scout told NBC Sports Boston. “What’s the value for a veteran with his talents, contract and toughness?”

That’s a question the Knicks almost certainly are asking themselves as they continue to mire in a rebuild that has them again among the worst teams record-wise in the NBA. 

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And with Morris on a one-year, $15 million deal, there’s no long-term risk in bringing him in the fold if a team isn’t sure what his role would be beyond the remainder of this season. 

If Morris were to be traded, it won’t be because he just wants to latch on with a playoff contender. 

“Like I said in the beginning, I love being in New York, win, lose or draw,” Morris told reporters recently. “I’m here to try and help turn this thing around. I’m not really looking to get traded, that’s just my personal opinion.

He added, “That’s my approach, but this is the NBA. I’d rather help turn this thing around. Melo [Carmelo Anthony] said it best: Some guys aren’t built for New York. I’m built for New York. I’d rather be here. I’d rather help.”

DAVID STERN UPDATE

Thoughts and prayers go out to former NBA commissioner David Stern who underwent emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage. 

Stern was the longest-tenured commissioner of the league, having held the post for 30 years before passing the torch to Adam Silver in 2014. 

As important as the actual players have been in the growth of the NBA globally, Stern’s imprint on the game is undeniable with games now being not just broadcasted but actually played all over the world to sell-out crowds globally. 

One of the highlights of my career covering the NBA was getting a chance to sit down 1-on-1 with then-commissioner Stern in a 2015 preseason game in Milan, Italy, pitting the Celtics against EA7 Emporio Armani. 

MORE K-LOVE TRADE RUMORS

Cleveland’s Kevin Love remains the most talked-about player likely to be on the move between now and the Feb. 6 trade deadline. 

He is in the first year of a four-year, $120.4 million contract extension which multiple league sources have indicated will make a deal involving Love tougher to come by than it should be for a player with his talents. 

But there are concerns about his health, with Love playing 60 or fewer games in each of the last three seasons. 

And with the number of years a team will have him on the books, weighing those concerns with what the Cavs are seeking in such a trade (at least one first-round pick) is going to make getting a deal done challenging to say the least. 

The team many believe will have the toughest time figuring out whether to pursue Love or not, is the Miami Heat. 

They have been one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season, but still look to be one superstar talent away from firming up their place as an NBA Finals contender. 

However, it’s no secret that they have been doing their part to clear cap space to make a run at Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. 

However, the success of the Bucks and Antetokounmpo’s repeated desire to be in Milwaukee may lead them to try and pull the trigger on a K-Love deal which again, would only strengthen their position as one of the top teams in the East this season. 

KNICKS COACHING SEARCH

Barring a change of direction (which you know is always, always possible with this franchise), the Knicks won’t pursue a new coach until the offseason. 

Taking that approach makes a lot of sense for the Knicks, a franchise that has made more than its share of head-scratching decisions in the past decade or so. 

Mike Miller is the interim coach and should have every shot at getting this team on track even when that seems damn near impossible for several reasons. 

If he can’t, the Knicks will go into the draft with another top-shelf draft pick. 

And on the coaching front, there will be the usual cast of characters to make the rounds (Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau to name a few) as well as potentially a couple of new faces from the assistant coaching ranks who should get consideration, too. 

The point is, there’s no need for the Knicks to rush in hiring a new coach. 

Because whoever is on the clock, whether it be now or next November, is going to have a hard time winning even when the bar for success is as low as it is now. 

KAWHI U DO THEM LIKE THAT!

Kawhi Leonard returned to Toronto for the first time since leaving in the summer and received the kind of reception you would expect from a guy who had been there for several years - not just one. 

In that one season, Leonard delivered the ultimate prize - an NBA title. 

And because of that, he will always be loved whenever he returns to Canada. 

But more than winning, Leonard was loved because he was genuine throughout the process of his time there. 

He never gave any indication that he was going to be back, nor did he absolutely rule it out (even though we pretty much knew he was intent on returning to the West coast). 

For him, it was business. 

I play.

I win.

I go where I want to go afterward.

The way Leonard and Raptors fans handled the situation, is a blueprint for superstars of the future to follow.

Fans are going to love you forever if you win. 

If you don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get some jeers mixed in with cheers upon that first trip back. And you promised them you wanted to come back and then have a change of heart… they have every reason to have a change of heart as well in how they feel about you as a player regardless of whether the reasons for your change are legit. 

And for fans, when a player comes through with the ultimate prize - an NBA title - there’s literally nothing they can do that can top that other than winning it again which would only add to their legacy. 

Enjoy the time you have a great player, knowing that if they’re in a contract year that season is all you can bank on. 

A NEW (AND SCARY) JOEL EMBIID

Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were known for their dunks and rebounds, but the assist they threw to Joel Embiid may become the ultimate game-changer for Embiid, the Sixers and the rest of the Eastern Conference.

After criticizing Embiid for not working as hard as he should be a dominant player, he responded with an absolute crushing performance in Philly’s win over Boston which snapped the Celtics previously-unbeaten streak of 10 home wins. Embiid finished with 38 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and a ton of added respect from many who saw him taking their words and using them to get better.

No one has ever questioned Embiid’s talent. 

But his commitment to being the best version of himself, time and time again, hasn’t been there. 

We’ll see if his performance in the win over Boston was just a one-off kind of thing or whether he can truly sustain playing at the elite level that a player with his talent is capable of doing. 

If he doesn’t do it consistently, it’s not like he didn’t know what he had to do after getting called out earlier by a pair of Hall of Famers. 

FAST BREAKS

  • With a boatload of picks from the Russell Westbrook and Paul George trades, look for the Oklahoma City Thunder to be called upon to help facilitate a trade or two as the third team.
  • Denver, Phoenix and Portland are expected to be among the more aggressive teams on the trade front this season.
  • One of the more low-key deals done last summer, was the Celtics re-signing Daniel Theis to a two-year, $10 million deal. Finding a team with a starting center not on his rookie deal, making that kind of money is a steal in the NBA these days.
  • Dion Waiters was suspended a third time this season, by the Miami Heat. This suspension brings the total he’s losing this season to suspensions to about $1.4 million of his $12.1 million salary. League sources anticipate the Heat will become even more aggressive than they have been, in finding a trade partner

 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

On a historic night, Marcus Smart's best moment wasn't any of his 11 3-pointers

On a historic night, Marcus Smart's best moment wasn't any of his 11 3-pointers

BOSTON — The most notable sequence of Marcus Smart’s historic night came after he set a new Boston Celtics franchise record for 3-pointers in a game.

With 36.9 seconds to play and Smart at the wheel of Boston’s frenetic comeback attempt, Brad Stevens drew up an absolute gem coming out of a timeout. Smart, on the sideline opposite the Boston bench, waited patiently for the Suns’ defense to commit, then lobbed a perfect feed towards the rim for a curling Gordon Hayward.

Only Hayward got caught in between a dunk and a layup. He put it off the glass a little too strong and it caught the side rim as Devin Booker scrambled in for the rebound while the entire Garden let out an audible gasp.

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Hayward fouled Booker, then stood paralyzed, like a Fortnite player after a wifi dropout, in the charge circle. While a couple of teammates covered their mouths in disbelief on the bench, Hayward glared up at the JumboTron, hands on his hips trying to process a miss that would have made it a one-possession game.

Standing about 30 feet away, Smart starting an encouraging clap. Then walked all the way to Hayward, who wore a thousand-yard stare. When Smart got close, he offered a couple of encouraging pats on the chest before wrapping his left arm around Hayward then added a couple of backside pats as players finally made their way to the other end of the floor.

"I've been in that moment. I've been there where you miss a crucial play, a crucial bucket, or make a mistake that you think at the time cost the game for you,” said Smart, who scored a career-high 37 points while making a team-record 11 3-pointers during a 123-119 loss.

"But I told him keep your head up. You're OK. You missing that is not why we are down and, if we lose the game, it's not why we lost the game. You're going to get more opportunities and get more wide-open layups. Just knock down the next one.”

We’re admittedly guilty of reflecting too much on last season’s woes but we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that it was a year ago this week when, after Boston missed a final shot attempt in Orlando, Kyrie Irving stalked after Hayward, arms out in exasperation, wondering why Irving hadn’t gotten the ball for the final attempt.

Smart, as competitive as anyone in the world, could have been forgiven if he reacted poorly to Hayward’s miss. An impossible late-fourth-quarter double-digit comeback would have been the perfect exclamation point on Smart’s career night. This article would have been all about Smart’s absurd shooting and how he shuffled into Boston’s top 5 in career 3-pointers if the Celtics pull out the win.

Instead, it’s about how Smart’s greatest value is that he just gets it.

This is the part where we’re supposed to lobby for Smart to be named captain of the Celtics. Except it’s not really necessary. Stevens doesn’t love the idea of captains, yearns to empower everyone on the team, and nobody needs to add a “C” next to Smart’s name on the roster printout to know who is the primary leader of this group.

It’s Smart, warts and all. The same guy who ripped off his jersey and stomped off the floor after getting tossed from an unsightly loss to the Pistons is the same guy who knew in the moment on Saturday that he had to lift a teammate up after a stomach-punch sequence.

Smart is the same guy who stood in front of reporters after Saturday’s game, chastised the team’s recent defensive efforts, then wrapped Hayward in a giant bearhug from behind before leaving the locker room.

“[Smart] was just like, ‘Move on, it’s all good, stay with us.’ But in the moment it’s hard to let that one go,” said Hayward. "We needed that bucket for sure. We still had a chance there, but certainly needed that one.”

Hayward, riding a bit of a roller coaster of consistency since returning from a foot injury on Christmas Day, shut his eyes Saturday night with that miss undoubtedly on replay in his mind. But he’d probably be beating himself up a bit more if Smart and his teammates weren’t so eager to let him know that that one miss didn’t swing Saturday’s game.

Smart turned in the shooting performance of a lifetime on Saturday night. The Celtics were playing without Kemba Walker (sore knee) and Jaylen Brown (sprained thumb) and Smart took full advantage of the available shots. He hoisted a staggering 25 attempts, including a team-record 22 3-pointers, but made 13 shots overall including the 11 beyond the arc, besting the team’s previous record mark of nine 3-point makes.

Smart's 37 points also shattered his previous best scoring night — 27 points versus Cleveland in the 2017 playoffs — by double digits. Smart had posted a season-high 24 points in Milwaukee on Thursday night and produced the first consecutive 20+ point nights of his career with Saturday’s outburst.

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In typical Smart fashion, he wasn’t in much of a mood to celebrate after a loss.

"Right now, [the record] means nothing. I’d trade all that in for a win, especially with the way this team has been playing,” said Smart. "I’d rather have the win than the record. I mean, obviously it’s a great accomplishment. It just shows the hard work that I’ve been putting in is paying off.

"But I’d rather trade that in for the win.”

As for Hayward, he finds himself at the center of many fans' frustrations. To some, the late-game miss is only more evidence that Hayward just isn’t the same player, even further removed from his ankle injury. Despite some excellent nights this season, especially before a hand injury sidelined him for a month, some fans are eager for Boston to move on from the Hayward experience.

Frustrations are natural when a maximum-salary player struggles. Hayward certainly hasn’t played with the same aggression lately — at least not consistently — and it was fair to wonder if he was feeling 100 percent healthy.

Hayward admitted at Saturday’s morning shootaround that his foot remains an issue but not one that he believes is contributing to his inconsistencies. When multiple questions asked whether his foot/ankle woes contributed to his key miss, Hayward bristled a bit.

“It has nothing to do with that,” said Hayward. “I missed a layup. So that’s it.”

Some will continue to scream for a Hayward deal, picking out whatever overpriced big man they think will improve Boston’s ability to compete with East rivals Milwaukee and Philadelphia. The fact is that Boston’s best chance to compete this year might hinge simply on keeping its five best players healthy and figuring out how they all work best together.

The Celtics need Hayward. Smart recognized that on Saturday.

Injuries have made everything a challenge lately. A revolving-door starting lineup has hindered chemistry and continuity. This team has needs beyond size and it wouldn’t require moving either Smart or Hayward to obtain the shooting that Boston’s bench so clearly needs. If you want to scream for Danny Ainge to make a move, start there.

A relentless schedule is forcing Boston to address its defensive slippage on the fly. Hayward doesn’t need to make that layup if Boston doesn’t allow Devin Booker and Mikal Bridges to get hot at the start of the game.

The Celtics are in a funk and it’s going to take a lot of effort to pull themselves out of this skid. The schedule remains daunting through the end of the month and the barrage of games will force the team to make tweaks on the fly.

Hayward needs to be better. He knows it. Smart knows that little good could have come from overreacting to a miscue. The Celtics will be better in the long run for the way Smart handled that situation.

It’ll mean a lot more than any of the 37 points he scored on Saturday night.

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What's ailing the Celtics' defense? Here are some theories

What's ailing the Celtics' defense? Here are some theories

BOSTON — Having clawed their way back from 16 points down to make it a one-possession game with a minute to play, the Boston Celtics needed against Phoenix on Saturday what used to be a given in these stressful moments: a defensive stop.

As Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges’ fadeaway jumper in the paint left his fingertips and hung on the rim’s lip for what seemed like an eternity, there was a moment in time when the chances of that ball dropping through the net were just as good as they were for it to roll out. 

It eventually fell through the net, the Celtics went on to lose 123-119, and the team’s defense once again came up short when they were most needed.

In that possession, like so many lately, the Celtics did most of what was necessary. But this team isn’t built to be successful by just doing a pretty good job. 

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The margin for error to be one of the NBA's best teams is razor thin. That's partly why many of their losses of late fall into the good, but not good enough to win, category. 

“I mean, there’s 50 things to do on a possession,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “Right now we’re doing about 46 on our best ones, and we need to do 50.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done. 

It’s not like it’s one or two of the same things that are problematic for their defense — which, by the way, not so long ago was considered one of the league's best. 

The Celtics' defensive rating of 105.6 still puts them at the fifth-best in the NBA this season.  But over the last eight games, that shot up to 111.8, which ranks 16th in the league during that span. 

It hasn’t helped that most of the teams Boston has faced lately, have come into the game playing some of their best basketball of the season. The Suns for example, have struggled for most of the season but won three of four headed into Saturday. 

That may be a factor. But players are quick to point out that the bigger issues defensively stem from a lack of the consistency we'd seen earlier this season. 

“Just not really running our system on the defensive end,” Marcus Smart said. “You know we gave up a lot of easy, easy, easy lay-ups at the rim. Guys are supposed to be pulled in and it’s like we don’t know what we are doing out there and that’s a problem. 

"We’re not really holding guys accountable on the defensive end. We can score the ball with the best of them but for some reason we are allowing, when we go in those rolls, we’re missing (shots) to affect our defense.”

Gordon Hayward added, “For whatever reason guys are scoring on us at a high clip so we have to figure what we have to do to shut that down.”

There are ample factors contributing to the team’s defensive struggles of late. Stevens knows what has to get better for his team at that end of the floor. 

“Everything,” he said. “I just … everything. Just every … every single angle you take on a pick-and-roll, how much you get into the body, how much do you chase, how, when do you switch, how high are you as a big, when do you step back, how you guard the down-screen, do you trail it? Do you go under it? Do you meet them on a catch? What do you do?”

For Boston to get back on that track, the jobs to be done lie on the defensive side of the ball. 

“It takes everybody, you know, and it’s not easy,” Smart said. “You know, coming in you’ve got a team that’s really talented. They’re coming in to play and beat you so we got to be on top of our games and we just got to understand that we’re going to have nights where we don’t shoot the ball well but we can’t have nights where we just don’t bring it on the defensive end.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Lakers, which begins Monday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.