NBA rumors roundup: Latest buzz on Al Horford, Kyrie Irivng, Bradley Beal and more

NBA rumors roundup: Latest buzz on Al Horford, Kyrie Irivng, Bradley Beal and more

The basketball rumor mill is in overdrive with the 2019 NBA Draft scheduled for Thursday night.

We've already seen one blockbuster trade agreement -- the Los Angeles Lakers giving up a ton of quality assets to acquire New Orleans Pelicans superstar center Anthony Davis -- and we could see more of these deals as teams look to pounce on the opportunity to win an NBA title with the Golden State Warriors roster being devastated by the recent injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.

Let's take a look at all of the notable rumors and reports from Tuesday.

Here are the rumors involving the Celtics:

--Al Horford opts out, but in an unexpected twist, he's likely to leave Boston
Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald reports that after Al Horford opted out of his $30.1 million player option Tuesday and was reportedly discussing a new contract with the Celtics, he is now expected to sign a new deal elsewhere. 

--Kyrie Irving has let Celtics know he's leaving, likely for Brooklyn
Kyrie is reportedly no longer "ghosting" the Celtics. In fact, according to a report from The Athletic, he has been "communicative and forthright" with the team since the season ended and signaled that he'll leave Boston, likely to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. 

--Celtics eyeing trade for No. 4 pick
ESPN's Jonathan Givony lists the Celtics among the teams that could look to trade up for the No. 4 pick. Who would be the Celtics' target with that selection? Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland is the guy. The Celtics do have the assets to trade up, but do they want to part with a player like Jaylen Brown, or the Memphis Grizzlies pick to get a deal done? The Pelicans, per Givony, are also "considering the possibility" of trading the No. 4 pick to the Atlanta Hawks for picks No. 8 and 10.

--Mike Conley an option for the Celtics?
Jordan Brenner of the Athletic reported Tuesday the Celtics "will be in on" Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley. The 31-year-old star averaged 21.1 points per game last year, but he'll make more than $32 million next season with an option for 2020-21 worth more than $34 million. Giving up top assets for Conley doesn't make a ton of sense for Boston.

--Bradley Beal the next star pursuit for the Celtics?
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal could be a "prime option" for the Celtics after they failed to acquire New Orleans Pelicans superstar center Anthony Davis, per Brenner. Beal would not come cheap as a 25-year-old star signed for two more seasons. Beal and Celtics star Jayson Tatum are both from the St. Louis area and have known each other for a long time, so they likely would have great chemistry on and off the court.

Here are other rumors from around the NBA:

--James Harden and Chris Paul to break up?
Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo! Sports wrote a great piece detailing the relationship between Houston Rockets stars James Harden and Chris Paul, one that sources tell Goodwill is "unsalvageable." Goodwill reports that Paul requested a trade, but the veteran point guard refuted that claim in a comment on a Bleacher Report Instagram post. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that Paul has not demanded a trade and will be on the team next season. Paul still has three more years remaining on a contract that carries an average annual salary of nearly $40 million, so it goes without saying that trading him will be quite difficult, especially given his age and declining skills.

--Kawhi Leonard's interest in Los Angeles
Wojnarowski reported an update on Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard's future, noting the reigning NBA Finals MVP's focus is on the Los Angeles Clippers, not the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers agreed to acquire New Orleans Pelicans center Anthony Davis via trade on Saturday, but they don't have enough salary cap space to sign Leonard unless he takes a discount.

--Kevin Love to remain in Cleveland?
ESPN's Brian Windhorst went on Cleveland radio station ESPN 850 WKNR and talked about the chances of Cavaliers forward Kevin Love being traded.

Love signed a four-year, $120 million contract with the Cavs last summer, but his health is a concern going forward. He played in just 22 games last season and hasn't suited up for more than 60 games in a single season since 2015-16.

--Patrick Beverley drawing interest
Patrick Beverley is among the best defensive players expected to hit the open market, and The Sporting News' Sean Deveney reports the 30-year-old point guard will have meetings with several teams before sitting down with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Click for the biggest winners and losers of the Anthony Davis trade>>>

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These days, it's Celtics fans blowing kisses at Jaylen Brown

These days, it's Celtics fans blowing kisses at Jaylen Brown

BOSTON — The story of Jaylen Brown’s NBA career is always seemingly intertwined a bit with Jimmy Butler.

You know the backstory by now: Celtics fans booed when Boston used the No. 3 pick in the 2016 draft on Brown instead of dealing it for a more established veteran such as Butler. The two players shared a trainer a few years back and they held summer workouts together in Mexico. Brown yearned to extract all he could while working with the ultra-competitive Butler.

So, it seemed particularly noteworthy watching Brown cap his 31-point outburst Wednesday night at the expense of Butler. After Brown’s 15-point third-quarter explosion helped Boston separate a bit, it was Brown twice shaking Butler and hitting a pair of long jumpers over his old pal — including one lucky 27-foot banked 3-pointer — as the Celtics finished off a 112-93 triumph over Butler’s Heat at TD Garden.

Butler had a big night of his own, singlehandedly trying to keep Miami afloat while playing the second night of a back-to-back after a spirited overtime win in Toronto on Tuesday. He was sensational while putting up a game-high 37 points on 12-of-18 shooting in 37 minutes.

But the student more than held his own with the teacher. Brown shrugged off a quiet first half to score 22 second-half points. His loud third-quarter culminated with back-to-back 3-pointers in front of the Miami bench and Brown playfully suggested afterward that he blew a kiss to former teammate Kelly Olynyk after the second triple.

All those Celtics fans that grumbled when Brown was drafted are blowing kisses his way now. All those that groaned when he inked a four-year, $115 million extension in October are professing their love for the deal.

Brown nearly matched his career highs for both the regular season (32 points) and postseason scoring (34) on Wednesday night. It feels like he’ll eclipse both soon. Brown is averaging 19.9 points per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the field, 38.2 percent beyond the 3-point arc, and a career-best 71.8 percent at the free-throw line. Add in career-highs at 6.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.

It all looks very similar to what Butler is doing in Miami, where he is averaging 20.1 points, 6 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 2.4 steals per game.

Brown has undoubtedly heard his detractors and still finds motivation in them. While being playfully peppered about his kiss blowing, he was asked about similar incidents in the past.

"I guess when people like to say I’m a non-shooter and then I make it, that’s my gift to them,” said Brown.

When the Heat blitzed Kemba Walker after his early scoring exploits, it often left Boston shooters open when the Celtics swung the ball across the court. Brown feasted on open looks but sometimes it didn’t matter if he was blanketed. On the first of his two consecutive late-third-quarter 3s, Brown was being smothered in the corner by Justise Winslow (the 2015 draft desire that Boston could not pry away from the Frank Kaminsky-craving Hornets). Even after the Heat had cut their deficit to single digits in that third quarter, Brown calmly squared up to the basket, moved the ball around to create a tiny bit of space, then pulled up over Winslow’s outstretched arm for a triple.

He gazed briefly at the Miami bench but saved his air-peck for the next trip down when he made another corner 3 (this time an open look as Olynyk scrambled out). It might as well have been a curtain call on a night where Brown took center stage in the second half.

"When [Brown] has it going, he definitely gives us a lot more options,” said Walker. "He’s been playing well all year. I’m excited for him. He’s put in a lot of work each and every day, and it’s showing on the court.”

It’s not just the big scoring night but how Brown did it. He hit a lot of jump shots but also had instances where he bullied his way to the basket against quality defenders such as Bam Adebayo and muscled home tough finishes around the basket. Brown also got to the line a team-high eight times, accounting for a quarter of Boston’s total free-throw attempts.

At a time when Boston’s offense has slumped while Gordon Hayward rehabs a broken hand, Brown has tried to pick up some slack. In the 12 games without Hayward, Brown is averaging 20.4 points while shooting 48.4 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He’s adding 7.2 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.

With the win, the Celtics took down another of their primary East rivals and shuffled into a second-place tie with Toronto. Milwaukee is three games ahead but Boston is one of their three defeats this season. With 20 games and nearly a quarter of the season in the rearview, the Celtics own a .750 winning percentage. That’s a 61.5-win pace though the level of competition ahead should reel that win total in a bit.

For now, Boston is 8-0 at home and has typically won the games it should this season. They didn’t look particularly crisp early but a bench effort led by Semi Ojeleye and Robert Williams helped crank the defensive intensity and Brown elevated his play as the Celtics surged ahead.

It’s fair to wonder how it’ll all look when Hayward is healthy enough to come back and it appears he’s trending towards a December return while already resuming a bit of contact activity this week. Can a Walker/Tatum/Brown/Hayward quartet find enough shots for one another?

If everyone buys into looking for the best shot and exploiting the biggest mismatches, there should be. Brown is feasting when teams put their energy into slowing Walker and Jayson Tatum. Hayward’s return will really force teams to pick their poison.

Brown is making teams account for him. The only thing clogging his path to All-Star consideration is Boston’s depth. Still, the strides Brown made this summer have forced the rest of the league to take notice of how far he’s advanced.

He’s come a long way since fans booed the pick. He’s come a long way since working out with Butler. The best part for Boston fans is that there’s still a lot of room for growth. And a lot more kisses to be blown in his direction.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nuggets, which tips off Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics use Smart's absence to lock in defensively, lock down the Miami Heat

Celtics use Smart's absence to lock in defensively, lock down the Miami Heat

BOSTON -- Marcus Smart was nowhere to be found on the floor Wednesday night for the Celtics, but make no mistake about it... 

...Smart’s presence, even when he’s not in the building, is still felt by his teammates and opponents, to a lesser extent. 

No Smart (illness) meant the rest of the Celtics had to collectively step up their game defensively. 

Did. They. Ever. 

The Celtics delivered one of their better defensive performances this season as they pulled away for a 112-93 win over the Miami Heat. 

It’s not that huge a surprise until you realize that the Celtics defense delivered on a night without Smart, a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago which validates his reputation as one of the league’s top defenders. 

The Celtics (15-5) began their surge defensively in the second quarter. Facing an eight-point deficit (28-20) after the first quarter, they took control over the next three quarters as they outscored the Heat, 92-65.

They were getting deflections, hustling down loose balls, diving on the floor…basically making a bunch of Marcus Smart-like plays.

Following the win, Celtics players were quick to acknowledge not having Smart forced them all to pay closer attention to their individual and team assignments defensively, well aware anything less would surely spoil their perfect home record (8-0) this season. 

“No question, no question you can’t replace Smart,” said Semi Ojeleye. “The intensity that he brings on every possession and the energy and just the plays he makes. He sees what is coming before everybody else does. So we knew we had to bring extra talk in his absence.”

Among the most vocal players was Ojeleye, who played every minute of the second and third quarters in a stretch where the Celtics outscored the Heat, 62-41. 

Placing an even higher emphasis on doing a better job at the “little things” defensively, takes on greater importance on nights such as Wednesday when the team’s defensive leader - Smart - is unable to play. 

“Smart is one of the best defensive players we have in this league,” said Kemba Walker. “He’s our defensive anchor. And when you don’t have him, you have to try your best to make up as much as possible. He is a huge part of what we do, so yeah, you have to be that much more locked in and that much more on point to try and make up for the things that he does for us.”

That involves making smarter plays defensively; the kind that their defensive anchor  Smart makes night-in and night-out. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nuggets, which tips off Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.