Celtics

A. Sherrod Blakely's NBA notebook: Is getting a big man that big a deal for the Celtics?

A. Sherrod Blakely's NBA notebook: Is getting a big man that big a deal for the Celtics?

BOSTON -- Before the season began, there were questions about whether the Celtics needed an upgrade in the frontcourt.

And now, even after a strong 11-3 start, those questions persist.

That’s because the calculus for this Celtics team has changed in the minds of many.

Instead of a team that’s viewed as one with players still feeling each other out, Boston looks more like a team that’s one difference-maker in the middle away from being a title contender this season.

And while the idea of pursuing a talented big man is appealing, there are two significant obstacles that will make that a difficult move to pull off.

First, they have to find a team willing to part ways with a big man they like.

Most of the big men thought to potentially be on the move, i.e. Houston’s Clint Capela or Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, are playing well, as are their teams.

The other factor is the impact a new face would have on the team’s chemistry, which is exceptional right now.  Boston knows all too well how even the most well-intentioned players on a roster can have difficulty in playing well together, resulting in a squad that falls short of expectations.

One must also consider any move made has to be an upgrade over the current bigs-by-committee group.

If Boston wants to acquire a big man, their best shot might be to play the waiting game and hope one becomes on the waiver wire. Another school of thought is if 7-5 Tacko Fall continues to improve in the G-League and makes the most of his limited opportunities with the Celtics, he could provide the interior presence defensively that Boston is looking for.

And there’s always the Chinese Basketball Association whose season ends in time for their best players to potentially latch on with NBA teams looking for more depth on the eve of the playoffs. You can expect the Celtics will keep tabs on the standout bigs in the CBA (we’ve got one in mind actually; see below in FAST BREAKS) who could come in and contribute.

LUKA FOR MVP?

The “Luka-for-MVP” crowd is growing by leaps and bounds, as it should.

The NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year is off to an unprecedented tear that has the Dallas Mavericks looking like a playoff team after they fell short the past three seasons. After 14 games, Doncic is averaging a near triple-double of 29.9 points, 10.6 rebounds and 9.4 assists.

More than his scoring, the 20-year-old has provided hope and optimism for a Mavs franchise that’s still adjusting to life without Dirk Nowitzki, the face of the franchise for the better part of the last 20 years.

THOSE SPUTTERING SPURS …

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the San Antonio Spurs come out to start the season playing their worst basketball. But this time around, well, it feels different. In the past, the early struggles were easy to explain away because of injuries, a brutal schedule or just plain ol’ bad luck.

This time around, none of those factors have contributed significantly to why San Antonio has one of the worst records in the NBA at 5-10.

Their roster, no matter how you want to look at it, simply isn’t on the same level as the top teams in the NBA. And when you throw in lots of inexperience coupled with competing in a conference that’s only getting stronger, you have a season like this. The Spurs are looking like their streak of 22 playoff appearances dating to 1998 (the longest in any major North American professional league) may be finally coming to an end.

FULTZ BREAKING THROUGH ‘BUST’ LABEL

It is fair to say that Markelle Fultz has not lived up to the expectations most NBA fans have for a No. 1 overall pick. Still, it appears a change of scenery is a good look for Fultz who, now in Orlando, is showing signs of being the player many thought he would be when he came into the NBA.

Through his first 14 games, Fultz is averaging career-highs in scoring (10.2), assists (3.1) and maybe most important, minutes played (23.7). Again, none of the stats Fultz are putting up compare favorably to Jayson Tatum, who was Boston’s pick-up in the trade with the Sixers, who selected Fultz No. 1. But at least now he’s being given a shot at playing, which was something that didn’t happen in Philly.

HONORING A LUV-A-BULL PLAYER

There won’t be a bust coming to the Naismith Hall of Fame of Luol Deng’s likeness anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean the 15-year veteran didn’t have a good NBA career. Most of his time was with the Chicago Bulls, an organization that recently honored Deng, who ranks among the franchise’s top 10 in a number of categories.

"It's what made sense," Deng told reporters when he was honored at a halftime ceremony recently. "Chicago means a lot to me when you look back, just at my career as a basketball player coming here as a young man, 19, but it's a lot of history here and I wanted it to end the right way. The best way to do it is with familiar faces and people that know me very well."

As much as one can focus on Deng’s basketball career which included a pair of All-star selections, Deng’s commitment to bettering the lives of those around him is what really set him apart and showed he was so much more than just a basketball player.

His humanitarian efforts across the globe have won him praise from all corners of society and earned him the rare distinction of winning the NBA’s sportsmanship and citizenship awards in his time in Chicago.

It has even caught the eye of world leaders, including former President Barack Obama.

"In a world rife with conflict, one of our most important obligations is to look after the innocent victims,” President Obama said in 2015 upon a visit to the White House by Deng. “And few understand this better than Luol Deng. His dedication to bringing hope to millions is an inspiration, as is Luol's own life itself. Both on and off the court, he sets a standard of excellence and service that all Americans can look to for inspiration."

FAST BREAKS

*Don’t look now, but here come the Milwaukee Bucks. After a sluggish 2-2 start, they have since won 10 of 11, including their past six in a row, and at 12-3 find themselves a half-game ahead of the Celtics for the best record in the East.

*Portland plans to waive Pau Gasol, but they don’t want to totally get rid of him. Both sides are working out the details that would allow the six-time All-Star a role on the bench as an assistant coach. The goal was to have him help on the floor this season but both sides sense that’s not going to happen with his foot healing slower than anticipated. So, the next best thing for both sides would be for him to contribute in the role of an assistant.

*Ex-Celtics guard Rajon Rondo is back in the mix with the Los Angeles Lakers after missing the early portion of the season with a calf strain. In his first four games back, all Lakers wins, he has averaged 7.0 points and 6.0 assists per game.

*If the Celtics let the trade deadline pass without doing a deal for another big man, don’t be surprised to hear Kenneth Faried’s name come up. He’s playing in China with the Zhenjiang Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he’s doing what most former NBA players do in the CBA and that’s put up video game-like numbers. In his first three games with the Lions, Faried is averaging 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds which includes a 26-point, 14-rebound performance in a 115-106 win over the Shanghai Sharks.

Blakely's Power Rankings: New No. 1 team for third straight week>>>

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Enes Kanter endorses former teammate, Rudy Gobert, for NBA All-Star Game

Enes Kanter endorses former teammate, Rudy Gobert, for NBA All-Star Game

Enes Kanter has been nothing but supportive of his Boston Celtics teammates since joining the squad this summer.

Whether it's been mentoring Tacko Fall or advocating for his young teammates Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to make the All-Star Game, Kanter has had an impact on the C's

And evidently, Kanter's support even extends to former teammates..

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On Saturday night, Kanter took to Twitter to implore NBA coaches to pick Rudy Gobert for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game. Kanter and Gobert were teammates for a season and a half together with the Utah Jazz before Kanter was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Gobert's performance against the Dallas Mavericks prompted Kanter's tweet. In the Saturday contest, Gobert totaled 22 points, 17 boards, and five blocks, including a game-winning one at the end of regulation.

Despite his defensive prowess, Gobert has never made an All-Star appearance. He has two Defensive Player of the Year awards and two All-NBA nods, but the All-Star appearance has eluded him.

Given that Gobert is averaging 15.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.0 blocks per game, and is shooting 68.3 percent from the field, it probably should be his year to make it. We'll see if Kanter's tweet has any influence on the minds of the coaches voting for All-Star reserves.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pelicans, which begins Sunday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 6 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

How Tremont Waters, Romeo Langford fared for Red Claws vs. Westchester Knicks

How Tremont Waters, Romeo Langford fared for Red Claws vs. Westchester Knicks

The Maine Red Claws came into the Westchester County Center Saturday night looking to extend their win streak to three. No strangers to furious late-game rallies of late, Maine got another such scare just when things were looking comfy. 

The Westchester Knicks seized control in the fourth quarter, using a 14-2 run to take a 97-94 lead with six minutes to go. But that momentum was short-lived. Sparked by a three-pointer from 2019 second-round pick Tremont Waters, the Claws closed the game out on a 16-6 run to give them their 10th win in 11 games.

Here's a look at Waters and 2019 first-round pick Romeo Langford’s best highlights, and their final stat lines.

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TREMONT WATERS

As usual, the rookie from LSU — who grew up in New Haven, just an hour north of the Knicks’ arena in White Plains, N.Y. — was one of Maine’s steadiest. With an effective field goal percentage of 63 and a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, he took command when the Claws needed him most. He finished with 21 points and six rebounds, all of them defensive.

ROMEO LANGFORD

It wasn’t a pretty night for Langford, who started the evening 2 for 10 from the floor and finished 33 percent shooting for 14 points. But despite the lack of stat sheet appeal, he was a team-high plus-14 in 33 minutes.

After Waters, the two most productive nights belonged to Yante Maten and Kaiser Gates. Maten, the former SEC Player of the Year at Georgia, was 8 for 12 from the floor for a team-high 23 points and nine rebounds despite being a team-worst minus-6. Gates was 3 for 8 from three-point range and a plus-10, finishing with 15 points and six rebounds.

The Red Claws are now 8-1 in January, good enough for second in the G League’s Eastern Conference. Optimism continues to bloom with this young but talented roster.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pelicans, which begins Sunday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.