Celtics

Smart likely to sign qualifying offer to return to Celtics

Smart likely to sign qualifying offer to return to Celtics

LAS VEGAS – While no deal is imminent, two NBA officials whose teams have had some level of interest in Marcus Smart are getting a strong sense that he will sign the $6.1 million qualifying offer made by the Celtics and become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019.

His restricted free agent status has been the main reason why teams have been reluctant to give Smart an offer sheet, fearful that the Celtics will match it, according to one official.

Recent reports indicate Smart has not been pleased by the lack of reaching out by the Celtics to get a deal done.

From the Celtics’ perspective, they have maintained throughout this process that they want to have Smart back next season, but they want to do it relative to what his market value is.

And right now, because he has yet to receive an offer sheet from another team, the Celtics are waiting for that shoe to drop and then proceed. The other issue for the Celtics is the luxury tax, something they would be extremely close to exceeding depending on how much they pay Smart.

Celtics ownership has shown in past years a willingness to exceed the luxury tax if it meant the difference between being a title contender or not.

And there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that having Smart back next season will strengthen Boston’s chances at getting to the NBA Finals. But the Celtics don’t want to start the repeater luxury-tax clock sooner than they have to, or significantly overpay, which is why they are just as eager as Smart and his camp are to see what another team is willing to pay for the 6-foot-4 guard's services.

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The Boston Celtics' Week 1 Stars, Studs, and Duds

The Boston Celtics' Week 1 Stars, Studs, and Duds

BOSTON – Considering how bad the preseason went for the Boston Celtics in terms of wins and losses, concluding the first real week of the season with a 2-1 record isn’t too shabby, especially when you consider the lone loss came at Toronto which has owned the Celtics North of the Border with wins in 10 of their last 11 meetings.

But this week has been anything but predictable.

We have seen unexpected growth from some of the team’s youngest players, while other seasoned veterans (Kyrie Irving) haven't exactly hit the ground running producing at a level we’re accustomed to.

But one thing has unfortunately been similar to what we saw last season after the first week – injuries.

Aron Baynes suffered a right hamstring injury in the second quarter of Boston’s 103-101 win at New York on Saturday, an injury that has created some uncertainty as to when the veteran center will return to action.

However, injuries have served as an opportunity for others to get a chance to play and depending on the extent of Baynes’ injury, don’t be surprised to see guys near the end of the bench such as Guerschon Yabusele and Daniel Theis find their way on to the court more consistently depending on how long Baynes will be sidelined.

Here are the Week 1 Stars, Studs and Duds for the Boston Celtics.

STARS

Jayson Tatum: Three games into the season and Tatum is off to a fast start as the best all-around player on the Celtics roster. He scored the final six points in Boston’s 103-101 win at New York on Sunday as part of a strong start to the season. In three games, Tatum has averaged a double-double of 21 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Kyrie Irving: The numbers are not what Irving or his legion of fans are used to seeing, even this early in the season. In three games, he’s shooting just 34 percent from the field, averaging 14.7 points and six assists per game. But the days of Irving needing to score a ton of points to impact games, are over. He’ll have those nights, for sure. But he’s finding ways to put his imprint on the game in other ways such as timely passes for teammates leading to easy buckets, or playing the passing lanes defensively to help create turnovers. The numbers aren’t there, but it’s clear that Irving continues to do star-like things in order to help Boston win.

STUDS

Al Horford: Arguably the most consistent player for the Celtics thus far, Horford has been really strong out of the gates with his defense and rebounding. After three games, Horford is averaging 2.0 blocks and 8.0 rebounds while scoring 10.3 points per game. Depending on the status of Aron Baynes, Boston may find itself leaning even more on Horford during the early part of this season for both rebounding and defense.

Marcus Morris: He has talked a lot about how good he and the Celtics’ bench are this season. And to Morris’ credit, he’s backed up every word thus far. The leader of B.W.A. (Bench With Attitude) has averaged 13.3 points on 45.2 percent shooting from the field, along with six rebounds per game. In addition, Morris’ versatility as a defender has been a huge plus for Boston in its efforts to continue being a position-less team capable of creating mismatches at multiple positions seemingly every possession.

DUDS

Jaylen Brown: His versatility as a two-way talent is undeniable. But Brown hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts, particularly when it comes to defense. The league’s new emphasis on limiting hand contact while defending, has been an adjustment of sorts for Brown who has averaged 3.7 personal fouls per game which is a noticeable spike compared to what he averaged last season (2.6) and during his rookie season (1.8). But more important, is how he’s defending when not being called for a foul. In the win over the New York Knicks, players defended by Brown connected on 11 of their 16 shots from the field with Tim Hardaway Jr. doing most of the damage. According to NBA.com/stats, Hardaway was 6-for-10 shooting when guarded by Brown. The rest of time, he missed nine of his 11 field goal attempts.  

Injuries: Having been hit with a haymaker on the injury front a year ago (Gordon Hayward), you would have thought the basketball gods would have at least let the Celtics make it through the first week injury-free. Nope. Aron Baynes has a right hamstring injury and it isn't clear when he'll return to the floor. The center position is the one area where Boston doesn't have a lot of depth so not having Baynes, for any significant amount of time, is a huge blow. 

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Celtics keep Jayson Tatum grounded on climb to superstardom

Celtics keep Jayson Tatum grounded on climb to superstardom

NEW YORK — This is what it has come to: Jayson Tatum can Dream Shake his way into a one-foot fadeaway jumper in the closing seconds under the bright lights at Madison Square Garden and his late-game clutchness is met with shoulder shrugs from both the 20-year-old star in the making and all of his teammates.

Like vintage Paul Pierce on the MSG stage, Tatum dazzled in the final minute on Saturday night, scoring Boston’s final six points as a tired-leg Celtics squad fended off the Knicks in a 103-101 triumph.

In little more than a year, Tatum has made these sort of moments seem perfunctory. His teammates seem nonplussed by his actions, like when Marcus Morris, who provided a mentoring presence for Tatum throughout his rookie season, downplayed Saturday’s late-game highlights by noting, “We see him in practice every day, so it’s really not new to us.”

Celtics coaches and teammates were actually more eager to point out Tatum’s miscues in the final minute. They needled him for a missed dunk right before what should have been the game-sealing fadeaway — if Tatum hadn’t committed a three-shot foul at the other end (fortunately for Tatum, Trey Burke missed the first of three freebies to help Boston escape).

As Celtics coach Brad Stevens arrived for his postgame press conference, a reporter referenced Boston’s late-game execution and started to ask about Tatum when the coach interjected to finish the query himself.

“Redeeming himself?” asked Stevens, needling the second-year forward for the missed dunk. 

Kyrie Irving, as bullish as anyone in the Boston locker room on Tatum’s ceiling, also playfully chided Tatum about the missed slam.

"He should have made the dunk,” said Irving. "I told him, ‘I can’t dunk it for you, I can only pass you the ball.’ We joke about it, but even when he got the ball back, it was like three people all on one side screaming for the basketball. I was weak side, had my hands up as well like, ‘Yo, what’s going on?’”

A smile on his face, Irving finally threw Tatum a bone.

"He just made an unbelievable move, dream shake, tough shot,” said Irving. "That guy’s just super talented. To be so young, to be so poised, it’s an awesome trait for him.”

Irving, even as he shakes the rust from the two knee surgeries that cut short his 2017-18 season, is still Boston’s most unique talent. There have been small glimpses that remind us how good Irving can — and will — be, including a stretch in the fourth-quarter on Saturday night in which Irving seemed like the hero-in-the-making with flashy feeds and finishes.

But it’s becoming so very obvious that Tatum will eventually be Boston’s most talented all-around player. He’s got the size, skill, and basketball IQ that distinguishes him from even his most talented young peers. Maybe we needn’t hesitate when we wonder if Tatum will soon emerge as one the league’s top 10 players.

Because there have been no indications to think otherwise. Tatum finished Saturday’s game with a season-high 24 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. The absence of Gordon Hayward, resting his ankle on the second night of a back-to-back, only allowed Tatum to be more assertive. And while there will undoubtedly still be growing pains and Tatum must develop the consistency that all superstars in this league display, he has undoubtedly asserted himself as star ready.

"Go back to last year when he really came into his own,” said Morris. "Go around the league, there’s a lot of really young guys showing they can play at a high level, and Tatum is doing it every night. He’s carving his name into the league.”

Still, his teammates won’t let him get a big head about where he’s headed. Morris declared he would have blocked Tatum’s fadeaway if it had been one of the team’s spirited intrasquad scrimmages.

"I would have swiped that,” said Morris. “Left-shoulder fadeaway on one foot. I already knew it was coming.”

Just like everyone in Boston's locker room knows where Tatum is headed as a player. But, like that fadeaway, there’s probably nothing the rest of the league can do to stop it.

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