Still-defiant Danny Ainge ready to see what Celtics can do in free agency

Still-defiant Danny Ainge ready to see what Celtics can do in free agency

BOSTON — Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge scoffed at the notion that players might be leery of playing in Boston given the fallout from last season and said his staff will spend this week coming up with a plan for how to aggressively attack Sunday's start of free agency. 

After the draft on Thursday, a defiant Ainge insisted players were “dying” to be in Boston, even as the team braces for the likelihood that All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford will walk away this summer. After introducing the team’s four new draftees on Monday at the Auerbach Center, Ainge was emphatic again when asked if players would be leery of coming to Boston give the circumstances of last season.

"I don't think so at all,” said Ainge. “No.”

The bigger challenge for Ainge and his front office pals is simply trying to get ready for the frenetic start of free agency given that it seemed unlikely until recently that Boston would have potential cap space to work with.

If Irving and Horford walk away, and the Celtics renounce the rights to their other free agents, Boston can generate nearly $34 million in cap room to start the summer. That number drops to closer to $26 million if the team extends a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Terry Rozier while waiting to see what sort of market develops for the point guard.

That unexpected cap space leaves Boston with a variety of avenues it could travel at the start of free agency. The Celtics could try to elbow their way into the conversation with a big-ticket free agent, or pursue a lower-tier and leave some flexibility with building out the rest of the roster. Boston could also use that space to seek talent in trades, or simply eat a bad contract in exchange for future assets that might aid the quest for a star talent further down the road.

The question that Boston brass must figure out is what’s feasible at the start of free agency. Can they get meetings with top players now, or would their time and energy be better spent on lower-tier targets?

"I like the fact that we have different opportunities,” said Ainge. "And we have some flexibility but I don’t really know what is realistic yet. That’s what we’ll spend the rest of this week trying to figure out is what even do we have a chance to do and where should be our priorities? But I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m excited about the flexibility that we have. I’m excited about the youth that we have and some of our returning players. I think it’s going to be a really fun year. Looking forward to it.”

Ainge said that his staff will be prepared for all potential avenues.

“We have a really good feel for all the players in the league, who they are and how they might fit with us and our needs and so forth,” said Ainge. "I wouldn't say a lot more homework but we will have a lot of conversation. That's probably the biggest thing, just to get organized as we possibly can for all the possible scenarios in free agency."

A few more notes from Ainge’s eight-minute session with reporters: 

* Ainge confirmed an ESPN report that the Celtics plan to hire Fairmont State coach Joe Mazzulla for their assistant coaching vacancy. Said Ainge: "I think we’re a little ahead of ourselves but, yeah, we’re moving in that direction. It’s not been finalized yet but we’re moving in that direction. We’ve had Joe here with us [with the Maine Red Claws] before and he’s well-liked by everybody.”

* In the same vein, Ainge admitted the team plans to bring in undrafted big man Tacko Fall to be part of the team’s summer squad. "So, again, those things aren’t final final so I can’t really make comments on them,” said Ainge. "But we do have intentions of having Tacko play with us in the summer league and coming to [summer league] camp next week.”

* Ainge remains incredibly bullish on what’s ahead next season for Gordon Hayward: "I think Gordon is going to have a great year. He's putting in as much work as anybody and we get to see it. I mean, he's here a lot. I'm very excited for Gordon's upcoming year."

Why C's should feel good about their future>>>>

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Marcus Smart shares beautiful tribute to mother one year after her death

Marcus Smart shares beautiful tribute to mother one year after her death

Sept. 16, 2019 marks one year since Marcus Smart's mother, Camellia, passed away after a battle with cancer.

Since then, Smart has paid tribute to Camellia in several touching ways. Before last year's season opener, the Celtics guard honored his mom by dressing like a "little king" -- a name she always used to call him. He also has a tattoo to remember her, and continues to make her proud by putting his heart and soul into every single play and representing his home country in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

On Monday, Smart took to social media to honor Camellia with a heartfelt message.

Read below:

Beautifully said.

With the FIBA World Cup in the rearview, Smart's attention shifts to the start of Celtics camp a few weeks from now. He'll hope the chemistry built overseas with C's teammates Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown will carry over to the season opener on Oct. 23.

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: What is the most intriguing camp storyline?

AP Photo

Countdown to Celtics Camp: What is the most intriguing camp storyline?

The Boston Celtics will huddle two weeks from today for Media Day and the unofficial start of the 2019-20 season. The next day, they’ll launch into two-a-day sessions and the start of training camp at the Auerbach Center. Basketball is just about back.

Not that it ever left. The NBA experienced maybe its wildest summer in league history as stars relocated all over the map. The late summer/early fall doldrums were filled by the FIBA World Cup and Team USA’s roster featured four of Boston’s primary rotation players, including newly signed All-Star Kemba Walker.

Still, when camp opens for the Celtics, it’ll have been nearly five months since their head-slapping 2018-19 campaign ended unceremoniously with the Milwaukee Bucks rattling off four straight wins in the conference semifinals. A lot has changed with the departures of Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris. The Celtics are hoping that the “Plan A” additions of Walker and Enes Kanter can help them remain competitive in a wide-open East.

But there’s no shortage of questions to be answered about this team.

So today we’re unveiling our Countdown to Camp series, a two-week march to Media Day in which some of NBC Sports Boston’s top hoops voices will join me in trying to set the table for the new season.

Today’s topic: What will be the most intriguing storyline at training camp?

This writer’s choice: How does Gordon Hayward look after a summer of working out in Boston, and what sort of expectations will emerge as he prepares for a season now two years removed from that gruesome ankle injury in Cleveland.

Maybe it’s because much of Boston’s other key players have been on an international stage for the past month while Hayward has been grinding away back home that makes Hayward’s progress so intriguing. Every time a Celtics teammate, coach, or front-office figure has talked to reporters this offseason, the conversation has always included some form of gushing about Hayward and the upcoming season.

Heck, that hype train left the station back in early June when, just a few weeks removed from Boston’s playoff exit, Danny Ainge detailed Hayward’s initial workout schedule and how he was “anticipating great things from Gordon this season.” 

Along the way, we learned Hayward was selling his San Diego residence an had spent nearly his entire summer in Boston working out with the coaches and trainers at the team’s facility. Just last week, Celtics coach Brad Stevens further elevated the Hayward intrigue level by saying that Hayward has put himself in position for a “great” season with his offseason workouts while discussing Hayward’s summer on Jeff Goodman’s podcast.

Later in this series, we’ll get into what exactly type of season Hayward might have and how his role might change now after the departure of the two All-Stars he used to share the locker room with. Boston’s roster got incredibly young this offseason and it’s clear that 29-year-olds Walker and Hayward will be in the leadership spotlight.

But the start of camp will allow us to set our expectations gauge for Hayward. He had some very encouraging moments at the end of the 2018-19 season, particularly in Boston’s first-round sweep of the Indiana Pacers. Alas, his struggles against Milwaukee confirmed that he was still searching for his pre-injury consistency and it tempered expectations entering the offseason.

In a way, it feels like some have forgotten just how good Hayward was before the injury and how his all-around talents made him a top-25-caliber player in the league. Hayward might never quite get back to that level but those glimpses at the end of last season suggest he can really impact winning. 

A new-look roster, and restored confidence, might give him a chance to accentuate his talents again this season. The Celtics are loaded with wing depth and must figure out how all those versatile pieces fit together but if Hayward gets back to the player he was, and Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown make leaps, that would be Boston’s most direct path to being a true contender.

So if we get a glimpse of 5-on-5 work to close out one of the team’s early sessions of camp, these eyes will be directly on Hayward.

Here’s what others in our panel will be keeping an eye on:

Abby Chin: The adjustment of — and to — Kemba Walker

This covers multiple angles, not the least of which, I assume, will be an improved vibe in the locker room. There’s a big adjustment for Walker with a new team, new environment, and leaving the only NBA home he’s ever known. That can’t be understated. 

Al Horford said it took him the better part of a year to really get comfortable after he made the move from Atlanta, and that surprised him. It’s all-encompassing for every area of your life: new house, new facility, new coaching staff and trainers. Even just figuring out the best way to get to TD Garden to avoid traffic. Everything is different. 

And, of course, the adjustment on the court for Walker, and for his new teammates in playing with Walker. This is the most talented group of guys Walker has ever played alongside during an NBA season. How does he balance his 1-on-1, pick-and-roll heavy style with getting others involved? Irving never really figured that out. How effectively is Walker able to pick his spots? His teammates have to adjust to a new floor general as well. A few got a head start with Team USA but it’s still going to take time to gel.

Sherrod Blakely: The wing position

Jaylen Brown is in a contract year. Jayson Tatum will look to take a significant leap forward.  Gordon Hayward's looking to get back to the player he was prior to coming to Boston. Keeping all three happy this year? Good luck with that Brad Stevens.


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