Daniel Theis

One lesson each Celtics player can take away from World Cup

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One lesson each Celtics player can take away from World Cup

Team Shamrock’s FIBA adventures ended with a whimper Saturday as — under the cloak of East Coast darkness — three of the four Celtics on Team USA logged DNPs (eight points for Jaylen Brown) while the Americans claimed seventh place with an 87-74 win over Poland. Combine that with the fact that Daniel Theis got limited reps with Germany’s early exit and Daniel Poirier hasn’t played big minutes while backing up Rudy Gobert for France and the World Cup experience wasn’t quite as robust as it could have been for the six Celtics players involved.

Still, there were positives to pluck and experiences gained by everyone involved, not the least of which is that a third of Boston’s roster will show up to camp on Oct. 1 in game-ready shape. Still, regardless of Team USA’s medal-less finish and the limited reps for Theis and Poirier, there’s at least one item or lesson that every player can bring with them into the new season.

Will Trader Danny Ainge be more active this season for the Celtics?

Will Trader Danny Ainge be more active this season for the Celtics?

BOSTON -- One of the main reasons Danny Ainge has been reluctant to make any major changes to the Celtics roster the past couple of years, is because the team he assembled when healthy was good enough on paper to compete with the upper echelon in the NBA. 

This season? 

Not so much. 

Compared to the past couple seasons, there’s a heightened level of uncertainty as to what this Celtics team is capable of and because of that, the specter of a potential trade looms a lot larger now. 

Ainge, in a recent conversation at WBUR’s CitySpace, talked about the trade potential for this season. 

“I don’t think our team is like a perfect fit,” Ainge said. “I don’t think Brad [Stevens] knows who his starting lineup is, who his first sub off the bench is, and what each guy is going to bring to the table.”

The Celtics lost a pair of All-Stars in Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn) and Al Horford (Philadelphia) to free agency.

Marcus Morris, a key reserve and part-time starter the past couple of seasons, signed a one-year, $15 million deal with the New York Knicks. 

Boston also traded Aron Baynes to Phoenix.

With a clear lack of bigs, Boston signed Enes Kanter, who will likely be the team’s starting center to begin the season. They also re-signed Daniel Theis, along with 7-foot center Vincent Poirier from France, to join a big-man contingent that also includes second-year center Robert Williams.

Boston also selected Tennessee forward Grant Williams in the first round of the draft and signed 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall to an Exhibit 10 contract. 

As far as what the new guys meshing with the returners will bring to the table, that’s going to be a process of sorts for sure this season. 

Still, the X-factor in all this is the Celtics’ depth at the wing position which includes Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Beyond those three, the Celtics also have Semi Ojeleye, who can play both forward positions, 6-6 Romeo Langford, who was the Celtics’ lottery pick from in the draft, in addition to summer league standout Javonte Green, who has a partially guaranteed contract and is in the mix for Boston’s 15th and final roster spot. 

Well aware of the team’s depth at the wing and dearth of proven talent in the frontcourt, Ainge admits that he might have to move one of his wings in order to shore up the team’s frontcourt. 

“So the question is, do you trade for need or do you trade for talent?” Ainge said. “Because I think we have some really talented wings. And we have some uncertainty at the 4 [power forward] and the 5 [center]. So, let’s hope our fours and fives can play as well as we hope they can and we can keep our talented wings because we need a lot of them.” 

Ainge knows trading players is a reality that comes with the job. 

That doesn’t make it any easier, though. 

“I invest a lot emotionally with the kids … trading is hard,” Ainge said. “Trading a player that you drafted, that you develop a relationship with, root for every second, get to know their families, that’s really hard. That’s a really hard process. But that’s just part of the job. It’s a hard job and that’s the hardest part of it, is trading away players. But ultimately we have to do what’s best.”

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Celtics Vincent Poirier, Daniel Theis square off in FIBA World Cup

Celtics Vincent Poirier, Daniel Theis square off in FIBA World Cup

Call it a tiny preview of Boston Celtics training camp.

Early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s FIBA opener between France and Germany, Daniel Theis caught a lob above Vincent Poirier and threw down an alley-oop jam as Poirier crashed to the floor beneath him.

A short time later, Poirier and Theis found themselves chasing the same rebound. Poirier, the incoming Celtics rookie signed to a two-year deal this summer, crashed hard from the 3-point line and Theis got whistled for a foul when he sent Poirier spilling beyond the baseline while trying to prevent the offensive rebound.

For Celtics fans, it was a neat little glimpse of two players that could push each other for minutes this season in Boston’s wide-open competition for frontcourt minutes.

While the focus of most Boston fans Sunday was understandably on Team Shamrock — the four-man Celtics contingent comprising a third of Team USA’s roster as it opened group play against the Czech Republic at the FIBA world championships — the France/Germany game in the same time slot offered a convincing reason to click over.

While Kemba Walker dazzled in Team USA’s win, reminding again that there might not be a tremendous drop off as the Celtics swap him in for the departed Kyrie Irving, there remains an obvious void in Boston’s frontcourt after Al Horford signed in Philadelphia and Aron Baynes got dealt to Phoenix.

The Celtics are hopeful that Enes Kanter can give an offensive jolt up front and 2018 first-round pick Robert Williams will get every opportunity to show he’s ready for a bigger role. But both Poirier and Theis will have a shot to prove they deserve big minutes as well.

In Sunday’s small sample, Poirier had the louder day. He finished with nine points on 3-of-4 shooting over just 9:28. Poirier’s scoring burst included him swooping in over three red shirts to slam home a putback, then he leaked out behind the German defense later in the first half for another emphatic two-handed slam.

Poirier finished with four rebounds but was also a minus-8 in his floor time. While his offensive talents are obvious, with him eager to rumble towards the rim after setting screens or in transition, the defensive end remains a work in progress for the 7-footer. 

Theis never found his shot, missing four of the five shots he put up over 11:47. He did grab eight rebounds, including three on the offensive glass, but was minus-14 overall. Neither Theis nor Poirier were on the court for the final minutes as France stiff-armed Germany’s comeback attempt.

It’s easy to forget that Theis was starting to emerge two seasons ago before the meniscus tear that ended his 2017-18 season and forced him to miss Boston’s playoff run. Theis played only 908 minutes this past season but had one of the better net ratings on the team at plus-7.4 points per 100 possessions. Theis shot 38.8 percent beyond the 3-point arc and can make himself quite valuable as a floor-stretcher if he keeps shooting like that.

The Celtics imported Poirier with an obvious need for pure size with Baynes’ departure. Fellow rookie Grant Williams could be an undersized option in the frontcourt but there are minutes to be claimed by whoever wants them most.

The Celtics are likely going to have to mix and match a bit. Theis had good stretches last year but also got feasted on by stronger 5s like Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid. Poirier has the size and strength to joust a bit more but will have to earn coach Brad Stevens’ trust on the defensive end.

Asked about Poirier last month, Stevens offered a short scouting report while acknowledging Boston’s diversity at the position.

"I worked out Vincent a few times when he was here in his travels, just upon signing the contract as we were recruiting him to come, spent some time with him,” said Stevens. "Good athlete, plays way above the rim on his rolls, and, that center position for us is going to be -- you know, each of those guys brings a unique versatility to us. And we’re going to lean on all of them.

"So that will be a fun group because it’s not like maybe we’ve had in the past where you have a guy like Horford, who you play through at the 3-point line so much. And you’ve got to play through other guys in different ways.”

All six of Boston’s players at FIBA play again Tuesday morning. Germany goes against the Dominican Republic, France dances with Jordan, and Team USA jousts with Turkey (whose roster includes former big man import Semih Erden).

BLAKELY: More to FIBA than Team USA for Celtics fans>>> 

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