Associated Press

Danny Ainge makes it clear he will explore trades for No. 1 pick, but may keep it


Danny Ainge and the Celtics are in a strong spot, but they have questions to be answered.

They earned the No. 1 seed in the East, they are unquestionably a team on the rise, but they are in a conference where LeBron James dominates the postseason and has for going on seven years. Do the Celtics want to make a big move this summer to bring in one more star player and make a run at the brick wall that is whatever team LeBron plays on? Or do they continue to be patient and try to be the best team in three years when, in theory, LeBron starts to fade?

Landing the No. 1 pick in this draft gives Ainge options.

On a conference call after getting the pick, Ainge was far too smart to tip his hand. He might well keep the pick (and if you listen to the comments from Boston ownership on the night, this is the likely option).

“We’re looking for the best overall player, and that hasn’t been decided yet…” Ainge said, adding he wants to work out and take a closer look at a number of players, although almost everyone has Markelle Fultz on the top of their draft boards.

“I’ve thought about that with all our players and how (the potential top picks) fit with our core. The beauty of Isaiah (Thomas) is he can play any system.”

But what about the rumors that the Celtics will move the top for an elite player to help them win now? Someone such as Jimmy Butler from Chicago or Paul George from Indiana, two guys Boston reportedly discussed the pick with at the trade deadline.

“At the trade deadline we were trading away the possibility of the No. 1 pick, a 25 percent chance of the No. 1 pick, but that’s a 75 percent chance of not having that pick, and that’s how teams look at it, which is probably why we didn’t get a deal done,” Ainge said. “Now we have the No. 1 pick and we will explore the value of it.”

Trading the pick makes sense if Ainge feels LeBron and the Cavaliers are a little vulnerable, and if one more key player puts them into serious competition in a best-of-seven playoff series (the Eastern Conference Finals will make a good benchmark for him).

Keeping the pick and drafting either of the top guards in the draft — Fultz or Lonzo Ball — creates another question for Ainge: What to do about Isaiah Thomas in the future? He is a free agent in the summer of 2018 when he will command max money at age 29. Does Boston want to pay him that if Fultz/Ball is seen as the point guard of the future? Do they let him walk at that point? How much does Thomas being a fan favorite play into this? The Celtics could use cap space to extend him this summer to a deal they like better, but it’s unclear if Boston would do that (probably not) or if Thomas would go for that. No simple decisions there, as a four-year max may be longer than they want to go with him.

The choices aren’t simple, but by winning the lottery the Celtics have plenty of options now.

Just don’t expect Ainge to tip his hand until all the chips are on the table draft night.

Joel Embiid frustrated, wants more post touches, to play back-to-backs


Joel Embiid remains a frustrated man.

He wants to be unleashed on the NBA, and he feels he’s being held back.

Part of that is not playing in back-to-backs — Embiid started Friday night against Boston but will sit out by plan Saturday night against the Raptors in Toronto. Embiid knows the plan to help protect a body that has played only 31 games in three seasons before this one and was not cleared for most of training camp, but that doesn’t mean he likes it, as he told Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“I just want to feel like an NBA player,” Embiid said.  “I feel like I’m not an NBA player because I can’t play back-to-back.”

I get his frustration, but can you blame the Sixers for treating the guy like he’s made of glass at this point? Hopefully, later in the season, he can be cleared to play on both ends.

His second frustration came from the loss to the Cavaliers on Friday — he wants more post touches. In the video above he is clear, “I didn’t get the ball enough in the post.”

He’s right here. Embiid had three post-ups all game, one in each of the game’s first three quarters (stat via Synergy Sports). Embiid is efficient in the post — he has shot 9-of-12 on those plays overall this season and the Sixers score 1.33 points per possession when he does. Especially against a team going small — the Cavaliers start Kevin Love at center — Embiid should be fed down low.

Instead, look at his shot chart from Friday night.

Part of this is on him with all the threes, but they have to utilize him better. It’s part of the Sixers growing pains that will come this season.

Nets’ national anthem singer kneels to finish performance

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NEW YORK (AP)—  The national anthem singer at the Brooklyn Nets’ home opener took a knee at the end of her performance.

Justine Skye was nearing the completion of the song Friday night when she went to one knee for the finish. There were some cheers, but appeared to be more boos from the crowd at Barclays Center to see the Nets play the Orlando Magic.

NBA players have continued to stand during the playing of the anthems, as required by league rule.

Mavericks’ rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. misses game with knee swelling

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DALLAS (AP) — Dallas Mavericks rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. missed Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings with swelling in his left knee.

Smith, the ninth pick in the NBA draft out of North Carolina State, had 16 points and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ season-opening loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Smith participated in the Mavericks’ shootaround on Friday morning and was a late scratch. It is not known if Smith will play Saturday for Dallas.

The Mavericks were also missing guard Devin Harris, who was granted leave of absence after his brother died on Thursday.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night


This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.