Danny Ainge is still waiting for the Celtics’ identity to emerge

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This we know of the 2011-2012 Boston Celtics: They’re inconsistent as hell, and “inconsistent as hell,” doesn’t quite work against the likes of the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls. Boston has a long way to go before their championship prospects are treated with any kind of legitimacy, and the first step in that process is undoubtedly the establishment of some kind of collective identity. At the moment, it’s impossible for observers to discern exactly who these Celtics are — not because their true nature is disguised in the insanity of a lockout season, but because even the Celtics themselves are figuring out what kind of team they’re capable of becoming.

We know that the Celtics are among the league’s oldest teams. We know that Rajon Rondo’s play can be a bit erratic, that Paul Pierce is doing what he can with a slowed first step, and that Kevin Garnett doesn’t even attempt to take opponents off the dribble anymore. We know that their bench is filled with role players of varying competency, but that the Celtics as a collective unit are a bit lacking in terms of overall talent.

But we’re still determining how all of those interactive factors manifest themselves in a holistic form — how the combination of all that the Celtics are manifests itself on a day-to-day basis. We’re still waiting to see the best that these Celtics can muster, and Boston general manager Danny Ainge (per WEEI in Boston with Dennis and Callahan and via Sports Radio Interviews) is apparently waiting for that very same thing:

“Well, right now we’re, I don’t even know, we’re a seven or eight seed. That’s who we are. There’s no denying that. Every team has plunges in this sort of crazy season, so that’s who we are right now. But do I think we can be better? Yeah. We haven’t played to our capabilities yet. We haven’t been at full strength. I’m not sure who our team is honestly at this stage. So we’re waiting to see that. But we need to get to the playoffs and find out. But I’m not really afraid of who we play in the first round, or the second round. It’s going to be tough no matter who we play. And I’m not afraid of playing the best teams in the first round.”

Ainge has every reason in the world to insist that his team can play better, but in this case it’s hard to find fault in his general assessment that we haven’t seen the real Celtics just yet. Some may disagree that Boston is better than its current standing, but the flashes of truly effective basketball — which have lasted from a string of plays to entire games this season — hint at a pretty decent team that’s merely struggling to execute. That doesn’t mean that the Celtics will ever figure out a way to stabilize, but the contrast between Boston’s highs and lows has only served to accentuate both poles.

That said, I’d disagree with one particular aspect of Ainge’s assessment: we have seen the Celtics play to their capabilities thus far. It’s just been for short bursts bookended with incompetence, framed in such a way to make it more exception than rule. Boston has been both better and worse than the seventh or eighth seed this season, and though we may spend the entire campaign trying to figure out where the Celtics’ baseline really places them in the context of the Eastern Conference, prolonged inconsistency may speak more to the team’s nature than their peaks and valleys ever could.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.