Celtics’ Stevens remains humble as team continues to thrive

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WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) — When Brad Stevens accepted the Celtics head coaching job five years ago, he didn’t allow himself to get caught up in thinking about how he could add his name to the franchise’s rich history.

He was too busy trying to figure out how to avoid being buried under it.

“You realize that if you’re going to break records here, you’re probably going to break bad ones,” he recently said. “Because none of the good ones are reachable.”

While achieving Red Auerbach status may not be on Stevens’ radar, in just his fifth season there’s no question the 41-year-old is also beyond being the wide-eyed former Butler University coach who arrived in Boston.

In a timeframe that has often already swallowed up most first-time NBA coaches, he’s managed to endear himself to a championship-driven city by helping Boston make an improbable run back to the Eastern Conference finals.

The Celtics seemingly had their championship hopes derailed following the season-ending injuries to both of their offseason additions in Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving.

Yet, Boston won 55 games during the regular season and increased its win total for the fifth consecutive season under Stevens.

Despite having a roster that was down to just 11 healthy players by the end of their second-round win over Philadelphia, the Celtics enter their conference finals rematch with Cleveland on Sunday with an 8-0 record at home this postseason.

They are also the first team in NBA history to make it back to this point without their leading scorer from the regular season (Irving).

Most of the NBA community was taken aback after Stevens failed to receive a single vote from his peers when the National Basketball Coaches Association gave out its coach of the year award. The honor went to Toronto’s Dwane Casey, who was fired Thursday after his team was swept in the East semifinals by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Stevens has always downplayed the attention placed on coaching awards. He said that he thought Casey deserved the honor and didn’t expect him to be without a job for long.

Boston’s successes this season aside, Stevens said comfort remains a commodity this profession.

“I don’t think that I would ever define anybody in the coaching or playing shoes probably as comfortable,” he said. “You’re just focused on what’s next. But it is basketball. There’s only so much you can do.”

But it’s also clear that one of the reasons that Casey lost his job was the Raptors’ inability to challenge the Cavs in the postseason. Toronto was also swept out of the playoffs by Cleveland last season.

Most of the credit for Boston’s run thus far surely belongs to veteran Al Horford and the Celtics’ corps of young players, including Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum.

Stevens agrees with that assessment and has remained true to his style by blending into the background in public, instead waiting for the huddle or practice to make his voice heard.

He believes his team’s mental toughness and grit have carried it more than anything he’s done.

Horford said Stevens hasn’t shied away from putting their young players in pressure situations.

“I think a lot of our guys have been thrown into the fire. I think it’s been designed that way so guys can just develop and learn as they go,” Horford said. “But I think that one of the things that helps them is the way that coach helps them prepare and the way that he teaches them the game.”

There is also at least one person watching from afar who thinks a lot of the credit belongs to Stevens. And it just happens to be the same player he will spend the next few weeks trying to stop: LeBron James.

From Stevens’ ability to draw up plays out of timeouts, to his management of late-clock situations, to getting the best out of his roster, James has long been a fan.

“I think they are one of the most well-coached teams in our league,” James said. “No matter who has played for them, he can put guys in position to succeed and get the most out of whoever has been in their lineup over the past few years. It’s not just this year.”

Stevens said he’s focused on living in the moment.

“From our standpoint, I feel like it’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “We talked about it prior to the playoffs; nobody should love a challenge more, nobody should have more fun doing it. I think our guys have done a good job with that.”

And though he may never say it, so has their coach.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.

Pat Riley: Dion Waiters not recovered for start of training camp, “unlikely” for start of season

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This is a setback.

When Dion Waiters had ankle surgery 30 games into last season, the hope was that he would be healthy for the start of this season and return to the post All-Star form of 2017, when his hot play (15.6 points per game, 41 percent from three and carrying a heavy offensive load) led the Heat to offer him a four-year contract.

Turns out, that’s not going to happen.

It was Pat Riley who made the announcement, speaking to the media.

Waiters was not healthy last season, and while he averaged 14.3 points a game he was not nearly as efficient — 30.6 percent from three, shooting 39.8 percent overall, a PER of 10.5.

This could move Dwyane Wade into the starting lineup to open the season. Beyond that, the Heat have the guard depth to survive this with Wade and Wayne Ellington at the two, plus Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Malik Newman, and Briante Weber heading into camp.

Waiters being out also is bad news for the player but could save the franchise money on another front: Waiters receives a $1.1 million bonus if he plays in 70 games this season. If he misses the start of the season, he becomes far less likely to make that threshold.

Michael Jordan donates $2 million to Hurricane Florence recovery efforts

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Michael Jordan is North Carolina through and through. His father is from Wallace, he played his high school ball in Wilmington, he won a national championship in college as a North Carolina Tar Heel in Chapel Hill, and he is now the part-owner and chairman of the Charlotte Hornets.

All those cities have been in the news the past several days for the wrong reasons — they have been part of the devastation Hurricane Florence has unleashed on the region. There are 34 reported deaths from the storm, 26 of those in North Carolina.

To help out, Jordan is donating $2 million to the relief and recovery efforts. Jordan is contributing $1 million each to the American Red Cross and the Foundation For The Carolinas’ Hurricane Florence Response Fund.

“It just hits home,” Jordan told The Associated Press. “I know all of those places: Wilmington, Fayetteville, Myrtle Beach, New Bern, and Wallace… So quite naturally it hits home, and I felt like I had to act in a sense that this is my home.”

This is not all Jordan and his Hornets are doing to help out. Charlotte and Fanatics teamed up to design a T-shirt with the Hornets logo in the middle of the states of North and South Carolina surrounded by the words “Carolina Strong” and 100 percent of the net proceeds from the shirt sales will go to the Foundation For The Carolinas’ Hurricane Florence Response Fund

On Friday, more than 100 members of the Hornets organization will partner will help pack disaster food boxes at Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina. The disaster food boxes – with Food Lion donating the food — will be shipped to Wilmington, N.C., Fayetteville, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and distributed to those who have been directly impacted by the hurricane. The organization’s goal is to pack 5,000 boxes.

 

Report: Celtics were working with Jabari Bird on mental-health treatment before alleged domestic-violence incident

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Celtics guard Jabari Birdaccording to his girlfriend – attacked her over four hours at his apartment, choked her until she passed out, kicked her in the stomach, experienced seizure-like symptoms (allowing her to escape) then threatened to commit suicide if she didn’t return.

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

People around Bird have been aware that he recently had been experiencing, according to one source close to him, “panic attacks and things like that. It wasn’t a long-term thing, but everyone knew. The Celtics knew there was something going on and he was being treated.”

Said another, “This wasn’t one of the domestic-violence situations you usually see where someone gets jealous for one thing and loses control. There was something deeper going on here with (Bird). This was a bad situation.”

First, I’m uncomfortable with Bird’s mental-health issues being discussed publicly by people who remain anonymous. Hopefully, this was an authorized leak by Bird. But if that’s the case, why did his spokespeople seek anonymity? If Bird did not want this information revealed, that’s far more troubling.

But the information is public, and it’s worth discussing. When allegations first became known, many called for Boston to release Bird and the judicial system to throw him in prison. And maybe that will ultimately be the just conclusion. But this case could be far more complex than it initially appeared.