Celtics still sliding, as continuing shakeup goes from roster to front office and coaching staff

Former Celtics coach Brad Stevens and Kemba Walker
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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

In the previous five years, the Celtics acquired four players coming off All-Star seasons. All four have already left Boston. Before departing, they combined to start just 42 playoff wins for the Celtics.

For perspective, Danny Green alone has started 47 playoff wins in that same five year-span.

Not long ago abounding with extra picks and cap space, the Celtics haven’t fulfilled their once-elite promise. At this point, they almost certainly never will. Though building around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with an already-solid supporting cast would be the envy of many teams, Boston was poised to meet even-higher aspirations.

The slow and steady talent drain continued this summer.

Kemba Walker became the latest recent star not to stick with the Celtics – following Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward. Boston traded Walker and the No. 16 pick to the Thunder for Horford. Horford’s contract is significantly cheaper than Walker’s – but Horford’s contract is still the one the Celtics didn’t want to pay in 2019 and the 76ers salary-dumped last year. If this trade were helpful due to Walker’s knee issues, it’s at the very least a disappointing outcome. Though not up to his previous standards and unavailable at the end, Walker was still solid overall last season.

The move was the first executed by Brad Stevens, who replaced a maybe-retiring Danny Ainge as Celtics president. With one fell swoop, Boston probably downgraded at president and coach. First-timers Stevens and new head coach Ime Udoka have big shoes to fill. Ainge was one of the NBA’s top executives, Stevens one of the league’s top coaches.

Another solid player, Evan Fournier left for the Knicks. At least the Celtics turned that into a sign-and-trade to create a large trade exception at the cost of likely only one second-round pick. After he underwhelmed in the playoffs, Fournier won’t be missed by many in Boston.

Tristan Thompson might be even less missed. He got shipped to the Kings, unloading his $9,720,900 salary with relative ease.

Of course, the Celtics – as they have become accustomed to doing – restocked in a fairly intriguing way.

Boston traded for Josh Richardson, who’s a couple years removed from looking like a burgeoning star with the Heat. He didn’t fit well with the 76ers then really underwhelmed with the Mavericks. Perhaps, the 28-year-old will get back on track with the Celtics.

Already, Boston gave him a one-year, $12,196,084 contract extension. That’s a decent hedge with a week free-agent class next summer. Importantly, Richardson received only a 5% raise into the extension – allowing the Celtics to re-trade him.

The Walker-Horford trade opened a big hole at point guard. Rather than relying on just Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard, Boston opportunistically scooped up Dennis Schroder.

Schroder and the Celtics are a marriage of convenience. After reportedly rejecting an $84 million extension from the Lakers and seeking a $100 million-$120 million payday in free agency, Schroder found a cold market. He signed for just the $5.89 million taxpayer mid-level exception.

The one-year contract leaves little room for Schroder to have a long-term future in Boston.

If he plays well, he’ll seek far more than the $7,068,000 Non-Bird Exception the Celtics could fairly easily offer next summer. They could offer their mid-level exception, but so could any team – and that might not be enough.

If he doesn’t play well, Boston won’t want him back, anyway.

But he can help next season, and next season matters. The Celtics are in the wide range of teams that could make the playoffs outright with a top-six finish and even win a series… or could fall into the play-in tournament, where a bad game or two ends their season.

On paper, Schroder fills a big need as a dynamic ballhandler. But given Schroder’s salary goals and the ephemeral team-player relationship, the situation is combustible.

More stable: Boston’s team control of Smart. The Celtics signed the 27-year-old to a fair-looking $77,087,994 contract extension.

Boston also solidified its center rotation. Even at 35, Horford can still play and is familiar with Boston’s system, whatever that’s still worth. Young Robert Williams got a boost in stature with a four-yea extension with $48 million in base salary and $6 million in unlikely bonuses. Though a poor defender, Enes Kanteranother returner – is a bargain on a minimum salary.

Juancho Hernangomez, acquired in a trade with the Grizzlies, adds depth as a stretch four.

After making three of four Eastern Conference finals and winning a playoff series the other year, the Celtics got bounced in the first round last season. This summer, Boston did a decent job of remaining competitive relative to that lower standard.

But optimism for bigger goals is quietly fading. Not only is the roster depreciating (most of which happened prior to this offseason), the Celtics’ stable structure also came undone.

If Stevens and Udoka are ready for their new roles, this grade should be higher. But the uncertainty is unnerving.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: ‘Strong optimism’ Anthony Edwards could return to Timberwolves Sunday

Houston Rockets v Minnesota Timberwolves
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What looked so bad when it happened may only cost Anthony Edwards three games.

Edwards rolled his ankle last week but could be back Sunday when the Timberwolves travel to Golden State, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

Edwards is averaging 24.7 points and 5.9 rebounds a game this season, and he has stepped up to become the team’s primary shot-creator with Karl-Anthony Towns out for much of the season. The Timberwolves have been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions when Edwards is off the court this season.

Towns returned to action a couple of games ago, and with Edwards on Sunday it will be the first time since November the Timberwolves will have their entire core on the court — now with Mike Conley at the point. With the Timberwolves tied for the No.7 seed in an incredibly tight West (they are 1.5 games out of sixth but also one game out of missing the postseason entirely) it couldn’t come at a better time. It’s also not much time to develop of fit and chemistry the team will need in the play-in, and maybe the playoffs.

Nets announce Ben Simmons diagnosed with nerve impingement in back, out indefinitely

NBA: FEB 24 Nets at Bulls
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Ben Simmons — who has been in and out of the Nets’ lineup all season and often struggled when on the court — is out indefinitely due to a nerve impingement in his back, the team announced Friday.

A nerve impingement — sometimes called a pinched nerve — is when a bone or other tissue compresses a nerve. Simmons has a history of back issues going back to his time in Philadelphia, and he had a microdiscectomy about a year ago, after he was traded to Brooklyn.

With two weeks and nine games left in the season, logic would suggest Simmons is done for the season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said Thursday that Simmons has done some individual workouts but nothing with teammates, however, he would not say Simmons is shut down for the season or would not participate in the postseason with Brooklyn.

Simmons had not played since the All-Star break when he got PRP injections to help deal with ongoing knee soreness. When he has played this season offense has been a struggle, he has been hesitant to shoot outside a few feet from the basket and is averaging 6.9 points a game. Vaughn used him mainly as a backup center.

Simmons has two fully guaranteed years and $78 million remaining on his contract after this season. While Nets fans may want Simmons traded, his injury history and that contract will make it very difficult to do so this summer (Brooklyn would have to add so many sweeteners it wouldn’t be worth it).

The Nets have slid to the No.7 seed in the West — part of the play-in — and have a critical game with the Heat on Saturday night.

Frustration rising within Mavericks, ‘We got to fight hard, play harder’


If the postseason started today, the Dallas Mavericks would miss out — not just the playoffs but also the play-in.

The Mavericks fell to the No.11 seed in the West (tied with the Thunder for 10th) after an ugly loss Friday night to a tanking Hornets team playing without LaMelo Ball and on the second night of a back-to-back. Dallas is 3-7 with both Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić playing, and with this latest loss fans booed the Mavericks. What was Jason Kidd’s reaction? Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We probably should have been booed in the first quarter,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said…. “The interest level [from players] wasn’t high,” Kidd said. “It was just disappointing.”

That was a little different than Kyrie Irving’s reaction to the boos.

Then there is franchise cornerstone Luka Dončić, who sounded worn down, by the season and the losing in Dallas.

“We got to fight hard, play harder. That’s about it. We got to show we care and it starts with me first. I’ve just got to lead this team, being better, playing harder. It’s on me….

“I think you can see it with me on the court. Sometimes I don’t feel it’s me. I’m just being out there. I used to have really fun, smiling on court, but it’s just been so frustrating for a lot of reasons, not just basketball.”

Dončić would not elaborate on what, outside basketball, has frustrated him.

Look at seeds 5-10 in the West and you see teams that have struggled but have the elite talent and experience to be a postseason threat: The Phoenix Suns (Devin Booker, plus Kevin Durant is expected back next week), the Golden State Warriors (Stephen Curry and the four-time champions), the Los Angeles Lakers (Anthony Davis and maybe before the season ends LeBron James).

Should the Mavericks be in that class? On paper yes, they have clutch playoff performers of the past in Dončić and Irving, but an energy-less loss to Charlotte showed a team lacking the chemistry and fire right now that teams like the Lakers (beating the Thunder) and Warriors (beating the 76ers) showed on the same night.

The Mavericks feel like less of a playoff threat, especially with their defensive concerns. They don’t have long to turn things around — and get into the postseason.

Watch Anthony Davis score 37, spark Lakers to key win against Thunder


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis had 37 points and 14 rebounds, Dennis Schröder added 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter and the Los Angeles Lakers got a vital victory for their playoff hopes, 116-111 over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

Lonnie Walker scored 20 points in an impressive return to the rotation for the Lakers, who won their third straight to move even with Minnesota in seventh place in the Western Conference standings despite the injury absences of LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell.

“It was a must-win game for us,” said Davis, who made 15 of his 21 shots. “We had to come out and get this game, and we came out offensive and defensively just playing extremely well. … We’ve got to .500, and now it’s time to get on the other side.”

With Davis leading the way on both ends of the court, Los Angeles (37-37) reached .500 for the first time this year. The Lakers started the season 2-10, but they’re 12-6 since the trade deadline with a rapidly cohering roster and the looming return of the NBA’s career scoring leader.

“This team is locked in and connected,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “The vibe and the spirit have been great. Guys are really trying to figure out how we can be better. That’s what you want. … Guys are competing because they know what they’re representing. They know the history of the franchise they’re representing.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey scored 27 points apiece for Oklahoma City, which lost for only the fourth time in 12 games down the stretch. The Thunder (36-38) dropped into a tie with Dallas for 10th in the West despite holding the Lakers to only 42 points in the second half after LA put up 41 in the first quarter alone.

“That’s a testament to our ability to scrap and hang in there,” Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said. “That’s how you want teams to score against you. All the things they got down the stretch are things we’re willing to live with. It’s hard to slow that down.”

Russell sat out with a sore right hip, joining James on the sideline at an important game for the Lakers’ playoff hopes. Los Angeles still improved to 8-5 during James’ latest injury absence.

Oklahoma City erased all of Los Angeles’ early 17-point lead when Gilgeous-Alexander’s jumper tied it at 102-102 with 5:25 to play. Davis responded with three points, and Walker hit a tiebreaking shot with 3:50 left.

Schröder replaced Russell in the starting lineup and had another standout game, including six points in the final 3:18 while the Lakers hung on. Walker got his most significant playing time since early March in Russell’s absence, and the former starter responded with four 3-pointers.

“I’ve just been in the gym, being positive and focused on what we’re trying to accomplish,” Walker said. “I love these guys, and I’m fortunate to play with them.”

Ham said Russell’s hip injury was “not too serious, but serious enough where we need to manage it.”

Gilgeous-Alexander played despite the Thunder being on the back end of consecutive games. The Thunder have been resting him in the second game of recent back-to-backs.