Gordon Hayward

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Winners and Losers in blockbuster Anthony Davis trade

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It is very possible both teams at the heart of this blockbuster trade — the Lakers and Pelicans — get what they want out of this deal. Which is rare. It’s the goal, no GM makes a trade thinking they lost the trade, but usually someone comes out on the short end.

This time, the Lakers — a team that has missed the playoffs six years in a row — got their man now have two of the top seven players in the league. Meanwhile, the Pelicans have (or will after Thursday’s draft) Zion Williamson and are set up in the short term to be entertaining, and in four years or so could be a beast in their own right.

But there are losers to go with the winners in this trade, here is the breakdown.

Winner: Anthony Davis.

The man got where he wanted to go. He felt he toiled in obscurity in New Orleans, and that the small market franchise had done a poor job building a team around him (which is absolutely true). Davis believed he wasn’t getting the endorsements and attention he deserved. That changes now (and be careful what you wish for). This summer he will lead Team USA at the World Cup in China, then come back and play next to LeBron James in Los Angeles — the brightest of all spotlights — with a team that has the potential to contend. Davis got exactly what he wanted, now he just has to stay healthy and take advantage of it.

Winner: LeBron James.

At LeBron’s first press conference in Los Angeles, he said he knew he needed to be patient as they built this team to contend around him… and everyone knew that wasn’t going to happen. He’s 34, he not at that point in his career where patience is an option. Now he has another elite star around him — and a perfect complementary player for his game. It should work. The pressure now is on Laker GM Rob Pelinka to fill out the roster with role players who can make this a contender, because star power alone is not enough in today’s NBA.

Loser: Boston Celtics.

Danny Ainge had a plan and haul of assets to pull it off (thanks again Brooklyn). The Celtics signed Gordon Hayward, traded for Kyrie Irving, drafted well and developed those players, things were coming together… and then it all fell apart. Boston didn’t land Paul George or Kawhi Leonard in trades. Hayward had the freak injury and is not back to his old self yet. Irving became disenfranchised this season and now he has one foot out the door (likely to Brooklyn). Rich Paul kept saying Davis would only be a rental in Boston. All of that meant Ainge couldn’t go all-in on a Davis trade like he had planned (throwing in Jayson Tatum specifically), and once again Boston missed out. Ainge is a great GM, don’t get me wrong, but this shows how hard to put together these multi-year plans in the NBA and pull them off. In an East with Toronto (who may or may not be the same after this summer), Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, Boston has a lot of work to do to get back to contender status.

Winner: Rich Paul.

Fans may not like his tactics — and there were miscalculations along the way — but the job of an agent is to get his clients where they want and what they want. Rich Paul has done precisely that. The man orchestrated this. His client LeBron is in Los Angeles where he wants to be, and now has a running partner in another Paul client, one who now has the spotlight he wanted. It may not have happened on the timeline Paul wanted, but he may be the biggest winner in this whole thing.

Loser: The New York Knicks and Los Angeles Clippers.

The Knicks have big free agent plans this summer, and maybe Kevin Durant still comes (and plays, eventually). However, the longshot dream of landing Davis is dead, and worse yet now there is another major player for elite free agents in the game. One that is a better draw than New York as you read this. Maybe this summer works out for New York, but in the past week the market got a lot more complex.

Twenty-four hours ago, the Los Angeles Clippers were the best free agent destination in Los Angeles. Now…. they may still land Kawhi Leonard (or he may choose to stay in Toronto for a year or two, who knows?) but the Lakers are still the Lakers in that market. And now the Lakers are the big free agent draw.

Winner: David Griffin and the New Orleans Pelicans.

When the Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery — and essentially the rights to draft Zion Williamson — the calculus of this trade changed a little. They now had the potential superstar/top-five player, it became a matter of building along that timeline. This trade does that. New team VP David Griffin had leverage (the Lakers needed a star and this was their best chance) and he used it to get a haul. Maybe the Pelicans keep Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, maybe those two get flipped for other players, and that same thing is true of the draft picks, starting with the No. 4 in this draft. Bottom line, Griffin got this franchise the building blocks to contend, and while there is work to do to reach that level in the short term this team is going to be fun to watch.

Loser: Dell Demps and Magic Johnson.

The nuts and bolts of this trade could have been worked out at the trade deadline if egos and emotions had been put aside. They weren’t. In New Orleans, there was anger at the timing and nature of Rich Paul’s trade request, which led to people above Demps shooting down the idea of any trade with the Lakers. Demps wouldn’t even talk to Pelinka — only Magic, and barely that — and wasn’t able to manage up and get the people above him on board (Griffin pulled that off). Magic, when he was in the office, bungled this and killed the Lakers’ locker room chemistry in the process. That it got done this June, and with far fewer back-and-forth rumors, doesn’t reflect well on the guys out the door.

Winner: Lakers fans (and their sense of exceptionalism).

There is some pushback on this trade in Lakers nation. Fans become emotionally attached to and overvalue draft picks the team brings in, fans watch them develop and see them as “their guy.” Those fans don’t want to give up Ingram and Ball and Josh Hart (and a lot of picks), and they are right that is a lot of assets… and the Lakers got Anthony freakin’ Davis. The Lakers now have two of the top seven players on the face of the earth. This is what Lakers fans expect — stars to come to them, and for them to contend. In Los Angeles, Lakers’ exceptionalism is a real thing. That faith has been rewarded. Savor that.

Loser: LaVar Ball.

Does this even need to be explained?

Rumor: Pelicans’ top target in Anthony Davis trade is Jayson Tatum

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The big name in Anthony Davis trade talks last February (besides Davis himself) was someone who realistically wouldn’t get dealt.

Jayson Tatum loomed over the process. The Celtics can’t trade for Davis until July, because Kyrie Irving is already their one allowable traded-for designated-rookie-scale player. So, Boston had to convince the Pelicans to keep Davis past the deadline. Their reward this offseason could be Tatum.

But so much has changed since.

Tatum continued an underwhelming second season. New Orleans fired Dell Demps and hired David Griffin to run the front office. Kyrie Irving appears likely to leave the Celtics, which would make it more difficult for them to re-sign Davis in 2020.

Does Boston still want Davis as badly? Do the Pelicans still value Tatum so highly?

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

From what I’ve been able to learn, if Kyrie Irving walks, it is not going to diminish their appetite to go get Anthony Davis.

From what I understand, they’re not going to take their foot off the gas when it comes to pursuing Anthony Davis.

I know that there’s a stronger sense than ever within the organization that Kyrie Irving is going to leave.

Fletcher Mackel of WDSU

Tatum is still a valuable player. He’s young, talented and relatively cheap. But his stock has probably dropped enough since the trade deadline that it opens doors for other teams to beat Boston’s offer for Davis. Even if Tatum remains the Pelicans’ most-desired player, other teams could offer better packages of multiple players and picks.

Especially because the Celtics should show some restraint considering Irving’s likely impending exit.

Davis reportedly wouldn’t rule out staying in Boston without Irving. But that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. Davis’ father enters the situation with a unfavorable view of the Celtics.

Without Irving, Tatum and whatever else they must send New Orleans, how good would the Davis-led Celtics be? There’d be a lot riding on Gordon Hayward rediscovering his star production after injury, Al Horford staving off aging (if he doesn’t opt out and leave) and Jaylen Brown getting back into a groove after an uneven year. It’d be a huge risk.

Of course, having a Davis trade in place could convince Irving to re-sign. That might be a longshot, but the possibility of a star twofer should factor.

Boston reportedly could have traded for Kawhi Leonard, who now has the Raptors on the brink of a championship. Sometimes, the big swing pays off, and seeing it happen for Toronto could prompt the Celtics to take their own this summer.

Celtics boss Danny Ainge back at work after ‘mild’ heart attack

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BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving can opt out of his Celtics contract and become a free agent. Gordon Hayward might never play like he did before his injury. It’s possible Brad Stevens won’t figure out a way to deploy all of the team’s talent.

There’s one thing, though, that Boston boss Danny Ainge was able to rule out as he returned to work following his second heart attack: “My role’s not going to change.”

A 60-year-old former All-Star and NBA executive of the year, Ainge was in Milwaukee for the Celtics’ second-round series against the Bucks last month when he suffered what the team described as a “mild” heart attack. Doctors said at the time he was expected to make a full recovery.

Speaking to reporters for the first time since he fell ill, Ainge said Wednesday that he had complete faith in assistant general manager Mike Zarren, scouting director David Lewin and player personnel director Austin Ainge.

“I know our organization is in great hands,” he said at the team’s practice facility.

But he’s not ready to turn the reins over yet.

Ainge said he will work to eat better, exercise more and minimize stress. He didn’t do so well at that during the playoffs, when he tried to watch the second game of the East semifinals against Milwaukee.

“I’ve just got to be in a setting where I’m not screaming and yelling and my veins aren’t sticking out all over my neck,” he said.

This summer, that won’t be easy.

The Celtics went to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2018 despite losing Irving and Hayward to injuries. With the two All-Stars back last season – and LeBron James moving out of the conference – the team was one of the favorites to reach the NBA Finals.

But piecing it all together proved more difficult than expected.

The Celtics managed just a No. 4 seed in the playoffs and lost to Milwaukee in five games. Irving shot 30% during the four-game losing streak that ended the season, and Boston fans began openly rooting for him to exercise his option and become a free agent.

Ainge said Irving was taking too much of the blame for the team’s disappointing season.

“It’s unfortunate that one person gets credit or blame for a team’s failures,” Ainge said. “We had a lot of reasons the team did not succeed this year. Kyrie deserves his share of the blame, but not any more than anybody else.”

Ainge said there were players who questioned their roles or otherwise struggled to fit into the role that Stevens put them in. Although Ainge did not single him out, guard Terry Rozier has complained publicly about what he “put up with” in a season when his minutes dropped for the first time in his career.

“There’s a lot of guys that didn’t handle things the right way, and didn’t make the sacrifices that needed to be done for the benefit of the team,” Ainge said. “We didn’t have 100% buy-in from 100% of the team. I did not anticipate that.”

And though it was Stevens’ job to work that out, Ainge said he had no doubts about his coach.

“Brad, he’s the least of our concerns,” Ainge said. “I wish every one of our players would put the time and effort in that Brad does.”

Ainge is doing his best to keep up. He said his illness didn’t hinder preparations for the June 20 draft, when the Celtics have four picks, including Nos. 14, 20 and 22 in the first round. They will have worked out nearly 100 players “of all shapes and sizes.”

And he’s trying to follow doctors’ orders.

Ainge said he was told to exercise more and lose weight. He also needs to improve his diet, but he won’t be looking to former teammate – and noted marijuana enthusiast – Bill Walton for recipes.

“I’m eating more plants,” he said. “Not the kind of plants in Walton’s garden, by the way.”

 

Terry Rozier on Celtics’ keeping roster intact: ‘Nah, I might have to go’

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Terry Rozier indicated his dissatisfaction with the Celtics.

Now, he’s really unloading.

In interviews on ESPN today, Rozier discussed his struggle to fit with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Rozier also cast aspersions on Brad Stevens, noting the coach often pitted starters against backups during practice then mixed and matched between the groups during games rather than using separate units.

Would Rozier want to return to Boston with a similar roster?

Rozier on ESPN, as transcribed by Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston:

“Nah, I might have to go,” Rozier said. “I put up with a lot this year. I said what I said after the season. I think we all know I’m not trying to step into that again.”

“Just obviously in the shadow of some guys,” Rozier said. “The ball was in either Kyrie or Gordon Hayward’s hands most of the time. So, I feel like either Terry Rozier is just in the corner or on the bench. One of those two.”

“I’m out there for a little bit of half of my minutes, so I’m really not being my position,” Rozier said of sharing the backcourt with Irving. “I’m not being Terry Rozier, because I have to adjust to how Kyrie plays. And then when Kyrie comes out, Gordon Hayward comes in and I feel like his usage is super high, so a lot of plays get called for him.”

“Them treating Gordon and Kyrie, I wouldn’t say different than everybody else, but I feel like they just treated them like they were just on that level where there were no adjustments that could be made because they are who they are,” Rozier said. “We never figured it out after that.”

Unfortunately for Rozier, he’ll be a restricted free agent this summer. Boston will still dictate where he plays next season.

The issue might take care of itself. If Irving leaves, the Celtics might welcome back Rozier as their starting point guard – a situation he probably wouldn’t mind. If Irving stays, Boston probably won’t pay to keep Rozier as a backup.

However, his restricted status and down season could cool his market. There’s certainly a possibility Rozier is cheap enough for the Celtics to keep as a backup, maybe on his qualifying offer.

Rozier could also resist playing with Hayward, with or without Irving. When Rozier and Hayward played together this year, Hayward controlled the ball much more, both finishing plays and distributing. Stevens clearly trusts Hayward as a playmaker. Maybe Rozier would accept that balancing act in the starting lineup, but it’s not a given.

This all leaves potential for Rozier’s restricted free agency to get nasty as he tries to get himself where he wants to be.

Heck, maybe it has already reached that level. Rozier sure sounds like he’s burning bridges (though, to switch infrastructure metaphors, fences can be mended quickly if Irving leaves).

Rozier’s criticism of Stevens’ practice-vs.-game lineups seems unfair. Perhaps, Stevens just wanted to maximize the time his top players practiced together. After all, those players are often on the court together when it counts. That’d leave the reserves on the other side in practice. The system might have been designed to help starters, not all players. It’d be on the backups to make do. Don’t like it, work your way into being a starter.

Which it seems Rozier is trying to do.