Gordon Hayward

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Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown front and center for Celtics

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Two Celtics landed on our list of the top 50 players in 5 years: Jayson Tatum (No. 12) and Jaylen Brown (No. 27).

They would have ranked even higher if we made the list a year earlier.

Tatum was coming off an inspiring first season, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting. After showing promise in his first season, Brown took the next step and finished seventh in Most Improve Player voting. Both forwards played key roles in Boston’s historic run to the conference finals while Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward were injured.

Then, last season happened.

The Celtics had terrible chemistry and flopped with a second-round loss. Kyrie Irving took the brunt of the blame and deserved plenty.

But Tatum and Brown both backslid. Though Irving’s clumsy leadership and selfish play might have factored, that doesn’t totally absolve the two forwards. When Celtics president Danny Ainge said some young players were too focused on becoming All-Stars rather than winning, Tatum and Brown were prime suspects.

Now, Irving is gone, and Tatum and Brown get a fresh start. The forwards are still young and talented, and without Irving, key to unlocking the brightest possible future in Boston.

Tatum impressed with his decisiveness as a rookie. He launched open 3s when open, attacked the rim, drew fouls and defended hard. He lost some of that his second season, instead over-dribbling and forcing bad shots. Iso scoring is a valuable skill, but Tatum overly relied on it. If he can find a better balance between his approaches, the sky is the limit.

After a slow start, Brown improved throughout last season. He carried that momentum into the FIBA World Cup, where he often looked like Team USA’s best all-around player.

Whatever problems were their own fault last year, Tatum and Brown have an opportunity to scapegoat Irving. Retroactively, as we still try to deconstruct what happened to Boston last season, bounce-back years by Tatum and Brown would point to Irving as the culprit. That might be particular motivation for Brown, who stuck up for the young Celtics when Irving criticized them.

Brown will also likely be playing for a new contract. He’s extension-eligible until the season starts and likely headed toward restricted free agency next summer.

Will that help Brown or distract him? Even without Irving, Boston could still be prone to chemistry issues. Brown and Tatum, still trying to establish themselves in the league, still have incentives to play for themselves. The root of Ainge’s concern didn’t dissipate overnight. Though he should be much better for morale than Irving was, Walker needs plenty of touches. Gordon Hayward might also be ready for a bigger role – especially complicated because of his history with Celtics coach Brad Stevens. Plus, Hayward is another forward.

Boston should be good next season and good for a while. But Irving was supposed to put this team over the top. He’s a proven deep-playoff star and friends with Anthony Davis. That plan is out the window.

Tatum and Brown are the Celtics’ next hope. This season could go far in determining the viability of building a championship team around those two.

Chances Celtics, Jaylen Brown reach contract extension reportedly ‘pretty slim’

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The bill is coming due in Boston.

For years Boston was the team with promising young players and a treasure chest of draft picks. Now all those trade chips have been cashed in through a series of moves that didn’t pan out as well as Celtics’ fans hoped — and the bill is starting to come due on the picks they kept.

Starting with a potential rookie contract extension for Jaylen Brown, the two sides have until Oct. 21 to reach a deal. Although it is not likely to happen reports Sean Deveney at Heavy.com.

According to a league source, “the chance is pretty slim” that Brown signs a long-term deal with the team in the coming month. Around the league, the expectation is that Brown and the Celtics won’t come to a deal.

Brown would still be under contract for this season, at $6.5 million (that would be the case even with the extension). He would become a restricted free agent next summer, which means Boston would still control his rights and be able to match any contract offer he received.

There are a few key reasons an extension is unlikely. First, Boston with Danny Ainge has not been a team that agrees to a lot of extensions of rookie contracts. They didn’t with Kelly Olynyk, they took their time with Marcus Smart, and this summer rather than keep Terry Rozier he was packaged in a sign-and-trade with Charlotte for Kemba Walker.

Second, Boston is a capped out team the next couple of years. For example, they are $13 million below the tax line this season, and next season they will be flirting with it again (unless Gordon Hayward opts out of his $34.2 million final year then bolts the team, something that seems unlikely). Whatever salary the Celtics agree to for Brown could have them paying the tax.

Finally, there is the biggest obstacle: What is the salary figure for a Brown contract extension? The two sides are not going to see eye to eye on that.

To provide a little context, Brown had a somewhat down season early on (didn’t every Celtic) but bounced back later last season and averaged 13 points and 4.2 rebounds a game shooting 34.4 percent from three. However, in stretches, he looked much better than that, including having a strong run with Team USA this summer at the FIBA World Cup.

The Celtics are not going to give Brown a five-year, $168 million max extension, which is what Ben Simmons in Philadelphia and Jamal Murray in Denver got. The only other rookie extension agreed to so far this summer is Caris LeVert with the Nets for $52 million over three years, or $17.3 million a year average.

Boston may be open to re-signing Brown at a LeVert number, around $17 million or $18 million a year, but Brown certainly thinks he’s worth north of $20 million (especially after his strong FIBA performance). Brown may even believe that if he has a good season, then hits the restricted free agent market next summer in a very down free-agent class, some team may offer a max to try to poach him. Brown may want to bet on himself.

Everyone is going to let this play out, a deal is unlikely. But it’s something to watch as the season moves along — and remember Jayson Tatum becomes extension eligible next summer, too.

Adam Silver details league’s tampering efforts, admits ‘there are no silver bullets’

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Kawhi Leonard was talking to Paul George about the two of them teaming up well before the start of free agency — George’s agent had gone to OKC GM Sam Presti before free agency and already asked for a trade.

There’s little to nothing the league can do if players want to talk and plan. Particularly in this case with Leonard, who was about to be a free agent and leave his team.

What the league does not want — and what it’s going to crack down on hard with its new tampering rules — is teams using players as a proxy to do their recruiting for them, something a lot of smaller market teams fear is already happening. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver explained in more detail what he hopes for out of the league’s new tampering regulations in an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic.

If two players are going out to dinner and say, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great to play in City X together?” That’s not something we’re looking to go after. The only context in which we raised player-to-player communication is where we have a belief that a player is being sent out at the behest of the team to have a conversation with another player that the team itself could not have with that player. In essence, where a player is acting as an agent for the team, and then saying to the player, “What do you think about the following scenario, with the confidence that this is something that my team is willing to do?”…

If a player were to be doing something like that, sort of at the request of his team, that would be inappropriate and that’s something that we are going to be focused on than we have historically. We’re more focused on ensuring that that’s not going on, and if it is, going after it.

In the case of Leonard, who was a free agent, Clippers officials have said on and off the record that they were taken by surprise by Leonard’s request to play with George, that they had not seen that coming. Doc Rivers said Leonard picked George’s name off a list they presented him in a July meeting, and while we know that timeline is not accurate ( at least on Leonard’s end) it’s tough to say the Clippers had Leonard acting as an agent (Leonard was the Clippers’ target).

In Brooklyn, we know that Spencer Dinwiddie had met Kyrie Irving in a business class they were both taking through Harvard, and through that class formed a relationship with Irving and recruited him to Brooklyn. That’s the kind of situation the league has to investigate — was Dinwiddie acting on his own or as an agent of the team? It may well have been on his own, but that’s the kind of situation that raises eyebrows.

Silver’s other theme from his press conference following the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting was he wanted to create a “culture of compliance” around the teams. That’s easier said than done when agents drive some of this, but Silver talked about his goals.

There needs to be — maybe more important, even, than the penalty — a true stigma around cheating. …There’s something unique about sports, (and) I think no one wants to be viewed as having had to cheat to win. And I think what we saw was that it was a slippery slope over time, and people no longer saw themselves as violating our rules. They saw certain practices around tampering, around signings, as business as usual, rather than inappropriate conduct. So a lot of what we’re trying to do is make a cultural shift in this league, and I believe we can do that successfully because I believe teams want to compete on a level playing field…

There are no silver bullets here. There isn’t any one aspect of the package where we came in to say, “This will fix the problem.” This is something that will change over time.

The threat of the league coming down hard on a team and maybe taking away draft picks — which is what teams really fear more than fines or anything else — will have front offices being cautious for a while, likely into next summer. The next move for the league to show they are serious is to make an example of someone with a heavy-handed punishment.

With a down free agent class coming in 2020, there will not be the same motivation to tamper. How much are GMs going to risk to chase Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, or Andre Drummond? Not that much.

Now in 2021, when the free agent class is again franchise changing — potential free agents include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Bradley Beal, and others — GMs will start taking risks again. It’s a risk vs. reward equation for teams, and when the rewards can be rings, a culture of compliance is a hard sell.

NBCSports.com’s 50 best players in 5 years: Paul George, Kevin Durant, players 30-26

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What is the NBA going to look like in five years? Who will be the game’s best players? The All-Stars, the guys on the cover of 2K24, the guys with signature shoe deals?

As a fun summer project, the NBA team at NBCSports.com put our heads together, pulled out our crystal balls, and tried to project forward who would be the 50 best players in the NBA in five years — in the summer of 2024. We took into account a player’s age, his potential ceiling and how likely he is to reach it, injury history, and more. The team working on this included Dan Feldman, Tom Haberstroh, Rob Dauster, Tommy Beer, Steve Alexander, and Kurt Helin (and thanks to Tess Quinlan and Mia Zanzucchi for the design help).

There were plenty of disagreements (and we don’t expect you to agree with all of our list), but here it is.

Here is the link to players 50-4645-41, 40-36 and 35-31. These are players 30-26 on our list.

30. Paul George

The fact that we’re even talking about Paul George being on an NBA court — let alone a guy who finished third in the MVP voting last season — is a testament to modern medicine and his work ethic in rehab. His Team USA leg injury five years ago could have ended his career. Now that career has come back home to Southern California where he and Kawhi Leonard have completed the transformation of the once laughing stock Clippers into title contenders (and probably favorites heading into the next season).

George is a complete player on both ends in his prime now, but with a game that should age well so that he is still a significant contributor at age 34 in 2024. Last season he scored 28 points a game for the Thunder, shooting 38.6 percent from three, grabbing 8.2 rebounds a game, dishing out 4.1 assists per night, plus being one of the better and more physical wing defenders in the NBA. If those numbers slip some in the next half-decade, he’s still contributing a lot. It’s his play on that defensive end of the court that, while it likely will drop off some in five years, keeps him high on this list — George is going to be a guy a coach can throw at the other team’s best perimeter player in 2024 and still get results. That skill matters.

The biggest factor in the equation about how good George will be in 2024 is health — George had surgery on both shoulders this offseason, and he has certainly had injuries in his past. Fluky ones, but injuries nonetheless. How well will his body hold up and lets him play his old-school style game will determine his value.

But in five years, George is still going to be good. Maybe very good. And he’s going to help some franchise win a lot of games.
—Kurt Helin

29. Kevin Durant

At times in the last couple of years, Kevin Durant seemed bored. He was a great player who joined a great team and made it even more dominant. There was little perceived suspense in the championship chase. Many just ceded the title to the Warriors. So, Durant worked on expanding his individual game, tinkering with different skills.

That luxury is gone now.

Durant is on the wrong side of 30 and has a torn Achilles. He left Golden State and his multi-star supporting cast for the Nets. Neither individual nor team success will come so easily.

In the next five years, Durant has a chance to reshape his legacy. He’ll never completely shake taking the easier route to a title with the Warriors. But if he plays a leading role in a Brooklyn championship, even with Kyrie Irving also starring, that’d prove he can elevate a team to that level.

By 2024, he’ll almost certainly be well past his prime. If Durant’s history of injuries compound, he could be finished well before this. But even with the torn Achilles likely accelerating his downfall, he’s declining from an extremely high peak. His shooting, handles, size and fluidity give him a chance to age gracefully.
—Dan Feldman

28. D'Angelo Russell

One year ago, would D’Angelo Russell have made this list? Maybe, he would have been in consideration, but if he did, he certainly would not have been this high up on it.

That’s the kind of leap Russell’s game made last season, one large enough that the Golden State Warriors were comfortable offering him the four-year max this summer (the most they could do in the Kevin Durant sign-and-trade). Russell earned his max averaging 21.1 points and dishing out seven assists per game while shooting 36.9 from three last season in Brooklyn. Numbers that made him an All-Star. His game is all about hesitation, starts and stops that throw defenders off, combined with fantastic court vision that lets him find the open big man rolling to the rim or the open shooter in the corner. Last season his assist percentage went up and his turnover percentage dropped.

However, what really changed last season is Russell’s shots started to fall. In particular, he shot a lot better from floater range and from three — now he was a threat to score, not just pass, and it opened everything up.

Russell also matured as a person, setting the stage for him to be a leader in Brooklyn and the kind of player other teams want in their locker room. The Laker version of Russell was not that guy. He’s grown up, he and his game have matured, and Russell should take Kenny Atkinson to dinner because the professionalism and slow-and-steady growth Russell learned in Brooklyn got him that max contract.

Russell will be in his prime in 2024, at age 28, and those shooting and passing skills should be heightened. He could use to become a guy who is grittier on defense (he still gets hung up on picks) and more willing draw contact when he drives, but Russell is an All-Star point guard living up to the promise of being the No. 2 pick. In his prime, he’s going to win some team a lot of games in 2024.
—Kurt Helin

27. Jaylen Brown

What stood out watching Jaylen Brown when USA Basketball training camp came to Los Angles last week was that he was playing freely and aggressively. Like the Jaylen Brown of a couple of seasons ago, the one from the conference finals playoff run, not the cautious guy hesitating and looking to find his space at the start of last season.

Brown was among the numerous young players who struggled in Boston last season when Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward returned and changed the dynamic. Rather than take the expected leap forward in his third season, Brown’s start slow — 40 percent shooting overall and 25 percent from three the first 20 games — eventually cost him his starting spot. Brown had to adapt to coming off the bench.

Brown adjusted to that role and by the end of the season and was one of Boston’s few bright spots — after the All-Star break he averaged 13.8 points per game with a 59 True Shooting Percentage.

Brown may have found his groove again, but this is still a team with Marcus Smart starting at the two and Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward on the wing, all ahead of Brown on the depth chart. Brown is going to have to earn his run on this roster.

Was the reason for Brown’s plateau last season the chemistry issues around Irving? If so, will the “put his arm around you and run with you” style of leadership Kemba Walker brings to Boston help Brown make the leap we expected a season ago? Or, were expectations of Brown as an All-Star player too high?

This coming season will start to give us our answer. However, watching him this summer, Brown looks like a guy ready to take that step up. The NBCSports prognosticators believe Brown is going to come close to reaching his ceiling now, not fading away, which is why he is this high on the list.
—Kurt Helin

26. Myles Turner

Myles Turner feels poised for a breakout season. At least in the eyes of fans. While he has gone underappreciated nationally the folks at USA Basketball saw what Turner had become and put him on Team USA this summer.

Here’s what I like best about Turner (and Pacers/USA fans should, too), when I asked him about his game in five years, personal goals and getting a brighter spotlight, he always tied that back to team success.

“With the whole world watching (the FIBA World Cup) it’s a chance for me to go out and show a little bit of what I can do, but it’s not about that,” Turner told NBCSports.com in Los Angeles, while USA Basketball trained there. “It’s about sacrifice at this point. We’re here, you’ve got to sacrifice. You’re not going to be able to play 30 minutes a game, shoot the ball 20 times a game, you have to come out here and play within a role.”

In his role with the Pacers Turner made a leap last season. He led the NBA in blocked shots at 2.7 per game and had more blocks (199) than the entire Cleveland Cavaliers team (195). Plus Turner shot 38.8 percent from three. He evolved into an All-Star level center and a guy who was fifth in Defensive Player of the Year voting (that award voting always seems to be about a year behind what is happening on the court).

The Pacers’ big man is just 23 and in the past couple of seasons has found his rhythm in Indiana, in a rotation with Domantas Sabonis. Turner said he sets his goals one season at a time, but he’s set his sights high.

“Defensive Player of the Year is a big goal of mine, I want to obtain that by any means necessary,” Turner said. “All-Stars, obviously, that’s on everybody’s list of things to do. And just getting out of the first round of the playoffs, I’ve been in the league four years now and been to the first round every year.”

Turner’s defense is his calling card, but what gets him into the All-Star games and on All-NBA teams will be continued improvement in his offense — keep knocking down threes, take fewer long twos (although he hit a respectable 41.1 percent of them) and improve his passing to rack up assists as defenses start to adjust to him.

In five years, when Turner is at his peak at age 28 in 2024, he could be one of the top few centers in the NBA. An anchor of a very good team — one that makes deep playoff runs. Nothing needs to change, stay on the course he is on and the recognition — and wins — will come.
—Kurt Helin

Gordon Hayward feeling confident about ankle for next season

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Gordon Hayward still wasn’t particularly good last season. He never really looked all that comfortable playing with the Boston Celtics, and Brad Stevens’ insistence on playing him led to some reported rifts in the Boston locker room.

But Hayward is expected to come back at full strength this year, and it could be just in time for him to shine in light of Kyrie Irving‘s departure to the Brooklyn Nets.

His severely dislocated left ankle is now long behind him, and it appears that Hayward has been putting in the work necessary this summer. Speaking to Mass Live, Hayward said that he is starting to get more confident in his game.

Via Mass Live:

“Reps is what gives you confidence, so being able to do things over and over and over and not worry about how my ankle’s feeling, or having to be cautious with it, has been really good, especially for my confidence,” Hayward said. “I think last year was a lot of hoping and not really knowing what was going to happen just because I didn’t have the reps… going into a summer training as hard as I want to, it’s a lot better for my confidence this year and expectations-wise as well.”

A healthy Hayward would really change the dynamic of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference this year. Losing Irving is huge, but Boston is going to have a real depth of talent on its hands if it can add Hayward to other wing talent Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart.

It seems cliche to point out at this point, but people have slept on how good Hayward was on both sides of the ball during his time with the Utah Jazz. He’s a complete player at the small forward position when healthy, and bringing back his superstar firepower could ease the pain of losing Irving to Brooklyn.