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Despite rough start, Celtics’ Jaylen Brown is convinced he’s an NBA starter

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Last April and May, Jaylen Brown was a breakout starter on a Boston team that made the Eastern Conference Finals, where he dropped 30 points one night and averaged 18 points a game, getting 14.8 shot attempts per game, and he had the ball in his hands a lot in the postseason. He had a playoff PER of 16, above the league average.

This regular season Brown and the Celtics have not been the same. With the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward Brown’s role shrunk, he’s playing five fewer minutes a game, his scoring is down to 12.5 points per game, he’s shooting less than 30 percent from three (when he was close to 40 percent a year ago), his PER is down to 11.1 (well below the league average), and the Celtics’ offense is 8.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the court. Brown has been pushed back to a bench role, with Marcus Smart starting.

Mostly, Brown is just frustrated.

Brown opened up about that to Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.

Opposing teams have privately used words such as “disjointed” and “detached” to describe him… The question “What’s wrong with Jaylen Brown?” became a leaguewide referendum.

“It’s probably been the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with so far in my career,” Brown says. “Just coming from a position where you had so much responsibility, and now that responsibility is lessened. Expectations have been raised, but your responsibility goes down, so it’s hard to reach those expectations when you aren’t being asked to do as much.

“It’s been a challenge. It’s going to continue to be a challenge. It’s all about your mindset, so that’s what I’m focusing on.”

Brown said he remains convinced he’s a starter in this league, and on this team, and will prove it.

What Brown is going through is part of what had Boston off to a rough 10-10 start this season — guys were struggling to adjust to new roles. It wasn’t just plug and play with Irving and Hayward like many assumed it would be. And it wasn’t only Brown, Terry Rozier reportedly has been frustrated with his reduced role, while Hayward’s larger role had to be scaled back because he was not physically ready.

Brown’s drop off just seemed the steepest.

The Celtics’ locker room leaders — Irving and Smart — are trying to reach Brown with some tough love, trying to push him and “demand greatness,” but with limited success. Brown continues to struggle, and is doing so in the summer before the Celtics can offer him a new contract (more likely he will be headed to restricted free agency in a couple of years).

Much like the Celtics, it’s not an easy fix for Brown (although Boston has started to find a groove, winning six in a row through the soft part of the schedule). His adjustment is mental as much as physical, he feels he earned the right last season to have more responsibility, not less. That sacrifice is the challenge of playing on a contending team, where everyone needs to take steps for the good of the team that are not always in their best interests. Brown and Boston have been slow to come around on that.

But Brown is trying. And he still believes in himself.

“So here’s my reality: I’m an NBA player on the Boston Celtics, a team that has a chance to compete for the NBA championship. Nothing else really matters.”

Marcus Morris scores 31, leads depleted Celtics past Pelicans 113-100

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BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving‘s shoulder wasn’t sore enough to keep him from cheering for Marcus Morris Sr. when he hit three 3-pointers to start the second half and propel Boston to a double-digit lead.

Al Horford‘s injured knee didn’t keep him from leaping to his feet when Jayson Tatum drove past Anthony Davis for a dunk.

With four of their regulars relegated to cheerleaders, the Celtics got a season-high 31 points from Morris and another 21 from Tatum to beat New Orleans 113-100 on Monday night for their sixth straight victory.

“The first thing was be a leader,” Morris said. “We had a lot of guys down … and keep trying to play the right way with the guys out there.”

Anthony Davis scored 41 points and Julius Randle had 20 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, which was playing back-to-back games after beating the Pistons in Detroit on Sunday. But Davis also had two shots blocked by Celtics rookie Robert Williams III.

“He had 41,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “I think everybody has gotten their shot blocked at one time or another.”

Jaylen Brown scored 19 for Boston, which was also without Gordon Hayward and Aron Baynes. Williams, in the longest appearance of his career, had career highs of seven points and 11 rebounds, while picking up three blocked shots – two on Davis.

“Well, he held him to 41,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens joked. “I thought Robert did a lot of good things. When you’re shooting jumpers and Robert’s in the vicinity, you feel him.”

The Celtics scored nine straight points in the last four minutes of the first quarter to take a lead they would never relinquish. They led 59-53 at the half before Morris hit three 3s – one from the left corner, one from the right wing and one from the top of the key – to make it 68-55.

New Orleans never got closer than nine points after that.

 

Celtics hand Bulls franchise worst loss, win by 56

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CHICAGO (AP) — Jaylen Brown scored 23 points off the bench, Daniel Theis added a career-high 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and the Boston Celtics routed the Chicago Bulls 133-77 on Saturday night for their fifth straight win.

The 56-point margin of victory was the largest in franchise history, surpassing a 51-point win (153-102) over the Philadelphia Warriors on March 7, 1962.

The 56-point loss was the worst in Bulls’ history, eclipsing a 53-point (127-74) defeat at Minnesota on Nov. 8, 2001. Frustrated fans at the United Center booed the Bulls off the court.

Jayson Tatum had 18 points and Terry Rozier added 15 as the Celtics used a 17-0 start and a balanced attack to roll their second straight lopsided win after beating New York 128-100 on Thursday. The Celtics (15-10) have outscored opponents an average of 126.2 to 97.6 during their five-game run.

Shaquille Harrison came off the bench to score a career-high 20 points for the Chicago, which has lost eight of nine. Zach LaVine had 11 for the Bulls (6-21), whose previous worst loss this season was by 39 points (122-83) to Toronto on Nov. 17.

The Celtics took charge early, racing ahead 17-0 as they shot 8 for 11 from the floor at the start.

Boston led 35-17 after one quarter as it shot 60.9 percent, and led 64-43 at the half thanks to 52.4-percent shooting.

For the game, the Celtics outshot Chicago 53.8 percent to 38.3 percent.

The scoring in Boston’ first-half outburst was evenly distributed. Morris led with 12 points, while Tatum, Theis and Terry Rozier each had 10.

The Celtics’ biggest lead in the first half was 22 points and Chicago never got closer than 13.

Chicago missed its first 12 field goal attempts, prompting coach Jim Boylen to pull all five starters 4:45 in. The Bulls didn’t score until Jabari Parker hit a pair of free throws 6:18 in – raising a derisive cheer from the United Center crowd. Chicago didn’t get its first basket until Robin Lopez sank a turnaround hook 36 seconds later.

The Celtics kept the pressure on, outscoring Chicago 69-34 in the second half.

The Bulls fell flat after beating Oklahoma City 114-112 on Friday night on Lauri Markkanen‘s layup in the closing seconds, giving Boylen his first win as an NBA head coach.

A longtime NBA assistant, Boylen took over Monday when Fred Hoiberg was fired following a 5-19 start. The Bulls lost at Indiana the following night in Boylen’s debut.

 

Grade-school phenom Allonzo Trier took winding road to success with Knicks

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Allonzo Trier appeared on the cover of The New York Times Magazine as a sixth grader. By then, the Seattle native was already spending his weekends jetting around the country for basketball games. In high school, he moved to Oklahoma then Maryland then Nevada to join teams.

“It’s become normal for the top high school, premier athletes,” Trier said.

Should it be normal?

“We’re not normal people,” Trier said. “You know what I mean? Who’s to say for the normal tech person, the normal other people that are at the top of what they do in their lives and their careers? So, I don’t really think there’s a limit you can put on somebody.”

The top-rated player nationally in his class in elementary school, Trier’s potential seemed limitless, and he worked tirelessly to fulfill it. But spending an up-and-down three years at University of Arizona and going undrafted left doubt about his NBA career as of just a few months ago.

Yet, Trier – who signed with the Knicks – is already proving he belongs.

He’s averaging 11.3 points per game. That’s one of the highest scoring averages ever for an undrafted rookie in his first professional season (minimum: 10 games):

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*Don Barksdale finished at UCLA in 1947, but he spent a couple years playing AAU in Oakland while waiting for the NBA to integrate.

Trier just gets buckets. The 6-foot-5 guard is a methodical dribbler, capable of pulling up or slashing. His crafty moves draw plenty of fouls, especially for a rookie, and he’s a solid shooter.

Trier has a good chance to become just the 13th undrafted player to make an All-Rookie team, joining Yogi Ferrell, Langston Galloway, Gary Neal, Jamario Moon, Walter Herrmann, Jorge Garbajosa, Marquis Daniels, Udonis Haslem, J.R. Bremer, Chucky Atkins, Matt Maloney and Larry Stewart. Only Ferrell, Galloway, Daniels, Bremer, Stewart did it in their first professional season.

In some respects, the biggest surprise is how long it took Trier to reach this point. 247 ranked him No. 6 in his high school class, and everyone ahead of him – Ben Simmons (76ers), Skal Labissiere (Kings), Brandon Ingram (Lakers), Cheick Diallo (Pelicans) and Jaylen Brown (Celtics) – went one-and-done in college.

“We thought I was going to be out in one year,” Trier said.

But Trier broke his hand during his freshman year, wasn’t quite as sharp upon his return and stayed for his sophomore season. That came with expectations from Arizona coach Sean Miller.

“Coach Miller told me that was going to be my last year,” Trier said.

Then, Trier got into a car crash before the season. He failed a drug test, but won his appeal, the NCAA agreeing he unknowingly took Ostarine while recovering from the crash. Still, the NCAA ruled he couldn’t play until the drug completely left his body. “It was really dumb,” Trier said. “It was really tedious.” He missed most the season and again forewent the draft.

In his junior year, Trier got suspended yet again for trace amounts of Ostarine. “A joke,” Trier said. “C’mon now. You guys know what the deal was.” He appealed, and this time, the NCAA allowed him to return to the court within a week.

Trier finally turned pro this year, but he went undrafted.

That “undrafted” label is harsher than it sounds. The Knicks called him during the draft and offered to sign him if he went undrafted. Trier said “a few” teams would have drafted him contingent on him accepting a certain contract, but he turned them down in order to get to New York.

Still, more teams could have called. Someone could have liked him enough to draft him despite his unwillingness to pledge to contract terms beforehand.

“I’m angry. I was upset,” Trier said. “I thought it was like a joke that I didn’t get picked.”

He signed a two-way contract with the Knicks – importantly, for only one season. He earns $4,737 every day he’s on New York’s active list for a game or works out/practices with a teammate at the team’s discretion. On other days, he gets paid $544.

Between the start of G League training camp and the end of the G League season, Trier can spend 45 days with the NBA club. Today marks 45 days since G League training camps opened. Surely, the Knicks have had enough travel days and days off to extend Trier’s deadline at least another week. But it’s looming.

By then, the Knicks have three options:

  • Convert Trier’s contract to a standard contract. He’d get paid $4,737 daily the rest of the season and be eligible to play all New York’s remaining games. But next summer, he’d become a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer $200,000 above the league minimum – meaning his qualifying offer would project to be about $1.6 million.
  • Leave Trier on a two-way contract. He couldn’t play for New York until the G League season ends, but his qualifying offer next summer would be cheaper – a two-way contract with just $50,000 guaranteed.
  • Negotiate a new, longer contract with Trier. The Knicks have enough of their mid-level exception left to offer Trier a minimum salary on a contract that could last up to four years. New York also has the bi-annual exception, which could give Trier a starting salary up to $3,382,000 – but on a deal lasting only two years.

Whether he hits restricted free agency with a minimum+$200k or a two-way qualifying offer, Trier appears likely to command standard-contract offer sheets. So, the second option is likely off the table unless the Knicks are trying to scare Trier into accepting a more team-friendly multi-year deal.

But how could New York not reward an undrafted player who has shown so much determination, even outplaying teammates No. 9 pick Kevin Knox and No. 36 pick Mitchell Robinson?

“He basically just came into training camp and said, ‘I’m going to make this team.’ And then, once he made the team, he said, ‘I’m going to get in the rotation,'” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “That’s the kind of kid he is. He’s a super competitor.”

Two-way contracts give teams immense control, but Trier’s play has given him unusual leverage. He has scored more than triple the points of any other two-way player this season. His ability to become a free agent this summer presses the Knicks to pay him more now.

But Trier, who turns 23 next month, is older than everyone drafted this year besides George King, Devonte' Graham, Devon Hall, Jevon Carter and Grayson Allen. Maybe Trier should be better than his rookie peers.

Trier’s all-around game is also lacking at this point. And his scoring often comes in isolation after taking his time with his moves. So, when he gets stifled, the shot clock has run down considerably before the Knicks can try another plan of attack. Trier must main very efficient as a scorer to justify continuing to play this way. Even as a two-way rookie, Trier plays with a star’s style.

Probably because he has spent so long as a star.

The New York Times Magazine featured him as an example of the trappings and pressures of high-level grass-roots basketball. The most telling quote in the story came from his mother, Marcie: “They’re doing nice things for my son, things that he needs and I can’t afford. So how can I say no?”

Trier was such a big deal as a kid, it was arranged for him to meet Kevin Durant during a media event Durant’s rookie year in Seattle. Durant and Trier had a mutual friend in Oklahoma, and then Trier transferred to Durant’s former high school in Maryland (Montrose Christian). Through those connections, Durant and Trier developed a friendship.

“I think he just dove into basketball, and it was therapeutic for him,” Durant said. “You can tell.

“He’s one of those kids that really, really, really loves basketball. He’s not doing it for money. He’s not doing it for fame. He’s not doing it for attention. Or to get girls. Or to buy s—. He’s actually a hooper. It’s rare in this league to have guys like that.”

That’s clearly why Trier has persevered through the bright lights , dark days and everything in between. That New York Times Magazine article took Trier to a wider audience, and he just kept plugging away.

“I was young, so I don’t think I understood it fully,” Trier said. “But now that I – I’m still young, so I still don’t understand it. But, one day, I think I’ll get a chance to look back and see the journey I went through and see, man, started at a young age, and it was a hell of a journey.”

Danny Ainge says he is going to be patient through Celtics early-season struggles

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It’s the most common question around the NBA right now:

What is wrong with the Boston Celtics?

After making it to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, then getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back, there were “finals or bust” expectations. Instead, they are 10-10 with an offense that is 27th in the NBA. Debate has ranged from what offensive tweaks they can make to a discussion of Gordon Hayward’s and Jaylen Brown‘s slow starts, and it always seems to end with trade speculation.

In character, Celtics GM Danny Ainge will be patient. Here is what he told Michael Kaskey-Blomain of the Boston Herald.

“I’ve been through this many, many years, and I’m not impatient,” said Ainge, who, after Saturday’s 113-104 loss in Dallas, presides over a 10-10 team. “I feel like obviously I know the frustrations our players have felt and the ups and downs that we’ve had through this season so far.

“But I think that we all know we should be doing more and doing better and are capable of it. That’s pretty much all I’ll say about it….

“But patience wins out more often than not — more than panic. It has to. I know panic is a bad way to react, so I will remain patient and allow our players to find their form.”

What, you expected anything else from slow-playing Ainge? He does not rush anything.

What this means is don’t expect a blockbuster trade. Or maybe even a B-movie trade. First off, the Celtics cannot trade for Anthony Davis in season, not that he is in any way available right now anyway (if Davis does not sign the $240 million designated veteran extension this summer then fire up your trade machines, until then it is all moot).

Even smaller tweaks will not be easy. With the West 14 deep with teams in the playoff hunt (literally, there is a 4.5 game gap between the 1 and 14 seeds right now) there are fewer sellers on the market, and there are now more teams looking to buy to get an edge. That does not lead to an efficient market.

What the Celtics have should work better than it does, and we still have three-quarters of a season left for Brad Stevens and company to figure it out. Desperation moves not the answer. At least not yet.