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Celtics coach Brad Stevens: ‘We’ve got eight, nine, maybe 10 guys that are starters’

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The Celtics might be too deep.

They won 55 games last season with Gordon Hayward missing nearly the entire season. They reached the conference finals without Kyrie Irving and Hayward in the playoffs.

All five regular-season starters – Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Aron Baynes – return. So does playoff starter Terry Rozier. So does Hayward. So does Marcus Smart, whom Boston coach Brad Stevens has called the team’s “sixth starter” for years. So does Marcus Morris, who started in Detroit before joining these stacked Celtics and remains in his prime.

Make no mistake: Teams around the league envy this challenge. But it’s still a challenge.

Stevens on the “Yahoo Sports NBA: Chris Mannix” podcast:

I think all of our guys realize that we have a really good thing going.

Part of being on a team is all being understanding that there’s nothing like experiencing winning together.

For me, it’s more about, we have a unique thing, and I think we all have to recognize that. The starting thing, the finishing and everything else – we’re going to have different lineups  out there, and everybody’s going to get an opportunity and lots of opportunities to make an impact.

We’ll just do it like we’ve always done it. Marcus Smart has come off the bench for two years, and I’ve never considered Marcus Smart to be a non-starter. I just think that you – we’re fortunate enough on our team that we’ve got eight, nine, maybe 10 guys that are starters. So, we’ll figure that out as the time comes.

And I do I think that our guys have a recognition overall about that’s not what it’s about. It’s about trying to be the best that we can be collectively. If we all do what we do to the best of our ability, it will benefit everybody individually.

But you only get so many chances to be part of a special group. And we’re pretty fortunate to be in this position. We need to take advantage of it.

Ten is probably pushing it. But the Celtics might actually have nine starting-caliber – i.e. top-150 – players.

How will that work?

Boston’s team success will help plenty. It’s harder for players to grumble about playing time when the team is winning.

Stevens also does a great job of giving players roles and getting them to buy in. These players fit different positional archetypes, allowing Stevens to give them each turns depending on situation.

And maybe only Rozier and Morris are playing for their next contract. As long as he stays healthy, Irving will likely command a max contract in free agency next summer no matter what. Horford ($30,123,015) and Baynes ($5,453,280) will probably opt in, though there’s a chance they’re playing to prove they deserve new contracts. Hayward, Tatum, Brown and Smart are locked in for multiple years.

Rozier has consistently struck the right tone in balancing his personal ambition with playing his role in Boston. That’s contagious. Stevens is adding to the culture with preemptive positive reinforcement.

The Celtics could get tangled in playing-time disputes, but they’re at least off to the right start for making this work.

Celtics’ Jaylen Brown: ‘We’re getting to the Finals. No question about it.’

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Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said he wanted LeBron to stay in the Eastern Conference.

With LeBron – who won the East the last eight years – leaving the Cavaliers for the Lakers, Brown isn’t mincing words.

Brown on the “Pull Up with CJ McCollum” podcast, via NBC Sports Boston:

“Oh, we’re getting to the Finals,” Brown said. “No question about it.”

Of course Brown would never predict another team would win the East. But he didn’t have to declare so firmly Boston would would win. This opens him to mocking if he’s wrong.

Or boasting if he’s right.

I’m picking the Celtics to win the East. They’re extremely talented, versatile and well-coached. But the Raptors and 76ers aren’t far behind, and you can bet those teams will use Brown’s comments as motivation.

Celtics’ Smart ‘ecstatic’ to have summer in limbo over

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BOSTON (AP) — There was a moment during the past month in which Marcus Smart wasn’t sure where he’d be playing basketball this upcoming season.

A day after signing a four-year deal to remain in the only NBA jersey he’s ever played in, Smart said he’s focused on doing what he can to help the Celtics win their 18th championship.

“I’m ecstatic. This is a blessing,” Smart said Friday.

After being in limbo since the start of free agency, Smart cemented his pact with the Celtics on Thursday. A person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press that Smart will be paid $52 million over the next four years. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose the terms of the contract.

Boston brings back a 6-foot-4 defensive cornerstone who has developed a reputation for toughness and doing the little things that help the Celtics win. Smart is also the longest-tenured player on the roster.

The confidence that general manager Danny Ainge is showing in his abilities is not lost on Smart, who acknowledged he knew he was entering a tough free agent market this summer.

“To be honest, I didn’t know where I was gonna end up. I was just enjoying this whole process,” he said. “It is a business, so things aren’t perfect. That’s why it’s called negotiations. You guys come together and you finally agree on something. We both agreed. Boston loves me and I love Boston. Boston wants me here and I want to be here. I am here. So we made it work.”

Barring any late changes, Smart’s return also means Boston will be bringing back the core of the team that won 55 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals while battling numerous injuries and being without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward the entire postseason.

Smart was a huge part of the run, stepping in to a starter’s role after returning from thumb surgery late in the first round of the playoffs. He averaged 9.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game as Boston pushed LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the conference finals.

Now, James is in the West with the Lakers, and given the emergence of youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Smart said he doesn’t see any reason why the Celtics shouldn’t be a favorite to come out of the East.

“We demonstrated the talent and ability we had to do that last year with a few missing pieces. With those missing pieces back in action, I think it really makes it hard for teams,” Smart said. “I think we have a real shot.”

The signing also will allow Smart to shift his attention back to his mother, 63-year-old Camellia Smart, who continues to undergo treatment for the bone marrow cancer she was diagnosed with in April.

“When you kind of go through adversity and something like this hits you and your family, it kind of puts everything in perspective and everything else kind of becomes a blur to you and really not that important,” he said.

He has been with her in Texas since the season ended and said she’s stable and doing well.

“She’s hanging in there,” Smart said. “This is a hard time. But at the same time, it’s an exciting time for my family. So, with the signing, it kind of brings a little joy to a situation and lightens up the situation that was a little darkened for me. … As of right now, she’s doing great.”

As far as basketball is concerned, he’ll continue trying to improve.

“I’m just gonna be working on all aspects of my game. The uniqueness about me is I don’t do one thing perfectly or great. I do a little bit of everything. That’s what makes me so unique. I’m just trying to master a little bit of everything. … If I could just get better a little bit each year, then I did my job.”

 

Report: Celtics re-signing Marcus Smart for four years, $52 million

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Marcus Smart put out word he was “hurt and disgusted” by the Celtics’ approach to his free agency. He threatened to take the qualifying offer. He used the Kings for leverage.

All that agitating paid off.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Boston retains a key player in a year with championship potential. That’s most important. The Warriors will be favored against any opponent, but the Celtics might present the biggest challenge. (The Raptors and Rockets are also in the running for Golden State’s biggest challenger.)

This deal probably represents fair value for Smart. He thought was worth more. Boston surely wanted to keep him for less – especially considering the luxury-tax concerns.

Smart will earn between $11,607,143 and $14,772,727 next season, based on these reported terms. Even the low end would push the Celtics over the tax line.

They could escape the tax this season with a trade, but bigger bills are coming as Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are due major raises in coming years. Would Boston frontload Smart’s contract and pay more now to potentially save if this team faces the repeater tax down the road? That’d also make Smart more valuable in the future, with a higher share of his contract already paid off.

Smart is an excellent defender, capable of guarding all three perimeter positions and switching inside. He plays so hard and makes hustle plays all over the floor. He’s also a decent distributor. But he’s an awful 3-point shooter for someone who still launches jumpers so often, and that can kill spacing.

He’s a complex player – one definitely worth having, but also one Danny Ainge could easily trade. Boston also has Irving and Rozier at point guard, though both can become free agents next summer.

For now, Smart provides the Celtics with excellent production. He represents insurance for the following season. After that – or maybe even sooner – he could be a trade chip.

Boston accomplished its top offseason priority by retaining Smart. He gets life-changing money, and the Celtics bolster their present and future. Everyone involved should feel good about this agreement.

Celtics’ Jaylen Brown: I wanted LeBron James to stay in Eastern Conference

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The 76ers’ Dario Saric and Wizards’ Tomas Satoransky each said they wanted to avoid LeBron James in the playoffs – and both got their wish. Philadelphia and Washington got eliminated before facing LeBron’s Cavaliers.

Celtics forward Jaylen Brown is taking a different approach with LeBron leaving Cleveland for the Lakers.

Brown, via Tom Westerholm of MassLive:

“To be honest, I wanted him to stay,” Brown said. “I was kind of mad, I wanted to be the team to go through him. I feel like we could have had it last year, but we fell a little bit short. But I applaud someone doing what’s best for him. He did what’s best for him in that situation. I wanted him to stay in the East. People say, I don’t like when people say ‘Now that LeBron’s gone, y’all are the favorite.’ That irks me. A lot of us, we feel the same, because we feel that whether he was there or wasn’t there, we was coming out.”

LeBron has looked back fondly on his rivalry with the Celtics during his first Cleveland tenure and time with the Heat. It was just beginning to reignite. The Cavs swept Boston in the 2015 first round, beat Boston 4-1 in the 2017 Eastern Conference finals then escaped Boston 4-3 in the 2018 conference finals.

The younger Celtics would have eventually overtaken Cleveland, even if LeBron had stayed, but this hastens their ascent. Boston will battle the 76ers (and maybe others) for Eastern Conference supremacy, but the road is far clearer with LeBron gone.

Yet, Brown opposes in a commendable display of competitiveness. That’s part of what makes him such a promising player.

But I bet he’ll still appreciate all the winning the Celtics do with LeBron in Los Angeles.