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Danny Ainge: Brad Stevens deserves least blame ‘by far’ for Celtics’ problems

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The Celtics are reeling. They’ve gone 1-5 since the All-Star break and face chemistry issues.

How much blame does Boston coach Brad Stevens deserve for the team’s struggles?

Celtics president Danny Ainge on 98.5 The Sports Hub, as transcribed by Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston:

“There’s blame to share for everybody, but I will say this: He’s the least, by far, of anybody that there is to blame,” Ainge said of Stevens.

“Because I know that Brad is going to be prepared, and I know that Brad is putting in the work to do whatever he can to try to help this team and fix this team. So, that is the very bottom of the rung.”

“I know that he takes more responsibility than anybody, in my opinion, as to the success and lack of success,” Ainge added. “He takes ownership in the things he needs to do better.

“Anyway, he’s the least of all the problems that we have on our team right now.”

Ainge could have easily left it at, “There’s blame to share for everybody.” His strong support for Stevens seems like a message to Celtics players to get in line behind the coach.

I wonder how that goes over in the locker room.

Stevens remains a highly respected coach. He did an excellent job in Boston the previous four years.

But, at Butler and with the Celtics previously, he has largely succeeded by overachieving with moderate talent. He develops strong equalitarian-leaning game plans, communicates them well and gets his players to buy in.

The challenge in Boston this year is different.

The Celtics are loaded with at least theoretical talent. Kyrie Irving is a star. Gordon Hayward was a star before he got hurt. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier played big roles on a team that reached the conference finals without Irving and Hayward last year then have had to take backseats this year. Al Horford and Marcus Smart can’t be ignored, and the way he played until lately, neither could Marcus Morris.

Irving’s leadership has been turbulent. His impending free agency casts a cloud over everything. Rozier and Morris are also in contract years.

It’s a lot for a coach to manage. Stevens not totally flourishing in this situation is not necessarily an indictment of him. This is new ground for him, and he can learn on the job.

But it does seem Stevens must coach better for Boston to realize its potential.

Eric Bledsoe reportedly reaches four-year, $70 million extension to stay with Bucks

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The Milwaukee Bucks have a $67 million question this summer about which free agents to bring back. They will need to max out Khris Middleton to keep him as Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s All-Star running mate (but if Middleton wants to leave he will have options). What about Brook Lopez? Nikola Mirotic?

The Bucks answered one question Friday afternoon, reaching an extension deal with point guard Eric Bledsoe. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story (it has since been confirmed by other sources).

Bledsoe has said in the past that he had found a comfort level in Milwaukee, he liked the team, and ideally wanted to stay. This contract is a good deal for both sides, keeping in Milwaukee the floor general and athletic defender at the point the Bucks have come to lean on.

Bledsoe is averaging 15.7 points and 5.5 assists a game. He is having a strong season in Mike Budenholzer’s system because the new coach got him playing to his strengths — this year 82 percent of his shots are either at the rim or a three, up from 70 percent a year ago (stats via Cleaning the Glass). The Bucks also got him to take better care of the ball (his turnover percentage dropped) and do a better job defensively using his strength and quickness to fight over screens. He’s taken a step forward from the guy who lost the PG battle with Boston’s Terry Rozier in the playoffs last year.

The Bucks still have some big questions coming this summer, and how they are answered will in part hinge on how the playoffs go. However, they have put in one big puzzle piece for next year, and it shows a commitment to keeping this roster together.

Giannis Antetokounmpo makes incredible chase-down block on Jayson Tatum (video)

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Look at this!

Jayson Tatum is barely in the picture as he takes off for the basket. Giannis Antetokounmpo is still at the free-throw line and looking at Terry Rozier.

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Yet, Antetokounmpo still caught Tatum for the awesome block in the Bucks’ 98-97 win over the Celtics last night.

Marcus Morris on Celtics: ‘When I look at us I see a bunch of individuals’

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The Boston Celtics have been a disappointment much of the season — not terrible by any means, but not “team to beat in the East” good, which many pundits projected them to be (*raises hand*). It led to a lot of speculation about what has gone wrong — too many good players all looking for touches and shots, not sacrificing for the team, was the conventional wisdom — and why weren’t the players all pulling the rope in the same direction?

Then the Celtics seemed to hit their stride, won 9-of-10 in January into early February, they were moving up in the East standings… but a defeat to the Lakers at home Friday, where Boston led by 18 in the first half but couldn’t knock L.A. out and lost on a buzzer beater, seemed to burst that bubble.

Saturday night it got uglier yet — a blown 28 point lead to the Clippers that ended in another loss. Kyrie Irving did leave the game with a sprained knee, but this was more than that, and Celtics fans knew it as they booed the team off the court.

Veteran Marcus Morris tried to put his finger on what has gone wrong, via A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

“I watch all these other teams in the league, they’re jumping on the court, all the stuff that looks like they’re enjoying their teammates’ success. And they’re playing together, and they’re playing to win. When I look at us I see a bunch of individuals.”

That’s a punch to the gut.

And he’s right.

There is no joy in Boston’s game, something Morris said multiple times. Maybe it goes back to Irving calling out the young core earlier in the season. Maybe it’s those young guys — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier — believing they deserve a bigger role after the playoffs last season only to be forced into a smaller box because Irving is back. Maybe the idea they could be traded for Anthony Davis or another star weighs on them.

Whatever it is, the Celtics are running out of season to figure it out.

So what has to change?

“The goal has to be to win; the bottom line,” he said. “We have to play to win. That’s sacrificing, playing hard; that’s sacrificing, being a better teammate. That’s sacrificing, whatever it is we have to put it to the side. No one’s getting traded. The trade deadline is over. We’re competing for a championship and that’s how we have to approach the game. Win, lose or draw, you’re gonna lose games. But we don’t have no attitude, we don’t have no toughness. We ain’t having fun. It’s gonna be a long season.”

 

 

Report: Anthony Davis’ agent tells Pelicans Davis will not re-sign with team, wants trade

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Now the mad, mad race is on.

All along the Pelicans have pushed to win now with Anthony Davis and in the process win him over so he would sign a $239 million max extension with the team next July and stick around. But as the Pelicans have slumped to 22-28 this season, the odds of Davis deciding he wanted to stay in New Orleans grew longer and longer — he has said cares about legacy more than money — and Pelicans management could not put together a team around him that could win (or stay healthy enough to win). The Pelicans had their chance and blew it.

Rich Paul, Davis’ agent, has told the Pelicans that AD wants out, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As I said, now the mad, mad race is on.

Although don’t expect the Pelicans to rush this. It would be a surprise if Davis is traded soon, more likely it is either around the draft or early July (probably the latter). New Orleans doesn’t want to trade him, but if they have to (and they do now, it would be a franchise killer not to) they are not going to rush into this, the Pelicans are going to extract as much as possible out of any trade. The Celtics and Lakers are the most mentioned suitors for Davis, but expect every team in the league to at least make a call.

The timing of this announcement opens the door for teams to rush in and try to make a move before the Feb. 7 trade deadline — before Boston can get involved. Specifically, there’s no reason to make this move — and make Davis a villain in New Orleans — other than to give the Lakers an advantage.

The Lakers will move aggressively before the Feb. 7 trade deadline because Boston cannot trade for Davis during this season (unless they trade Kyrie Irving away in the process). The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement does not allow a team to trade for two Rose-rule, max extension rookie contracts. Irving has one, so does Davis. The Lakers are not bound by such restrictions and should/would put any player on the roster not named LeBron James in a trade offer. (Remember LeBron has dined with Davis during this season, he’s started his recruiting process.)

Boston, however, has higher-valued young talent. That starts with Jayson Tatum (who said even he would trade himself for Davis), but they have a deep roster of good, young players (Jaylen Brown, Terry RozierSemi Ojeleye, among others) and they will have as many as four first-round picks in the upcoming NBA Draft: Theirs, Sacramento’s (they get the better of the Kings or Sixers picks, No. 1 protected), the Grizzlies (top 8 protected), and the Clippers (lottery protected). If the Pelicans are patient, the Celtics could make draft picks for them then trade them to New Orleans after July 1.

The question is, do the Pelicans want to rebuild or do they want a package of players to help them compete right away (sort of like the deal the Spurs got for Kawhi Leonard)? If it’s the latter, it opens up some interesting doors, such as Portland putting together an offer around C.J. McCollum then hoping they can win Davis over in a Paul George with Oklahoma City kind of way.

The more likely outcome is the Pelicans drag this out as they try to start a bidding war between teams. But, anything is possible.

It’s going to get wild.

Now the game is afoot.