NBA Rumor: Boston Celtics Turmoil?

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That chemistry was strained not just by health, COVID protocols, and public pressure, but the way the Celtics were discussed by team leadership, according to multiple sources familiar with players’ thinking. There were several inflection points where the roster might not have felt supported, particularly after Ainge and team governor Wyc Grousbeck gave a series of interviews ahead of the trade deadline with their assessments that the team was not competitive.

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“I’ve done a little complaining in private and I feel a little frustrated. We’re not contenders,” Grousbeck said on The Sports Hub in late February. “You can’t say you’re a contender if you’re below .500 a third of the way into the season. And so we’re not. I hope the second third, or whatever, is better than the first, third. We’ve got some work to do.” Though the commentary may have been fair, sources suggest it may have contributed to the lackluster spirit that was watching this team throughout the year. The head coach is generally responsible for the team’s energy and execution, but they are not alone in impacting those factors. Ainge and Grousbeck were committed to Stevens as their coach and his emphasis on process-oriented growth. His recent extension means he has one of the longest coaching contracts in the league, but the growth process has to eventually lead toward a title in Boston.

Chris Forsberg: Danny Ainge on @Toucherandrich when asked how much blame Brad Stevens deserves for team’s inconsistent ways. “Everybody is responsible. I’m responsible, Brad’s responsible … Brad has zero responsibility for us shooting 5 for 34 from 3 last night, most of them being open shots. He doesn’t have responsibility when players improvise and are playing with lack of emotion after they miss shots. The only thing that he could do is yank his best players out of the game and go with the other players. That, the only option that he has. I think this is not everybody on the team, this is the not the same player every single night, it’s different players each night…”

Danny Ainge: “When you have success, it, everybody’s success and when you have failures, it’s everybody, failures. I think we’re trying to identity how to get the team to best perform and, without anything else, we really do need to get healthy. We have different players out every night and there, not a lot of time to practice and it really is difficult to sustain continuity. Having said all that, effort should be the one thing that is consistent.”

Amid those talks of rumored team chemistry issues in the Celtics locker room, head coach Brad Stevens took to his weekly appearance on Zolak & Bertrand of 98.5 The Sports Hub to refute those rumors and help ease the mind of Celtics fans. “Last week, I was going to Indiana, according to everybody, right? So, rumors sometimes are right, and sometimes are wrong. I’d say one of the things I’ve learned in this is about 90% of what I hear, and or read, I would like to have a second look at and maybe a fifth look at and a tenth look at and actually talk to somebody in there before I react to it.”

He discussed what he saw and heard from outside the Celtics’ locker room as he broke news about the fight between Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown that led to chaos after Game 2 between the Celtics and Heat. Washburn considered it the most chaotic post-game he’d ever seen, with yelling and items throw, eventually spilling out of the room. “Multiple voices, loud, sounded like Brad. It was not just Marcus,” Washburn said. “(Smart) walked out of the room to the bathroom, and that’s when he made his famous statement, ‘y’all on some bullshit’ … yelling continues, for 20+ minutes.”

But when the Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart was at the center of that raucous locker room scene after Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when the shouting from both Smart and others could be heard all throughout the hallway and we later learned from The Athletic’s Shams Charania that a clash with Jaylen Brown had taken place following their second consecutive loss to Miami, Smart had more on his mind than blown leads and the routine rigors of the bubble experience. As the 26-year-old Smart discussed with The Athletic after practice on Monday, he was already “tipping over” emotionally heading into the game for a very painful and personal reason: The two-year anniversary of his mother’s passing had taken place the day before.

I’m coming from the standpoint of understanding, not making excuses. Marcus Smart: Yeah, exactly. And that’s the thing. And it’s tough because only the people who are in that locker room really understand and know what everybody is going through. So like I said, I don’t want to use it as an excuse but it definitely played a role to a certain extent. It’s definitely an emotional day. You’re already on an emotional scale where you’re already tipping over, and then something like (that happens) where you should’ve won for the second time against a really good team that you allowed to come back and steal both games from you. It just pushed it over the edge.

Marcus Smart: It was just — we were all disappointed. It was just disappointing. We lost two games that we should have won, and nobody was happy. I probably would have felt in trouble with the team as a team — like, we would’ve felt in trouble — if everybody was calm. After a Game 2 loss, up 17, up 14, two games and we lost it. We’re a great team and we’re playing against a great team, so we know we can’t have those types of meltdowns. So yeah, we were all disappointed. And when you’ve got a bunch of brothers who are disappointed, emotions fly and sometimes you’ve got to yell just to get it out and move on. It was one of those nights (laughs).

Did you wonder (if that would happen) when you went to bed that night, after you guys had those conversations back at the hotel? And who all took part in those talks? Marcus Smart: Yeah, you know we just got together and made sure that we were on the same page. We told each other that we love each other. It was me, Jaylen, Jayson, Kemba, and (coach) Brad Stevens. You know, we just got together and made sure that what happened in the locker room was really in the locker room. It’s unfortunate that it got out, but it happened. Like I said, we’re a family. Families fight. I don’t expect anything less. I expect that if a guy feels some way, then say it. I’d rather you say it than hold it in and let it come out too late.

But the idea that you take that sort of a moment as a team and go to a higher place rather than going the wrong direction speaks well of all you guys, right? Marcus Smart: Yeah, and that’s why I said that we’ve grown with this experience. We’ve grown. We’ve matured. It would have been easy, and would have been understandable in some ways after that, for us to fall apart. Did you wonder (if that would happen) when you went to bed that night, after you guys had those conversations back at the hotel? And who all took part in those talks? Marcus Smart: Yeah, you know we just got together and made sure that we were on the same page. We told each other that we love each other.

It was me, Jaylen, Jayson, Kemba, and (coach) Brad Stevens. You know, we just got together and made sure that what happened in the locker room was really in the locker room. It’s unfortunate that it got out, but it happened. Like I said, we’re a family. Families fight. I don’t expect anything less. I expect that if a guy feels some way, then say it. I’d rather you say it than hold it in and let it come out too late. Like I said, it was electrifying for us to have it. It was something that probably we should have had a long time ago, but because we kind of just skated through we didn’t have to. And we knew eventually it was going to come up to bite us with the way we’d been playing, so it was something that needed to happen. Like I said, I love this group of guys. We all love each other. We all know that when any of us get emotional, there’s no malice and no bad intentions behind it. I think that’s kind of where and how we were all able to have the higher (outcome) because we all knew that it was coming from a great place.

The aftermath of the Celtics’ locker-room argument lasted deep into Thursday night and Friday afternoon before tensions between players were finally cooled, according to an NBA source. After Boston’s disheartening 106-101 loss to the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, screaming, yelling and items being thrown could be heard outside the locker room at AdventHealth Arena for 20-plus minutes as NBA officials and reporters waited anxiously for the players and coach Brad Stevens to be available for interviews.

Brad Stevens held late-night meeting with Celtics leaders

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens held a late-night hotel meeting with the team’s leaders on Thursday to talk through the frustration and emotions that spilled into the locker room after a Game 2 loss to Miami in the Eastern Conference finals, sources told ESPN. Stevens met with Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart starting around 1 a.m. ET, and he let those players talk through the issues that had led to significant yelling and outbursts in the postgame locker room, sources said.

Part of the discussion in the late-night meeting had been about making sure the Celtics integrated forward Gordon Hayward as smoothly as possible back into the lineup, sources said. The Celtics upgraded Hayward (ankle) to questionable on Friday and are hopeful that he could play a role off the bench in Game 3 on Saturday, sources said. Among the coaching staff and players, there was a belief that players had sufficiently talked through the issues and were ready to start preparing for Game 3 on Saturday, sources said.

Sources told The Athletic that Smart stormed into the Celtics postgame locker room saying that other players needed to be held accountable and not simply point the finger toward him when things are going wrong. As Smart continued and his voice grew louder, sources said Brown snapped back and shouted that Celtics players must stay together and that their actions must come as a team, not individually, and that Smart needed to cool off. Those sources added Smart had verbal exchanges with a couple of the assistant coaches during the game.

As Smart began to blow his gasket, ESPN’s Malika Andrews and the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn tweeted about the situation in real-time before the rest of us media folks arrived to take a look. It had been nearly 10 minutes since the tweeting began, and you could still hear the yelling coming through the door. Before then, a Celtics assistant coach and a team security official made the mistake of opening the door mid-argument and letting all those f-bombs escape. In the minutes that followed, the security official and the team’s media services manager, Brian Olive, stood at the door waiting for the storm to pass while the postgame media routine was temporarily put on hold. At 9:55 p.m., approximately 30 minutes after the game had come to an end, it was finally safe to enter.

Many reports have tabbed Kyrie Irving as the source of the toxicity around the Celtics last season, but a former teammate refuted those claims over the weekend. “Kyrie got a lot of the blame and was undeserving,” Jaylen Brown told Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson. “It wasn’t his fault that certain guys couldn’t take a step back. It wasn’t his fault. That was the front office and the coach’s fault.” He gets a lot of that blame because he was the star. But a lot of that should be on the organization and coaching staff. It’s in the past. Kyrie is in a better place in Brooklyn, somewhere his roots are. He’ll be fine.” The Nets snapped a two-game skid by beating the 76ers, a feel-good win they thought they needed before hitting the road for games against the Pelicans (Tuesday) and Spurs (Thursday).

Brad Stevens doesn't blame Kyrie Irving

Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens refuses to blame Kyrie Irving for last year’s failed season. “I like Kyrie and I wish him well,” said Stevens, speaking at a fundraiser in Boston at the Celtics practice facility. “Last year’s season didn’t go the way that we wanted it to, but that’s not on one person. That’s the responsibility of the whole group. It’s a team sport, everybody’s involved in that. There’s no way we should ever look at it any different.”

Sean Deveney: A veteran player told me a couple of years ago that his role in Boston was tough because he was never really told what was expected of him and that Stevens didn’t necessarily connect with players. That appeared to be the case this season, too, when the Celtics had a chemistry meltdown and Stevens could not rein in his locker room. One agent told me, “Most players don’t need their hands held, but they want to know where they stand and what they need to do. That’s not always coming from Stevens and it can be frustrating.”

Rob Parker: “What happened with Kyrie and Boston, and why did things go awry?” Chris Mannix: “You can write a whole book on what went wrong because the season was basically a disaster from start to finish. His relationship with the young players on the roster was awful. Jaylen Brown he was probably the worst with, I don’t think it was great with Jayson Tatum, and it was awful with Terry Rozier because Terry was supplanted at a position he thought he did enough to win. That created a pretty nasty atmosphere. Kyrie’s leadership skills were lacking and he failed at it. He was the first player to be coached by Brad Stevens who didn’t really enjoy being coached by Brad Stevens and that relationship wasn’t solid.”

Jackie MacMullan shared her thoughts on Arbella Early Edition Tuesday night. She cited Brad Stevens ‘force feeding’ Gordon Hayward to help him come back from his gruesome ankle injury as what started the Celtics’ chemistry issues that seemingly plagued the team all year long. “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.”

Irving was AWOL emotionally much of this season in Boston. Of course he tried to lead, in his way. No one’s saying he didn’t. But it didn’t work. And the not-working was obvious, even though Irving is loath to explain himself and his methods to outsiders. His teammates defended him Thursday — “that’s just a bullshit statement to say that his leadership killed us,” Marcus Smart said, per The Athletic’s Jared Weiss — and, it’s true, no one person should get the blame for what happened.

“Everybody was running around with their heads cut off, like chickens,” backup point guard Terry Rozier III told Yahoo Sports. “Coach was in a tough position, one of the toughest positions, dealing with all these guys with attitudes, all that sh–. Guys that’s All-Stars, guys getting paid a lot of money, guys trying to get paid. It’s tough.” Rozier said he saw it on the first day of training camp, so many talented players who could make a case for bigger roles. “I feel like I sacrificed the most, but I’d do it any day for this team,” Rozier told Yahoo Sports. “A lot of things weren’t fair to me, but it’s not about me. That’s why I don’t bitch and complain.”

Meanwhile, Terry Rozier gave a “no comment” when asked about the Celtics having his matching rights, commending Brad Stevens for “dealing with a lot of guys that want to be great trying to get theirs.” The Celtics held on to Rozier as an insurance policy in case Irving left this summer, but Rozier and his agents will try to price the team out of his market. It leaves Boston with a conundrum of whether, with Rozier likely gone, moving forward with Irving is actually in their best interest.

Danny Ainge has defended Kyrie Irving’s comments in the past, and he did so again Thursday — to a certain extent. Irving appeared to call out Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics coaching staff Saturday night after a loss to the Hornets, suggesting his team should have trapped Kemba Walker instead of allowing the Charlotte star to “torch” the C’s. Ainge was asked about Irving’s comments Thursday during his weekly interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich.” “I did hear (Irving’s comments). It’s not that uncommon,” the Celtics’ president of basketball operations said. “Guys get frustrated, and maybe that was the first thing that came to his mind is, ‘We should have done something different with Kemba.’

That, to many, sounds like Boston has a proverbial switch that can be flipped come playoff time where all the intensity and effort come flooding back and the preseason projection Celtics can storm the floor and knock our socks off. Danny Ainge, appearing today on 98.5′s Toucher & Rich show, disputes that notion, saying it’s a bit more nuanced than that. “I don’t really believe that you can flip a switch,” Ainge said. “But I do believe that things can come together, your health, your concentration, your focus can be better.”

It was the latest frustrating outing for the Celtics (43-31), who held an extended players-only meeting after the game. The locker room wasn’t opened to reporters until more than 30 minutes after the final buzzer. “Winning’s hard. Team environments are hard,” Irving said. “It’s not as simple as listening to everybody else speak about what’s going on with the team. … Nobody’s been in my position. Nobody here. So I don’t expect anybody to understand that. Nobody can speak on it. “For me, my focus is figuring out, the guys I have in this locker room, is how to get the best out of them and them get the best out of me.”

“We’ve just got to take a deep breath,” Marcus Smart calmly stated after the game as he leaned back in a chair in front of his locker. “We’ve just gotta take a deep breath and calm down. We’re anxious, we want to get some wins, and we want to get back on the track of winning, but we really got to take a deep breath and get back to the team that really got us the reputation that we upheld into this season. Just being dogs on the court, making nobody want to play against us. Right now, teams just feel like they can do whatever they want against us. That’s on us, we gotta fix it. We will.”

“I think recently transition defense has been a problem for us,” said Gordon Hayward, who emerged from the NBA’s concussion protocol Sunday night to deliver a 13-point, 10 rebound performance. “I think a lot of times, for the most part, when we are able to set our defense, we’ve been pretty tough, but sometimes we’re not getting back. Some of that’s offensive blows, shot selection, long rebounds, turnovers – but definitely transition defense. When they’re coming at you and you’re not set, that’s tough to defend. So that’s been a key of ours in film sessions and we’ve gotta make sure that we hold ourselves to that.”
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In the locker room after the Nets’ 86-83 loss, there were lots of “atta boys” and “pick your head ups” and “we’ll live with that shot” from teammates, but Irving had a little piece of extra advice. Be like dad. Dunk it. “Kyrie was like, ‘Hey, you gotta try and dunk it, get a foul or something,’” Brown said. “That’s definitely what I should have done. I had the lane and the angle too, so maybe if I did that I’d have gotten a foul call, gotten to the line. If I had taken my two steps toward the rim, I probably could’ve dunked the ball.”
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Paul’s stabilizing presence has been a huge reason why the Suns are a game away from ending Denver’s season. He has scored 30 points on 12-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-4 from 3-point range, with eight assists and no turnovers combined in the three fourth quarters in this series, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. “We just got to make it more difficult on him,” Nuggets guard Monte Morris said. “He’s a Hall of Fame point guard, top five easily, still playing in the NBA. … He’s getting everybody involved. CP is a tough cover for anybody, but we have to just stick to our game plan and try to execute it the best way we can.