No. 1: Celtics feel disrespected once again -- They’re running second to Cleveland in the East and wrapping up an encouraging regular season, but to hear the Celtics, nobody’s patting them on the back. They’ve put a chip on their shoulder because of all the real and imagined slights: Isaiah Thomas not being in more MVP talk, Jae Crowder hearing fans cheer for Gordon Hayward, and now being teased for allowing Devin Booker to drop 70 points even though Boston won the game. Chris Forsburg of ESPN took the pulse of the club and came away with this:
When Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens is asked about how his team has ascended to a position where it is competing for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference without necessarily boasting the superstar talent that most top teams possess, he often references how relentlessly motivated his players are.
"We have a lot of guys with chips on their shoulders," Stevens said recently. "And that’s been a really good thing for us."
The day after the Celtics expressed frustrations about the way the Suns helped Devin Booker get to 70 points in Boston's 130-120 triumph on Friday night at TD Garden, we keep going back to Stevens' quote about chips on shoulders. Boston thoroughly dominated Friday's game and yet players were clearly frustrated by allowing such a historic scoring performance. What's more, Boston players were displeased by the way Suns coach Earl Watson unapologetically called timeouts and intentionally fouled in the final minute in order to allow Booker a chance to further run up his point total.
Celtics players, including Isaiah Thomas, largely praised Booker's effort but weren't bashful while noting they were irked by the way the Suns extended the game despite having no chance to truly rally. That frustration manifested itself on social media when Jae Crowder needled Phoenix players about a photo they took while celebrating Booker's big night in the visitors' locker room.
"NEVER SEEN SO MANY GUYS HAPPY AFTER AN 'L,'" Crowder wrote from his verified Instagram account.
Booker fired back while writing, "you can't guard me," and, on this night, even if defense was a bit of an afterthought once Boston went up by as much as 26, he wasn't wrong.
These two teams won't play again for as much as 12 months and it seems unlikely that there will be much additional fallout by then. The bigger takeaway, from this view, is that the Celtics keep finding unique ways to develop animosity with the rest of the league this season. And it's clearly a byproduct of all the chip-on-their-shoulder guys in the locker room who never stop feeling disrespected.
There is a chance the Celtics could surge to the No. 1 seed in the East before the end of the regular season and no matter how much national recognition they receive for the strides made this year, it's more likely that the team will rally around anything that suggests it is still an underdog in the postseason.
Celtics players do a good job of hearing what they want to hear. They've had a remarkable season, particularly given the injuries the team has endured, and seem to be playing some of their best basketball as the playoffs draw near.
But there's no motivation in that. So the Celtics will continue to seek out every bit of disrespect and hope it pushes them to new heights.
No. 2: Will incoming rookies follow Jaylen Brown’s path? -- Jaylen Brown isn’t your typical NBA rookie. For starters, he immersed himself academically at Cal even though he was one-and-done. Also, he didn’t hire an agent to do his contract and to this day, still doesn’t have one. Brown took it upon himself to learn the financial ins-and-outs of the league and came away with a rather unconventional method for sorting it all out. Here’s Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe sorting Brown out for us:
Brown is one of the few NBA players without an agent. Instead, he decided to hire representatives who specialized in the departments in which he needed assistance. For example,Aaron Goodwinhelped Brown procure his shoe deal with Adidas.
Brown, the third overall pick following his freshman season at the University of California, leaned on friends and college professors for advice. He still does not have an agent.While NBA prospects are attracted to large agencies such as Creative Artists Agency, Roc Nation, and Klutch Sports, Brown said he is content to remain solo.
“I did my process, I interviewed a few agencies, did my due diligence, and I just didn’t feel like I needed the services they [offered],” he said. “I just felt like I didn’t really need one. I had a good group of mentors who gave me pretty much the resources that I needed, so they made me feel like I actually didn’t need one.”
NBA agents have increased their profiles over the years with the fusion of basketball and hip-hop. Perhaps this generation is too young to remember the movie “Jerry Maguire,” but the theme may still hold — one element of becoming a professional athlete is hiring the slick agent to represent your interests.
“When you think about what an agent is, about giving somebody basically the right to speak for you, the right to represent you, what my mom and what my parents have always taught me is you can speak for yourself and you can represent yourself,” Brown said.
“When I thought about it, I felt more comfortable representing myself and going through the avenues and sitting down and talking to people and at least getting that learning curve before I have somebody step in for me and not even knowing what I really need.
“It was all a learning process. The first part of the learning curve was going to the [draft] combine.”
Brown went to the combine in Chicago last year with only his personal trainer.“A lot of my peers, they came with an entourage, an agent, a representative,” he said.
“We were focused on working out. It was interesting. I took a lot of notes, a lot of my mentors told me to jot down what you see.
“It was interesting, a lot of them are almost like being babied. They’re having somebody handle things that’s not even necessary for them to handle, that they could easily handle themselves. It hinders that learning experience. If you don’t even know what you’re heading into yourself, how do you know what you need an agent for?
“I wanted to figure out what I could handle and couldn’t handle, then I could put somebody in the spot where I needed the most. I haven’t had the need for somebody to just do everything. I believe in specialization. I believe people are really good at some things and I don’t believe that everybody is really good at everything. I think I was the highest pick to ever be drafted without an agent.”
His decision created some controversy among NBA circles.
“People were curious and I think people are still curious,” Brown said. “It’s one of those things where some people like it, some people hate it. I was trying to do what was best for me. For me in that time, not hiring an agent was the right thing to do.”
And Brown said he would suggest to prospective draftees that they at least investigate the possibility of self-representation.
“Explore your options,” he said. “Understand that you can speak for yourself and you can advocate for yourself. You don’t need somebody in every aspect to do that for you. If I want anybody to learn [something] from my draft experience, it’s to think for yourself.”
No. 3: Shaq buries the hatchet with enemies -- Maybe you’ve wondered what happened to all of the hard feelings between Shaquille O’Neal and various individuals during the ceremony to unveil a statue of the Big Aristotle at Staples Center. Didn’t Shaq have beef with Lakers owner Jerry Buss, which led to Shaq’s departure? And speaking of that, wasn’t Shaq vs. Kobe Bryant the first reality TV show in the NBA? Well, time heals all, says JA Adande of ESPN, who explains all the sudden love for Shaq:
Shaq was more comfortable in his giant skin than any other NBA big man, but the flip side of that was he wanted to be liked. He would joke, but he wasn't happy unless he got the immediate feedback of hearing people laugh at his jokes. He'd keep mental notes at who was standing around his locker and who would leave to head over to Kobe's. And he wanted his jersey retired in L.A. It was something he talked about since his arrival in L.A. and something he found himself still wondering about during a conversation in the Staples Center visitor's locker room while he was playing for the Phoenix Suns.
The jersey went up in Staples Center with the blessing of Buss while he was still alive. Shaq was back. He was one of the many former teammates on hand for Bryant's final game last April.
And then came the once-unimaginable image of Kobe and Shaq, laughing it up and hugging it out, sitting next to each other as they waited for the statue unveiling. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joked that the odds of that happening were the same as Shaq making a free throw.
Kareem went through the history of statues, mentioning such classics as Michelangelo's David and the Lincoln Memorial, all as a way of lauding Shaq as "the kind of generous man that we all have been building statues to for 30,000 years."
Jerry West called him "the player I most enjoyed when I was with him."
Kobe brought it back to the playing days, calling Shaq "the most dominant player I've ever seen."I asked Kobe, in his new role as storyteller, what he thought of this tale of reconciliation that led to this giant dunking statue. He thought that it might be a reach.
"I don't think there was ever gonna be a doubt," Kobe said. "S---. He won three championships here. What else you gonna do?"
Jeanie Buss said this was set in motion from the day they broke ground on Staples Center, and Shaq said it would be a good idea to have statues outside it one day.
"I always liked to look ahead," Shaq said. "That was one of the ways that always motivated me, was looking ahead. I understand business and all that. I was there when they did all the renderings, and the boom and the bam. They did the groundbreaking, and I knew how it was going to look and where everything was going to be, the locker rooms and all that. It would be nice if we could put some statues out here. And it all came true."
In the process, the bickering melted away.
Reconciliation was in the air. Jackson, his rift with Kobe long ago mended by winning two more championships together, sharing the stage with former fiancé Jeanie Buss. They walked off to the reception together. The litigious Jim and Johnny Buss, for now on the outs, were conspicuously absent from the gathering of Jeanie's siblings in the second row. Maybe it won't be a permanent ban. Friday made it feel like anything is possible.
There was Shaq's former agent, Leonard Armato, and current agent Perry Rogers standing next to each other. Armato even brought his family up to a private room to visit with Shaq later on.
"My old agent, but still a friend," is how Shaq referred to Armato during his speech.
Some Random Headlines: Kobe Bryant says he’s only a phone call away if the Lakers need anything from him. This was bound to be the case once they hired his former agent, Rob Pelinka, and also Magic Johnson, who values Kobe’s basketball knowledge. But Kobe has no official role yet … A bit more on Devin Booker and the fallout from his 70-point burst … John Stockton, who never rested a single game in his entire NBA career, isn’t a big fan of the practice, as you might imagine … Is Paul George playing selfishly? Or is he merely frustrated that the Pacers aren’t more consistent winners? You decide … Reggie Jackson has been benched — again — by Stan Van Gundy in Detroit although the coach says it isn’t permanent … Is there any way the Hornets can stop their slide? They were firmly in the playoff race a month ago and now are in serious danger of hitting the golf course next month … Rudy Gobert, who said the Jazz are “too nice” after their loss to the Clippers Saturday, has a big supporter in his campaign for the league’s top defensive player honors.