This morning’s headlines:
Celtics looking for new leaders: Who’s the commanding voice of the Celtics’ locker room? Good question, for not even the man who changed the team is quite sure himself. Danny Ainge seems willing to let the leadership pecking order grow organically, as he explained to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:
As Celtics training camp approaches, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge appears at ease with the major overhaul to the roster over the summer.
In the coming weeks and months, the Celtics will have to find their locker room leader and spiritual leader because the incumbents — Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder — were traded to the Cavaliers. The Celtics’ brass essentially have no idea one week before camp who will assume these roles.
Kyrie Irving sought a trade from Cleveland because he wanted more locker room leadership and off-court responsibilities. He’ll get his opportunity. Gordon Hayward is no longer a standout player on an overshadowed team in Utah. He is a maximum-contract player on a team with aspirations of reaching the NBA Finals, so he will be relied upon to lead along with Irving.
“So when we acquired Isaiah, nobody knew he was going to be this Isaiah,” Ainge said. “Going into it nobody knew he was going to be the player that he was last year. When we got Jae Crowder in the trade for [Rajon] Rondo, nobody knew who Jae Crowder was. They just knew he didn’t play very much in Dallas.
“You have to let these things transpire. It doesn’t do any good to talk about it or predict who they are going to be. You have to let them earn who they are going to be. Part of that is earning their teammates’ trust and their coach’s trust, like Isaiah and Jae did. That’s what’s sort of exciting; there’s a new and fresh energy from having some new faces around and there’s a lot of excitement and optimism and it’s fun to be around right now.”
The Celtics will enter training camp with potentially 11 new players, including four new starters — Irving, Hayward, Marcus Morris, and perhaps Jaylen Brown to join Al Horford. Ainge also added Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis, and Shane Larkin, while taking Jayson Tatum and Semi Ojeleye in the draft.
“This isn’t any sort of plan like we wanted to make a whole bunch of changes — part of it is just managing payroll and getting guys to fit on the court, just building a team,” Ainge said. “It’s not about getting rid of somebody or bringing new faces in, but in the world we live in today you have a salary cap and a luxury tax and there are short contracts that are attached. When I played, I signed a six-year contract. Now, most contracts are four years [at the longest]. It’s just the nature of our business and it’s not ideal not to have continuity. But there are rewards for a freshness. What really matters is how well they play and as I said, time is our judge.”
Four years ago, majority owner Wyc Grousbeck promised “fireworks” in an interview with the Globe. It took Ainge years to orchestrate the Fourth of July. He acquired two All-Stars in the offseason (Irving, Hayward), traded away their most popular player (Thomas) and longest-tenured player (Avery Bradley), and then had enough confidence to trade down in the draft from No. 1 to No. 3 to select the skilled Tatum, who has drawn raves since his summer league performance.
“I’m excited, no question, as I said, you can feel it,” Ainge said. “You can feel the energy here at our practice facility, you can see it in guys that are trying out for the [G-League], guys that are going to play major roles on our team this year, young and old, you can just see the energy that exists around here and it’s good. It’s exciting. I’m excited to get the season started and see how it all works.”
There will be a large void at small forward with Crowder’s absence. Hayward will assume the starting role but Brown and Tatum could be depended on for major minutes. Brown will be 20 on opening night. Tatum doesn’t turn 20 until March.
“I think Terry [Rozier] and Marcus [Smart] are really ready to step up,” Ainge said. “And Jayson and Jaylen we can be a little bit more patient with, but they are going to play an important role.”
“We’ll see what minutes [Tatum] will earn. I’m not worried about how they will play when the lights go on. It will be unlikely that Jayson is Rookie of the Year because it will probably come from a team that starts their rookies and plays them 35 minutes per night.
New Knicks boss is ready: The previous Knicks braintrust was well known to everyone; Phil Jackson’s work however, didn’t match his profile. Now comes a GM who’s only familiar to hard-core NBA people. Scott Perry did his apprentice in Orlando and then Sacramento before coming to Knicks highly regarded in spite of his lack of recognizability. He discussed the huge job ahead of him to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:
For Scott Perry, the chance to help resurrect the Knicks is a long-awaited opportunity. While analytic-centric general managers with just a fraction of the front office experience were getting GM jobs, Perry was waiting patiently for his chance.
And the New York position was rather unexpected as Perry began his offseason without a job after being part of the Magic’s front office shuffle. Eight days later, Perry was hired to be the vice president of basketball operations in Sacramento, where he purchased a home and helped the Kings orchestrate the signings of George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter.
Seven weeks later, after the Knicks removed Phil Jackson and named Steve Mills president of basketball operations, Perry was hired as general manager. So just like that, Perry is responsible for helping resurrect a once-proud organization mired with issues.
Carmelo Anthony remains a Knick, although it’s likely best for both sides that he move on. But with a no-trade clause and a $24 million salary, Anthony has been difficult to move and training camp is approaching.
Perry was able to add Michael Beasley, Ramon Sessions, and Jarrett Jack after Mills signed former Knick draft pick Tim Hardaway Jr. away from the Hawks with an offer sheet. So with an influx of young players but Anthony, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee still present, it’s definitely a transition year in New York.
Perry, 53, is grateful for the opportunity after 17 years in NBA front offices.
“You never know when your opportunity will come, if it will ever come, quite frankly,” he said. “Fortunately it did come in the form of New York, a historical franchise like the Knicks. I feel well-prepared for the opportunity and the job. Thirty years in the business, 13 years as a college coach, 17 years in the NBA, and not having skipped any steps as it relates to this business. It’s an exciting time, an exciting opportunity, one that I worked very hard for over the years.”
The Knicks are the ultimate challenge for a general manager. They haven’t been to the playoffs in four seasons and have lost 50-plus games in each of the last three seasons.
Jackson signed Noah, traded for Derrick Rose, and added Lee to try to make a playoff push but that ended in abject failure. Noah has three years and $55 million left on his deal while Lee is owed roughly $37 million over the next three years.
“I would first say, look, all these jobs are tough in professional sports,” Perry said. “New York is one of the more legendary, iconic cities in the world, the spotlight is that much brighter on the job. That’s not lost on me, but I’m going to be who I am, apply my experiences, my personality, things I’ve heard over the years, and do my part in making this a successful team again.”
Perry had actually completed the move from Orlando to Sacramento when he got a call from the Knicks.
“It has been very tough logistically, to put it mildly,” said Perry, who worked for more than a decade as Joe Dumars’s assistant with the Pistons. “When you consider moving cross country twice within a 3½-4-month period, that’s very difficult. Living in and out of hotels, packing, unpacking, selling a home, purchasing a home in Sacramento that I never moved into and have to sell now. It’s been very challenging, but I always take a step back and say it’s very well worth it because I’ve been blessed to get this opportunity. That quickly erases that angst over moving twice.”
“I think all of us that signed up to be in this business knows it’s not a comfort business. It’s a business that offers new and exciting challenges pretty much every day. I think about everything else with me [that I’ve experienced], it’s make it that much more of an exciting and enjoyable journey. I’ve been fortunate to be in the game for 30 years. That’s a long time, that’s a long career. That’s not lost on me that a lot of people have not been afforded that amount of time. I want to have a number of years more because I enjoy my craft.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hornets will enter training camp with serious questions about the backup position behind Kemba Walker … The Heat’s help during Hurricane Irma could be described as “dogged” in a sense … Shabazz Muhammad came cheap for the Wolves this summer and he could be a bargain off the bench … Phil Chenier will not return this fall as the Wizards’ broadcaster, but he will have his jersey retired … Jusuf Nurkic turned the Blazers’ season around a year ago and now he’s trying to turn his body into something special, too, by losing weight.