Jared Sullinger wants to transform his body by shedding weight and improving his conditioning. The 6-foot-9-inch forward also wants to transform his game by improving his outside shooting.
In other words, he wants to be a lot like Minnesota forward Kevin Love, who did all those things in recent years and is now playing at an MVP-candidate level.
Before the two faced off Monday night in the Celtics’ 101-97 win at TD Garden, Sullinger said that he’s looking forward to studying Love next summer, and that he admires Love’s versatile offense.
Love, averaging 25 points, a league-leading 13.6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists entering the game, had plenty of praise for Sullinger, too.
“He can shoot the ball, he has a soft touch, he’s capable, as far as rebounding the basketball goes,” Love said. “He’s very young, so he has a lot of chances to improve.
“My advice to him would be, don’t wait until the summer. Start improving now, because you always have every day to improve and he seems to be getting better and better.”
On Monday night, Love registered game highs of 27 points and 14 rebounds. Sullinger led Boston with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 assists.
The 6-11 Love, in his sixth NBA season, entered the league at 270 pounds, but is now lean and chiseled after dramatically changing his diet and going through grueling workouts two offseasons ago, spending six days a week with noted trainer Rob McClanaghan.
Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said that Love is “a completely different player now.”
Said Love: “I feel a lot different. My body feels a lot better. My legs feel a lot better.
“I’m hoping Jared doesn’t put in all that work,” Love jokingly added, “because he looks like he has the ability to step out [and shoot 3-pointers]. Like I said, in the past couple of years, he’s gotten a lot better.”
Sullinger is in his second season after his first was cut short by back surgery. He’s still working on his conditioning, but he has been one of the most impressive Celtics this season.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens said it is hard to pinpoint Sullinger’s potential ceiling, but that his team’s leading rebounder should study Love.
“You talk about a guy [Love] that’s an outstanding post scorer, his skill level has increased every year, body is phenomenal — completely done a 180 in his body,” Stevens said. “There’s so many positives and there’s guys that you can really learn a lot from.
“Sullinger is a guy that can score the ball and those guys, there’s not a lot of them in the world who can score at this level, especially when they are undersized, and he’s got a nice knack for it. Now, there’s still things that he can get better at, and he will get better at. Again, studying Love would be a good place to start.”
In terms of his future, the 260-pound Sullinger said that he’d rather play in the paint than on the wing.
“That’s where I’m at my best,” Sullinger said. “But if I have to step out, I will be able to work on that this summer. I just do what I do best, that’s what got me here. Why change?”
It will be helpful to have a healthy summer where he can work on his game, unlike this past offseason, when he was still recovering from surgery.
“This year I really couldn’t do anything,” he said. “So it’s kind of like natural ability almost. I didn’t really have a great offseason, minus rehabbing my back. I still have a lot of work to do, so this offseason it’s going to be a big time for me.”
Ultimately, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo will return to the lineup when he — and he alone — believes he is ready.
“Yeah, I don’t see how it could be anything else,” Stevens said. “I think, ultimately, a person has to be ready and he has to feel good.”
Rondo has been out since last season after having knee surgery to repair a torn ACL. He was cleared for full-contact practice last week. There’s a chance he could return in January, but it’s not certain.
Stevens did point out that there are physical requirements that Rondo will have to meet before he can be cleared to play in games, and that he has not met those requirements yet.
“But nobody should make that call except for the individual involved, in my opinion,” Stevens said.
Paying no attention
Trade rumors are swirling, including around the Celtics, but Stevens said he ignores it all.
“The only time I would pay attention to it is if Danny [Ainge] came in and told me that something was being considered, and we haven’t had any of those discussions,” Stevens said.
It’s no secret that college coaches haven’t fared well when making the leap to the pro game. Stevens is trying to change that trend. From afar, though, Adelman said the best thing going for the rookie coach is his lengthy six-year contract.
“I’m serious,” Adelman said. “I think Danny was really smart. If that was the guy he was going to pick, and he’s obviously a very good coach and really smart, you want him to get through this period, and I think they’ve done a good job of getting quality people. If they get Rondo back, they’re going to be a team to compete.”Baxter Holmes can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.