Jared Sullinger is finishing up a productive second NBA season, averaging 13.2 points and a team-leading 8.1 rebounds after returning from back surgery.
Sullinger’s summer could be critical to his long-term development. The Celtics would like to see the burly power forward work himself into premium shape and work on his perimeter game. Sullinger said he has heard several times that his role model should be Minnesota All-Star Kevin Love, who entered the league a pudgy post player but has developed his body as well as his outside shot.
Sullinger wants to play in the summer league but will have a conversation with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge about whether the team wants him to participate. He at least will be part of the summer league practice team, as he was last season following surgery.
“Even if they tell me I’m not playing summer league, I’ll go down there and practice,” said Sullinger, who posted his 21st double-double of the season with 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Celtics’ 115-111 loss at Detroit Saturday night. “There’s other ways to be active going into summer. On top of that, you go against guys, you get to learn a little bit more about basketball.”
Last summer, Sullinger was not cleared for full basketball activity and he was unable to work himself into premium shape. This summer will be different because Sullinger is fully recovered.
“It’s very exciting because I get to develop and find out who I can be,” he said. “We’ll see. Hopefully, I’ll have some hobbies — working out and conditioning — I can carry over for the next four months.”
When asked whether he would like to follow Love’s physical path, Sullinger said: “We’ll see. It will be a totally different Jared Sullinger coming back next year. Summertime is the time to figure out your game, you watch a lot of film. I have a lot of free time and with that free time, a lot of conditioning, a lot of weightlifting, and a lot of basketball.”
Exercise in patience
Coach Brad Stevens was visibly distraught following Friday’s 111-102 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, who had lost 27 of their previous 28 games. He was frustrated with his team’s listless performance in the past two games.
Despite another night with a shorthanded lineup, Stevens’s spirits were better entering the matchup with the Pistons and he was impressed with the effort in the loss.
“All these guys, anybody that’s competitive doesn’t want to lose,” he said before the game. “It’s been a tough season but it’s also been a tough month and a half where we’ve really played some really good basketball in the big picture at times and we just haven’t the last two games.”
Stevens said the Celtics’ search for consistency has been a season-long endeavor.
“When you’re a great team, and I heard [Spurs coach Gregg] Popovich say this the other day, when you’re a great team all you want to do is keep playing really well,” Stevens said. “And when you’re not a great team, you want to play really well. Just giving yourself a chance to be the best you can be is what I’d like to see here.”
Avery Bradley (strained right Achilles’ tendon) and Kris Humphries (patellar tendinitis in his right knee) did not make the trip to Detroit. Rajon Rondo, who did make the trip, was out because it was the second game of a back-to-back. After saying he was seriously considering a lineup shakeup, Stevens simply replaced Humphries with Sullinger.
Besieged with injuries, the Celtics had nine healthy players Saturday, including two — Chris Johnson and Chris Babb — who were in the NBA Development League this season.
“Obviously, we’re limited numbers-wise,” said Stevens.
All nine players saw time for the Celtics. Babb played 14 minutes and picked up a career-high five steals.
Pleading the Fifth
Stevens did not have a Final Four pick but said he was excited for all the coaches and that each team had a legitimate chance to win the title. Stevens led Butler to national title games in 2010 and 2011 . . . Detroit center Andre Drummond’s registered his 52d double-double of the season and sixth game with 20 or more rebounds. He finished with 19 points and 20 boards.Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @gwashNBAGlobe