Emptying out the notebook as the start of Celtics training camp is somehow just six weeks away …
▪ A league source said there has not been any real traction on a deal that would send Kevin Durant from the Nets to the Celtics. It’s no surprise that the sides have had some discussions, of course.
Durant is one of the best players of all time, and when one of the best players of all time could be available, other teams should feel obligated to inquire. The Athletic recently reported that all 29 other teams have been in touch with Brooklyn about Durant.
Boston has been considered a potential landing spot in large part because the Celtics are better positioned than most to offer an enticing package. But there are limits.
According to the source, Brooklyn initially tried to pry both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown from Boston. That proposal went nowhere, of course. The source confirmed recent reports that Brooklyn later shifted its focus to a deal centered on Brown, Marcus Smart, and a massive haul of future first-round draft picks. But the Celtics were not interested.
There is usually posturing in trade discussions, and demands tend to soften. But as of this week, when Durant reportedly reiterated his desire to be traded during a meeting with team owner Joe Tsai, the Celtics and Nets were not close to a deal.
▪ When Brown’s name first appeared in Durant trade rumors a couple of weeks ago, the Celtics star tweeted “smh” (shaking my head), an apparent sign of frustration.
Smh— Jaylen Brown (@FCHWPO) July 25, 2022
But a league source said Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens and coach Ime Udoka communicate with Brown “all the time” and have kept him in the loop, adding that Brown seems to understand the situation.
▪ Of course former Celtics forward Bailey Howell remembers the two NBA titles he won with Bill Russell as his teammate and head coach. Of course he remembers the way Russell dominated the game like no one ever had before.
But some of the six-time All-Star’s fondest memories of Russell were created off the court.
“I remember the Christmas parties at his house,” said Howell, 85, by phone from his home in Starkville, Miss. “He had a gift for everybody who was invited, and not only teammates and staff members but other friends. He was Santa Claus.
“I don’t think he ever dressed as Santa Claus, but he’d pull the packages out and read the names, and he’d laugh when they opened the gifts. He really enjoyed the cheer of the season and we always felt honored to be invited, my wife and I.”
After the 1965-66 season, it became clear that second-year center Mel Counts wouldn’t have much of a career in Boston backing up Russell, so general manager Red Auerbach began touting Counts to boost his trade value.
Howell played for the Baltimore Bullets at the time, and he said the Celtics were offered either him or fellow star forward Gus Johnson. The Celtics chose Howell, and he made an All-Star team in his first year before helping Boston to NBA titles in his next two.
Russell had been named head coach prior to the trade, and he later told Howell he’d given Auerbach plenty of input prior on the deal.
“Bill told me, ‘I decided on you,’ ” Howell recalled. “It was certainly a big break for me, and one that I’m eternally grateful for.”
▪ I was told that after Russell died last week, his daughter, Karen, reached out to the Celtics to thank them for their role in commissioning a statue of Russell outside Boston City Hall in 2013. It was meaningful to the family that Russell received the honor while he was alive.
▪ When Joe Mazzulla was an assistant coach with the Maine Red Claws in 2016, he made an impression on former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. And after Mazzulla spent a year as the head coach at Division 2 Fairmont State, Ainge tried to bring Mazzulla to Boston.
But Mazzulla declined because he had already made commitments to the team’s recruits and did not want to turn his back on them. He joined the Celtics staff in 2019, and Ainge and Stevens were impressed by his work and development.
Even though Mazzulla was not even one of Boston’s lead bench assistants last season, Ainge, who is now CEO of the Jazz, interviewed him for Utah’s head coaching opening this summer.
“It was definitely surprising, but I think because Danny is Danny and a creative guy in how he thinks outside the box, that made it less surprising,” Mazzulla said. “Not many people think the way he does.”
Ainge ultimately settled on a different Boston assistant, Will Hardy, but it was another indication that Mazzulla, 34, could be one of the NBA’s rising stars in coaching. Soon after Hardy departed, Udoka announced that Mazzulla would be promoted to a bench role.
“I’ve always said this is where I want to be, because being from here and working for the Celtics means a lot more to me,” said Mazzulla, who is from Johnston, R.I. “It’s close to my heart and family. I was just fortunate Brad and Ime agreed I should move up.”