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Celtics president Brad Stevens reveals his thinking behind offseason decisions

Celtics president Brad Stevens said "it was as good as it gets” having Blake Griffin as a veteran locker room presence last season.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

What folks may not know about the usually reserved Brad Stevens is that he is an entertaining story teller, and he spent time this past week answering questions from Celtics fans, going into detail about a couple of team issues and the future of Blake Griffin.

Stevens revealed the Celtics were interested in bringing back Griffin for a second year, but the former All-Star is considering retirement. Griffin is a free agent.

Stevens described the challenge of luring Griffin last season when the club was seeking a veteran backup center and positive locker room presence.

“I told him, ‘We’d love to have you join us, but you may not play when Robert [Williams] gets back [from injury],’ ” Stevens told participants at ABCD Hoop Dreams. “He said no. So I went through a few more days, called him back, and said, ‘Hey ,I don’t mean to burden you. I know you’ve got kids. I know you’ve said no initially, but I just wanted to circle back before I turn to other people because you’re the best fit for our team.’ He said, ‘I thought about it and I want to do it.’ ”

Griffin played in just 41 of 82 regular-season games and averaged 4.1 points. He made just one appearance in the postseason, but his impact on the locker room, including Payton Pritchard and Grant Williams, left Stevens gushing.


“I’m not blowing smoke, it was as good as it gets,” Stevens said. “He was unbelievable when he played and even better when he didn’t. He has a fan for life from everybody in our organization. You know, if he decides to keep playing, he wants to come back out East, he knows we’re a phone call away.”

Veteran center Blake Griffin is a positive presence in the Celtics' locker room.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Stevens also touched on the status of Williams, who is healthy and enters a pivotal season.


“He’s not an old guy, but he’s not a rookie anymore,” Stevens said. “He’s six years in now and this is the time where guys make leaps and make jumps. He showed his defensive versatility a couple of years ago. His offensive threat at the rim and his rebounding is as good as it gets, and the keys for him are to be available as much as possible and to be able play as long as spurts as possible.

“We’re lucky with Kristaps [Porzingis], with Al [Horford], with Luke [Kornet], we’re lucky to have a group that can all play when he’s not available, but we’re a different team when he is. You can see that.”

Stevens was asked about conversations with players rumored to be in trade discussions, such as Malcolm Brogdon this summer or Jaylen Brown last summer in a potential deal for Kevin Durant.

“They’re hard, but you just have real conversations,” Stevens said. “Some stuff has been talked about with the Brogdon stuff, you just have conversations about it. You understand why a person would feel angry about that. But at the same time, that’s why you have those conversations. You work together. Obviously, in almost all scenarios, you’re talking about unbelievable players on all sides. That’s the other part of the recognition being discussed.

“Again, a lot of the stuff that you read, we’re making calls all year. The other 29 teams know who we like on their team because we tell them. And we know who they like on our team because they tell us. Does that become a rumor? You have to have an idea who you’d like to target and who’s attainable and who’s not.”


Stevens traded Marcus Smart, the Celtics’ most vocal leader, to the Grizzlies in a controversial deal that landed Porzingis, perhaps leaving a major leadership void that will have to be filled by incumbents such as Jayson Tatum or Brown.

“First of all, it’s hard to discern leadership from afar,” Stevens said. “I think Marcus is a good leader and we have a lot of other good leaders in that locker room, too. Everybody does it through their own personality and their own way. We talked about it several times three, four, five years ago, is one of the keys to our whole program will be when Jaylen and Jayson get to 25, 26 and 27, being two of the best leaders in the league, and they’re there. I think they will without question [lead] and they were already. And Al knows buttons to push, and when he speaks it’s worth listening to.

“We have a number of guys in there. Derrick White I think is a person we want to see continue to rise and grow. He certainly can take over some of that. But the key is will everybody embrace their role? Will everybody do so in their own authentic self and bring it to the table so we can be the best team we can be?”


Are the Celtics still the team to beat in the East?
WATCH: After Milwaukee adds Damian Lillard, the Celtics may no longer be tops in the East. Columnist Chad Finn on why it may not matter come the playoffs.

Kerr excited by

addition of Paul

The Warriors made the bold move of trading young scorer Jordan Poole to acquire Chris Paul from the Wizards, and coach Steve Kerr is still pondering whether to start the 6-foot Paul.

Such a move would make the Warriors a small team with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins, and Klay Thompson. Usual starting center Kevon Looney would then come off the bench and Golden State would have a difficult time defending bigger teams.

Kerr has a month to make that decision, but he said he’s already bonding with Paul, who is seeking his first NBA title entering his 19th season.

“I really like Chris because he likes phone calls and not texts,” Kerr said. “So Chris is old school. He wants to talk. We’ve had four or five great conversations this summer.

“I remember a few years ago pulling him aside after Phoenix beat us in Phoenix, and I told him how much I admired him and his competitiveness and just his basketball intelligence. Obviously we have had a lot of battles over the years.”

Paul said he’ll do whatever it takes to win, but he views himself as a starter. He’ll spend the next few weeks developing chemistry with Curry, who will play more off the ball at shooting guard.

“He’s one of the great competitors I’ve ever seen; his command of the game, the way he controls the action. His teams tend to get a great shot possession after possession. He understands what wins,” Kerr said. “We basically have six starters, I mean, the way I look at, and only five can go each night.


“So I haven’t decided yet what we’re going to do. I want to see training camp. We are going to try different combinations and take a look. Obviously all six guys are going to play a lot of minutes for us.

“If this is going to work then everybody has to embrace it regardless of who is starting and who is not. It only works if the whole team buys in. I know these guys well. I know five of them really well and I’m getting to know Chris. The one thing I know about all of them is they want to win more than anything. They are an incredibly competitive group and I’m very confident that we’ll figure it out and the guys will buy in and find a way.”

Kerr is coming off a difficult experience with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, a team that was expected to medal but finished fourth with three losses, including a semifinal loss to Germany. Team USA struggled with defense and Kerr was criticized for not playing bigger lineups against opponents with physical big men.

“That’s one of the best parts of being part of USA Basketball is there’s so much to learn and there’s so much that’s different with the game, with the FIBA game, with the experience itself,” Kerr said. “You know, coaching a team that’s only together six weeks. Coaching with an entirely different staff. It was an amazing experience.

“No regrets. Obviously we are disappointed that we didn’t win, but the guys were fantastic. Nobody ever complained about playing time. Everybody was all-in. They committed to the goal. They worked like crazy. So great honor to be the coach and very proud of the effort that the guys put in.”

The Warriors made the bold move of trading young scorer Jordan Poole to acquire Chris Paul from the Wizards.David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Will Clippers make

move for Harden?

The Clippers have long been the preferred destination of James Harden, but there has been no traction on a deal that would send him from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. The Clippers may jump into the Jrue Holiday race now that Damian Lillard has been moved to the Bucks.

Until then, they’ll move forward with an aging roster that has never been able to stay healthy. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are All-NBA-caliber players when they can actually play. But they’ve each missed parts of the past two postseasons with injuries. Russell Westbrook will be 35 in November but is the starting point guard after flourishing in 21 games last season following his disastrous stint with the Lakers.

Still, if they are right, the Clippers are a contender in the Western Conference and they are excited about perhaps the last opportunity for the Leonard-George group to make a deep playoff run. The pressure is on with the franchise moving into a new arena in 2024. General manager Lawrence Frank is optimistic, but it’s very early.

“I think we all have something to prove,” he said. “I think we were disappointed with how the season ended, and I think the offseason is a great time for reflection that leads to great personal development and professional development, and we’ve had a great spirit and energy around the group, very competitive in terms of how they approach their work.

“There’s a seriousness to our approach, and I think it’s not about the talk ultimately for us. It’s about the daily habits and how we perform. But just in terms of the process itself, that every day matters, every rep matters, every game matters. We’re just starting it, but I’ve been very impressed.”

The focus is on Leonard, who has lost his status as a top-10 player because of injuries. He is coming off a torn meniscus suffered in the playoffs a year after tearing his ACL. Leonard is entering a pivotal stretch. Is he still elite?

“He’s fully healthy, so I think he’s going to attack everything,” Frank said. “It was such a shame that he got injured at the worst possible time.

“We just need and he just needs some good fortune. The great thing about how he approaches his craft, he leaves no stone unturned. He’s extremely passionate and loves what he does. He’s all about the work.”

Leonard could opt out of his contract and become a free agent, so this is a critical season if he wants to return on a maximum extension to be the marquee free agent next summer.

“He really dealt with three separate injuries last year. You feel horrible for him,” Frank said. “You feel horrible for the team. You feel horrible for the fans. But in terms of trying to focus on what you can control, and he tries to control all the controllables, and he just had some misfortune and luck.

“We’re very hopeful, and knock on wood, he’s going to have a very healthy year because when he plays, he’s one of the best players in the world. So, it’s still the same. We’re still trying to maximize Kawhi and PG’s window and take advantage of it.”

Frank said he wants the 32-year-old Leonard and 33-year-old George to return for the long term. But eventually their primes are going to end.

“They were extension-eligible on different dates, but we’ve had consistent ongoing conversations with both them and their representatives, and at the appropriate time we’re hopeful that they’ll remain Clippers,” Frank said. “It’ll be a process, and we’ll just be candid with each other, but we’re hopeful that we can continue to build around those guys and they’ll remain Clippers.”

Like the situation in Boston with Malcolm Brogdon, the Clippers nearly sent Marcus Morris to the Celtics to get Brogdon this summer. Morris, who struggled last season and played just 68 minutes in the playoff series loss to the Suns, remains on the roster and is expected to fill an important role.

“Everyone understands the business of the NBA, and I think if there’s no [expletive] and everyone is just honest about it. You may not like the answers, but you respect that you’re getting the truth from each other,” Frank said.

“I’ve communicated with Marcus throughout the entire offseason. Marcus gets the business. He’s super excited. He, like everyone else, as an individual and as a team, wants to be able to perform at a higher level, and he’s had a terrific offseason. Marcus, like anyone else, we’re expecting our group to make the total investment like we know we need to.”


Former Boston College standout and Clippers lottery pick Jerome Robinson signed a two-way contract with the Warriors. Robinson, 26, last played in the NBA in 2020-21 with the Wizards and has played with Golden State’s G League affiliate, but this will be his best opportunity to carve out a role as a reserve. Robinson was taken 13th overall in the 2018 draft but has had trouble finding traction. He was traded to the Wizards in February 2020 in the deal that netted the Clippers Morris. Robinson and Denver’s Reggie Jackson are the lone BC products in the NBA . . . The NBA suspended former Spurs first-round pick Joshua Primo for four games after he “engaged in inappropriate and offensive behavior by exposing himself to women.” While with San Antonio, Primo reportedly exposed himself multiple times to female Spurs employees. The Spurs waived Primo, considered a prospect, in October 2022 and he spent the rest of last season without a team. The Clippers are reportedly signing Primo to a two-way contract after he underwent therapy. The NBA revealed that Primo was not guilty of anything more than exposing himself. The league apparently waited nearly a year to levy a penalty because there had been no teams interested in Primo . . . With training camps about to open, there are several free agents on the market who could help a team, including point guard Cameron Payne, who was waived by the Spurs earlier this month. Former lottery pick Austin Rivers has made it clear he’d like to continue his career and would love to join the Celtics, a team his father once coached. Also on the market are Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Terrence Ross, T.J. Warren, JaMychal Green, Hamidou Diallo, John Wall, Kendrick Nunn, Terence Davis, Justise Winslow, Stanley Johnson, Goran Dragic, and Javonte Green . . . The Warriors added veteran Rudy Gay to their roster as bench depth. Gay played the past few seasons with the Jazz and has been able to impact rosters despite losing his elite athleticism. NBA teams can bring as many as 21 players to training camp but have to break camp with 15 on standard contracts and three on two-way contracts.

Boston Globe Today: Sports | September 29, 2023
Watch the full episode of Boston Globe Today: Sports from September 29, 2023.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.