WALTHAM — The notion that the Celtics should lose on purpose in the hopes of potentially obtaining a top draft pick — a practice known as “tanking” — has been a subject of much discussion among the team’s fans this season.
But ever since the Celtics traded away Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the offseason, it has been Jared Sullinger who has led the “anti-tanking” charge, and the forward made perhaps his strongest remarks yet on the subject Monday.
“Lot of guys expect us to just tank for [Jabari] Parker or [Andrew] Wiggins,” Sullinger said after practice.
“Y’all might as well throw that out the door. I don’t know why people keep talking about tanking. We got competitors around here, we’re not really like that. We don’t care if Jeff [Green] averages 20 [points] or I average 8, we just want to win and show everybody that they can kiss our butts about that tanking stuff.”
The topic was broached after Sullinger mentioned how the Celtics need to win Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden “to stay in the playoff rankings.”
It’s a tad early for the playoffs, but multiple Celtics have uttered that very word on more than one occasion. A quick glance at the standings shows that the 7-12 Celtics are indeed in the postseason hunt — just a game back of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference entering Monday.
To be fair, the Eastern Conference is rather putrid, so any team can be in the playoff picture. Just two teams in the East had winning records entering Monday: Miami and Indiana. Compare that with the Western Conference, where just three teams had losing records: Minnesota, Sacramento, and Utah.
Also, the Atlantic Division is especially terrible. It’s led by Toronto, which has a 6-10 record. The Celtics are next, and entering Monday were a half-game from the division lead.
The Celtics are in that position after plowing through a rough November in which they played 18 games in 30 days. Also, as of Dec. 1, the Celtics had played 19 games, the most in the NBA.
Rookie coach Brad Stevens said his team has made progress, but it has a ways to go. Is he happy with said progress?
“I’m never happy,” he said with a smile. “I know that may sound crazy. I’ve never had a team in November or December that you’re excited about where you’re [at]. You’re just excited about where you can go. Everybody starts with that.”
Sullinger is averaging 13.3 points and 7.4 rebounds and has averaged nearly a double-double over the last five games: 15.2 points and 9.4 rebounds.
But the undersized but bulky big man said he’s “not really happy with the numbers because we’re what, 7-12? I’m not really happy about that. But I can play better. And I will play better. And only time will tell.”
MarShon Brooks played in the loss to Milwaukee Saturday night. That is breaking news because the shooting guard hasn’t played much this year — averaging only 6.8 minutes in six games.
But his lack of time on the hardwood doesn’t mean that Brooks wants to be traded.
“It’s too early for that. It’s way too early for that,” Brooks said. “I trust Brad Stevens. He told me I’m going to get my opportunity. So I’m just waiting on my opportunity, honestly.”
It hasn’t been easy waiting.
“It’s been challenging,” the former Providence College standout said. “I’ve just got to be a professional and come to work every day and just understand that I’m blessed and that I have the opportunity to play in the NBA. When I get my opportunity, I’m just going to make the most of it and just do what I do.”
Brooks is a scorer, as he showed at Providence and then in his rookie NBA season, when he averaged 12.6 points per game. But the Celtics have kept him on the bench.
Could that change?
“I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but it’s going to happen at some point,” Stevens said. “And I think the reason being that he’s a guy that can go score it and his attitude has been so good.”
Brooks, who is averaging 2.2 points per game, joined the Celtics this offseason from Brooklyn in a blockbuster swap that included, among others, Pierce and Garnett.
Sullinger has two flagrant fouls this season, the latest Saturday night. “I just got to soften up a little bit,” he said. “I thought it was a clean, hard foul, but some people think different, so we’ll see. Maybe I gotta give up 2 points. I’m just out there playing basketball. I can’t help it that I’m so big and that guys bounce off me the way they do.” . . . Guard Courtney Lee practiced after missing the last two games with a sore left knee. He’s expected to play Tuesday night . . . Stevens said rookie forward Kelly Olynyk could be a week from returning to action after suffering a sprained right ankle.
Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.