Now that we’ve had a few days to regroup from the Celtics’ long, winding summer league journey, let’s take a look back at what we learned amid the ping-ping-pinging of Las Vegas slot machines and whatever noise would be comparable to that in sleepy Salt Lake City. (Read: nothing.)
For the Celtics, it was a productive trip, particularly because they showed growth. After getting shoved around in two lopsided losses in Utah, they responded to win five of their final six games, the only setback coming on a buzzer-beater in the Las Vegas quarterfinals.
Of course, summer leagues should never be measured in wins and losses. But when you actually win, teams tend to feel good about the wins and losses, and the Celtics started to win. Anyway, here is a brief snapshot of what you might have missed if, for some odd reason, you weren’t watching NBA TV well past midnight on a work night to see a mostly meaningless basketball game. (The nerve!)
1.Terry Rozier relishes the big moment. The Celtics trailed by a point with a minute left in their first-round playoff game against the Blazers in Las Vegas. Then Rozier scored 8 points over the final minute — including two difficult jump-shots — to seal the win. Two nights later, he drilled a clutch 3-pointer to tie the score in the final seconds against San Antonio, although Boston ultimately lost the game. Rozier shot just 35.4 percent from the field in summer league play, but he showed flashes of dominance when the heat was turned up.
2. Marcus Smart has no chill. At least that’s how a friend of mine described it in a text message, and it sounded cool. Basically, Marcus Smart doesn’t know how to not be Marcus Smart, and that ultimately led to the most terrifying moment of the summer for the Celtics. In the second quarter of the win over the Blazers, Smart dived at a loose ball just as he had done over and over in every other summer league game. But this time, he landed awkwardly and dislocated two fingers. The images of his mangled hand were terrifying, and surely the Celtics brass was terrified that the injury could be more serious. Luckily, there were no breaks or tears and Smart is expected to return to basketball activities in a few weeks. As teammate Evan Turner put it: “Obviously, when you dive 100,000 times in a span of eight days, I guess every now and then something off might happen.”
3. James Young is just not there yet. Yes, the second-year forward was the youngest player on Boston’s roster. Yes, he was slowed by another injury — this time a hip pointer. But in the weeks leading up to summer league, Young made it sound like he would dominate summer league like you dominated that sub for lunch. In the end, he shot just 27.4 percent from the field and acknowledged he was thinking about his shot too much. Young’s best game was his last game, however, as he tallied 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists in the loss to the Spurs. So perhaps that will be a springboard.
4. Brad Stevens must be a dominant poker player. Well, this didn’t really happen — at least to the knowledge of any of the writers. But being in Las Vegas, it was impossible not to consider how good Stevens would probably be at poker if he put his mind to it. He’d be so calm, analytical, and difficult to read. And if he wasn’t a great player right away, you know he’d spend whatever amount of time was needed to become great, because that’s how he does things.
5. Jordan Mickey looks like a steal. Mickey, the 6-foot-8-inch forward who was selected with the 33d overall pick, was probably Boston’s most consistent player. In eight games, he had nine rebounds or more five times, scored 15 points or more four times and registered multiple blocks six times. It should be no surprise that this week he was rewarded with a four-year, $5 million deal — one of the richest ever given to a second-round pick.
6. This was no summer vacation for the Celtics. Boston held shootarounds before almost every game of this two-week trip, and some of those sessions went well longer than an hour. I didn’t get the schedules of all the other teams, but from talking to other writers, the Celtics were certainly one of the busier squads each morning — shout-out to my alarm clock.
7. Jonathan Holmes is NBA ready. It was somewhat curious to see Holmes, who had widely been projected as a second-round pick, choose to join the Celtics’ summer league team after he went undrafted. After all, Boston has a glut of young players and a crowded roster. But Holmes’s agent thought he would have a good chance of flourishing in the Celtics’ system, and that other teams would see that happen. It turned out to be a smart move, as the 6-8 forward drained 13 3-pointers and showed he could be a classic stretch power forward. On Tuesday night, a source said several NBA teams have expressed interest in signing him.
8. The Celtics like the Celtics . . . or something. A steady stream of veteran visitors stopped by during this two-week sojourn. Forward Kelly Olynyk and guard Isaiah Thomas came to the Utah Jazz League. In Las Vegas, there were cameos by newly signed forwards Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko as well as Turner. Of course, Turner acknowledged he was really in town to attend the bachelor party of NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, but who can fault him for that?
9. R.J. Hunter learns quickly. The first two games of the summer were forgettable for Hunter. He missed all eight of his shots, looked lost defensively, and was mostly getting shoved around. It’s unclear if those were early NBA jitters or if he just adapted to his new surroundings. Most likely it was a mix. Nevertheless, Hunter found his rhythm and was the Celtics’ leading scorer in Las Vegas, including a 22-point burst in the finale against San Antonio.
10. Jay Larranaga and Micah Shrewsberry will get their opportunities. The two assistants were handed the coaching reins — Larranaga in Salt Lake City and Shrewsberry in Las Vegas — and they showed they are more than up to the task. Both are calm, measured thinkers who are also capable of lighting a fire under a player when needed. From a selfish media standpoint, Shrewsberry was gold for our tape recorders, and Larranaga warmed up to us by week’s end.