The Celtics were animals during my two-week summer sojourn
LAS VEGAS — I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write. Salt Lake City was wonderful. The vistas were just as beautiful as I remembered, and I wish I could bottle the fresh mountain air and bring it home to Boston. And then Vegas was Vegas. As I type, I’m sitting poolside with a Pina Colada and wondering where the time went.
Well, that’s how my friends and family think I typically spend this two-week Celtics summer-league sojourn. The truth is most of my time was spent in a staid hotel room, bleary-eyed and crouched over my glowing laptop, feverishly texting agents who won’t text back, and eating dry cereal out of the box.
But with their seemingly unending flurry of activity, the Celtics manage to make even that pathetic picture somehow feel exhilarating. Anyway, here is a collection of thoughts, observations and stories from the past two weeks.
■ Second-round draft pick Semi Ojeleye is a 6-foot-7-inch, 240-pound forward who appears to be constructed with steel. He has shown flashes of his potential as a shooter in Las Vegas, entering Saturday having made 10 of 25 3-point attempts. But the praise Celtics coach Brad Stevens heaped on him for his defense resonated most. Stevens said Ojeleye could immediately become one of Boston’s best defenders, and that he could envision him defending opposing centers. Stevens loves positional versatility the way we love ice cream, so this is excellent news for Ojeleye.
■ Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty has made no secret of his wish to be a head coach, most likely at the college level. He has held various jobs as an assistant since joining Rick Pitino’s staff at Louisville in 2007. In Las Vegas, McCarty was tabbed to guide the Celtics’ summer squad, and he has taken the role quite seriously. I saw him at several games scouting prospective opponents, which is a bit of a rarity at this event.
“I have to,” McCarty told me. “If I don’t, who knows if I’ll have this opportunity again? This is what I do, and I’m serious about it. I have a passion for it, and my goal is to be a head coach one day.”
■ Want to know how 95 percent of conversations among journalists and agents and executives go in Las Vegas when there is no deal to discuss?
“Hey, where are you staying?
“(Insert hotel name)”
“How long are you staying?”
“(Insert a number of days)”
■ There was considerable buzz surrounding 2016 first-round pick Ante Zizic’s arrival. It was hoped the powerful 6-11 Croatian could step in and help cure Boston’s rebounding woes as a rookie. Then summer league began and Zizic appeared a bit overwhelmed by the speed and skill of the NBA game — and this isn’t even the real NBA yet. But to his credit, Zizic made obvious adjustments in just two weeks. Entering Saturday he had registered three consecutive double-digit rebounding games and combined to shoot 11 for 16 from the field. The 20-year-old probably won’t have a large role this fall, but he has shown he could eventually.
■ When discussing summer league performances, it’s always important to start sentences with the disclaimer, “I know it’s summer league, but . . . ” So, I know it’s summer league, but Jayson Tatum’s offensive arsenal is incredibly polished. His one-legged fadeaway is NBA-ready now. It is clear he must work on extending his range a bit, however. He attempted just 12 3-pointers over his first six summer games, making four, and he passed up plenty of other long-range opportunities.
■ It’s been well over 100 degrees in Las Vegas every day I’ve been here. It was 114 at one point. And I’ll never know how the people who wear big fuzzy costumes on the Strip and pose for pictures with tourists don’t melt.
■ I was told the original plan was for second-year forward Jaylen Brown to sit out the Las Vegas summer league. But after suiting up for two of three games in Salt Lake City, he convinced the team to let him continue. Brown suffered a thigh bruise in Boston’s third game here and was then shut down. He sparkled in the Salt Lake opener, tallying 29 points and 13 rebounds, but he made just 12 of 39 shots over the next four games. For Brown, the coolest development was seeing him defend opposing point guards, an assignment he could draw next season, particularly with Avery Bradley’s departure.
■ It’s a bummer No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz was injured in his first Las Vegas game, but all indications are this rookie class will be as good as advertised. Lonzo Ball was a force, and I enjoyed watching the Jazz’s electric guard, Donovan Mitchell.
■ I did squeeze in one afternoon of nature in Salt Lake after Bradley was traded to the Pistons. ESPN’s Chris Forsberg and I went up a trail in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and about halfway up we spotted a huge moose standing in our way. Neither of us had seen a moose before, and while they seem like docile creatures, they also seem quite a bit bigger than us. We stood about 20 feet from the moose, wondering what to do next, when another hiker came down the mountain from the opposite side. He clapped his hands a few times, and then the moose began revving its back leg against the dirt, like you’d see a bull do in a cartoon. Then the moose slowly walked off into a wooded area, and I took a picture and posted it on Instagram, because otherwise what’s the point in seeing a moose on a mountain?
■ It’s hard to believe it was less than a year ago when James Young made the Celtics’ final roster over R.J. Hunter, and it seemed like a big deal. The former first-round picks are both here in Las Vegas and having a minimal impact as they scrap to make a roster somewhere. Hunter is averaging 10.2 points on 40.5 percent shooting for the Blazers and Young averaged 8.5 points on 39.5 percent shooting. He has come off the bench in three of the Pelicans’ six games.
■ After a quiet start to the summer, second-round pick Jabari Bird has thrived in a larger role with the Celtics’ stars sidelined. Entering Saturday, Bird was averaging 13.7 points over his last three games, on 19-of-27 shooting. He’s an ideal candidate to receive one of the Celtics’ two-way G-League contracts. He would earn $75,000 on the deal and be able to spend up to 45 days with the Celtics next season.