GARY WASHBURN I SUNDAY BASKETBALL NOTES
One of the greatest coaches in NBA history always wants to address the media in Boston in the same spot, in front of the John Havlicek photo on the wall outside the locker rooms at TD Garden.
Gregg Popovich has a photo of Havlicek in his San Antonio office and greatly admires the Celtics legend.
“That’s the only picture in my office,” Popovich said. “I don’t think he thinks a lot about what I think. He’s John Havlicek.”
And there was more from Popovich during last week’s visit, such as when he was asked what he thought of the Celtics after watching them on tape.
“I haven’t watched them,” Popovich said. “Have you watched my team? You think I have a enough work to do right there? So now I’ve got to [study] two teams? I’m not that good.”
Popovich talked about Manu Ginobili, in his 16th NBA season at age 40. Ginobili and Tony Parker are the last remaining Spurs that helped them become perennial title contenders.
“He’s been an ultimate warrior,” Popovich said of Ginobili. “He’s been a winner in a lot of different ways in a lot of places. And for us, he’s like the fiber, the backbone, and the spirit of the team along with Patty Mills, Tony, and Timmy [Duncan]. He’s like a pacifier. Kids look for their pacifier and I look for mine, and when I see him in the gym I feel better.”
Dealing with Ginobili hasn’t always been easy, especially in the early days.
Said Popovich: “In the beginning he would do some things I thought were unnecessary until that point came where he finally came to me and said, ‘I am Manu, this is what I do.’ I said, ‘OK, you go ahead and try to save one or two of those passes per game and I’ll shut up one or two times when they happen during the game.’ We came to this compromise and it’s been lovey-dovey ever since.”
Popovich, who was the first to rest healthy players, said he’s OK with the league issuing fines for teams that rest stars during nationally televised games. Popovich infamously sent Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili home before a TNT game with LeBron James and the Heat five years ago, and he received a $250,000 fine.
“Frankly, I think it’s a little bit cloudy,” Popovich said. “But it’s all done in good faith to make the fans feel like they’re seeing what they want to see for their money, which I understand. I was just glad I wasn’t one of those guys who rested people.
“So the league, obviously they’ve compromised a great deal. The schedule is great. The way they’ve reduced back-to-backs and four-in-five-nights, Adam [Silver, the commissioner] listened. That’s huge and it speaks a lot for how much he cares about the players and the league. And the fans are important and we’ve got to understand that.”
But Popovich has some legitimate questions.
“Some of the stuff is in stone and should not be negotiable, like, if Kawhi [Leonard] was healthy, we played last night, I need to play him tonight even though it’s a back-to-back on the road because he only plays in Boston once. Same thing with LeBron. That makes sense. I can deal with that,” he said.
“On the TV games, the only thing I wonder about is . . . are they going to tell us which ones are the marquee players and which ones aren’t? I guess they will if we don’t play them and the fine comes. We’ll know that guy was a marquee player.”
NBA rules only mandate that coaches play “healthy” players in “high-profile” or nationally televised games, regardless of their stature. Teams are also dissuaded from resting multiple healthy players for games and resting healthy players for road games. Any violation could result in a $100,000 fine for the team.
Popovich has been outspoken about his disdain for the Donald Trump presidency and has no apologies regarding his opinions.
“I’m on safe ground in my heart and I know what I feel and I feel that the more it’s expressed, the more people might be aware and talk to other people and realize that there’s something their that’s beyond party, beyond tribe,” Popovich said. “It’s about people and who we live with. In a way, we’re all in the same boat, we just don’t know it.”
Gordon Hayward addressed the media for 17 minutes Thursday, touching on a wide range of issues regarding his broken tibia, dislocated left ankle, and recovery. Hayward suffered the injury just 5 minutes, 15 seconds into his Celtics career, as he was sandwiched on an alley-oop attempt by the Cavaliers’ Jae Crowder and LeBron James and landed awkwardly. It was one of the more gruesome sports injuries in recent memory.
Hayward is expected to make a full recovery. Neither the Celtics nor Hayward have determined a comeback date, but the key is he will come back.
“As far as me individually, I try to turn this negative into a positive,” he said. “I think there’s things as a player I needed to get better at and now I’m going to have all the time in the world to work on it. Part of that is a mental game; part of that is film study; part of that is working on left-hand finishes below the rim. There’s all kinds of things that I can try to do to help myself as a player, and like I said, I’m going to have the time to do it.”
The Celtics lost their first two games without Hayward, including the opener. But Boston has reeled off seven consecutive wins since then and made the necessary adjustments to become more competitive and emerge as one of the league’s top defensive teams.
Hayward has been watching closely, specifically the developments of 19-year-old Jayson Tatum and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown.
“I think watching the team, I think we’re playing really good defensively,” Hayward said. “I think we should play really good defensively. We have the length. We have smart basketball players ready to disrupt teams with our switching and just some of our athleticism and things that we can do. I think we’re competing, we’re playing extremely hard. That’s the first steps. There’s definitely things we need to improve on. There’s definitely a lot of things that you like when you watch, things that make you smile with the talent we have on the team. The future is definitely bright for our team.”
Hayward appeared on the “Today Show” with Matt Lauer and also wrote a 3,500-word blog post about his thoughts on the injury and his recovery. Hayward also wrote a 2,000-word blog post in July when deciding to sign with the Celtics. Writing is one of his hobbies.
“I think it was therapeutic. I’ve written several blogs and this one by far was the longest one, the time that it took for me to do it and the time that it took for me to put it into words exactly what I wanted to say,” he said. “Describing the moment that it happened, I think it was good to talk it out. I hadn’t really talked about it until then, so I guess sitting down and putting down my thoughts was really helpful for me. Now that it’s out there I can move forward and continue with the rehab and recovery.”
So what’s a pro athlete do when confined to a cast and spending considerable time at home during the rehabilitation process? Hayward’s two young daughters put stickers on his cast and brighten his days when he is saddened by his circumstances.
“If you know anything about me, I’m a big video game guy. So I’ve got more than enough time to do that as well. I get a chance to spend way more time with my girls. So I’m definitely doing that,” he said. “Maybe I’m in the way a little too much of my wife. She gets to take care of three kids now instead of just two. But I think the days are going to go by a lot faster now because I’m able to come into the gym, able to be around the team a little bit more.
“My two little ones don’t really know what’s going on. They know that I’m home a little bit more. They know Daddy has a boo-boo. It does kind of put things in perspective because for them, it’s not that big of a deal. It’s just another day. I have a scooter at home, it’s just another toy for them to play with, another thing they can get hurt on.
“I think they’re good for the recovery process because it allows me to have a support system and something to smile about because they for sure have provided some comic relief and it will help me get through the days.”
Hayward said he wants to be around the team as often as he can. He’s only 27, but considering the Celtics’ relative lack of experience, his advice and encouragement could be valuable to players’ development.
“I definitely made sure to praise them but at the same time I got after them for some of the things that I saw that they needed to do better,” Hayward said of when he met with the team Wednesday. “They’re playing well right now and they’re asked to do a lot. They’re 20 and 21 and however young they are, and they have a lot of responsibility.
“I think this is going to be great for their careers. There’s nothing better in the NBA than experience and meaningful experiences, which I think is something that this team [needs]. We’re young but we’re ready to win, so we’re going to be in some situations that are going to help us in the future.”
Hayward was concerned that his injury would be career-threatening, so he grilled several doctors about his prognosis. They all assured him that he will return 100 percent healthy and able to resume his career.
He has begun taking shots from a chair and is at least beginning to get back on the court, although it will take weeks before he can bear any weight on his left leg. As scary as the injury looked, doctors told Hayward the break was clean and he didn’t sustain any ligament or nerve damage. It was a similar situation to what happened to Thunder forward Paul George, who broke his leg in 2014 in an exhibition for Team USA and recovered to return to All-Star form. George and Hayward have bonded since his injury.
“I’m a real skeptical person and I question a lot,” Hayward said. “So I wanted to make sure what [the doctor] was telling me wasn’t just him feeding me lines to try to keep my spirits up, and the doctors were unbelievable, showing me how I was going to recover, showing me why I was going to recover, telling me about me different athletes that have done the exact same thing. That definitely lifted my spirits. They were telling me if you’re going to have a horrific injury, this is the one to have, so I’ll take that, I guess.”
The Heat were tabbed as a playoff contender this season after finishing 2016-17 with 30 wins in their final 41 games and just missing out on the postseason. But the Heat went 3-3 in a six-game homestand before a West Coast trip, losing to the Spurs, Celtics, and Timberwolves.
The issue has been defense. The Heat entered the weekend ranked 16th in points allowed, 19th in opponents’ field goal percentage, and 21st in opponents’ 3-point field goal percentage. Last season, the Heat were fifth, seventh, and third in those categories.
“It’s enough talk and we’ve drilled it enough,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I don’t expect it to be perfect but I expect it to be more along the lines of what our identity is and the things that are important to us, and we have to own it.”
Former Celtic Kelly Olynyk has made an impression defensively. He is second in the NBA in charges drawn per game (0.71), just behind the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry (0.86). Olynyk sacrificed his body during four years in Boston, but he has become a real asset with improved positioning.
“We just want our guys to have some kind of presence in the paint,” Spoelstra said. “With a lot of our guys that’s to challenge at the rim and use their athleticism and length to make those plays tough. But other guys that’s their strength, we want them to use that. [Olynyk] has a great knack for it. He has the courage to take [charges] and we’re the kind of organization that likes those plays.
“He only has about 970 more [charges taken] to catch up to [longtime Heat forward Udonis Haslem]. He’s on his way, though. He provides something different than what we’ve had at the center position. In training camp he was one of our best players.”
Olynyk said he shed about 20 pounds to improve his quickness and mobility.
“Every professional athlete should be their optimal self and in world-class shape, and then you can start talking about the game,” Spoelstra said. “But before that it’s about your body. He’s committed to the process. He’s lost a lot of weight, really dropped body fat. We think it makes him more efficient.”
The 76ers are trying to trade former No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor after determining he is no longer in their plans. Okafor was considered a future NBA star during his high school days and lone season at Duke, but the league’s uptempo style along with Okafor’s inability to shoot from the perimeter has left him essentially useless for the 76ers. Okafor has been a good trooper but wants a change. Philadelphia does not want to buy out his contract and then watch him sign with a conference rival with no compensation. The Celtics have long held interest in Okafor, but as more of a project than an immediate contributor. Boston is also not willing to part with a first-round pick for Okafor. The 76ers have done a poor job of showcasing Okafor and maintaining his market value. He has played just one game this season, scoring 10 points in 22 minutes in a blowout loss to Toronto on Oct. 21. Okafor has gotten into premium shape and has the ability to run the floor, but he hasn’t attempted a 3-pointer since his rookie season. The question for interested teams is whether Okafor can serve as a consistent post presence. There are plenty of teams willing to give a 21-year-old former top prospect an opportunity. But the 76ers aren’t giving him away for free . . . Is Lonzo Ball the best rookie on the Lakers? Late first-round pick Kyle Kuzma has been a sparkling surprise for an organization that is building through youth. Kuzma, a 6-foot-8-inch swingman, entered Friday leading the Lakers at 15 points per game and shooting 54.3 percent from the field. Ball was averaging 9.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 6.6 assists but also shooting 32.6 percent from the field. An NBA scout said at summer league that Ball would struggle to shoot because he can only shoot off the lefthanded dribble. Teams are going to force Ball to the right, where he appears uncomfortable with his shot. The fact that he releases the ball from his midsection (and not above his head like most shooters) is hurting his ability to get his shot off. Ball attempted two shots in 28 minutes in Thursday’s loss to Portland and didn’t score. Kuzma scored 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
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