Basketball Notes

Roster will get greener

By Gary Washburn
May 30, 2010

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The Celtics may be competitive for another season with their current roster of seasoned veterans, but they are in desperate need of youth.

They own the 19th and 52d picks in next month’s draft and need to hit on those picks. While this draft is not star-studded beyond Kentucky guard John Wall, the Celtics can nab a productive player at No. 19 who will help the transition from the Big Three to the Rajon Rondo/Kendrick Perkins team.

What this draft lacks in star power it makes up for in depth. That’s good news for an organization that has depended on the draft for Rondo and Perkins (by draft-day trades) and Tony Allen. With the salary cap, the most viable way for the Celtics to get younger is through the draft.

“They’re going to get two good players,’’ said NBA scouting director Ryan Blake. “Guys that may have a chance to make an impact at the end of next year. If they need a big, they have a chance for maybe someone like [Baylor’s Ekpe] Udoh, or [Kansas’s Cole] Aldrich could fall that far. A [Hassan] Whiteside could be there.’’

Falling from a potential lottery pick to late first round is Georgia Tech forward Gani Lawal, who could drop into the Celtics’ lap. Lawal is an athletic power forward who could succeed Kevin Garnett. His numbers may not reflect his potential because he played with Thaddeus Young and Derrick Favors at Georgia Tech.

“There are a lot of options out there,’’ Blake said. “I think there are a lot of players under the radar that really developed. What you want to do sometimes is go more for the sure thing than the home run and that player will still really have an upside. You don’t stop developing after you leave college.’’

If the Celtics went for Gordon Hayward, he could quickly become a fan favorite because of his rags-to-riches story at Butler. He was inches from winning the NCAA title with a half-court shot. Butler’s tournament run allowed Hayward to display his talents. He is a 6-foot-8-inch swingman with long-range shooting skills who proved a tough matchup for shooting guards and small forwards.

Hayward just completed his sophomore season and has drawn unfair comparisons to Larry Bird, but he is an intriguing prospect for the Celtics.

“I have seen this guy a lot, and you look at his numbers and he’s pretty versatile,’’ Blake said. “He can really shoot the ball. He knows how to play. He’s not the strongest and not the quickest. Could he fall to 19? Of course he can. This draft is so unpredictable.’’

That uncertainty may benefit the Celtics. With so many early entries, talented players are sure to fall. And president Danny Ainge has flourished with late first-rounders and second-rounders. Rondo was picked 21st, Allen 25th, Perkins 27th, and Glen Davis 35th.

Since the Celtics have few free agent options besides the mid-level exception this summer, the draft is even more critical.

“There are definitely star players in this draft,’’ said Blake. “But like anything else, there are going to be busts. You can’t look in a guy’s heart and tell how hard he is going to work. But that’s what makes this thing so inexact.

“What I would tell people is don’t forget about the seniors. There are a good amount of seniors in this draft who don’t get the publicity because they stayed in college so long. And that adds to the options the Celtics have, so they have a real chance to get two good players.’’

Curious choice by the Sixers
Doug Collins is one of the best NBA analysts in the business but he was lured back into coaching by his former team, the 76ers, who are as irrelevant as they were when Collins joined them as a player following their 9-73 campaign in 1972-73.

Collins appeared done with coaching after his last stop, the ill-fated reunion with Michael Jordan in Washington. Collins was fired by then-owner Abe Pollin following consecutive 37-45 seasons in 2001-02 and 2002-03 and seemingly had retired from the game to become a grandfather and pundit. So this return is rather odd, considering the 76ers are looking for instant success and Collins hasn’t won a playoff series since 1989.

The 76ers are a team of talented but jumbled pieces, with the overpaid Elton Brand and the Andre Iguodala situation the pressing concerns. Collins met with Iguodala at the Western Conference finals last week to give him reassurance that he will remain in Philadelphia. Iguodala has proven to be a capable player but not the face of the franchise.

Brand, meanwhile, is declining rapidly, and the 76ers still have not found a suitable position for guard Louis Williams.

“There are players on the team that I’m going to have to revitalize a bit and get their joy of the game back,’’ Collins said. “I want to have a high-energy, very intense defensive team.

“I think Jrue Holiday has to be a terrific on-the-ball defender, that’s where it all starts. Andre Iguodala should be an all-league defensive player at small forward.

“I talked to Phil Jackson and he was raving about how well Andre Iguodala plays against Kobe Bryant. He said, ‘That young guy has a lot of skill.’ ’’

General manager Ed Stefanski has been able to keep his job after firing Eddie Jordan, and the organization received an unexpected boost when it got the second pick in the draft. Adding Evan Turner to the mix would give the 76ers a good young core.

“People are asking me why I’d come here,’’ said Collins. “I don’t think we’re talking championship right now. I think we’re talking about being relevant again. I want the Sixers to be on people’s tongues here in Philadelphia.

“I love Villanova and Temple, but this is a pro town. This city loves pro basketball. This is one of the signature franchises in the NBA. We need to get back and relevant.’’

But is Collins a long-term solution? A seven-year absence may have allowed him a chance to regain his adoration for coaching, but his positive reputation is not necessarily backed up by victories. His hiring is another major Stefanski risk.

Wrong end of a shutout
Patrick Ewing was told that if he wanted to be a head coach, he needed to put in his time as an assistant. So he has spent the past seven seasons assisting the Van Gundy brothers, first Jeff in Houston and now Stan in Orlando. And still, with all the jobs suddenly opening, Ewing likely won’t even get an interview.

It’s frustrating for a Hall of Famer whose basketball acumen is being challenged after retirement.

Ewing joins the list of accomplished players who have never been seriously considered for head coaching jobs. Rick Barry and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar likewise were told they weren’t suited to be head coaches.

Ewing has no idea why he is being typecast, especially when the NBA calls on coaches who never played the pro game and don’t have a fraction of his experience. He is annoyed that he is perceived as nothing more than a mentor for centers.

“I consider myself an assistant coach,’’ he said. “I do everything out there that an assistant coach does, so I don’t know why they pigeonhole me.

“I put in my time. I’ve been coaching seven years now. I do everything that these [assistants] do.’’

The early success of Yao Ming and the continued development of Dwight Howard’s post game can be attributed to their work with Ewing, an 11-time All-Star.

But it will be another offseason with no hints of a head coaching job. Ewing hired noted NBA coaching agent Lonnie Cooper hoping for an opportunity. Right now, he’s just frustrated.

“All I can do is continue to work,’’ he said. “Hopefully I get my opportunity and I get my chance. I’m frustrated now, but I am still going to coach. I am not going to quit. I am going to keep working, I enjoy doing this.’’

A lost season for Turkoglu
Hedo Turkoglu (left) may be the primary reason the Magic are not playing in the NBA Finals, and his decision to leave Orlando for the riches of Toronto is turning out to be a disaster. He reportedly told a Turkish television station that he wants to leave the Raptors. There are two reasons his first season in Canada was a failure. First, he struggled with the pressure of an increased role and produced his worst numbers in five years. Second, he never appeared comfortable in his new environment or the Toronto offense. He was a shell of the player who consistently popped big shots during his final season with Orlando. There is no team willing to take on the $44 million and four years remaining on Turkoglu’s contract. Right now, he is considered an uninterested, moody player who suddenly shut it down when he received a career-defining contract. It’s another questionable move by Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo, who is about to lose another franchise player in Chris Bosh, leaving the club in the hands of Turkoglu and Andrea Bargnani. The most astute move for the Raptors would be to facilitate a sign-and-trade for Bosh to get key pieces back. Also, they need to re-sign emerging forward Amir Johnson, who is a free agent.

Just when you thought Zach Randolph had righted his career with an All-Star season for the Grizzlies, he gets linked to an Indianapolis drug bust in which his friend was arrested driving his car with a container of marijuana. Randolph denies he had anything to do with the contents in the car, although an affidavit said he may have supplied money for drug deals. Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace, the former Celtics GM, supported Randolph. “Unless some other information surfaces, Zach remains a valued member of the Grizzlies family and Memphis community,’’ said Wallace. Randolph has had various brushes with the law dating to his early days with the Trail Blazers, and the Grizzlies took a major chance when they acquired him from the Clippers. In his first season in Memphis, Randolph was a stabilizing presence in the locker room and a leader . . . It wasn’t going to take long for Kelvin Sampson to become a coaching prospect once he left Indiana University for the Bucks, and it seems the Cavaliers are looking at him as a contingency plan if they don’t land a big name. After basically being banished from college basketball for a series of missteps at Oklahoma and Indiana, Sampson has proven to be a solid assistant for Scott Skiles. His pro head coaching opportunity is coming soon . . . Approximately 75 people marched around Staples Center last week to encourage the Clippers to go after LeBron James. The group was led by Darrell Bailey, the diehard fan known as “Clipper Darrell.’’ The Clippers are not going to get James, but a secondary free agent is going to take their money. The Clippers also need a coach, and their search has been borderline mysterious. The only candidate known to interview is Mavericks assistant Dwane Casey.

Gary Washburn can be reached at Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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