Monday's NBA: Stevens adjusting to new role with Celtics, mum on new coach

Associated Press

Boston — Brad Stevens is still getting used to his new job as the Celtics' president of basketball operations.

He’s also keeping tight-lipped about candidates in Boston’s head coaching search. But once he’s made that hire and is done tinkering with the roster this offseason, one thing he promises his successor in advance is that he won’t intervene in day-to-day coaching decisions.

Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens directs his team against the Brooklyn Nets in the first half of Game 5 during an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Tuesday, June 1, 2021, in New York.

He’s got enough to do to get the Celtics back into the top tier of the Eastern Conference.

“We obviously have a really good foundation. And you have very talented young players, so I think that that’s a good place to be," Stevens said Monday. "And then, it’s about finding the right fit. There are near-term decisions that can help you improve ... and longer-term decisions that you have to make with the idea of being in the mix. And, ultimately, we want to be in the mix.”

That mission began last week when Stevens, who left the bench after eight seasons to succeed retiring front office chief Danny Ainge, executed his first major transaction of the summer by trading point guard Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City. The trade included sending the No. 16 overall draft pick in 2021 and a 2025 second-rounder to the Thunder and receiving Al Horford, 7-footer Moses Brown, and a 2023 second-round pick in return.

“It was an early deal, but it felt like it was the right one,” Stevens said. “Not easy. But the right one.”

Walker helped lead the Celtics to the conference finals in the Florida bubble last season. But ongoing knee issues limited him to only 43 games this past regular season and caused him to miss the final two games of Boston’s first-round playoff loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

“We felt that one of the things that we wanted was to be unencumbered moving forward and kind of have a road ahead,” Stevens said. “This was really hard. This was not the ideal first few weeks on the job move just because of the kind of person Kemba is, and the kind of professional he is, and how good of a player he is and continues to be.”

Walker was guaranteed more than $73 million over the next two seasons. Swapping his salary for Horford’s will save the Celtics around $9 million. Trading this year’s first-round pick also will provide Boston with more financial flexibility in coming years.

“The cost,” Stevens said, “was a person that you really, really like. And one first-round pick.”

The other, probably more pressing thing on Stevens’ agenda is identifying and hiring his successor as head coach.

ESPN reported that Bucks top assistant Darvin Ham, Nets assistant Ime Udoka and Clippers assistant Chauncey Billips have all been interviewed at least once.

Stevens didn’t confirm any of those names but acknowledged he’s received input from players currently on the roster, including All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

And once he selects a new coach Stevens said he plans to operate just like Ainge — be a sounding board and only intervene when asked.

“I’m just there to support them,” Stevens said. “I don’t know how good I can be at this job. That’s to be determined. I’m pouring everything into it. … It’s been nonstop for however many days it’s been now. But the one thing that I should be good at is supporting the head coach and not being involved.

"My door’s open, but I do not want to be, you know, anything but supportive.”

Nets' ending came quickly, decisions about the future won't

New York — The end for the Brooklyn Nets came quickly.

Changes to prevent it from happening again will not.

Two days after a team with title hopes went out in the second round of the playoffs, the Nets said they will take some time evaluating their players — and even the people responsible for keeping them healthy.

“I think you have to be very careful in the circumstances that we dealt with this year,” general manager Sean Marks said Monday. “No team has ever been through this before. You hope that next season looks vastly different from the protocols that were in place for COVID and so forth, so I don’t want to be too quick to judge anybody and there’s no rash decisions. We’ve never made rash decisions in five years since we’ve been here.”

The Nets were eliminated with a 115-111 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. James Harden missed all but 43 seconds of Games 1-4 with a hamstring injury, and Kyrie Irving sat out the final three games with a sprained right ankle.

Teams that fall so short of the NBA Finals often need some or even many moves in the offseason, but the Nets have a difficult task assessing a team they saw at full strength so infrequently.

“I don’t know how much you can look at widespread changes when we really just want to make sure all our guys are available and healthy,” coach Steve Nash said. “It’s hard to start talking about big adjustments or changes when you didn’t have the full complement of your team.”

Kevin Durant, Harden and Irving played only eight games together in the regular season, and Durant and Harden had lengthy absences in the second half because of hamstring injuries.

Despite those injuries, Marks said he would be OK with them playing this summer in the Olympics. Harden told the U.S. national team he is committed to playing a Tokyo, a person familiar with the decision said Monday.

Marks said he understands that playing for their country is a big opportunity for many players.

“So for them to have to turn that down, they’ve got to look at the big picture and say, ‘OK, am I not healthy’ and so forth,” Marks said.

Despite all the injuries, the Nets went 44-28 and were one of the league's best offensive teams. Veterans such as Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge — who was forced to retire because of a heart condition — signed with the Nets during the season in part to play with Brooklyn's Big Three.

“I think what you see out there is when they were healthy, that’s a very, very elite unit,” Marks said, “and I don’t see any shortage of people wanting to play with them, people wanting to play alongside them or them wanting to be a part of something here.”

But no matter what players are on the roster, the Nets need them to stay healthy. A normal season, with a regular training camp and usual time off between games, could help with that.

Beyond that, Marks knows there will have to be honest discussions about everything from the players' habits to the type of treatment the medical team is providing.

“I think it’s a big offseason for our players and the performance team,” Marks said. “We know we’ve got guys coming back and we’ve got to get them healthy.”

Harden commits to US Olympic men's team for Tokyo

USA Basketball’s Olympic men’s roster is getting closer to filled, with now as many as eight spots on the 12-person team claimed.

Brooklyn’s James Harden has told the U.S. men's national team that he is committed to playing next month at the Tokyo Games, a person familiar with the decision said Monday. Miami’s Bam Adebayo has also informed USA Basketball of his intention to play for the team at the Tokyo Games.

Adebayo’s decision was first reported by ESPN, and he confirmed it to The Associated Press. Harden's decision was first reported by The Athletic, then confirmed to AP on condition of anonymity because neither the Nets star nor USA Basketball has publicly announced the move.

The eight commitments, for now, all either confirmed by people with knowledge or by the player publicly: Adebayo, Harden, Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, Golden State’s Draymond Green, Washington’s Bradley Beal, Boston’s Jayson Tatum, Phoenix’s Devin Booker and Portland’s Damian Lillard.

One of the final spots, though, won't be going to Golden State's Stephen Curry. The person with knowledge of the situation said Curry has declined an invitation to be part of the team, citing offseason commitments.

The U.S. — No. 1 in FIBA's world rankings — is bidding for a fourth consecutive men's Olympic gold medal and will be coached in Tokyo by San Antonio's Gregg Popovich. The team is scheduled to begin training camp in Las Vegas on July 6 and will play a series of exhibition games there before departing for Tokyo.

The first U.S. game at the Olympics is July 25 against France, another strong medal favorite.

Harden’s status is considered somewhat tentative, considering that he was slowed in the NBA playoffs by what he described as a Grade 2 hamstring strain. His commitment is contingent on his leg continuing to heal and there not being any additional setbacks in the coming weeks, the person with knowledge.

Durant scored 48 points, an NBA record for a Game 7, in Brooklyn’s loss to Milwaukee on Saturday in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. If he plays in Tokyo, Durant would be bidding for a third consecutive gold medal — and would seem a lock to supplant Carmelo Anthony as USA Basketball’s leading Olympic scorer. Anthony has scored 336 points for the U.S. in Olympic play; Durant has scored 311.

“I think our guys have been through this enough to realize what’s best for them, what’s best for their body and what their ultimate goal is,” Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks said Monday. “It’s very difficult to turn down playing for your country and having the opportunity to go out there, and having a heck of a summer and win an Olympic gold medal.”

Marks said he did not have any issue if Durant choses to play; this was Durant’s first NBA season back after missing a full year to recover from an Achilles injury.

“I think Kevin as I said before, it’s very difficult to turn down playing for your country,” Marks said. “Having that opportunity is like none other so I think Kevin knows this. Kevin knows that if his body feels right and if he’s up for the task, what a great opportunity to go and play alongside a lot of his close friends and go and have a very, very unique experience.”

The Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George — and, if healthy, Kawhi Leonard — are players who have also given some indication to USA Basketball in recent weeks that they would like to play on the Olympic team, though it remains unknown if they have made a final decision. Leonard is currently sidelined by a knee injury.

Also believed to be interested is Phoenix guard Chris Paul, who was part of the U.S. teams that won Olympic gold at the 2008 Beijing Games and the 2012 London Games. Paul missed Game 1 of the Western Conference finals between the Suns and Clippers because he remains in the NBA's health and safety protocols related to the coronavirus pandemic, and has been ruled out for Game 2 on Tuesday as well.