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Father’s Tough Love Turned Around Sullinger’s Season

Jared Sullinger’s body language and attitude haven’t been great at times this season. Well, to his father, that was disrespecting the family name and he showed up in Boston to put his son in his place.

Jessica Camerato

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It’s not unusual for Satch Sullinger to travel to Boston to watch his son play for the Celtics. Over the past two seasons he has become a familiar face around TD Garden, often coming to town for long home stands at a time. When Satch decided to visit Jared in late January, the 21-year-old thought his dad was coming to check in on him. Turns out Satch was traveling to put him in check.

Satch didn’t like what he had been seeing during games. The attitude, the expressions, they were not up to the standard he had set for his children when it comes to professionalism. Just weeks after leaving from a month-long stay, he returned to Massachusetts to let his displeasure be known.

“He came up and cussed me out,” Jared Sullinger told Basketball Insiders of his father. “I was thinking he had to tell me something or he wanted me to talk about how everything was going because he seemed worried about me. But instead the conversation just started off – well, his conversation started off – and I was just saying, ‘Yes sir. Yes sir. Yes sir.’ I was kind of in shock. He was telling me my body language sucks, my attitude sucks, I’m disrespecting the Sullinger name the way I’m acting on and off the court, and when he says off the court he means on the bench.”

Satch’s fire is fueled by the fact his family is deeply rooted in basketball. Satch is a former coach, which included coaching Jared in high school. Older sons J.J. and Julian competed at high levels, but Jared was the only one to make it to the NBA. Yet when Jared was drafted by the Celtics with the 21st pick in 2013 out of The Ohio State University, Satch wasn’t about to let up. He may have retired from coaching, but he never quit the game.

He has expectations of how his son should carry himself. No complaining, no sulking, no moping. The NBA is a job, act like a professional at all times. Satch felt Jared needed a reminder of that. Jared, however, was not so receptive upon hearing it. Voices were raised and tempers rose. Hours passed without resolution.

“Very strong words from my father,” Jared said. “It was a heated argument at first. Then around, I’d say, four hours later after I slammed my door and kicked him out of my room and made him go to his room, I realized that I was wrong and he was right. I just apologized and told him I’m sorry, he’s right and I never meant to disrespect the family name.”

It wasn’t easy to admit initially, but Jared knew his father’s criticisms were warranted. For the entire month of January he had been letting distractions get in the way of his performances. He held on to sources of malcontent, letting them linger for days without brushing aside the unhappiness. Flagrant fouls were called, his shooting percentages dropped. That combined with nagging hand injuries led to a version of himself Jared didn’t like watching – nor did his father.

Satch was never lax on Jared growing up. If Jared wanted to play with his brothers, he had to hold his own. No special treatment for the youngest of the family. Either step up your game or don’t play at all. Jared thrived on those challenges – he learned how to rebound at age four – expanding his skills beyond his older counterparts. He became one of the top options on his teams, a role he was used to entering the NBA.

However, with the Celtics, Sullinger hasn’t been the go-to guy – a struggle that were foreign to Jared. In high school, he was named a McDonald’s All-American and won the Naismith Award. He accumulated piles of accolades in his two years at The Ohio State University and was projected as a lottery pick prior to health concerns about his back.

“When you grow up and you’re a basketball player, you’re kind of the go-to guy or you’re not only the go-to guy, but you get a lot of shots and you hardly ever come out. That’s what I was accustomed to,” Sullinger said. “Then when I got here, it kind of hit me like, ‘I’m not that guy anymore. I’m not that guy here at least.’ I just kind of woke up.”

In spite of falling in the draft, Jared showed why he garnered top-five talks early into his rookie season. He averaged close to 20 minutes a game, a rarity on a veteran-heavy Celtics team, and earned praise from hard-to-please Kevin Garnett. Jared was well on his way to establishing himself as one to watch before his season ended abruptly with a back injury that required surgery.

He made his return this season and while he still had to improve his conditioning following the lay off, he recorded three double-doubles in November and another two in December. Jared averaged 13.5 points and 7.0 rebounds the first two months of the regular season while adding a long-range shot to his repertoire.

But as 2013 came to an end, Jared shot a combined 8-for-29 FG (16 points) in the final three games of the calendar year. The beginning of 2014 wasn’t much better. A 3-for-17 shooting night was followed by a 3-for-11 performance early in the month. Weeks later, he went 0-for-5 from 3-point range during a 4-for-14 showing against the Miami HEAT. That same week he shot 3-for-10 (including 0-for-4 from behind the arc) in a loss to a Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder.

Jared was still rebounding at a high level (nine double-digit games in January) but the frustrations were building. He fouled out once and 10 games of four fouls or more. Little things began accumulating into a larger mound of angst.

Satch had seen enough. He delivered a large dose of tough love.

“He cussed me out multiple times. Then he probably felt like he was good,” said Jared. “My dad always talks about karma. As long as you have karma off the court, you have karma on the court. Me, I would hold on to that game or hold on to that foul call throughout the whole game, throughout the next day, going into the next game, going into the next game, the next game. It happened and it was a snowball effect. Once it started rolling, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger, and I couldn’t stop it. … Finally it hit one of my cars, that’s what I say, it basically hit one of my cars and now one of my cars is damaged. But mentally I’m ok now.”

The change in Jared has been drastic since processing his father’s message. He has recorded five straight double-double dating back to January 29. During this span he is averaging 21.1 points (48.9% FG) and 13.4 rebounds, and his fouls have dropped to 3.0 per game.

“He’s putting up numbers,” said Kris Humphries. “He’s been big. He’s making shots, he’s rebounding the ball well, he’s getting putbacks. He’s playing great.”

Last weekend, Jared had a monster performance of 31 points and 16 rebounds against dominant big man DeMarcus Cousins. On Monday, he was named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week. Jared will also be heading to New Orleans to participate in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend.

“Pretty much I just let everything go,” Jared said. “If a ref makes a bad call or a call I don’t agree with, I let it go. If there’s a play call that I don’t think is the right play call, I let it go. If it’s me coming out of the game when I’ve got things rolling, I let it go. Before I would hold on to certain things like that.

“I’m smiling more. Before, in January, I hardly ever smiled. Then on top of that I’m just going out there and playing with a good attitude, a great attitude. I’m understanding whatever Coach (Brad) Stevens does or whatever the ref calls, that’s final, and live with it.”

Building mental tolerance can be challenging for young players. Often times it is easy to forget Jared is only 21; his stature makes him look years older. Teammate Gerald Wallace was drafted when he was just 18 and knows the ups and downs of barely being an adult NBA.

“You just can’t dwell on it because it’s a long season, there’s a lot of games,” said Wallace. “You’re going to make mistakes, things aren’t going to go your way, but you’ve just got to continue to play and move forward. I think knowing that fact, once you get stuck on something or something frustrates you, it takes you out of the game and mentally messes you up and lingers to the next game. You’ve got to learn to let it go, move into the next game, and stay focused on what you’re doing.”

Jared understands he can’t let growing pains affect him on the court. He has to carry himself with the same maturity and poise as players who have been in the league for 15 years. Age was never an excuse for him, and it isn’t about to become one now.

“It just means that I’ve got to grow up,” said Jared. “A lot of times I’m leading by example by going out there and doing certain things, it’s just going to take time.”

Jared will see his father during All-Star Weekend and Satch plans to travel to the Celtics’ upcoming road games against the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz. Jared has given him full permission to dish out another reminder if he sees his son slipping up again.

Without Satch around, Jared has his own ways of staying focused and remembering the basketball values his father instilled in him. Last season, Jared watched “The Lion King” (a childhood favorite) while rehabbing from his back surgery. He liked the movie’s message of overcoming challenges and drew motivation from it.

This time around he is drawing another lesson from the Disney classic, one about family. Being told he was disrespecting the Sullinger name impacted Jared. He had been taught being a Sullinger meant playing hard and respecting the game, similar qualities to wearing a Celtics uniform, he said.

Jared watched the movie prior to the January 29 game against the Philadelphia 76ers in which he broke out of a slump and posted 24 points and 17 rebounds. He estimates he has watched it in its entirety every non-game day since then.

“I think my favorite part is when Simba realizes he has to go back because he’s disrespecting his father,” Jared said. “His father pretty much laid the foundation down of who he is, and he forgot about it because he thought running away from his problems will finally erase the memories that happened. But at the end of the day, the only way to leave memories is by learning from them.”

For a brief period of time Jared cared too much about the wrong things. He got caught up in frustrations that weighed him down and frustrated thoughts that held him back on the court. His father’s visit reminded him of who he really is – he is a Sullinger, he is a Boston Celtic, he is a talented NBA player who is only scratching the surface of his potential.

“I’m just a guy that plays blue-collar Celtic green basketball,” he said. “That’s about it. I’m back to my old ways, but certain things don’t matter. What matters is us winning, what matters is me going out there playing my hardest.”

Sullinger lowered his voice into a near whisper as if repeating his mantra out loud.

“Hakuna Matata,” he said. “It means no worries for the rest of your days. It’s our problem-free philosophy. Hakuna Matata.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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