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NBA Trade Watch: The Southeast

Buddy Grizzard outlines prospects for Southeast Division teams as the trade deadline fast approaches.

Buddy Grizzard

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The Southeast Division features the two worst teams in the NBA (the Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic), as well as the disappointing Charlotte Hornets and a pair of teams in the thick of the playoff race (the Miami HEAT and Washington Wizards). It’s a down year for a division that’s been pretty tough in the past.

With the NBA’s trade deadline right around the corner, here’s a look at things to keep an eye on for the Southeast.

Atlanta Hawks (11-30)

Losing former All-Stars Al Horford, Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap in the space of two seasons has been more than the Atlanta Hawks could overcome. The result will almost certainly be the first missed playoffs since the season before Atlanta drafted Horford. Atlanta’s 10 consecutive playoff appearances trails only the Spurs (20). And with the Grizzlies and Clippers also in danger of missing the postseason, it could be the Rockets and Warriors sharing second place with six consecutive appearances each if they make it.

And the Hawks might not be done bleeding talent.

Dennis Schroder may not be long for Atlanta. The mercurial point guard is nearly impossible to guard, but he isn’t a leader. It’s hard to believe that a player who frequently dresses down teammates when they make mistakes, then goes out and shoots a two-pointer at the buzzer in a game the Hawks trailed by three, understands accountability. Schroder is known for his after-hours lifestyle, which resulted in a battery arrest in September.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Marco Belinelli — $6,606,060

Ersan Ilyasova — $6,000,000

Dewayne Dedmon — $6,000,000 ($6.3 million player option)

Mike Muscala — $5,000,000 ($5 million player option)

Malcolm Delaney — $2,500,000 ($3,125,000 qualifying offer)

Luke Babbitt — $1,471,382

Names Worth Talking About:

The name most worth talking about for the Atlanta Hawks is Trae Young. The Hawks are being outscored by 6.2 points per 100 possessions with Schroder on the court, a net rating that is worse than any other Hawk with at least 600 minutes this season except Marco Belinelli (-9.2). Young could be a generational talent. Schroder is an offensive-minded point guard who doesn’t make his teammates better.

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk was part of the Warriors front office that drafted Stephen Curry in 2009, then made the momentous decision to trade Monta Ellis and build around Curry in March of 2012. Young gets compared to Curry because of the absurd range on his shot, but he’s leading the nation in both scoring and assists. If his game translates to the NBA level, he’ll be a nightmare to guard in the pick and roll. Getting value for Schroder could be difficult due to the off-court issues.

Another player to keep an eye on is Kent Bazemore, who turns 29 in July. With Atlanta building a young core, Bazemore will likely be in his 30s by the time the Hawks are ready to make a run to the playoffs. One team to watch regarding Bazemore is the New Orleans Pelicans, which signed small forward Solomon Hill to a four-year, $52 million deal in 2016 only to lose him to a hamstring injury that has prevented him from playing this season.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

The Hawks need to get whatever assets it can for players on expiring contracts or player options. Among expiring contracts, Ersan Ilyasova has started nearly 400 games and has the best on-court net rating of any Hawk with at least 700 minutes. Belinelli’s name gets thrown around, but as mentioned, he hasn’t been good.

Dewayne Dedmon has also struggled and been slowed by injury. His nearly 44 percent shooting from three on 32 attempts this season after attempting only one three in his first four seasons has been a shock. Dedmon has a player option and could test free agency this summer, which makes it difficult for the Hawks to get value by trading him before the deadline. Luke Babbitt had excellent on/off numbers as a starter for the HEAT last season but hasn’t made much of a dent in Atlanta.

Basketball Insiders senior writer Michael Scotto reported Thursday that the Hawks are seeking high second round picks for the expiring veterans. The Raptors and Rockets are contenders currently in position to pick high in the second round, according to NBADraft.net.

Charlotte Hornets (15-24)

Things look grim for the Hornets, which currently sit five games out of the eighth playoff seed in the East. However, the team will play seven of the next eight at home. This gives Charlotte a chance to show improvement ahead of the deadline and help the front office decide if it should be buyers or sellers.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Michael Carter-Williams — $2,700,000

Johnny O’Bryant — $1,524,305

Names Worth Talking About:

Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post wrote a speculative piece suggesting that the Hornets should trade Kemba Walker to jump-start a rebuild and help the team avoid future luxury tax penalties. Most of the roster is under contract through next season and Charlotte, as currently constructed, would be a tax team in 2018-19. That will be a tough pill for Michael Jordan to swallow if his team misses the playoffs again this season.

If the Hornets actually make Walker available, half the league would likely register interest. Trading Walker wouldn’t just trigger a rebuild, it would tear the Hornets down to the studs. Charlotte is 13.4 points per 100 possessions worse whenever Walker is out of the game, an impact that is double that of any other player. Kemba Walker is the Charlotte Hornets. It’s hard to imagine the fan backlash if such a move was executed.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Charlotte’s top six players, including Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Dwight Howard, Marvin Williams, Nicolas Batum and Jeremy Lamb, have been solid all season. All six have posted a positive on-court net rating. But from there, the bench falls off a cliff, ranging from Cody Zeller’s -3.6 to Malik Monk’s -14.6. Michael Carter-Williams and Johnny O’Bryant are the only expiring contracts, but they’ve posted a -7.4 and -9.5 net rating, respectively. The Hornets need any bench help they can get, but will have trouble making moves due to the cap. Backup point guard continues to be the biggest issue, with neither Carter-Williams nor Monk making a positive impact.

Miami HEAT (24-17)

After an 11-13 start, during which the HEAT barely resembled a team ready to build on last season’s near playoff run, Miami has gone 13-4 and rocketed to fourth in the East. That’s a lot more like last season’s team, which closed the season 30-11, only to miss the playoffs on a tiebreak. The problem is that, unlike the HEAT of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, these HEAT are decidedly lacking in star power. Miami has taken the intriguing route of spending over the cap on a group of overachievers in a way that could limit the team’s ceiling.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Wayne Ellington

Names Worth Talking About:

People are talking about HEAT center Hassan Whiteside. A lot. Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote Wednesday that he spoke to two NBA scouts who speculate the HEAT could get a late lottery pick for Whiteside. That strains credulity. What team in possession of a lottery pick is so desperate for a center that it would trade for one who has been made virtually obsolete by Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk?

As the HEAT have surged, Whiteside’s impact has been marginal. He’s playing just 25.8 minutes per game, his fewest since the 2014-15 season. And in a league where the traditional center is fast becoming fossilized, ESPN’s Zach Lowe notes that Whiteside is shooting just 42 percent on post-ups, which ranked 43rd out of 52 players with at least 50 attempts.

The real name worth talking about is Wayne Ellington, who is shooting 41 percent on over seven three-point attempts per game. He’s the only notable Miami player on an expiring contract, and that status puts the HEAT in a tough position. Miami has most of its roster under contract through next season, which places it in luxury tax territory. The HEAT outscore opponents by 2.8 points per 100 possessions with Ellington on court, a team-best net rating by more than two full points. The team may have to dangle Ellington in trade talks in hopes of getting an asset back since it will be extremely difficult to retain him past this season.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Aside from getting something significant in return for Ellington, the best result for Miami would be to move off one of its larger contracts to subdue the salary cap issues and add flexibility. Moving Whiteside would accomplish this, assuming the HEAT took significantly less salary back, but it would leave the team without a proven rim protector. Such an outcome seems unlikely, as does getting a significant return for Justise Winslow, whom the Celtics reportedly pursued with a chest of draft picks during the 2015 draft but has yet to develop into an impact player.

Orlando Magic (12-30)

Victor Oladipo’s emergence with the Pacers has left the Magic organization with egg all over its face. The team drafted a young core, panicked, tried to leapfrog into the playoffs with veterans, and now sits a half game ahead of the league-worst Atlanta Hawks. There’s no way to sugar coat this: The Magic are years away from putting a competitive product on the floor and will have to go back to building through the draft.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Shelvin Mack — $6,000,000 ($6 million non-guaranteed in 2018-19)

Mario Hezonja — $4,078,320

Arron Afflalo — $1,471,382

Names Worth Talking About:

Things might have been different if Elfrid Payton had popped early. With Aaron Gordon emerging as one of the league’s exciting young players and center Nikola Vucevic — out of nowhere — shooting over 34 percent on 140 three-point attempts, Orlando might have had something with a stud point guard and a do-over on the Oladipo trade. As it stands, despite Payton shooting a career-best 37.5 percent from three, the Magic are being outscored by nine points per 100 with him on the floor.

Vucevic has the best net rating among Magic with at least 500 minutes, and one of the league’s more team-friendly contracts with just over $12 million on the books this season and just under $13 million next. But it may be too late to get anything significant for him. Meanwhile, Evan Fournier’s flat $17 million guaranteed for three seasons starting this season with a player option in the fourth is prohibitive for a player not known for his defense. And let’s not even talk about Bismack Biyombo, who sports a team-worst -15.4 net rating and is guaranteed $17 million this season and next with a player option after.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Where to begin? The Magic need everything. There’s a decided lack of defensive identity after Orlando traded Oladipo, a two-way wing (among the league’s most precious commodities). Jonathon Simmons has played the most minutes on the team but his -9.4 net rating is worse than anyone but Biyombo. The team declined its option on Mario Hezonja so it likely can’t get anything for him. He’ll probably emerge as a rotation player for a less dysfunctional franchise after he hits free agency this summer.

Washington Wizards (23-18)

The Wizards are spent into the luxury tax and in full win-now mode. John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Ian Mahinmi are all locked up through at least the 2019-20 season. Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris, Tomas Satoransky and Kelly Oubre are fully guaranteed through next season. Injuries and inconsistency have been a factor, and fifth in the East just doesn’t feel good enough for a team that aspires to contend.

Notable Ending Contracts:

Jason Smith — $5,225,000 ($5.45 million player option)

Jodie Meeks — $3,290,000 ($3.45 million player option)

Tim Frazier — $2,000,000

Names Worth Talking About:

Mahinmi has played only 571 minutes, but his +4.6 net rating is fourth on the team and some small comfort after the team invested major dollars in him. There’s almost no chance another team would take his contract, but at least the Wizards are performing well when he’s available. Marcin Gortat likewise appears to be a player few if any teams would be interested in.

Mike Scott has been a pleasant surprise with 9.4 points per game, which is good for sixth on the team. Washington only signed him to a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal, so he can test free agency after the season with the Wizards facing a cap crunch.

Biggest Area of Need at the Deadline:

Backup point guard Tim Frazier’s -6.7 net rating is a team worst and Jodie Meeks is next at -3.8. Jason Smith has played only 160 minutes. None has trade value. The Wizards’ biggest need is depth and an upgrade at backup point guard. But with the team’s cap situation and lack of assets, it’s going to be very tricky to get anything done.

With the Southeast Division’s competitive teams lacking cap space and lesser teams short on attractive trade assets, this could be a ho-hum deadline in Dixie. That is unless the Hornets go crazy and make Walker available, or another unexpected piece suddenly comes on the market. The league is still coming to terms with the hangover from the cap explosion of recent seasons. And with cap levels set to remain relatively flat in coming seasons, deadline deals will be harder to execute than in recent years.

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Basketball Insiders recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2019, which featured a four-point shot and a deep pool of talent in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Matt John

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game had a variety of big names to trot out on Friday night. This list included former NBA players such as Ray Allen and Jay Williams, current WNBA players Stefanie Dolson and A’ja Wilson, entertainers such as JB Smoove, Mike Colter, and Hassan Minhaj, and last year’s MVP, Quavo.

The Home Team was coached by WNBA legend Dawn Staley while the Away Team was coached by WNBA superstar Sue Bird.

Team Staley pulled ahead multiple times throughout the game, but every run they made was followed by a run by Team Bird. Team Bird’s comeback attempt fell short as Team Staley ultimately won 82-80.

Internet Comedian Famous Los led the way for Team Staley, scoring a team-high 22 points on 10-16 shooting while dishing out three assists in the team’s victory. Jay Williams razzled and dazzled as well, scoring 18 points on 8-15 shooting while dishing out five assists – including this beauty.

What could have been with Jay Williams…

Quavo topped his performance last year for Team Staley, scoring a game-high 27 points in total, highlighted by what may very well be the only five-point play to ever happen in an NBA-sponsored basketball game. Quavo shot 13-19 from the field while also corralling nine rebounds as well. Ray Allen also put up a vintage performance, putting up 24 points on 11-21 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists.

There were a few interesting wrinkles to this game. A four-point shot was implemented in which $4,000 would be donated to charity for each shot made from distance. Ten four-pointers were made in the game, totaling $40,000 in charity donations.

Two more fun facts: We didn’t even get a tip-off in this game. Comedian Brad Williams stole the ball from the ref to start it off. Also, just because it’s a harmless exhibition does not mean participants won’t get into it. JB Smoove and Hassan Minhaj got a little testy at the end of the first quarter.

Other participants included:

From Team Bird: Ronnie 2K (Director of influencer marketing, 2K Sports), AJ Buckley (Actor, “SEAL Team”), Bad Bunny (Singer), Marc Lasry (Milwaukee Bucks’ Co-Owner), Adam Ray (Host of About Last Night), Amanda Seales (Actor/Comedian), James Shaw Jr. (Hometown Hero), Brad Williams (Host of About Last Night)

From Team Staley: Chris Daughtry (Singer), Terrence Jenkins (TV Personality/Actor), Dr. Oz (TV Personality), Rapsody (Rapper), Bo Rinehart (Musician), Steve Smith (Former NFL Player), Jason Weissman (Hometown Hero)

MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars

If last year’s Rising Stars game had an overabundance of talent, this one may have very well topped it. That’s how loaded this year’s class was.

Let’s start with what could be a preview for what’s to come next year: Luka Doncic’s performance. More specifically, his connection with Lauri Markaanen. Throughout the first quarter, Doncic found Markaanen everywhere, either for easy alley-oops or wide open threes on the pick and pop.

Why bring this up? Because this is exactly what we could expect to see from Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis when they share the court together, as Markaanen has a similar skill set offensively to Porzingis’.

As for the game itself, Team USA jumped out to a 12-point lead at the half, thanks primarily to the likes of Jayson Tatum (16 points on 6-12 shooting) and Kyle Kuzma (21 points on 10-16 shooting).

Team World wouldn’t go down without a fight. In the third quarter, they managed to cut the deficit down to a point thanks primarily to Doncic and Ben Simmons’  collective efforts, but that was as close as they got. Team USA pulled away in the fourth quarter as they went on to win 161-144.

Simmons led the way for Team World, as he finished with 30 points on 14-17 shooting on a squad where, outside of Simmons, the scoring was pretty well spread out as Doncic, Markaanen, DeAndre Ayton, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rodney Kurucs, OG Annonuby, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Okogie all had 10 points or more.

Team USA had a few standouts, including Kuzma (35 points on 15-27 shooting), Tatum (30 points on 12-24 shooting), Donovan Mitchell (20 points, nine assists, seven rebounds), and Trae Young (25 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds). All were deserving of the MVP, but the award ultimately went to Kuzma.

Tonight, we go a little deeper into All-Star Weekend with the Dunk Contest, Three-Point Shooting Contest, and the Skills Challenge. Stay tuned!

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NBA Daily: Can Tobias Harris Put the 76ers Over the Top?

Shane Rhodes breaks down whether the addition of Tobias Harris can push the 76ers into the NBA Finals.

Shane Rhodes

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The Philadelphia 76ers made perhaps the biggest move of trade season when they acquired Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers. Harris, in the midst of a career year, was on the path to a lucrative contract come this summer. But, with an uncertain future in Los Angeles, Philadelphia capitalized and made their move to win now.

In doing so, the 76ers have put together, arguably, the most talented starting roster in the Eastern Conference. But what exactly does Harris bring to the team, and can he put them over the top of their competition in the East?

Harris has very much looked the part of an All-Star this season and has given Brett Brown and the 76ers coaching staff yet another weapon with which to attack defenses. The 26-year-old has posted career highs in points (20.7), rebounds (7.8) and assists (2.8) per game, field goal percentage (49.7) and three-point percentage (43.0) this season and should prove a significant upgrade over Wilson Chandler, who was sent to Los Angeles in the trade, on both offense and defense.

In a superior lineup, his Harris’ play should only improve as well.

His statistical values may dip with the move to Philadelphia, but, in a way, the team may look at that as a positive; with so many talents on the floor together, Brown, in theory, should be able to utilize Harris in order to reduce wear and tear on his other players — namely Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler — and keep them somewhat fresh for the postseason, if not at the expensive of some personal stats.

Harris is another player that can handle the ball and should lead to even more movement within the 76ers offense. He has shown over the years an ability to push the ball up the floor in transition and should relieve some of the pressure from Simmons in that area as well. In the event that he is the lone star on the floor, or should the ball movement stop, Harris able and willing to break out his do-it-himself kit; he may not dance a defender like Kyrie Irving, but he is more than capable of sizing up his man and either hitting a shot in their face or brute-forcing his way to the basket.

Harris is a more-than-capable shooter and, off the ball, should provide Simmons with another reliable perimeter outlet and open things up on the interior open things up inside for him and Embiid as well.

Defensively, Harris isn’t a wizard, but the effort and energy are there and should shine in the already competent 76ers defense. While it may not be ideal in all situations, Harris has the size to bang down low with some centers and the quickness to keep up with smaller players on the perimeter. Harris’ length — a near seven-foot wingspan — should also prove an asset, as he will allow the defense to switch on almost every possession. In the postseason, that could prove invaluable.

As good as this acquisition may look on paper, it isn’t without its cons or risks. Harris’ is another primary option on a team that already had three of them in Embiid, Simmons and Butler; could the presence of too many options bog things down a la the Boston Celtics earlier this season?

His contract situation, alongside the impending free agency of Butler, should give some pause as well.

The team has hedged its future on those two players and given up some good (and some great) assets to acquire them. Should Butler leave, Harris would provide the 76ers with the ultimate insurance policy but, should both players move on after the season it could set the team back years.

The 76ers have plenty of pre-existing issues to figure out as well, a losing record against their chief Eastern Conference competition — Milwaukee Bucks (0-1), Toronto Raptors (1-2) and Celtics (0-3) — most prominent among them.

But, with Harris in the fold, the 76ers seem to have all the pieces of the puzzle. If the players can put it all together, they could very well find themselves in the NBA Finals come June.

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Gordon Hayward Clearing Hurdles, Finding Joy In Comeback From Injury

Spencer Davies sits down with Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward to discuss the first half of his season, returning from a devastating injury and the team blocking out the noise.

Spencer Davies

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As his Boston Celtic teammates got some shots up to prepare for a morning practice in Cleveland, Gordon Hayward sat in a chair on the baseline watching.

Quicken Loans Arena held a particular place in his mind. Not because of a championship memory, nor for any individual accomplishment.

But because nearly five months after an emotional return and season debut, Hayward had come back to the scene where the course of his career shifted in an instant.

“It’s something that I was thinking about sitting in the hotel last night,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders before shootaround at The Q. “Like, last time I was here, my whole world changed. I’ll probably think about it, be a little anxious about it at the beginning when I first check in, but then when I get going it’ll be fine.”

If there was any trepidation, it was either short-lived or didn’t show. The 28-year-old looked as confident as ever, packing a powerful punch off the bench as a scorer and a distributor for a depleted Boston team. He finished with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.

“I didn’t even think about that until this morning,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Hayward’s return to Cleveland. “I thought about it in the preseason and then for whatever reason, I probably should’ve thought about it.

“I just think he has played enough now where he’s past that initial hurdle, right? So it’s probably not fun to walk out on the court the first time and shoot around and those type of things but ultimately, I think he probably moved past that really quickly. I thought he was great tonight, both ends of the court. I thought his offensive playmaking passing the ball was as good as his scoring.”

Hayward has scored 20 points or more on just three different occasions this year. It’s a far cry from the All-Star numbers he used to put up nightly. He understands, however, that perseverance is necessary as he slowly, but surely gets re-acclimated to playing.

“Physically, I’ve felt pretty good. I think I’m definitely moving way better than I was at the beginning of the season,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “I’m getting more and more confident with each month, each week. There’s definitely still games where I just don’t feel like myself, but I think I’m trending in the right direction.”

When asked about those areas that don’t feel right yet Hayward pinpointed attacking the basket, specifically going at big men in the paint, taking contact and finishing.

Knowing that he can go up, get hit and be able to come down fine is a mental hurdle Hayward admittedly still has to clear—and the only way to get past that is repetition.

“You just have to do it, and do it more than one time,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “It’s like an experience-type thing. You’ve got to just do it and feel confident doing it, and until that happens, then you’ll just keep thinking about it.”

Once Hayward is driving and dunking on a regular basis without thinking about what happens next, he says he’ll officially be back. Until then, an appreciation of being able to play the game he loves again is the true big picture—especially after an injury that could’ve taken it all away from him.

“That’s been a mental thing as well is trying to find some joy in just the fact that I’m back out on the court,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “Because some people don’t return from that and a blessing that we have the technology that we do these days that they were able to fix my ankle. So I guess just being patient with the whole thing, that’s been a challenge.”

CELTICS A WORK IN PROGRESS

Coming into the 2017-18 season, the excitement in Boston was palpable. Hayward signed a four-year maximum contract with the Celtics that summer. Shortly thereafter, Danny Ainge made a blockbuster deal to acquire Kyrie Irving, creating a dynamic duo to begin a new era of C’s basketball.

The Celtics started the campaign on the road against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Cavaliers in October. Since the storyline of the night was Irving facing off against the franchise he had won a championship with on opening night, Hayward’s debut took a bit of a back seat…until the unthinkable happened.

Less than halfway into the first quarter, Irving saw a cutting Hayward with an open path to the rim and threw up a lob looking for an alley-oop finish. Cleveland’s Jae Crowder and LeBron James came to double before Boston’s pair could connect, leaving Hayward afloat in an awkward position.

Hayward came down almost horizontally, with only his left leg there to brace himself for the fall. Tragically, he dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia simultaneously in one of the most gruesome moments in the history of sports.

As he was consoled by trainers and wheeled away on a stretcher with an air cast, the whole arena was dead silent. Players from both teams were praying in disbelief of what they’d just witnessed. Just like that, Hayward’s season was over, and even perhaps his career.

Following multiple successful surgeries and going through rehabilitation programs over the course of a year, Hayward was able to make a miraculous return to the court on October 16, 2018. He’s been on the floor for 26 minutes per night, playing in 53 of 58 total games.

Just as Hayward has tirelessly ground away to get back to form, so have the Celtics. With a healthy Irving and returning Hayward, along with the group that unexpectedly went seven games into the conference finals last year, they were supposed to be the top dog in the East.

It’s no secret that the Celtics boast an abundance of young talent. Jaylen Brown has shown plenty of growth after a shaky start to the season. Terry Rozier is on track to get paid in the offseason by a team in need of a starting point guard. Jayson Tatum is Boston’s second-best scorer (16.5 points per game) and rebounder (6.3 boards per game) at just 20 years old.

That goes without mentioning rookie center Robert Williams. Daniel Theis and Brad Wanamaker, while not quite as young, are two inexperienced NBA players who have overseas experience. The Celtics’ depth is a quality that is necessary for a deep run in the postseason.

“I think anytime they have an opportunity, they seem to make the most of it. That’s at every position,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders.

At the halfway mark headed into the All-Star break, Boston holds fifth place, locked in a battle with the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers for the three seed. The Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors each have 43 wins with over five games separating them from the trio of teams behind them.

Despite back-to-back blown leads and losses to both Los Angeles franchises at the TD Garden, the Celtics have won 12 of their last 15 contests.

“I think when we all play with energy and when we’re connected defensively – and offensively, for that matter, but especially on the defensive end – we give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “Then, when we are able to move the ball and put together games where we have 30-plus assists, that’s when we’re really tough (to beat).”

TUSSLING WITH THE MEDIA

It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, though. Early in the season, there were many things said by multiple players on the record, including some pointed words from Irving in more than one instance. These comments can be twisted and turned easily.

Add in an example: the day he told reporters, “Ask me July 1,” regarding his free agency plans, it turned into a big mess of speculation. What many people didn’t hear was Irving’s thoughts regarding the media’s spin on what was actually going on.

“This is like college recruitment for me all over again. I don’t know. This is just weird,” Irving said to the scrum of reporters in New York. “It’s a new position to be in answering all these questions, seeing all this stuff that I’m trying to avoid, and it’s just a distraction. It’s crazy how stories and things and storyline can seep into a locker room. You guys are part of the destruction of locker rooms. That’s just what it is….”

Hayward had plenty of his own thoughts on the matter.

“I mean, I think certainly all outside noise has an opportunity to put a wedge between people and between teammates,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “I think especially in today’s age where there’s social media and information is right now, all-the-time, like everybody sees what everybody says. There’s guys that are paid to give their opinions on things and, if you read into all that stuff, can definitely put a wedge in between guys.

“More than anything, just talking to people,” Hayward said of the proper remedy. “If you have an issue with somebody, just tell ’em, talk to ’em. But I think for the most part if you block all that stuff out and really just focus on yourself as a group and what the coaching staff is saying and what your teammates are saying, it’s usually better.”

FATHERHOOD IS A BLESSING

We talked about the youth Boston has already, but Hayward isn’t in that same category anymore. While it’s not that he’s old, per se, he is a nine-year man in the NBA.

Hayward considers it “weird” that he’s the veteran now. Yet, at the same time, he doesn’t mind that time has flown by because of the gift of fatherhood. The injury he sustained was absolutely devastating.

But it put things in perspective for him, and no matter what happens from here on out with his career, Hayward will always be grateful for the most important thing in his life—family.

“No doubt. I think no matter what happens on the court, my girls don’t care,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “They just care that dad’s home and they want to play hot lava and play picnic and all that stuff. Like having three healthy kids and a wife at home, those things are good.”

If Hayward’s recent play is an indication of what we’re going to see from him moving forward, he might just get the best of both worlds.

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