Opening night in the NBA Summer League wasn’t exactly a relaxing time for Ime Udoka, not with the NBA Finals such a recent memory.
“Anytime you get there you want to finish the deal and we had opportunities,” the Celtics coach said during an interview on NBA TV. “You look at the Game 4, Game 5 third-quarter leads we didn’t maintain, and with four or five minutes left knowing you had a chance there – you come into summer league and you’re around all these people, you get unfriendly reminders of how close you got. Finish the deal next time.”
With Udoka, Jayson Tatum and the rest of the franchise brain trust courtside for the team’s Las Vegas opener against Miami Saturday night, the Celtics’ 2022 summer leaguers played to an elevated audience.
And much like the parent club in the Finals, the Summer Celtics faded down the stretch of their 88-78 loss to the Heat due to some horribly-timed scoring droughts.
Sam Hauser, hoping to use this summer league as a springboard after signing a three-year contract earlier in the week, struggled from the start with a seven-point performance on 2-for-12 shooting, including 1-for-9 from his bread-and-butter 3-point range.
But Hauser was far from alone with his offensive struggles. Rookie JD Davison, before limping off late in the fourth quarter after cramping up, lived up to his vow to “be a dog” at both ends of the floor with a strong defensive performance that included three blocks, two steals, and six assists and rebounds each.
But the rookie point guard, who signed a two-way contract with the team earlier in the day – not known for his shooting as evidenced by his 10-point, 3-for-11 (2-for-5 downtown) evening – has a lot to work on offensively over the next two weeks.
Juhann Begarin, last year’s second-round pick and a veteran of two seasons in the French league, shot 2-for-10 for his 13 points.
“Just progress,” Udoka said of what he’s looking for. “We’ve seen some of these guys over the last year and we want to see what they’ve done with the last year. Guy like Juhann, who’s been overseas, we want to see the growth in him from last year to this year. That’s the main thing you want to see — how they fit into what we do well. A guy like Sam Hauser. They’re playing a different position here, and we want to see how they can acclimate to that. Some things translate, some don’t as far as the scoring and all of that, but we want to see how they fit in with the big scheme of what we’re doing.”
Brogdon trade becomes official
The Celtics’ trade for Malcolm Brogdon was made official Saturday, along with the re-signings of Luke Kornet and Hauser, and Udoka naturally looks forward to his enviable backcourt depth.
The plan remains for Brogdon to come off the bench behind Marcus Smart. Overall, though, it’s all about deepening the rotation, according to the Celtics coach.
Indiana Pacers’ Malcolm Brogdon brings the ball up the court against the Houston Rockets during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, March 18, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
“For us, an area we had to rely on young guys with inexperience a lot, and you saw the difference in the Finals as opposed to some of the other rounds, we wanted to tighten up some bench rotations and I think we did that with some of the additions,” said Udoka. “Just overall they’re complementary pieces to some guys we already have, guys at a certain point in their career who saw what we did and want to be a part of that. The biggest thing I’ve told the group is growth from within. We’ll add the pieces we need as far as strengthening our bench, but you guys have to come back better.”
The new additions mark a dramatic change for the bench, though.
“We are very excited about what Malcolm brings both on and off the court,” Celtics president Brad Stevens said in a prepared statement. “His resume speaks for itself. He is the kind of playmaker, shooter, and impact defender that we need in our continued pursuit of Banner 18.”
Big man solutions
The Celtics continue to search for a backup big man, but may have two interesting candidates on their summer league roster. Trevion Williams, an undrafted center out of Purdue, put his well-publicized passing skills on display as part of a six-point, two-assist, six-rebound performance.
Mfiondu Kabengele, the former Clipper coming in off a strong G-League season, finished off four lobs Saturday night on the way to a 14-point, six-rebound, 5-for-7 performance.
“Consistency,” Udoka said of what the young big man needs. “I saw him at Florida State in college and his first two years with the Clippers, and you just want to see progress. Shot the ball well in college and want to see him continue to progress as far as that, but he’s a lob threat, high energy, big time rebounder in college, and you just want to see more of that consistency across the board.”