Defensive Improvement A Point Of Emphasis For Celtics In Summer League


phil presseyWALTHAM, Mass. — The concept of summer vacation does not really exist in the NBA. At least, that’s the case for the league’s younger generation.

With the NBA draft still visible in the rear-view mirror, the league’s 32 teams will journey this week to Orlando, where rookies, up-and-comers and D-Leaguers will spend seven days competing in the annual NBA summer league.

This tournament is especially important for teams without veteran-heavy rosters, and Boston Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga, who will coach the team’s summer league squad for the second straight year, has spent the past few days running some of the Celtics’ greener players through two-a-day practices in preparation.

“We’re young, so we have a lot of young guys on the roster,” Larranaga told reporters after Wednesday’s practice. “This is not maintenance right now; this is an improvement time for these guys. There’s areas where we have to get better at, particularly at the defense end, which is where most young guys struggle when they step up to the NBA level. So, we’re working a lot on defense.”

Like most teams, the Celtics’ 13-man summer league roster will be a mix of players straight out of college or overseas ball and those who already have had one go-around through the circuit. Point guard Phil Pressey, who competed in the 2013 summer league and went on to play 75 games for the Celtics during the regular season, is back again this summer, and Larranaga has liked the competition he’s seen thus far between Pressey and fellow guard Marcus Smart, the No. 6 overall pick in last week’s draft.

“Phil and Marcus have been really good in these first two practices,” Larranaga said. “They’re both tremendously competitive people. I think they’re pushing each other, which is a great thing. Obviously, with Rajon (Rondo), as well, that gives us three highly competitive (backcourt) players with the potential to impact the game on the defensive end. Hopefully that’ll be a strength for us in summer league as well as the regular season.”

(Larranaga wouldn’t comment on reports that free-agent guard Avery Bradley has signed a four-year, $32 million contract to return to the Celtics.)

“(Smart) and Phil will probably play together some (in summer league),” Larranaga added. “They’re two of our better players, and you don’t want to have one of your best players sitting on the bench. He and Phil are such unselfish players and team-oriented guys that having them together I think will be a good thing.”

The main goal of the summer league is to develop and evaluate young players. But, since few head coaches decided to helm the summer squads themselves, it also gives assistants the chance to take on greater responsibility, which Larranaga, a former bench boss in the NBA Development League, embraces.

“(Celtics head coach) Brad (Stevens) is great because he really looks to empower all of his assistants during the season and in summer league,” he said. “That’s why he’s so great to work for. I kind of look at my job like I looked at my D-League job when I was coaching in the D-League: You’re like a JV coach. You’re doing what the head coach wants. You’re trying to establish — in a very short amount of time — the culture and habits that Brad wants during the season. That’s kind of how I’m approaching it.”

The Celtics’ first summer league game will be this Saturday against the Miami Heat.

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