- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens isn't certain how his team's roster will look next season, but if there's a need for a versatile backup combo guard, he stressed Sunday that he wouldn't mind seeing Jerryd Bayless back in green.
Bayless, whose role continues to expand despite improved health for the Boston backcourt since he was acquired in early January, scored 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting over 28 minutes on Sunday. Alas, he was the second best backup guard on the floor as Chicago's D.J. Augustin erupted for a career-high 33 points to help the Bulls to a 107-102 triumph at TD Garden.
In 14 appearances in March, Bayless is averaging 10.4 points over 27.1 minutes per game. At no point in his six-year career has Bayless averaged more than the 22.7 minutes he did a couple seasons ago with Toronto, but he's on pace to set career highs for starts and minutes per game this season between Memphis and Boston.
In 35 total appearances for Boston, Bayless is averaging 9.7 points, 3.2 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 1 steal over 24.7 minutes per contest. He's shown an ability to provide an offensive jolt while playing multiple positions and settling into Boston's system.
Bayless, earning $3.1 million in the final year of his contract, has expressed a willingness to return to Boston next season and that feeling is mutual -- assuming the Celtics have a need and he comes at the right price.
"You don’t know how all the numbers are going to work themselves out and all the different people, but he’s a good guy to have on your team," Stevens said. "He’s bright, he thinks about the game on both ends of the floor, he’s physical, and he can score the ball in a flurry. I like him and I’d like to have him. At the same time, I don’t know how all that stuff is going to work itself out. I’m a big fan of Jerryd Bayless; I like him."
The Celtics might have traded away a more talented player in Courtney Lee, but not only did Boston shed Lee's bloated contract, it brought back a player who better fit the Celtics' backcourt needs. The Celtics like Bayless' ability to play both guard positions and seamlessly run with any of Boston's other guards.
What's more, he doesn't show a tremendous drop-off at either position.
"It’s like a switch hitter, usually they hit better from one side than the other," Stevens said. "I do think that Jerryd has done a good job at both positions. His ability to score the ball, whether he is playing the 1 or the 2, is one of his greatest strengths.
Bayless has shown an ability to get hot late in games, nearly willing Boston back from large deficits in recent outings in Dallas and Toronto. He stayed hot at the start of Sunday's visit from Chicago.
The Celtics will showcase his versatility on Monday when he'll shift into the starting lineup and play point guard while Rajon Rondo rests on the second night of a back-to-back.
More importantly, Stevens likes how Bayless has remained positive in a rebuilding situation despite leaving a team that is currently fighting for a playoff berth out west.
"The best thing about it is he’s coming from a Western Conference finalist [last season], and he hasn’t shown any negative emotion at all," Stevens said. "This is tough on everyone losing, but he’s been pretty positive. Like I said, he’s a bright basketball player, he knows what to do, and those guys are good to have on."
THIB'S TAKE: C'S THOUGHTS FROM AFAR
Tom Thibodeau played an integral role in Boston's success during the early part of the Big Three era while serving as defensive coordinator on Doc Rivers' staff as the Celtics raised Banner 17 in 2008 (and nearly sent another one to the rafters in 2010). In his fourth season as head coach of the Bulls, Thibodeau reflected on all things past and present with the Celtics before Sunday's game:
• On Rondo's recovery from ACL surgery: "It’s a tough injury to overcome. I think he’s put the work in. Just watching his growth overall, from where he was when he first came in to [now], he’s experienced it all. When he first got here, it wasn’t a very good team. He got through it. Starting point guard on a championship team. He’s gained experience. Now he’s a veteran leader and he has a new challenge. I think he’s one of their building blocks for the future."
• On Brad Stevens and Celtics' future: "I think Brad is well prepared. You know this day was coming. So I don’t think it surprised anybody [when Boston overhauled its roster last summer]. There was a great six-year run. I think the future is bright. You’ve got great ownership, great management, Brad’s a great coach. You have a guy like Rondo to build around. You’ve got some good young players. [Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge has] been through it a few times now and the one thing about Danny is he’s not afraid. He’ll do it through the draft, he’ll do it through trades. I think people have to be patient. There were six great years. I know when the trade was made to get Kevin [Garnett], they were hoping for three, so getting six was a huge plus and the Celtics have always found a way. When you look at the history, every decade they’ve had great teams and I’m sure this will be no different."
• On what stands out about his time in Boston beyond the title: “Probably the group, the way they worked. The willingness to sacrifice for each other. Of course, it started with Kevin, Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce]. They set the tone for the team. What you didn’t see was how hard they worked every day in practice and I think that’s what made them so special."
GUSHING ABOUT NOAH
Joakim Noah flirted with a triple-double while putting up 13 points, 13 assists and 8 rebounds over 37:25. The Celtics couldn't have been more complimentary of a big who used to rile up Kevin Garnett.
"Honestly, he’s one of my favorite players to watch," Jared Sullinger said. "He does everything so hard. I respect him. I really do. Great passer, his shot is starting to fall now, and he’s so unselfish and he plays hard and he gives you a lot of things that you don’t see in the stat sheet. Playing against Noah is an honor, but at the same time, it’s pretty tough because he’s always active."
Stevens had suggested before the game that Noah is in the MVP conversation and Thibodeau was asked if he likewise thought he belonged there.
"Well, it depends on how you define it," Thibodeau said. "For us, I think he does. What he’s meant to our team over the course of the season. We faced a lot of adversity. He helped lift the team up. He’s improved I think significantly offensively. The defense has always been great, the rebounding and it’s more than just the passing, it’s the scoring now, it’s making quicker decisions. I think that’s helped us a lot, but the most important thing is just helping us win."