Friday, July 20, 2012
Vegas will settle Christmas' future
By Greg Payne
LAS VEGAS -- Perhaps it's only fitting that Dionte Christmas' future with the Boston Celtics will be determined in Vegas. His odds, at the very least, of earning an official training camp invite have fluctuated all week. The solid play of E'Twaun Moore started out as perhaps Christmas' greatest obstacle, but on Thursday -- on a pure stroke of luck from Christmas' standpoint -- Moore was shipped to Houston as part of a sign-and-trade for free agent guard Courtney Lee, upping the surging guard's chances of making it to Celtics camp like never before.
How likely is Dionte Christmas to play his way onto the Celtics' 2012-13 roster?
Christmas might lament the breakup of what was a very enjoyable summer league team to play on, but the spotlight on him is now much brighter. He'll use the final two games of the summer slate this weekend to solidify his case to be with the Celtics in the fall.
"I don't know where that puts me at on the food chain, but it's tough, I mean, that's the NBA, it's a business," Christmas said of Moore's departure. "Whether the coaches and the GMs and people like me, then hopefully they can do something for me. But, again, I'm not only just playing for the Celtics, I'm on an interview for 29 other teams, so hopefully if I can't get with the Celtics, I can get with somebody else."
Boston still seems to be Christmas' preferred choice. After a productive stint in the Orlando summer league that saw him average 12.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4 assists per game, Christmas stuck with the Celtics in Vegas, and C's president of basketball operations Danny Ainge confirmed Thursday that Christmas is in the discussion for a training camp spot.
"We've been talking to Dionte. We'll continue," Ainge said. "We'd like to see him there [in training camp]."
"It'd be a great opportunity," Christmas said of playing in Boston. "You have guys like Paul Pierce and [Rajon] Rondo and Kevin Garnett, great vets. They know the game, and I could learn a lot from guys like Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, and coach Doc Rivers, great coach. So that would definitely be an honor for me to play with those guys."
Consistency has been a word thrown around at summer league more than any basketball has been thrown at the hoop. The Celtics have been no strangers to the term, as all week the likes of rookies Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger have been seeking it. The same was true for second-year forward JaJuan Johnson up until Thursday, when he was included as part of the trade package for Lee. But Christmas has been a player who's personified the word all week, as he's thrived as a steady scorer and playmaker for the C's.
Through three games in Vegas, Christmas has averaged 16 points on 50 percent shooting, including a 41.7 percent mark from 3-point land. His 19 points in the Celtics' 91-82 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Thursday were a high for him in Vegas, as summer league coach Tyronn Lue relied on him to help fill the void left by the absences of Moore and Johnson. The solid outing only reaffirmed Christmas' status as one of the few constants for Boston all week.
"[Consistency has] just been one of the things that I've been working on," Christmas said after Thursday's loss. "I mean, two years, three years back, guys said I was a scorer, but I was sometimes inconsistent, and that was one thing that I wanted to work on and be good at, just consistency. I wanted to come in and just do everything the right way and just be consistent at what I was doing, whether that was playing defense or making shots or anything. So that was one of the things I worked on a couple of years overseas."
Added Lue: "He's been great. He's been very consistent, playing hard defensively. Offensively, rebounding the ball, making assists. I talked to him [Thursday]; I said, 'We want you to be aggressive and score, but when guys are open, make sure you make the next pass or the extra pass. I know you're the only guy scoring, but we still want to continue to play the right way.'"
The deal for Lee clearly improves the Celtics as a team, but the nearly $5 million he'll reportedly earn next season pushes them that much closer to the $74.3 million hard salary-cap figure. (Boston used the full midlevel exception to sign Terry.) It's safe to say the C's probably were going to guarantee Moore's contract Sunday, but Christmas' emergence might have been the insurance policy they wanted when they decided to include Moore in the deal for Lee. Not that the deal wouldn't have gone down without Christmas around, but having another reserve guard option might have eased Ainge's mind when he pulled the trigger.
Christmas has played in Europe for the vast majority of the past three seasons, but his determination to make the NBA next season most likely will override another trip overseas. Christmas said he'd consider a D-League stint if all else failed, but he's still hoping to make the leap to the League after displaying so many of his skills throughout the summer schedule.
"I think I've put myself in a pretty good situation," Christmas said. "I've been playing well, my coaches have a lot of confidence in me and let me play, let me handle the ball, let me make decisions. I think I've made all the right decisions. I've been scoring the ball. The last week in Orlando I defended, I passed, I rebounded, so I think I've showed the GMs and the coaches that I can do a little bit of everything."
Whether Christmas ends up in green when the real games begin remains the prevailing question. He very well could draw interest from other clubs should the Celtics not extend an offer soon, but it's sounding more and more like Christmas' future will be decided by the end of the weekend.
"I mean, [the Celtics have] talked to my agent a lot. Every day I'm hearing things, and it's just a matter if it's going to be a good fit," Christmas said. "There's a lot that goes with it. And then the trade talks and things like that, so I think I'll have a better feel for what I'm going to do in the next two days."