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Friday, 29 April 2016 21:12

Boston Celtics Exit Interviews: Isaiah Thomas to rep Cs at NBA Draft Lottery while Evan Turner is ready for free agency

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Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner and more players spoke Friday after their Boston Celtics exit interviews. Highlights included Isaiah Thomas on the honor of repping the Celtics at the 2016 NBA draft lottery, Evan Turner on his upcoming free agency, and RJ Hunter doing summer homework.

WALTHAM -- A day after the Celtics lost Game 6 to the Atlanta Hawks to see their season come to a disappointing conclusion, a selection of players spoke after their exit interviews with Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens and the rest of the Celtics brass.

Isaiah Thomas was more collected after a tear-filled post game press conference and is already preparing to bring the Celtics forward next season. He announced that in his exit interview, owner Wyc Grousbeck requested he serve as the Celtics' representative on stage at the 2016 NBA Draft Lottery in New York.

"I'm gonna do it," Thomas said. [Wyc] asked me up there, so I'm gonna definitely be that guy. Hopefully I can bring some luck."

Thomas is a fitting choice to be a good luck charm, as he has made a habit of changing shoes at halftime out of superstition, amongst other things.

"I'm gonna do my little research. Hopefully I can find something that's good-luck worthy."

It's a big honor to Thomas, who even hinted last night that as a member of Danny Ainge's team, you can never be certain that you have a permanent place.

"Coming from whre I'm from and the story I have, you'd never think I'd be asked to go represent an NBA franchise at the lottery," he said. "So it's a blessing for him to even ask me that. I'm excited to do it and hopefully I can bring some back."

It's the first step in Isaiah's summer promotional tour, as he has become the new face of the franchise in recruiting free agents and establishing the team's identity.

He talked about recruiting some big, albeit anonymous, names during All-Star weekend. But once free agency begins, Thomas will officially have free reign to lay the elevator pitch -- or oceanside cabana pitch -- on Kevin Durant and any other star looking for a new home.

"If you don't want to play for the Boston Celtics, you don't know basketball," Thomas proclaimed Friday.

That will work.

"The greats are the greats for a reason," Thomas said. "Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, they weren't normal. I don't want to be normal either. I gotta figure it out. I do need my teammates to get that next level and I believe in those guys. I believe in Danny and whatever he's going to do this summer. We'll get a few more guys out here, we'll be a team that people are scared to play."

Thomas will need to continue to improve if he can help convince other elite players to choose to partner with him. His limitations at his size have been amplified by astute defenses in the playoffs for two straight years. While a better team around him will make life easier, he can only enhance what he can control.

"I'm not that old, but the greatest players, the best players always tok care of their bodies the best," Thomas said. He admitted that "Like a young guy that's got a bit of money," he eats fast food every day. But he is ready to change.

"You look at older guys like Ray Allen. Not to go that far to take care of my body, but—because he's a little crazy with that—but I just want to play at a high level for a long time. I know guys like Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant, you've got to take care of your body. That's half the battle of performing out there on the floor and I think this is a big summer for me to start doing that. I know it's not gonna be overnight, but to start transforming my body, eating great, getting a lot of rest and making a foundation for the rest of my career."

He's feeling it now, as he is still physically and emotionally sore a day after his last game of the season. "Man, it still hurts. It's tough for me. Last night was very tough just because I gave it my all. I never worked that hard in my life. Make plays, and score, and do everything I could for my team to win, and it wasn't enough, so it was tough."

"There's no way you can do it on your own. From the first guy that picked up a basketball to 2016, nobody can do it on their own. And then just how hard it really is to win playoff games and win a playoff series. It's not easy. I'm going to do whatever it takes to not have this feeling again because it really hurt me. I'm going to use that as motivation to continue to get better and work on my flaws and make those into my strengths. I promise you I'll be back better."

As Thomas embarks on a new diet and a new summer, he will have much to build upon. The biggest sign of potential for greatness is when a player strives to turn their vulnerabilities into assets. Thomas truly figured out how to use his small size to allow him to dominate areas of the floor from below. Now he has a clearer path to be as great as he vocally aims to be.

EVAN TURNER IS READY FOR A QUICK FREE AGENCY

It was a big season for Evan Turner, who continued his career turnaround with one of the best sixth man performances in the NBA. He played a crucial role for an ailing team in the playoffs and displayed his ability as both a ball handler and a versatile defender. Turner was particularly proud of his improvements on defense and felt he proved to the league that he has become a good two-way player. It started with a challenge from Brad Stevens a year ago.

"I remember last year, when Brad challenged us after we did a few trades to keep growing and stick with it. I think that my genius as a player has definitely grown. I think once you hit the league and everything, a lot of players are talented, but mentally it's rare that you get ahead of everybody else. I think as a player, mentally, I've grown a lot."

He ended up being one of the most effective defensive wings in the league. He finished second in the NBA in defensive efficiency on pick-and-roll ball handlers with 0.62 points per possession -- a stat that typically favors wings rather than guards.

"I've had moments where I felt like I was being picked on, early in my career, and now I somewhat feel confident versus any offensive player to guard them," Turner said. "Whatever it takes to stay on the floor, it's the most important thing. You never want to be a liability. Hopefully we can keep growing in that area along with other areas."

So will the Evan Turner Presidential campaign be going on a world tour?

"I don't really like flying. So I'm not really going to leave. Hopefully it starts July first. Hopefully it's over July first."

Turner will be in demand from teams looking for a fresh start with a ball handler like New York, or teams with shooting who need another reliable pick-and-roll choreographer like Houston. But while there will be plenty of money thrown at him, he's learned the hard way to prioritize winning and fit.

"I want to go somewhere to win," he said. "I don't want to sit there -- obviously money's cool -- but I don't want to sit there and get our brains beat in.

"So I want to go somewhere, ideally anywhere, where the staff and front office is about winning. That's pretty much it. Hopefully it's back here. I learned that winning's great and how it's going to be the most important thing."

Turner says that Stevens told him that he wants Evan back next year and will be pushing for him to stay.

"He said he'll be pushing for me and everything like that and that's pretty much it," Turner said. "But there's a lot of stuff going on right now. I understand it. And I understand what's going to occur and with the draft picks and the young guys trying to develop and trying to get a superstar, stuff like that, I definitely comprehend it." The market and direction of the team may mean Turner will have to become beloved elsewhere. But it was at the very least a great two-year experience where Turner remolded his career out of the embers of a second overall pick who couldn't find the right situation.

RJ HUNTER AND TERRY ROZIER HAVE LOT OF HOMEWORK TO DO THIS SUMMER

He's a year out of school and finally doesn't have to worry about school work. But when CLNS asked RJ Hunter what homework he will be doing this offseason, he was disturbed. But when told it was basketball homework, he was much more excited.

"My agent's actually going to help me hire a guy that's breaking down a lot of film during the summer," Hunter said. "I've actually never watched film during the summer. So I think that will put me a few steps ahead to when the season starts."

Rozier is also looking forward to a brief vacation before going back to being a gym rat. He said he is planning to work closely with Celtics assistant coach Jerome Allen to bring his pick-and-roll ball handling and three-point shot tot he NBA level. He'll have two months to prepare for NBA Summer League, where he will most likely be running the offense.

"This year was more learning, watching IT and all the other veterans and how they operate," Rozier said. "Next year, I think I can take on a bigger role."

Both Hunter and Rozier played limited minutes during the regular season, but were called upon for bigger roles when Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk went down against the Hawks. While Rozier shined in many areas, Hunter struggled dealing with Kyle Korver, who turned out to be a bit of a role model for him.

"I've actually been studying him all year. He's incredible," Hunter said. "He said he's a fan of mine and he said I'm going to be good."

But Korver was infinitely better during their matchups, getting Hunter lost in a sea of defenders while Korver would slip to his spot and find open shots. It was a great lesson for Hunter in his first year.

"It's just non-stop movement. Kyle's like 45 years old, so he totally gets the game at this point," he said. "When cuts tot he right side, he knows you're not going to block it and he just shoots it. When he cuts tot he left, you know he knows just what you're gonna do. So you could tell the preparation he puts into it."

Rozier and Hunter both flashed potential tools that will make them valuable rotation players over the next two years. With significant potential for major roster moves over the next two months, they'll have to be ready for their card called again.

OLYNYK TO CONSIDER SHOULDER SURGERY

Kelly Olynyk struggled through injury for the second half of the season after starting the year as one of the league's most efficient three-point shooters. After reinjuring his sprained right shoulder in the playoffs, Olynyk struggled in every facet of the game in the few minutes he played in the final games.

"[It was] definitely difficult to function," Olynyk conceded. "Difficult to guad, rebound. It's one of those things where you don't have the same strength as you usually do, so when you're trying to just shoot your shot normally, it's not normal. So you really gotta focus on shooting the shot in a different way than your muscle memory is and that's what makes it tough. you really can't make any excuses."

Olynyk is looking into surgery and will shop around for multiple opinions. "Talk to a couple people, see what the best fit is out of them all. Talk to each other, come together and make sure it's a group decision with everyone in here on the team. Make sure you're making the right choice."

He knows there would be a timetable of recovery if he had surgery, but hasn't had any conversations of that nature to have an idea of how long the recovery would be. It is safe to not expect him in the summer league, especially since he is at the experience level when most players have graduated out of it. But Olynyk will be sure to make a decision soon, as surgery on his shooting shoulder will come with a long rehab before he has enough reps at full strength to be the team's go to deep shooter again.

Jared Weiss

Jared Weiss is the Celtics Locker Room Reporter and Host of The Garden Report: Celtics Post Game Show on Celtics Blog and CLNS Radio. J Weiss hosts The Block Party on Thursday nights at 8 PM and enjoys long walks on the beach while watching Rajon Rondo game footage. You can reach J Weiss at JWeiss@clnsradio.com and @CLNS_JaredWeiss.