Summer season shines promising light

LAS VEGAS -- After emerging as one of the best storylines during the Celtics' 4-1 week playing in the Orlando summer league, Dionte Christmas' future in Boston took center stage throughout the team's run in Vegas, particularly after last Thursday's trade for Courtney Lee that saw E'Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Sean Williams leave town. Christmas rattled off solid performances all week, emerging as arguably the Celtics' best perimeter player, and his determination to make it to the NBA next season paid off, as he found out just prior to Sunday's Vegas finale against the Los Angeles Clippers that he had reached a deal with Boston on a partially guaranteed contract.

"I actually got the call before the game started," a joyful Christmas said after Sunday's game. "I don't really know all the details now, but I'm going to go over them with the staff. But I'm just happy, man, emotional. I actually got the call literally two minutes before the game started."

Christmas finished the five-game Las Vegas slate with averages of 14.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists, having shot 47.9 percent from the field overall and 45 percent from 3-point nation.

Christmas joins Jamar Smith as the only two non-draftees of Boston to earn official training-camp invitations, but many of Boston's rookies, along with several other members of the roster, followed up their play in Orlando with solid performances in Vegas.


Jared Sullinger: Boston's top pick in the 2012 Draft built upon his steady play in Orlando to average nearly a double-double with 11.2 points and over eight rebounds over the five-game Vegas schedule. While his field-goal percentage left something to be desired (Sullinger shot just over 30 percent from the floor for the week), he proved time and again an ability to absorb contact from opponents and get to the free-throw line. Sullinger shot 70.4 percent from the line during his sophomore season at Ohio State University, and his percentage from the stripe this past week nearly mirrored that (69.6 percent). The most impressive aspect of Sullinger's game that was on display in Vegas, though, was his rebounding ability. Sullinger grabbed double-digit rebounds in three of the five games, including a week-high 14 against the Bulls last Tuesday. While clearly not a finished product, Sullinger proved through his ability to throw his weight around that he might be capable of contributing to the Celtics this coming season.

Fab Melo: Melo never found any consistency in Vegas, beginning the week with a promising seven-point, five-rebound performance against the Hawks before going quiet over the next three games (he suffered a left hand injury in Thursday's loss to the Kings, but didn't miss any of the following games), and resurfacing slightly in the summer finale Sunday. Against the Clippers, Melo came through with six points and four rebounds, but was most noticed for two very loud blocks on Adam Morrison and Marcus Hubbard. Melo succeeded this week in reaffirming his wealth of potential, but the Celtics likely won't rush him into action too soon.

Kris Joseph: Like Melo, Joseph suffered a bit of a setback early in the week when he hyperextended his left knee in a win over the Bulls last Tuesday, but he refused to sit out. Though his percentages weren't terrific, he showcased a soft shooting touch and exhibited enough effort to earn daily praise from summer league coach Tyronn Lue, and some lofty compliments from C's head coach Doc Rivers, who referred to Joseph as "better than advertised" late in the week. Joseph is working on a non-guaranteed contract, so he'll have to earn his spot during training camp in the fall, but if he can overcome his passive nature and prove he can score against NBA talent, he'll likely find a home in Boston.


E'Twaun Moore: The hearts of Boston fans likely go out to Moore, who was playing very good basketball this summer before being dealt to the Rockets. Playing in the Celtics' first two games in Vegas, Moore averaged 17 points on 48.3 percent shooting. He ended his initial career in Boston on a high note, posting a summer-high 25 points on 10-of-19 shooting in a 79-74 victory over the Bulls last Tuesday. Prior to the trade, Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge referred to Moore as being "as solid as they come," which reflects the poise Moore always brought to the floor as he assumed an early leadership role with this summer squad. Based on how he was playing, it's not a stretch to imagine that the Celtics would have guaranteed his contract Sunday night, but instead Moore is beginning the next phase of his young and promising career.

JaJuan Johnson: While consistency is something Fab Melo hasn't understandably embodied yet, there was far less patience on this front with Johnson. Even though Johnson's basketball activities last season were limited due to the NBA lockout, a shortened schedule and an injury-plagued team, many thought he'd unleash all of those frustrations this summer. Instead, Johnson exhibited up-and-down play, with his seven-point, 12-rebound effort in his final Celtics summer-league game the highlight of his stint in Vegas. Still brimming with talent, Johnson was never able to properly harness it in a little less than two weeks of steady minutes this summer, and with the addition of Sullinger, there were already questions about his role in next season's rotation.

Sean Williams: Williams was used sparingly in Vegas, playing in only the Celtics' first game of the week. Also working on a non-guaranteed contract, Williams' chances of earning a spot on the roster next season were already slim. Williams most likely wouldn't have been more than an insurance big man for Boston, but with Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Sullinger, Melo and now Jason Collins in the mix, the C's probably wouldn't have been able to make room for the former Boston College standout.


Jamar Smith: Smith locked down an invitation to training camp before the Celtics even left Orlando, but he certainly wasn't about to risk falling into a state of comfort. Encouraged by Lue, Smith fired away all week, averaging 10.2 points while showing off a quick release and some deep range from beyond the arc. While he didn't show an ability to make many plays for his teammates, Smith will have the chance to earn one of the final roster spots as a high-volume scorer off the bench.

Craig Brackins: Brackins was one of the true beneficiaries of Thursday's trade, as his minutes spiked considerably when the Celtics' front line thinned out. After playing fewer than 10 minutes in each of the first two contests, Brackins averaged 23 minutes over the final three games and his production increased steadily as a result (13.3 points per game over the final three games). At 6-foot-10 with the ability to stretch the floor and sink 3-pointers, it wouldn't be surprising to see Brackins end up on an NBA roster next season, though it likely won't be with Boston.

Jonathan Gibson: Gibson certainly isn't afraid to shoot the ball, but he was just average from 3-point nation over the five-game schedule (33.3 percent), and worse from the field overall (32.5 percent). Though he went on the occasional hot streak, Gibson didn't prove to be consistent enough as the week progressed.

Stephane Lasme: Lasme has had an affiliation with the Celtics for a few years now, but his chances of ending up on the regular-season roster weren't exactly bolstered during his time in Vegas. Lasme showed off his athleticism and genuine hustle, but he was playing behind the likes of Johnson and Sullinger for most of the week, and with a glut of big men already set to be on the roster next season, Lasme might be looking at another D-League assignment next season, unless he fields offers from teams overseas.

Larry Owens: Owens ended his summer-league campaign on a strong note, posting a Vegas-high 10 points to go along with four rebounds, and while his game might be intriguing, he didn't play enough of a role for the Celtics this past week to really distinguish himself.

Garrett Stutz: A late addition to the Celtics' summer-league roster due to the hand injury Fab Melo suffered, Stutz played just three minutes in his debut on Saturday, but followed it up with a solid four-point, nine-rebound outing on Sunday, adding a blocked shot in just over 21 minutes of action. Stutz was smothered on the Minnesota Timberwolves' overcrowded roster for the majority of the week and jumped at a chance for a new start, but he was dealing with too small of a sample size to really impress the Boston brass.


Tyronn Lue: Lue deserves a boatload of credit for steering what was, up until Thursday's trade, a very capable Celtics summer ship. He managed to bring his group of players together, at a time when individual stats are crucial, and get them to focus solely on team success. Reporters joked with Lue after Sunday's finale that he should have re-negotiated his contract after going 4-1 in Orlando, and Lue playfully shot back that had his roster not been gutted, his final record (6-4) would have been much higher above the .500 mark.

"I've got a feeling they sabotaged my lineup, trading away my players and everything. Austin Ainge is going to be fired. He's going to be fired at some point," Lue said jokingly after Sunday's game.

Lue later addressed the adversity his club faced as they finished out the week.

"Yeah, [the end of the week's] been weird," Lue admitted. "Guys have had to play more minutes than they've been playing. And then we only have eight or nine guys and I thought guys got tired. We didn't have the same energy we've been playing with. But, it's part of the NBA, that's how it works. But I thought we had a great group of guys. I thought we competed every night."

Lue should hold his head high, as his first real foray into coaching was undoubtedly a success that will most likely yield him additional responsibilities as part of Doc Rivers' staff next season, and further encourage him to pursue an NBA coaching gig.