Christmas proves to be treat in July
Summer League play may mean Celtics job
LAS VEGAS — While president of basketball operations Danny Ainge juggled the pieces of a deal that would transform Courtney Lee into a Celtic Thursday afternoon, the Celtics’ NBA Summer League team was preparing to play against the Sacramento Kings.
As trade talks continued toward game time, three Celtics were removed from the roster, leaving nine players to play the Kings. Then, two Celtics — Kris Joseph (knee) and Fab Melo (hand) — were injured as the team finished a 91-82 loss with seven players.
The disruptions and defeat served as a combination wake-up call and challenge as the Celtics fell to 2-1 in Las Vegas and 6-2 overall. Joseph and Melo are expected to be available for the remaining games, against Milwaukee Saturday and the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday.
Guard Dionte Christmas, for one, handled the situation in stride.
“It happened right before the game,” Christmas recalled. “JaJuan [Johnson], E’Twaun [Moore], Sean [Williams], those guys didn’t suit up and I asked what was going on. They said they got traded. I don’t know where that puts me in the food chain. It’s tough, but the NBA is a business.”
Christmas, 25, understands the financial aspects of the game, having performed in Israel, the Czech Republic, and Greece. Christmas’s foreign experience also prepared him for the unexpected.
“It was tough, it happened like two minutes before the game,” Christmas said of losing one-fourth of the roster. “We were warming up and they said those guys are not going to play. So, [coach] Tyronn Lue said [to] get ready to play 35 minutes and get ready to be more aggressive on the offensive end because those guys are not going to be there.
“But that just gives me and the guys a taste of the NBA. Things like that happen all the time and we’ve just got to be ready at the end of the night. I think I can be somebody that can do that. I think I can be ready at any given moment.
“[Celtics center] Craig Brackins said that happened before. He was warming up and the team said that he was traded — during warm-ups. So, he had to actually get up and leave. Things like that happen all the time, so I was aware of it. But I didn’t think it would happen in summer league. It was crazy to actually see it happen.”
Christmas scored 19 points, taking on several roles, including Moore’s specialties of ballhandling and perimeter shooting. Christmas has displayed confidence, versatility, and shooting range and will likely earn an invitation to training camp from some team after the summer league concludes Sunday.
“Again, I’m not just looking at the Celtics,” Christmas said. “I’m in contact with other teams so if I can’t fit in with the Celtics, hopefully it will be with somebody else.
“I think I put myself in a pretty good situation. I mean, I’ve been playing well and my coaches have a lot of confidence in letting me play — handle the ball, make decisions.
“I think I’ve made all the right decisions. I’ve been scoring the ball, the last week in Orlando I passed, I defended. I think I showed the GMs and coaches that I can do a little bit of everything.”
As for his prospects with the Celtics, Christmas said, “You have guys like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, [Rajon] Rondo, great vets. They know the game and I could learn a lot from Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. They have great coaches — it would definitely be an honor for me to play for those guys.
“I’ve learned a lot from [Lue], he’s a great teacher of the game. He lets us go, gives you a lot of confidence. If you’re a shooter, shoot the ball; if you’re a defensive player, play defense; if you’re a rebounder, rebound the ball — just do what you do. And he’s great giving you that confidence.”
Christmas was born in Philadelphia and played at Temple. He was not drafted coming out of college in 2009, so he went to Europe to refine his game.
“Two years back, you could say I was a scorer but I was sometimes inconsistent,” Christmas said. “That was one thing I wanted to work on and be better at — just be consistent, whether that was playing D or making shots. That was one thing I got playing the last couple years overseas.”
Christmas also gained enough financial security to be willing to take a lower salary in the NBA Development League.
“I’ll have a better feel what I’m going to do the last two days,” Christmas said. “The last couple years, it was a lot of money and I wasn’t going to turn it down. At this point, if I have a chance to get in the NBA I would definitely consider going to the D League — if a team said if somebody was going down we’ll call you up. Sure.’’
. . .
The Celtics finalized their Lee sign-and-trade, which ended up as a three-team deal with the Blazers. The Rockets received Johnson, Moore, Williams, and a second-round pick, while Portland got Sasha Pavlovic from the Celtics, as well as two second-round picks and cash.
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.