|06.27.14 at 10:57 am ET|
With NBA free agency opening Tuesday, we begin our annual examination of the options available to the Celtics at each position. Today’s focus: point guards. Unlike recent seasons, C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is expected to have more flexibility than any summer since 2007 when the league’s moratorium on free agent signings is lifted and the salary cap (an estimated $63.2 million) is officially set on July 10.
The Celtics have eight players under guaranteed contracts in 2014-15 for $48.5 million (Rajon Rondo $12.9M; Gerald Wallace $10.1M; Jeff Green $9.2M; Brandon Bass $6.9M; Joel Anthony $3.8M; Vitor Faverani $2.1M; Kelly Olynyk $2.1M; Jared Sullinger $1.4M) as well as $4.1 million in cap holds for first-round picks Marcus Smart and James Young. Pending decisions on or by Kris Humphries, Avery Bradley and Jerryd Bayless, the C’s could have as much as $10 million in cap space — or more if they use the stretch provision on Wallace.
While the Celtics still have an All-Star point guard on the roster, Rondo’s name will continue to be mentioned in trade talks for the remaining year on his deal. The addition of Smart combined with Phil Pressey‘s non-guaranteed contract gives Ainge inexpensive solutions behind Rondo. Should the C’s anticipate Rondo’s departure or envision a significant upgrade over Pressey, they could still chase any free agent floor general not named Kyle Lowry.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at their options, separating the current free agents into three categories.
THE RAJON RONDOS
A four-time NBA All-Star at just 28 years old, Rondo already has helped steer the Celtics to an NBA title and could do so again with the right talent around him. Without that talent on the roster, though, Ainge could trade his captain, and the free agent market offers a number of options who could help fill the void left by his departure.
RICH MAN: ERIC BLEDSOE
2013-14: 1,416 min, 17.7 ppg, 5.5 apg, 4.7 rpg, 1.6 spg, 57.8 TS%, 19.6 PER
Why? Ainge has eyed Bledsoe since 2013, when the Clippers nearly traded him and DeAndre Jordan for Kevin Garnett. In short, he’s a 24-year-old stud.
Why not? It’s hard to imagine the Suns letting a player of Bledsoe’s caliber walk, and even if he does leave Phoenix, word is he’ll be seeking a max contract offer.
|06.26.14 at 11:43 pm ET|
There were some eyebrows raised when the Celtics selected 18-year-old swingman James Young out of Kentucky with their second pick of the first round Thursday night. But listen to the Celtics‘ brass and they will tell you they were the lucky ones.
Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca said there were cheers galore in the team’s war room when Young fell to them at No. 17. Pagliuca made several references to Young’s 20-point performance against Connecticut in the national championship game in April..
“There were two or three players that we felt like we would love to get at 17, and he was the one we really wanted to get,” Pagliuca said. “We were on pins and needless in there as the selections went by. We were thinking Chicago might take him but they didn’t so we were really, really happy. There was a big cheer in the war room when his name was available.
“Young, as evidenced by the final game, the top two teams in the nation playing, scoring 20 points. He’s got an inside game, an outside game. He moves well. He will fit well with Brad’s ball-movement system. So, Young’s going to bring us a player that can slash and move and hit the outside shot. He’s crafty and can defend. We’re really excited to get him at 17. Thought he could’ve gone a lot earlier.”
What was also very clear was management’s sense that Young could play several positions and serve different roles for the Celtics, even at a young age. Combine this with the backcourt versatility the Celtics see in Marcus Smart and the Celtics think they’ve added two pieces they can put in different places in Brad Stevens‘ flex offense.
“Absolutely, actually, James can play the 3. He’s 6-7, prototypical NBA body,” Pagliuca added. “And Marcus Smart is a versatile player. He can play the 1 or 2. We’re going to have a very versatile and great team. We’re really excited about this. We had these guys ranked higher than Danny drafted them. Our staff is ecstatic.
“James Young is a versatile player. He’s 6-7, he’s Young, 18 years old. Young is young. We really feel he can develop into a versatile player and help us a lot. Twenty points in the final, 14 points per game average. NBA-length and quickness. He can shoot the ball. We’re really excited about him at 17. We think that’s a great steal.
“Danny [Ainge] is always looking at all the options. We had Young ranked a lot higher than he went. He scored 20 points in the [NCAA] final. He’s really progressing. Marcus Smart is a competitor, intense. As Red always said when we bought the team, he wanted us to get instigators, not retaliators. Marcus Smart is an instigator. He got fouled just about more than anybody in college basketball. We’re really excited about his addition.”
|06.26.14 at 11:12 pm ET|
Well, according to owner Wyc Grousbeck, the answer is not much at all. The reason for Grousbeck’s public stance is Brad Stevens, who proved through a 25-win season that he could handle most of what Rondo could throw at any first-year coach.
“It’s interesting, that wasn’t a topic of conversation tonight,” Grousbeck said. “We have confidence in Brad that he can manage a roster but we also had confidence that of the top six we were going to take the best available as opposed to trying to slot in. That’s a strategy when you’re rebuilding a team, you take the best available athlete and then you let it all work out. We’ve got an All-Star point guard, so that’s not a question here.”
“I don’t think this has any impact on Rajon at all.”
Grousbeck acknowledged he hadn’t spoken with his star point guard before the selection was made.
Earlier this offseason, Grousbeck hinted at possible “fireworks” this summer if Danny Ainge found a trade partner.
“I always said fireworks were a possibility,” he said. “It takes two to tango around here. There just hasn’t been that much movement tonight. Typically on draft day, we make two trades if not three. That’s just the way we roll, ‘Trader Danny,’ and it’s had great effect for us. We like to be aggressive about rebuilding this team. We like to become contenders again as quickly as possible. So, we’ll keep working the phones, but it takes two partners to make a trade.”
So the Celtics did what Ainge predicted they would at the beginning of the night — hold onto their selections at 6 and 17 overall, taking Smart and Kentucky wing James Young.
“We knew there were six or seven kids that we wanted,” Grousbeck said. “So, the idea of moving to 8 or 10, moving slightly higher in the draft really wasn’t of interest. Maybe there’s a cliff in the draft. We wanted to stay at 6 or move up. We wanted to make other trades in recent days. We’d been on the phone quite a bit with other teams about other ideas. Nothing ever really seemed close to fruition, no matter how hard we tried. I remember trading for Kevin Garnett in ’07 and I got a call from Minnesota on July 30 or 31st, [so] the trade season is not over yet.”
|06.26.14 at 9:25 pm ET|
Once again, the Celtics stood pat, selecting 18-year-old Kentucky wing James Young with their No. 17 pick in Thursday’s NBA draft.
The Michigan native averaged 14.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 32.4 minutes per game as a freshman during the Wildcats’ run to the NCAA championship game this past season. Young is probably best known for his aggressive dunk as part of his 20 points in Kentucky’s title loss to UConn.
“I feel like I have a lot of potential to get a lot better,” said Young. “I’m only 18, so as the years go on I feel like my game is going to go to a greater level.”
Considered a potential impact scorer, Young shot just 40.7 percent from the field at Kentucky after being highly recruited out of high school. Questions also exist about his commitment to defense, but the Celtics had him high on their board.
“He’s just going to get better and better,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a young guy. We felt like he was a very, very undervalued scoring wing in this draft. Everybody in this room had him ranked a lot higher than 17, so we were surprised he was available at 17 and thrilled that he was available at 17.”
Both Young and C’s No. 6 overall pick Marcus Smart were ranked among Stevens’ top 11 prospects. The Celtics selected the best player available on their board with each of their first-round picks, although they specifically targeted wing scoring at No. 17, the coach said. Smart and Young have worked out together this summer.
For a complete scouting report, click here.
|06.26.14 at 9:23 pm ET|
Apparently Red Auerbach paid very close attention to the Big Bad Bruins.
When the Celtics chose Oklahoma State fireplug point guard Marcus Smart with the sixth pick overall Thursday night, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck thought back to something Auerbach told him when he bought the team.
“We like the fact that he’s an instigator,” Grousbeck said. “Back to Red, as Red told me personally right when I came in, ‘You need instigators, not retaliators.’ This kid is energetic. He’s a bull. He is a force, and when I met him, he filled the doorway. He’s just got that physique and that drive and that attitude that we really like around the Celtics.”
Grousbeck said Smart has been on the radar of the Celtics for some time, including three sessions in front of team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
“Our war room is very happy with the pick,” Grousbeck said. “My job is to be part of that and be supportive. Our basketball guys are very excited and have been focusing on Marcus for several weeks. [They] really like the top six or seven kids in the draft quite a bit but really thought he’s pretty exceptional in a couple of ways and really looking forward to having him in green.
“He’s been on our list for a month as we started setting up the draft workouts. He came back here twice and Danny saw him again in a third workout elsewhere. He’s seen him personally three times in the last two or three weeks. We really think there’s a lot of quality in the top of the draft here and think that it’s not always clear how to differentiate among the quality. I’m repeating things as opposed to giving you my own personal evaluation. That’s not my role with this team. But we think this kid really has some special attributes.”
|06.26.14 at 8:29 pm ET|
After all the pre-draft debate over whether or not the Celtics should trade up, trade down or trade out of the No. 6 pick, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge held firm and selected Marcus Smart.
As Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck noted, the Oklahoma State point guard visited Waltham for three workouts prior to the draft. After his first visit, the C’s declared their admiration for Smart, and he told reporters in New York on Wednesday that he had an inkling he might end up in Boston. Despite all the smokescreens, all signs have pointed to Smart for weeks.
“As Red [Auerbach] told me personally when I came in, ‘You need instigators, not retaliators,'” said Grousbeck. “This kid is energetic. He’s a bull. He’s a force. When I met him, he filled the doorway. He’s got that physique and that drive and that attitude that we really like around the Celtics.”
It was Grousbeck who promised fireworks this summer, and Smart made a similar reference when asked how he felt about being selected sixth. Coincidence?
“It felt like fireworks,” said Smart. “It felt like the Fourth of July.”
At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Smart has been described as a defensive stopper and a fierce competitor. Of course, he’s also known for pushing a Texas Tech fan during an altercation that led to his suspension this past February.
On the court, the 20-year-old averaged 18.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 32.7 minutes a game as a sophomore for the Cowboys. Many believe he’d have been drafted No. 1 overall had he come out as a freshman.
As was the case with both of his new backcourt mates, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, the knock on Smart is outside shooting (29.9 3P% in 2013-14), although Celtics coach Brad Stevens called those concerns overrated. (It should also be noted Rondo and Bradley have both improved their jump shots at the NBA level.) Should that trio remain intact, the Celtics could field one of the most fearsome defensive backcourt units in the league.
Still, Smart’s presence in Boston stirs up plenty of questions about the future of both Rondo and Bradley going forward. The former is entering the final year of his contract, and the latter is a restricted free agent this summer. The addition of Smart won’t quell the trade rumors surrounding the C’s All-Star point guard anytime soon.
Asked if he thought Rondo and Smart could coexist this season, Stevens countered, “I don’t think there is any doubt.” While the Celtics didn’t directly discuss the prospect of drafting Smart with their captain in recent days, Stevens and Rondo talked about the former McDonald’s All-American out of Texas last week.
For a complete scouting report, click here.
|06.26.14 at 7:40 pm ET|
For all the speculation on possible trades up and down in the first round, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he’ll like stay put with his two first-round picks. Of course, he made that prediction 90 minutes before the first pick of the 2014 NBA draft.
“There’s been a lot of conversation over the last month,” Ainge said of the interest from other teams looking to move up to take Boston’s first pick at No. 6 overall. “A lot of discussions regarding trading of the picks. Trading up, trading back, trading for players. Big deals, little deals. We’re ready for some different scenarios but just like all trade deadlines, the draft really isnt a deadline, but it is a time where you’ve got to make a decision to take the pick or trade it. Probably it looks like most likely that we’ll keep it.”
Ainge, who said he has “processed” all of the medical information on Joel Embiid, said there’s been “a lot more” dialogue on picks this year compared to last year.
“Quite a few real conversations, but a lot that end in a phone call,” Ainge said. “A yes or a no. Some go a little bit deeper. Two or three phone calls. Some even deeper.”
If Embiid is available, will Ainge be tempted?
“We have processed the information. And I believe in my medical staff. And that’s all,” Ainge said.
Then Ainge was asked to characterize this group of NBA talent.
“I think early in the year, I said it’s a little bit over-hyped,” Ainge said. “I think midway through the year i thought it was still over-hyped. Part of that is maybe the player in me. Like, ‘C’mon let these kids be kids.’ None of these guys are franchise-turners and I still believe that. Everything I said I still believe.
“I’ve always believed, just like in every draft, there are going to be players that are good, guys that can start, guys that can play in rotations on championship teams. There will be a couple of them. Two or three or four maybe that can become NBA All-Stars. I wish I knew which one of those that would be. I think that when you start making comp to Lebron James and Kevin Durant to kids before they’d even played a game in college, that’s sort of unfair. And that’s sort of what they hype was that I was referring to as over-hyped.
“Let’s let them prove it before we start making comparisons. I do feel like we’re going to get a good player at six. A player that I think can be a starter in the NBA. How good they become, time will tell. Players that we’ll be excited about adding to our roster, but players I’m not expected to turn us into an immediate winner by themselves.”
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