Transcript of Danny Ainge on D&C: Big Three still can lead Celtics to championship
|06.24.11 at 10:41 am ET|
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge checked in with the Dennis & Callahan show Friday morning, the day after he selected two Purdue players in the NBA draft.
The C’s first-round pick was 6-foot-10 JaJuan Johnson, and Ainge sounded cautiously optimistic that Johnson can help the Celtics immediately.
“I think he can contribute,” Ainge said. “I always hate to put too many expectations on guys before the draft and after the draft. I think that sometimes we get all excited and get carried away on the draft. Historically, there’s just not that many guys that come in on a good team, on championship-caliber teams, that are able to contribute. Well have three or four young guys on our roster this year, and one or two of them might contribute day in and day out. The others will have to find their spots through injuries and opportunities in other ways.
“Size is hard to find. I think that his size gives him a little bit of an advantage. And his experience in college — he was an All-Big Ten player, and he’s nearly 6-foot-10 and he’s long. There’s just not that many of those guys out there, so the competition is much thinner.”
Following a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.
Obviously, you’re happy with your guy. How long did you target this particular guy, JaJuan Johnson?
We started following JaJuan closely last year, trying to see if he should come out to the draft. He was counseled to back to school. We liked him some last year, but we did follow him closely this year.
I think the only minus, really, is just he’s very thin. But he’s multi-skilled. He can shoot, handle the ball, pass, block shots, rebound. He just needs to put a little weight on.
Can he contribute right away?
I think he can contribute. I always hate to put too many expectations on guys before the draft and after the draft. I think that sometimes we get all excited and get carried away on the draft. Historically, there’s just not that many guys that come in on a good team, on championship-caliber teams, that are able to contribute. Well have three or four young guys on our roster this year, and one or two of them might contribute day in and day out. The others will have to find their spots through injuries and opportunities in other ways.
Size is hard to find. I think that his size gives him a little bit of an advantage. And his experience in college — he was an All-Big Ten player, and he’s nearly 6-foot-10 and he’s long. There’s just not that many of those guys out there, so the competition is much thinner.
You generally think of somebody as upside as much younger than he is. Is there upside on this guy?
Absolutely. I think that’s a fallacy, too. Guys that are 22 years old still get a lot better over the next five or six years. With his attitude, character, work ethic, I think that he will get better.
In the days leading up to the draft, we were trying to psychoanalyze you from a distance, and posing the two philosophies that we’ve heard you espouse over recent years. One was, Red waited too long to break up the Big Three. The other one was, after the Celtics lost to the Heat, the current Big Three has championship potential. Those two things seem to be counterintuitive to one another. Which one do you believe in?
Well, the first thing I’ll say is, the original Big Three, back when I played, it was clear their time was over because of injuries. They were definitely on their way down. I think our team is not. As a matter of fact, our Big Three were the most healthy guys on our roster this year. They played better than anyone on the team. There’s a big difference in the two years.
But having said that, we do know that the time will come when they won’t be able to continue to play at the same level they’re playing. I believe that if there were something to be done to make us get another transcendent player that’s younger or a possible transcendent player that’s younger, we would be looking to do that for sure.
Can you do it now? Do you have any sense of what the rules are going to be at this time next week?
No, I don’t. I think that’s part of the problem, too. That’s why there’s not that many deals done today. There’s just uncertainty of what’s going to happen next week.
So, you think this Big Three still has championship potential as long as you add some youth or athleticism or the expression we hear: somebody who can play above the rim.
Yes, I do think they do. I don’t think they do by themselves like maybe they were a few years ago. But I do think that they’re starting players that can lead teams to a championship, absolutely.
You were done at 35, right? Larry [Bird] was done, Kevin [McHale] was done, [Dennis Johnson] was done. Ray Allen’s 36 in a couple of weeks. [Kevin Garnett is] 35. What makes you think that things are different now? Why do you think you’re not on borrowed time with this group?
I think I played until I was 36. You see Steve Nash at 38. You see Jason Kidd at 38. I think it is a little bit different in the era. But again, I think that Reggie Miller played until he was 39, and played effectively. But I think that each individual is different.
These three guys are different. There’s just no question. I’ve been surprised, quite honestly, at how hard they practice, how much they practice, how well they take care of themselves. They’ve been fairly injury-free. KG’s had some challenges over the last couple of years, but he seems to be better right now than he’s been over the last couple of years. I think that health-wise those guys have really taken care of themselves.
Whereas Larry had multiple achilles tendon surgeries, had back surgery, and Kevin had the screws put in his feet. You could definitely see a difference with Kevin and Larry, clearly at age 30, 31, then for the rest of their career. There was definite drop-off. Robert [Parish] and D.J. did not have very much drop-off. Their drop-off was 34, 35, 36.
In your mind, honestly, one more year you can do it with this group, and one more year you can contend for a championship?
Yeah, I think that’s fair to say. I think two might be a stretch. I think one is something we could do.
The big Celtics story leading up to the draft was Josh Smith maybe to Boston for KG and somebody or Ray Allen. Did that have any veracity?
We have not had any conversations with Atlanta. I think that the reason is because most teams are waiting to see what the new rules are going to be.
That’s it? That’s all we’re getting? Just tell us you like Josh Smith, right? You like him?
He is a good player, yes.
I know you can’t tamper. Theoretically, is that the type of player you’d like to add around this Big Three?
I think everybody’s looking for a player like that. He’s a good player. To do any deals, it has to fit for both teams. It has to fit their plan. And it has to fit within the new [labor] agreement that we start this whole process with, starting next week.
We believe you got Doc to stay for five more years. Brilliant move. Is he up for a rebuilding year or two?
Doc and I talked about that the last couple of years. I think his toughest year was the year before. I just sort of sensed that he was really worn down, and he wanted to take the year off and go through everything. I think this year was better, even though we didn’t play as well in the playoffs. I don’t think it was as much of a grind on Doc this year. He seems fresher, and we were able to work out a deal.
As we talked about that, and that possibility, I think that Doc — you’d have to have him say it in his words — but it seems to me that he is just more for the continuity, being with one franchise, being the Jerry Sloan of the Boston Celtics, as opposed to maybe a coach like Larry Brown, who went around to different teams all over the place.
I think that being with us appealed to him a great deal. He knows that there’s going to be a season or two or three that maybe a championship isn’t a realistic goal. He does love to coach. He’s a coach at heart. Every coach wants to win, but there’s very good seasons sometimes with lower expectations. And I think he’s up for anything we have to go through to try to get back to the top.
Do you have a master plan in place for the next five years?
The challenge this summer is going to be to try to win a championship and to not jeopardize that cap space that we have for the following year. That’s going to be a real challenge for us. If there is some opportunity to do a good deal that might jeopardize our opportunity to “start fresh,” for lack of a better term, I think that that’s going to be the biggest challenge, that we maintain our patience and stick with the plan through that process.
Isn’t that how it happens with a lot of teams, they see that down the road that they can get under the cap, and then they get tempted, they see a veteran with a big contract?
I think that does happen.
Could it happen to you?
Not going to happen.
I shouldn’t say it’s not going to happen, it depends on who that player is, but our objective is to not have that happen.
Did Baby [Glen Davis] hurt his real or perceived value with his playoff performance and his recent comments?
I don’t know. I think that Baby has value on the market, there are teams that like him, there is a big need for a player of Baby’s caliber. I don’t think he hurt his value, no. Obviously, he didn’t help it like he could have by playing better.
Was it also a physical thing too? Had he not put on weight by the end of the year? He fired his personal trainer.
He didn’t fire the team trainer, who was working with him on a regular basis to keep him in shape. Baby puts in the work. His weight does fluctuate, but he works hard to try to keep himself in shape, and he gets all his work in with the team and with our personal trainers, our team trainers, our strength and conditioning people. He does all the work.
Baby did not play as well as he’s capable of. I don’t know why, maybe he had an outlook that was different. When he says “mentally prepared,” I don’t know exactly what that means. He was certainly prepared by the coaches to go out there and play. If he had a different agenda, or was playing the game the wrong way, had the wrong priorities, maybe that’s what he means. I don’t know.
Did Big Baby let you down?
I think “let you down” is tough. He didn’t play like he’s capable of playing, absolutely. He’s a better player than he played. He had played better for us in the three previous playoff series, but that does happen. You play long enough, you’re going to have a bad stretch and a bad run. That did hurt us, that he didn’t play as well as he’s capable of. We needed him.
How does it work with restricted free agents? Will Jeff Green get other offers?
We don’t the answer to that. Jeff, I’m guessing, will get other offers. … I think they won’t come until after we have new rules in place.
Do you consider JaJuan Johnson a 4 or a 5?
He’s a 4.
Would you it be shocking if you went to training camp and opened the regular season with Jermaine O’Neal as your only bona fide center?
Oh yeah, of course that would. Yeah, that’s not going to happen.
So you’re the beating the bushes for a big?
Who in this draft do you think five years from now, six years from now, will be a cornerstone franchise player in the NBA?
I think Derrick Williams has the best chance of being that player. And then I think the young kid, [Jonas] Valanciunas from Lithuania, 7-footer, has a chance to be maybe not a superstar but a cornerstone player, like a Marc Gasol — a starting center, maybe one of the top five or 10 centers in the league. I think that he has probably the second-best chance.
Can E’Twaun [Moore] make the team?
Yeah, I think so. He really like E’Twaun. He’s just a good all-around player. Both these kids, from Purdue, four-year guys, great careers, and just solid players, both-ends-of-the-court players. They do a little bit of everything. They’re well-schooled players, and ready to go.
How is your nephew [former Jets backup quarterback Erik Ainge] doing after retiring from the NFL?
Erik is living with us, and he’s got his challenges. He’s still fighting the battle to turn his life around, looking for work, trying to formulate a game plan of his own, and trying to overcome the addictions and the demons that he’s been facing.
If Reggie Jackson was at 25, would you have taken him?
I’m not going to tell you that. He was definitely a guy we were considering, yes, but I’m not going to tell you if we would or wouldn’t have.
What about Jimmer Fredette?
We liked Jimmer. We did a lot of evaluation. I watched Jimmer play probably more than other college player. He was a tough one to sort of predict his future, but man, he’s exciting and a very dynamic player. I think Paul Westphal will be an excellent coach for him. Very creative mind, and will use Jimmer’s strengths.
In the workings of an NBA trade as it happened last night, with the 25th to the 27th, how does that work? What’s the time frame here, and how long did Marshon Brooks think he was coming to Boston before he found out he wasn’t?
One of the bad things with the draft and the process is, you know, these kids don’t know. It does happen pretty fast. We were set to take JaJuan Johnson at 25, and we actually called New Jersey to see if they would trade down and if they would give us their 36th pick in this year’s draft, 27 and 36 for our 25th pick. They wouldn’t do that, but they did offer up a 2014 second-round draft pick, which is good. We want to sort of accumulate more draft picks down the road.
So, it just happened that fast. We agreed to do that, we called to assure that JaJuan was not going to be taken by the team behind us. Although you’re never 100 percent certain, there are a lot of people in this business you can trust and do business like that, and sure enough JaJuan was still there for us at 27, and we just got a free pick.
What number is he going to be?
I don’t know.
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