The Celtics introduced their newest players — JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore — to the media at Edison school in Brighton on Monday and if first impressions count for anything both players came across as engaging and mature. That’s to be expected of a pair of four-year college players, both of whom earned degrees at Purdue.
Education was the theme of the day as Johnson and Moore were on hand to dedicate a new mobile computer lab through the Celtics Shamrock Foundation with 25 new Mac’s for the kids in the K-8 public school. With their parents in attendance, Johnson and Moore mixed easily with the kids.
Both acknowledged that it was a strange but pleasant coincidence that they would wind up on the same team in the NBA. That process didn’t begin on draft night. It started when both players decided to return for their senior seasons after going through the draft evaluation last year.
The extra year in school wasn’t wasted as Johnson increased his scoring average from 15.5 to 20.5 points per game and was named Big 10 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. Moore also raised his scoring average for the fourth straight season with the Boilerrmakers and shot 40 percent from the college 3-point line.
“These guys have both improved a lot over the course of their college careers,” team president Danny Ainge said. “They’ve played a lot of big games in a lot of hostile environments. I think that can only help.”
The knock on Johnson is that he’s thin and he acknowledged that he wants to add to his 220 pounds in the weight room and with a nutritional program. The negative for Moore is that at 6-foot-4 (in shoes) he may be too small to matchup with NBA 2-guards and he rarely played the point at Purdue. Johnson said that he sees himself as a four-man — as do the Celtics. Moore described himself as a combo guard and said he knew he had to be prepared to handle any backcourt assignment.
The NBA is filled with undersized, or oddly sized, players and each player brings something different to the equation for the Celtics who are trying to add pieces that can help this season, as well as in the future.
“I can run the floor, rebound, defend and be able to knock down that 15-18 foot shot pretty consistently,” Johnson said. “That’s what I can bring to the team.”
Moore was an accomplished scorer at Purdue and had a memorable game against Ohio State when he scored 38 points and knocked down seven 3-pointers. Johnson noted that in college Moore was the player the other Boilermakers counted on to make a big shot.
Their roles are reversed now as the pressure will be on Johnson to provide some interior help and athleticism to a frontline that can use both. Moore will have a chance to earn a roster spot and he may have competition. The Celtics brought University of Pittsburgh guard Gilbert Brown in to get acclimated with the facilities.
Brown told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Ainge was in contact with him after the draft and compared his situation to Wes Matthews, an undrafted free agent out of Marquette who has already carved out a niche in the NBA, as well as a five-year $32 million contract from the Blazers. The Celtics can’t sign undrafted free agents — or free agents of any kind — until July 1 and if there is a lockout Brown told the paper he was likely to play in Germany.
On a team with so many open positions and a determination to get younger, more athletic and affordable there’s a decent chance that both Moore and Brown could find their way on to the Celtics roster. Ainge told WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan last week that he did not intend to mess with the team’s cap space after the 2012 season when they will be way below the cap, regardless of whatever system is in place in a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
That’s why this draft was so important for the Celtics. They want to remain competitive for a championship this season, while also laying the foundation for the future. Ainge told D & C that one more year with the big three was realistic, but two was probably asking too much. With Johnson, Moore, possibly Brown and last year’s first round pick Avery Bradley vying for playing time, the Celtics will have not only youth, but experienced youth to try and alter the dynamic of the team.
Johnson will wear No. 12 as a tribute to his mother, Rhonda Curlin. That was her number in high school. Moore will wear No. 55. He said he was a fan of Jason “White Chocolate” Williams growing up.
Johnson said he was looking forward to learning from Kevin Garnett. “If he tells me something I’ll definitely do my best to execute what he’s saying,” Johnson said. “I don’t want him to shut me down. I want to learn as much as I can from him.”
Ainge said the team would extend a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Jeff Green before the deadline as expected.
One area Ainge wouldn’t address was any potential free agent plans. Anything and everything related to the new CBA has been off-limits in keeping with NBA policy.