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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics will pick from worthy group of 4 05.22.14 at 9:43 am ET
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The sobering truth of the Celtics‘€™ 57-loss season is now settling in. All it was worth is the No. 6 overall pick in June’€™s NBA draft. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers won the lottery for a third time in four years since LeBron James left for Miami — this time with a 1.7 percent chance — seriously? Anyway, there’€™s a lot of chatter about whom Boston should use the pick on, as well as what to trade it for.

Noah Vonleh is a possibility for the Celtics at No. 6. (AP)

Noah Vonleh is a possibility for the Celtics at No. 6. (AP)

If Danny Ainge chooses to (or is forced to) use the pick, he most likely will be left with three worthy prospects to select from. But before discussing them, let’€™s be clear. Using this pick signifies heading into a full-on rebuild; one that probably doesn’€™t include Rajon Rondo. If I’€™m Ainge, I use the pick (along with any assets it takes) to go after Kevin Love at all costs.

Pairing Rondo and Love would put the most difficult stage of getting back into contention behind us. Boston likely still would have a few assets left over, along with the cap space to find the third star it takes to win in this league. For argument’s sake, let’€™s say Ainge goes the opposite direction. Here’€™s how the draft should shake down.

Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker are essentially locks to be taken in some order with the first three picks. And the Magic are one of the teams most intrigued by Dante Exum, making it tough to see them passing on the Australian guard when they pick fourth.

The Jazz are the mystery team. Will they keep the fifth pick or trade it? Regardless, the team in that spot will be picking from four players, in all likelihood. Which leaves Ainge taking one of the remaining three top-level prospects. The following are the four players projected to be taken with picks 5-8.

Noah Vonleh, Indiana, freshman: 11.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks

As I mentioned in my last column, Vonleh was the big winner of the combine — to the point that he is viewed as the player most likely to be picked fifth overall. I am on the opposite end of the spectrum, I see Vonleh as the eighth-best player in the draft. Still, he would be a decent fit in Boston. This is primarily because he is a much different player than Jared Sullinger or Kelly Olynyk.

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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Takeaways from combine 05.20.14 at 4:50 pm ET
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The NFL draft combine represents some of the biggest days in a college football star’€™s life. Prospects are held under a microscope and are heavily graded on their performance. The findings have the ability to swing a player’€™s draft stock significantly one direction or the other. The NBA draft combine, which was held in Chicago last Wednesday through Sunday, holds a very different kind of meaning.

Andrew Wiggins did not attend the NBA draft combine, but he got his share of attention after this picture was released of him testing his vertical.

Andrew Wiggins did not attend the NBA draft combine, but he still got his share of attention after this picture was released of him testing his vertical at a training center.

Much less stock is invested in the drills at the NBA combine, but they still have it, so I’€™m going to write about it. For starters, the three big names who make winning a top-three pick in Tuesday’s draft lottery so crucial were no-shows. Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid felt they had nothing to gain by showing up, which probably was the right call. The last thing any of them need is a fluke injury while showing scouts they can dribble around cones. Their absence made it much less entertaining for those of us who watched all 15 hours of coverage (which might be just me).

As ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla kept repeating, the whole process is really just a job interview. This is spot on. There’€™s not that much you can learn by watching basketball players run and jump that you haven’€™t already seen in game action. Scouts are always enamored with a prospect’€™s measurements, though. If you’€™re an NBA general manager who doesn’€™t know that Aaron Gordon is going to test well on the vertical jump, or that Dante Exum is going to test well in the agility drills, then you haven’€™t been doing your job.

This is why the personal interview process is so important at the combine. But we don’€™t have access to that (the in-depth interviews behind closed doors, at least), so here are some takeaways worth noting.

– The highest max vertical leaps belonged to Jahii Carson and Markel Brown at 43 1/2 inches. No one cared, however, as Wiggins’€™ agent conveniently released an image of his client displaying his 44-inch vertical in his own training session. Looks like it was the right call to not show up, seeing that everyone was talking about Wiggins anyway.

– Everyone, literally everyone, wanted to see Exum. This was the first chance many GMs got to watch Exum in person. Of course, they didn’€™t even get to see him play, just participate in athletic testing. Exum is a high-character kid, as expected he did a fantastic job in his interviews. I would be very nervous using a top-five pick on him hardly seeing him actually play basketball, though. During the draft process he will only be working out alone. Most of the top prospects operate this way, but we have seen all of them compete on the floor in college. People who have seen Exum play the most — Chad Ford and Franschilla — believe he will develop into a star. But have they even seen enough of him?

Marcus Smart is a guy considered a lesser talent than Exum, but I’€™m not convinced that’€™s true. Not to say Exum won’€™t be better, my eyes just haven’€™t seen anything to convince me of that yet. By many accounts, Exum has a similar body at 18 years old to Michael Jordan. So did Lenny Cook — how’€™d that work out? Smart is a passionate player. Danny Ainge says he loves Smart’€™s ‘€œfire,’€ which some look at as an attitude problem. I tend to agree with Ainge here. Smart is a big, physical guard who always plays aggressive. He needs to improve his jump shot, but so does Exum. Let’€™s just say Smart has more of a chance to be Russell Westbrook than Exum has to be Jordan. Exum vs. Smart is almost turning into a Wiggins vs. Parker argument in my mind. Do you want the elite prospect with the athletic gifts? Or do you want the better player right now? Who says Smart and Parker won’€™t still grow in the NBA?

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Read More: Dante Exum, Gary Harris, Jerami Grant, Marcus Smart
Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Free agents to watch in ’15 05.14.14 at 11:02 am ET
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In my last column, I wrote about some free agents who potentially could catch Danny Ainge‘€™s eye this summer. However, if you expect a 2007-ish rebuild to happen overnight again, I’€™m afraid your expectations are too high. The Celtics are going to take a couple of years to build back up, making 2015 an equally important offseason.

A lot can happen between now and next summer, but a strong free agent class is anticipated. Much like the last column, not all of the names may look like fits now, but under the right circumstances could be in the future. Following is a handful of names that should be on Ainge’€™s radar for 2015.

Brook Lopez First and foremost, Lopez needs to prove he can stay healthy. He’€™s had serious foot issues so far in the NBA, but he also is one of the best scoring centers in the league when healthy. Lopez is a legit 7-footer, something Ainge is looking for in his next big man.

Lopez signed a four-year extension in 2012, but 2015-16 is a player option, so he could choose to opt out if the Nets begin to fade from contention. The Nets have the potential to implode over the next couple of seasons due to age and bad contracts. Even as players begin to come off the books, Brooklyn still should be over the cap for years to come, making the team’s future a delicate situation.

This signing would be a risk, but if the price is right, Lopez could be the perfect fit next to Jared Sullinger … on offense, that is. Defensively Ainge still would need to find a solution. That said, a frontcourt that features and healthy Lopez and Sullinger is scary for any team to face.

Robin Lopez – For twin brothers, Robin and Brook sure have different games. Robin is much more of a low-post defender and shot-blocker than his brother, but he is nowhere near as developed on offense.

With the scoring ability of Sullinger, Robin would be just as good a fit as his brother in Boston. Robin would not be leaned upon to score, allowing him to do what he does best — defend and rebound. He has had a ton of success in Portland this season playing alongside scorers, including in the playoffs. The more I think about it, despite Brook’€™s All-Star appearance; Robin is the Lopez brother to watch in 2015.

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Read More: Anderson Varejao, Brook Lopez, Danny Ainge, Kenneth Faried
Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Free agent possibilities for Celtics this offseason 05.01.14 at 12:33 pm ET
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After a flurry of draft-related news, we finally have reached a standstill. The date for underclassmen to declare has passed, and as expected all the big names are in. So what do we have to look forward to?

Lance Stephenson (AP)

Pacers guard Lance Stephenson might be an attractive free agent option for the Celtics this summer. (AP)

The draft combine will take place in Chicago from May 14-18, and it’s something Celtics fans will want to keep an eye on. Many of the top prospects will attend, a great way to gauge how each player looks on the exact same measuring stick. Much of the Celtics‘€™ destiny relies on May 20, when the lottery reveals what pick Boston will hold. Of course, June 26 is the actual draft date, when everything will come to a head.

But the draft is not the only way to acquire talent this summer. Whether Danny Ainge decides to use or trade his draft picks, there is a solid free agent pool that Ainge will not be able to ignore. Trading for Kevin Love is the sexy solution to Boston’€™s problems at the moment, and it’€™s not all that unrealistic. Other stars are bound to be available come draft day as well.

Draft picks and trades rely on different variables, however. You can’€™t make a GM trade you a player, nor can you make a player fall to you in the draft. Free agents, on the other hand, come with far less complications. Of course they can choose their destination (or be matched by their current team if they are restricted), but there is nothing standing in Ainge’€™s way of pursuing free agents this summer.

With that said, following is a look at some free agents who have a realistic chance of at least being on Boston’€™s radar.

Lance Stephenson – Stephenson has had a breakout season for the recently struggling Pacers. At one point, this looked like a team destined to stay together. But Indy is self-destructing in the first-round against eighth-seeded Atlanta. Something will need to change next season.

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Read More: Danny Ainge, Gordon Hayward, Greg Monroe, Kevin Love
Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics’ mock draft a coin flip 04.24.14 at 2:16 pm ET
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Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge

If you’re a Celtics fan, then you know this: Boston has never had lottery luck. This year, the C’€™s tough luck started early. With the lottery still almost a month away, the C’s already lost a coin flip to Utah, breaking the tie for the fourth position.

Here’€™s what losing the coin flip means for the Celtics‘€™ draft selection.

  • 1. The Celtics get one less combination for a top-three pick than the Jazz. This is the least of Danny Ainge‘€™s concerns. Utah has a 10.4 percent chance at the top pick, and Boston has a 10.3 percent shot. The C’€™s also have 11.1 and 12.0 percent chances at second or third, respectively.
  • 2. The Celtics cannot pick fourth. If both teams miss out on a top-three pick, Utah receives the higher draft spot. As a result, Boston has a 66.6 percent chance of picking between 5-8 if they don’t win a lottery spot.
  • 3. The Celtics’€™ most likely spot to draft is sixth. In fact, there’s a higher chance they pick sixth (34.2 percent) than in the top three (33.4). It’€™s safe to say they’ll be in the top seven, although there’s a 0.3 percent chance they pick eighth.

Until May 20, as I say in every draft piece, nobody can be sure of anything. That being said, let’s pretend the Ping Pong balls fall exactly as they’re suppose to, even if they most certainly will not. Here is my mock draft for picks 1-17 as of April 24, covering both of Ainge’s first-round selections.

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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Jabari Parker latest to enter draft as Celtics go 4th into offseason 04.17.14 at 10:20 am ET
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(Editor’s note: Updated after Jabari Parker announced Thursday afternoon that he would enter the draft.)

The NBA season came to a close on Wednesday night. After six consecutive playoff runs, the Celtics might have had their longest season in recent memory. Not in terms of games played, but in terms of how dreadful it was to watch drag on. The Celtics were here in 2007, and they were unconventionally rewarded, we’€™ll see if they are so lucky this time.

Following a 118-102 blowout loss to the Wizards on Wednesday, the Celtics finished the 2013-14 campaign with a record of 25-57. Just one victory better than the 24 wins that landed the Celtics the second-highest lottery odds in ‘€™07. Of course, they got the worst pick possible (fifth overall), but we all know what happened from there. This season’€™s 25 wins are good for a tie for the fourth-highest lottery position with the Jazz — meaning they split the odds of the fourth- and fifth-worst teams. Essentially, Boston owns the 4.5th spot in the draft.

Here is how this all shakes down: The draft lottery will be held on May 20, but Friday will be the first important date to mark on your calendars. A coin flip will take place, in which the winner between Boston and Utah will have a fractionally higher shot at winning a top-three pick. However, the more important aspect of the coin flip is that if both teams fall outside of the top three, the winner will pick one spot higher than the loser. This scenario is not out of the question after what we witnessed in ‘€™07.

The Celtics’€™ official odds of landing the top overall pick in the draft are 10.3 percent. They maintain a 33.5 percent shot at selecting in the top three. This leaves the rest of the odds pointing to the C’€™s picking between fourth and seventh, unless they lose the coin flip, and miss out on a top-three pick along with Utah. In this unlikely scenario, Boston would be left picking somewhere between fifth and eighth.

So now that the season finally comes to an end, here is the clarity we are left with: The Celtics can select anywhere between first and eighth in the draft ‘€“ or seventh by Friday if they win the coin flip. The point? Although it is nice to know their final percentages, none of it actually matters until they pull the ping pong balls on May 20. That is when the certainty will be revealed.

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Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Celtics’ late skid puts them in solid position 04.10.14 at 2:19 pm ET
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I have been saying for about a month now that the bottom three teams in the NBA are etched in stone: Bucks, 76ers and Magic. However, thanks to a nine-game Celtics losing streak, combined with an unlikely two-game Magic winning streak, I was wrong. Both teams enter Thursday with records of 23-55, sharing the third spot in the lottery.

This is exactly what Danny Ainge had in mind at the start of the season, and now his plan is coming to fruition. But with only four games remaining for both Orlando and Boston, losing has become as important as ever this season. The Magic still have the inside track, as they play the Wizards, Nets (looking for revenge for Orlando’€™s win Wednesday), Bulls and Pacers.

The Celtics, on the other hand, have some very winnable games, so this is going to require some dedication to losing. The C’s face the Bobcats, Cavaliers, 76ers and Wizards in their final four outings. Yes, that’€™s right, the Celtics and 76ers will face off in another dreadful battle like the one we saw last Friday night at the Garden. Boston’s other three opponents are either trying to fight their way into the postseason or are jostling for position, so they arguably have something to play for.

This is all speculation at the moment, but if we are going by what the numbers tell us, Orlando will lose out. Meanwhile, the C’s should lose three of those games, leaving us with the 76ers contest. Look, the Celtics roster is clearly better than Philly’s, but Brad Stevens and company are going to have to understand the importance of sacrificing this game. This single game could hold the value of moving up one spot in the lottery — or not falling back a spot, depending on which way you want to look at it.

On top of that, unless the 14-win Bucks finish on a hot streak, the 76ers have nothing to lose by winning games now. They are six wins behind the Magic and Celtics, so even if they win out they still hold the second spot in the lottery. Essentially, I am saying the 76ers can stop tanking and it will not affect their lottery odds. Monday night in Philadelphia is the Celtics’ biggest game of the season.

This is all premature, as we have no clue what will happen in these games. The Magic are hot, maybe they can win another one and the C’€™s finish with sole possession of the third lottery spot. Maybe Orlando’€™s schedule is too much and Boston slips back to the fourth spot. Then there is the event of a tie, which actually is more likely at this point — both teams could easily go winless the rest of the season. If Boston and Orlando share the third-worst record in the NBA, they would split the lottery odds of third and fourth down the middle — a 42.4 percent chance at a top-three pick and an 89.4 percent chance at a top-five pick each.

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Read More: Andrew Wiggins, Danny Ainge, Dante Exum, Jabari Parker
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