|Double ’07: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Celtics captaincy||03.26.14 at 10:47 am ET|
This is the first in a series on the parallels between Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge‘s last team to miss the NBA playoffs and this year’s lottery-bound squad. A deeper look at the C’s player personnel, potential trade packages and financial flexibility should offer insight into whether or not Ainge can recreate the 2007 magic of acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen seven years later in 2014. (Hence, Double ’07.)
Zero score and seven years ago, Ainge faced a decision that would influence the next decade of his once great franchise: a) Trade a perennial All-Star in his prime to rebuild around a young core and a top-10 draft pick, or b) Trade that young core and the top-10 draft pick to reconstruct around his Celtics captain. Sound familiar?
As the 2014 NBA draft approaches, Ainge will be faced with the same choice he made in 2007. Therefore, the Celtics must first answer a pair of questions: 1) Do they value Rajon Rondo at age 28 the same way they did Paul Pierce at 29? and 2) Who is available at what price? Here, like Ainge, we’ll examine the former first, as it will influence every other decision made this summer (as well as the ensuing posts in this series).
|Weekly NBA Draft Watch: March Madness could reveal sleeper pick for Celtics||03.20.14 at 9:23 am ET|
The C’s had an exciting win against the LeBron James-less Heat on Wednesday night. Sure, it was fun to see Rajon Rondo lead the charge against a quality team, but what does it really mean? This season is already lost, so what it means is a five-game losing streak has been halted, dropping Boston two spots to the sixth lottery spot. The win lowered the C’s current chance at a top-three pick by 16 percent. You never know how the season is going to end, but all signs point to a tight lottery race. Was the thrill of Wednesday worth it if the Celtics finish one win ahead of the Lakers?
Enter the beginning of March Madness, the greatest four-day stretch in sports.
We know that there will be ample buzzer-beaters and upsets, there always are. Brackets will be ripped to shreds (as mine always is), others will turn into lottery tickets (just not the kind Danny Ainge is chasing). No bets are safe come March Madness, but feel free to learn the hard way if you must. Nobody needs any extra incentive to enjoy the most entertaining tournament we have as sports fans. However, this year Celtics fans will have one extra reason to pay attention — draft picks.
Don’t forget that outside of Boston’s hyped first-rounder, Ainge also will own Brooklyn or Atlanta’s pick, which could end up being a player who breaks out in the tournament. We already know the talent players like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and even Marcus Smart posses. A bad tournament will not lower their draft stock, but a breakout tournament could boost their NBA stock even higher. There is no clear cut No. 1 overall pick, but Celtics fans obviously would love to see any top-tier talent arrive in Boston.
The immediate franchise changers will be determined by the ping-pong balls, the hunt for the rest of the stars begins with the later picks. Once the premier talent is off the board, a lot of the next prospects to be taken in the draft are players that raised their stock in March. I didn’t even know who Kenneth Faried was until Morehead State upset Louisville in 2011. After watching him play one game, I had no doubt he was a lottery talent in that year’s draft. Kind of an extreme example, but March matters.
Who is 2014’s Faried? Can Ainge get his hands on him? And most importantly, can he develop a better nickname than ‘The Manamal’ in the NBA? Time will tell.
|Danny Ainge: Rajon Rondo was asked not to skip flight but did anyhow||03.05.14 at 2:57 pm ET|
While saying that he wanted to move past the Rajon Rondo controversy regarding the point guard skipping a team flight to Sacramento, Celtics president of Danny Ainge revealed Wednesday morning that the team knew of Rondo’s plans in advance and requested that he remain with the team.
Rondo stayed in Los Angeles to celebrate his 28th birthday with his family rather than accompany the team to a game he was not going to play in order to rest his legs.
“He let Brad [Stevens] know and he let me know that he was going to stay in L.A. an extra day, and we didn’t think that he should,” Ainge told Boston’s CBS Sports radio station. “But it was his choice and [we told him] there may be consequences if you stay. It was that simple.”
Added Ainge: “In the end, him and I had a long talk about it. He planned it before and he had reason to believe it would be OK. I understand his reason because of what he’s grown up with and what he’s witnessed. You won’t see it happen again, and we’ve just moved on from it.
“I think that now Rondo understands more clearly what we want out of him as a captain. That we want him on the road with the team, and his leadership on the bench is important whether he plays or doesn’t.”
Ainge insisted he had “nothing major to hide” regarding the controversy, and that it’s something that’s been ironed out.
“I talked with Rondo about why he did what he did,” Ainge said “I didn’t agree with it, but we had a good talk and we’re over it.”
|‘You learn every day’: Brad Stevens experiment nears end of first year with Celtics||02.26.14 at 11:34 am ET|
HANDS ON HIS KNEES, gasping for air, there stood a teenaged Danny Ainge. Covered in sweat, surrounded by members of the Portland Trail Blazers, Ainge looked up to see the greatest Blazer of all. With his shaggy beard and full head of red hair, there was a smiling Bill Walton.
“I’ve known Danny since I moved to Oregon 40 years ago,” said Walton. “He was just in high school in Eugene when we got there. Danny would come up and play with us when he was in high school, and he would do just fine. In fact, he was incredibly fun to play with.”
The young Ainge, still sharpening his teeth as a three-sport All-American at North Eugene High School, would impress his NBA teammates with a strong handle and perfect jumper. The piece of his game that most impressed these professional basketball players was one that still cannot be found on a stat sheet. Ainge’s intelligence put him on another level as a basketball player.
“Danny Ainge is brilliant,” said Walton. “Even at a young age, he was very motivated, dedicated and committed. He’s always been a visionary.”
Ainge has always embraced different ideas. Conventional wisdom is not a phrase you hear the 54-year-old utter to defend his thought process. Just as Ainge was dedicated to the idea of playing professional basketball, he’s now applied his drive to his role as a president of basketball operations for the Celtics. And, depending on who is speaking, his latest big idea may be his greatest.
THE BOSTON CELTICS are spitting in the face of history. Luring Brad Stevens away from Butler and flying him first-class to Boston is a daring move even for a team with a deep history of bold moves. The Celtics, after all, hired the first African-American head coach in the NBA. Amidst all sorts of race issues in the United States, this franchise started the first entirely black starting five. The team, led by the undaunted Red Auerbach, was never hesitant. The Celtics thought differently, courageously, unafraid — in 1950, one year before Oliver Brown and friends began their battle against the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas — the Celtics used a second-round pick on Chuck Cooper, the first black player to be drafted by an NBA team and the second to appear in a game (one day after Washington Capitols forward Earl Lloyd). Trendsetting rarely has surfaced as an issue at 151 Merrimac Street. Yet with Ainge’s hiring of Stevens, the fabled Celtics franchise is following a trend with an extremely high failure rate. College coaches from the past two decades have not succeeded in the NBA. But here are the Celtics, hiring a 37-year-old coach who never played a second of pro basketball, reintroducing the league to a rather old concept. Not that Stevens will fail, but that the Celtics — led by Ainge — will reset the trend. The rest of the league, pawns outplayed by a dominating queen, will see the Celtics succeed with Stevens.
“Brad is smart, he has great integrity, his teams execute and play hard, and he’s a great communicator,” said Ainge. “Experience as a player can help as a coach, but it’s not mandatory. Experience as a coach in college can make a big difference as well. Coach Stevens has proven he’s a great coach. Coaching in the NBA is different, I understand, but in terms of coaching experience, there have been a lot of guys who have become really good coaches that weren’t NBA players.”
|Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Danny Ainge’s inactivity at trade deadline might be costly||02.22.14 at 10:58 am ET|
In somewhat of a surprise, Danny Ainge watched Thursday’s trade deadline come and go without shipping any of the current Celtics out of town. Although there were no deals that will take over the headlines, there certainly were moves made that will affect the NBA draft.
Typically, the focus of this post is college basketball‘s top stars and their draft stock — with the possibility that they may end up in Boston. But with a quiet week for the prospects, this week’s focus will be on why Ainge’s lack of a move can only hurt Boston’s lottery odds.
While the Pacers are getting attention for adding Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen, it should not go unnoticed that the 76ers are subtracting those players from a 15-win team. In addition, Philly sent its starting center, Spencer Hawes, to the Cavaliers. These moves leave the 76ers roster without two of its top four scorers this season.
Although Philly landed a multitude of second-round-picks (crazy stat: the 76ers now have nine second-rounders in this year’s draft — 30 percent of the picks in the round), they have essentially guaranteed themselves to finish in the bottom three of the league. Although the Sixers became the biggest ‘tankers’ of the deadline, other teams made splashes, too.
The 10-win Bucks dumped Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour on the playoff-hopeful Bobcats. The Lakers shipped Steve Blake away to give the Warriors backcourt depth, despite Kobe Bryant tweeting that he’s ‘not cool’ with the move. And the Magic, who couldn’t find a trade to make, decided to simply buy out the contract of Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis.
So what’s the significance of all these seemingly insignificant moves? All of those teams that rid themselves of contributors sit below the Celtics in the standings.
Although Ainge was active earlier in the season, it appears he now has limited Boston’s odds at an elite draft pick simply by doing nothing. The idea of tanking rests solely on the GM’s ability to take key pieces away from the team; coaches and players are going to give it their all every night.
On the positive side of the spectrum, all the teams above the Celtics in the standings, aside from the Jazz, feel they have what it takes to make a playoff push. This still means in all likelihood that Boston can finish with the seventh-highest lottery odds at worst. But at the same time it makes it very difficult to see the Celtics landing inside the top five picks without a little help from the ping pong balls.
|ESPN’s Tom Penn: ‘I think there is significant interest’ in Kris Humphries||02.19.14 at 1:39 pm ET|
With Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline approaching, ESPN NBA analyst Tom Penn said Wednesday is the day to look for deals to take shape.
“Today’s always ‘real deal’ day,” said Penn, who will appear on ESPN’s “Trade Deadline Special” Thursday at 3 p.m. “You start finally talking real deals, and then you’ll try to get them done tomorrow, and I expect to see quite a bit of movement. On a macro-picture, with the West being wide open, everyone should be looking to upgrade. In the East, strangely, you have some teams trying to get as bad they can get, so you have deals going in every direction.”
Penn worked as assistant general manager for the Grizzlies and then vice president of basketball operations for the Trail Blazers, and he has direct experience negotiating with Danny Ainge.
“Danny’s a pro,” said Penn, “a pro’s pro. He’s done everything in this league, and he’s had success making mega-deals and making smaller deals. He’s not bashful about asking for what he wants.”
Added Penn: “With Danny, he was always very confident in what he had and very direct in what he wanted to do. He tended to offer deals that were really good for the Celtics and really not so good for the other team, and he did so unashamedly.”
“The main challenge finding a match to give the Celtics what they want,” explained Penn. “Humphries [earning $12 million this season] is a lively big on an expiring contract, so I think there is significant interest in getting him, but his contract is the only significant expiring contract for the Celtics.
“Keith Bogans can go away, we know that, but the Celtics really need that money to go away. So they would be looking for a different combination of one-year expiring contracts and then something for the trouble, right? So that’s harder to see a match when you factor in what they need.”
Bass, who has another year left on his contract, is the most likely Celtic to be moved.
“A player like Brandon Bass is very valuable this year and next year to whoever’s looking at him,” Penn said. “His salary is [$6.4 million], and he’s been proven to deliver in the playoffs [most notably an 18-point quarter in game five of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals against the 76ers]. He can spread the floor, make shots, and isn’t going to hurt you too bad defensively.
“Unlike Humphries, who you’re just renting for the rest of this season, with Brandon you have in the fold for next year and see if he fits with you longer term. In Bass’ case, it’s easier to give up more of what the Celtics want — a younger piece, or a draft pick — when you know you have this player for two years.”
The NBA trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m.
|As Celtics head toward lottery, here’s a look at top prospects in NBA draft||02.06.14 at 10:07 am ET|
The Celtics are coming off of their worst month in team history — a record of 2-15 in January.
Wrap your mind around that: the worst month in Celtics history. The 2006-07 team that lost 18 straight never dropped more than 14 games in a month. Even M.L. Carr‘s 1996-97 tank-squad that won a total of 15 games never topped 14 losses in a single month.
The trade deadline is looming, and Danny Ainge already has showed that he is not afraid to make moves for the future — trading Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford for expiring contracts and draft picks is evidence. And it’s safe to expect similar moves between now and Feb. 20.
It’s also safe to expect Ainge to hold a high draft pick come June. Boston currently has the sixth-worst record in the NBA and has reached as low as third (the C’s were fourth worst entering Wednesday). Recent wins over bottom-feeders Orlando and Philadelphia have the Celts sitting a bit higher in the standings. Losing another game or two would allow them to get in that bottom three, which yields a 96 percent chance at a top-five pick. The timing couldn’t be better, as the class of 2014 is loaded with prospects that project to be NBA stars.
Given the Celtics‘ current position, selecting somewhere in the top five seems reasonable. So let’s look at the top five prospects in the draft and how they would work in Boston.
Joel Embiid, Kansas, freshman — Embiid has scouts drooling over his NBA potential. He has grown from a mid-to-late lottery pick to a probable first overall pick in just about half a season.
Embiid is a 7-footer with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. And oh, yeah, he’s only been playing basketball for about three years. Originally from Cameroon, Embiid still is learning the game at Kansas under Bill Self. The conventional wisdom was that he would take more time to develop, but Embiid has been masterful on the defensive end and is far less raw on offense than we were led to believe. “He’s skilled, he’s tough, he’s learning quickly, he’s all of 7 feet and he battles,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jeff Goodman said in a Thursday interview with Mut & Merloni. “And he’s getting better.”
Embiid has posted season averages of 10.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 1.3 assists in only 22.7 minutes per contest. He has done all this while shooting 61.6 percent from the field and making plays that have (rightfully) drawn comparisons to Hakeem Olajuwon. The lone flaw in his game? Embiid fouls far too often. His 3.5 fouls per game are much too high, especially considering his minutes.
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