Deliverance didn’t walk across the stage in Brooklyn on Thursday night, pop on a Celtics hat, and shake hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver. A basketball savior isn’t walking through the TD Garden doors.
Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, the player the Celtics tabbed with the sixth pick in the 2014 draft, has an NBA-ready body and oozes intangibles. It’s a good pick. But it’s unfair to look to him to restore the prestige to the parquet in 2014.
The same goes for Kentucky’s James Young, taken by Boston with the 17th selection.
Before Thursday’s draft, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the media horde that none of the players in this draft are “franchise-turners.” Celtics fans better hope that is a draft evaluation that Ainge gets wrong. Otherwise, brace for Tankathon the Sequel.
Unless Danny the Dealer can hypnotize one of his colleagues into making a lopsided deal for an established NBA star (I’m looking at you Flip Saunders in Minnesota), it looks like the Celtics are taking the long road back to NBA relevancy. There are no backdoor cuts back to contention. This path for the Celtics calls for them to be right back here picking in the top 10 next year, with or without Rajon Rondo.
If you want the offseason “fireworks” hinted at by Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, it looks like you’ll have to head to the Esplanade on the Fourth of July.
“Well, I think our initial goal when the season ended was to try to expedite the rebuilding process,” said Ainge. “I don’t think by taking 6 and 17 that has ended. We’ve always been comfortable with 6 and 17 and knew that was the most likely scenario. But we can’t rush something that’s not there. We’ve made efforts to expedite, and we will continue to throughout the summer and just see what opportunities are there. We’ll try to remain opportunistic.”
Translation: Our 10 first-round picks and assets such as Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk have not proven as valuable as we hoped.
If you read between the lines of what Celtics power players Ainge and Grousbeck were saying at the team’s draft party at TD Garden, the idea of an instant turnaround this summer with somebody like Kevin Love donning the green is fading like a worn T-shirt.
“We like to be aggressive about rebuilding this team,” said Grousbeck. “We like to try to become contenders as quickly as possible. We’ll keep working the phones, but it takes two partners to make a trade.”
Instead of an immediate renaissance, the Celtics look like they’re headed for a lengthy rebuild, one that could take place without Rondo, who is entering the last year of his contract.
Rondo is 28 years old. He is in the prime of his career. The Celtics just took a player who ostensibly plays his position. That’s not exactly how you entice your best player to stay.
Grousbeck tried to defuse the idea that drafting Smart portended the end of the Rondo era.
“That wasn’t in the topic of conversation tonight. We have confidence in [coach] Brad [Stevens] that he can manage a roster,” said Grousbeck. “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 got an all-star point guard. That’s not a question here.”
But Rondo’s future with a franchise looking at a long climb back to the rarefied air of NBA contenders is tenuous at best. If the Celtics can’t acquire a star, they have to ship their only one away.
The good news is that Smart is a better shooter than Rondo. The bad news is that it’s by default. Smart shot 29.5 percent from 3-point range in two years at Oklahoma State.
If he and Rondo play together, the rims at TD Garden may give way from fatigue.
This was the night that Celtics fans had been waiting for. The goal of the 2013-14 season was clear — be bad enough to get good again.
The Parishioners of the Parquet tolerated a 25-win team and tanking talk, hoping the payoff would come on draft night with an Andrew Wiggins or a Jabari Parker.
The season was full of ambivalence, rooting for the improvement of players such as Sullinger and the embracing of the coaching of Stevens, but ultimately resigned to the fact that in the twisted team-building logic of the NBA the best possible outcome for the league’s most-decorated franchise was to lose games.
Some of the excitement and anticipation of draft night was sapped in May when the ping-pong balls in the draft lottery didn’t bounce propitiously for the Green, and they ended up with the sixth pick, after finishing in a tie for the fourth-worst record in the NBA.
Any visions Celtics fans had of ending up with Joel Embiid, who was the likely No. 1 pick before he had surgery last Friday for a fractured navicular bone in his right foot, were gone before 8 p.m. when the 76ers tabbed the Cameroon native with the third pick.
With the very next pick the Orlando Magic took tweener forward Aaron Gordon, a player the Celtics had heavy interest in.
Gordon shot 42 percent from the free throw line and multiple stories had statements from anonymous scouts such as this one from Sports Illustrated.com, “You’re just hoping he gets good enough offensively that people have to guard him.”
The Celtics have enough of those guys already.
Ainge is the general manager equivalent of an archaeologist. He will dig and dig until he unearths something of value.
But the idea of instant gratification and contention for the Celtics coming out of this draft is, like getting the No. 1 pick, a draft dream unfulfilled.