WALTHAM — Even though the Celtics’ top brass was all smiles Monday as the team’s two new first-round picks were introduced at its practice facility, a question lingered about another player: Rajon Rondo.
President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he hasn’t contacted the All-Star point guard since the Celtics selected Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart with the No. 6 overall pick in last week’s draft.
“I haven’t talked with anybody for that matter,” Ainge added.
Opposing teams long have called the Celtics to inquire about Rondo’s availability via a trade, but league sources said they expect teams will call even more now that the Celtics have Rondo’s potential replacement.
Ainge said he’s not sure if teams will call more about Rondo now.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so,” he said. “If people like someone, they call. The circumstances may change, but it doesn’t matter. I’m expecting Rondo to have the best year of his career this year. He’s been here most days the month of June. He looks great physically. I just think he’s in a really good place, and I know he loves Boston. I also know that it’s a big challenge for him and he’s looking forward to free agency, but I expect for all those reasons that he’ll have a good year this year.”
Ainge added that he has heard only in the media that teams likely will inquire more about trying to acquire Rondo. “But I didn’t hear it from any NBA people,” he added.
Rondo is entering the final year of his contract with the Celtics, and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next summer, when he could command a huge payday — a maximum contract potentially worth more than $100 million over the next five seasons.
But if teams are interested in which way the Celtics might be leaning with Rondo, Ainge said that hasn’t completely been decided.
“I think first of all, we’re trying to find out what direction we’re headed,” he said. “We’re headed in a couple different directions. Right now, we have a really good young nucleus with a lot of different draft picks to build around that we’re fine with and satisfied with, but we’d like to speed that process up too. We’d like to take advantage of some of our guys that are ready to win now and speed the youth movement up. But that may or may not be able to be accomplished.”
The Celtics are hopeful that Smart and Kentucky guard James Young, whom they selected No. 17 overall, will be immediate contributors.
Smart will wear No. 36 to honor his late brother, Todd Westbrook, who wore No. 3, and because he was the sixth overall pick. Young will wear No. 13.
With family members in attendance, both players continually praised the history of the Celtics and their league-high 17 NBA championships.
“I want to come out here and put a banner up there, that’s my motivation,” Young said.
Added Smart, “We can keep the tradition alive.”
And when asked what excited him most about joining the Celtics, Smart said, “Just the tradition. You can tell that the fans really embrace the sports and their athletes and the athletes return the favor. I’m just looking forward to come in, compete, and do anything I can to help this team win.”
Their poise stood out to coach Brad Stevens, who a year ago at this time sat where they sat — on a podium on the practice court, where he was introduced as the Celtics’ new head coach after leaving Butler University.
“I was coming off no sleep and limited meals for about 36 hours the last time I was up there and then you’re thrust in front of this and you’re supposed to talk like you know what you’re doing, other than you know the history and tradition,” Stevens said with a laugh after the introductions.
“I thought those guys did a great job for 18- and 20-year-olds sitting up there being asked all those questions. Because it is brand new, and it’s brand new to them. And as much as you think you know what you’re getting into, you don’t.”
In both players, but especially in Smart, the Celtics believe they have not only high-level competitors but also instigators, a trait Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach considered vital to any winning team.
“Every team needs that,” Ainge said. “If you’re going to be a good team, you’ve got to have guys that have the passion and the fire and the guys that have the skills. And I think that both of our new young kids have both. I think they have a passion about the game and I think they have some skill that they can develop and get even better.”
Young agreed that he and Smart play with passion.
“We both like to get after it,” Young said. “That’s why I feel like we’re going to bring that at summer league and get a chance to see it.”
Both players also liked the chance to play for a coach who, like them, isn’t far removed from the college game.
“He’s new to the NBA just like we are, so he definitely understands our mindset coming in and what it takes,” Smart said.
And, of course, Smart reiterated his excitement to play with Rondo, a player he one day could replace.
“Growing up watching Rondo, he fights, and he never gives up,” Smart said. “He’s the ultra competitor. He bleeds green. He has that Celtic pride in him. It will be interesting to play with him, fun, and to learn from him.”