From the Celtics’ summer league roster, to Danny Ainge’s future, to Kemba Walker’s unfulfilling Boston tenure, here are seven thoughts on the Celtics.
▪ It will be interesting to see if new head coach Ime Udoka leads the Celtics’ summer league team in Las Vegas next month. It’s fairly common for first-time head coaches to guide summer squads. The experience is helpful, and it also offers a chance to spend extra time with a team’s young players. But Udoka’s situation could be more complicated because he’s planning to serve as an assistant coach for Team USA in the Tokyo Olympics. The gold medal game will be played on Aug. 7, and summer league begins on Aug. 8. Udoka will at least have a chance to work with All-Star forward Jayson Tatum during the Olympics.
▪ Speaking of summer league, the Celtics should get most of their younger players to take part. Yes, Romeo Langford is entering his third year, but he has played in just 50 regular-season games. Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith turned into important rotation pieces, but both missed out on summer league last year, and this was an abbreviated season anyway. Big man Moses Brown, who was acquired in the Kemba Walker trade, should get a look in Las Vegas, too. Also, the Celtics don’t have a first-round pick this year, so they’ll want at least a few players around who matter.
▪ There’s been some buzz that the Jazz will pursue former Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge for a front-office position. If Ainge were to accept a job with Utah, the timing would be a bit odd considering he and the Celtics said last month that he was retiring.
I asked Ainge about the situation and he said that there was “nothing going on” regarding a role with the Jazz. He also said he would probably like to eventually get back into basketball in some capacity, but he insisted that if he did, it would be as a kind of advisor, not a lead executive. Ainge played collegiately at BYU and has family in Utah. He also has family in Boston, including his son, Austin, who is the Celtics’ assistant general manager.
▪ This was what Kemba Walker said after playing his first preseason game at TD Garden as a member of the Celtics in October of 2019.
“I was in awe kind of the whole game, actually,” Walker said. “Just excited about the fans, about the future games, about the actual regular season. It was intense for a preseason game, the first one. A lot of people showed up. So that was pretty exciting.”
Walker signed a four-year max deal two years ago in large part because of the chance to play in big games in front of big crowds, a rare combination during his time with the Hornets. And it’s unfortunate that his time here ended without him ever really getting that chance.
He missed 45 of 144 regular-season games, mostly due to left knee issues. Also, the 2019-20 season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic before the Celtics’ run to the conference finals took place in the NBA’s Orlando bubble. Then most of this past season was played without fans, and when TD Garden was finally cleared to open at nearly full capacity for Game 4 of Boston’s playoff series against the Nets, Walker sat out because of a bone bruise. Now, he’s been traded to the Thunder, and the Celtics had to throw in their first-round pick just to get Oklahoma City to take on his salary.
▪ I chatted with Udoka’s close friend Gabe Muoneke for a recent story about Udoka becoming a coach for the first time. Muoneke said that in addition to Udoka’s deep knowledge of the game, his ability to connect with his players will be an asset.
“It’s a breath of fresh air when you’re making $40 million and the coach says, ‘Hey, how’s your mom?’ And he remembers your mom’s name and your daughter’s name and your cousin’s name,” Muoneke said. “And you’re looking at him and wondering if he’s faking it, and then he does it again another time. That’s Ime.”
▪ It appears that Allison Feaster could have a more prominent role under new president of basketball operations Stevens. It was notable that Feaster, the Celtics’ vice president of player development and organizational growth, joined Stevens and team co-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca when the group interviewed Udoka in New York last month. In 2017 Feaster, who played at Harvard before having a lengthy pro career, was part of the inaugural NBA Basketball Operations Associate Program, which was established to help former players pursue team management posts. Stevens has consistently raved about her during her two years with the Celtics.
▪ Boston’s season ended long ago, but some former Celtics remain in the mix to win their first NBA titles. Forwards Jae Crowder and Abdel Nader play for the Suns. The Celtics traded Nader, a former second-round pick, to the Thunder in 2018. And Crowder was sent to the Cavaliers the following year in the deal that brought Kyrie Irving to Boston. Also, Jeff Teague is a backup point guard for the Bucks. Teague signed a one-year deal with Boston prior to this season but was traded to the Magic in March before being waived and signing with Milwaukee.