In recent years the Celtics were the rare playoff team that was also a force in the NBA draft. Boston had 15 first-round picks over the last seven drafts, the most of any team in the league. But draft night this year could be a bit lonely for Boston. For the first time since 2009, the team does not have a first-round choice.
The Celtics’ treasure chest of picks collected from other teams is empty, and last month the team gave its first-round pick this season, the 16th overall choice, to the Thunder in the deal that sent Kemba Walker to Oklahoma City and brought back Al Horford.
That leaves Boston with just its second-round pick, the 45th overall choice, to play with Thursday. But assistant general manager Austin Ainge said the lack of a first-round pick did not affect the team’s preparations that much.
“We still evaluate everybody,” Ainge said. “We’ve got to be ready for trades on the clock. We’ll be evaluating these guys for their entire careers, so we still spend still a lot of time on the first-round picks. But they will no longer come in for workouts usually if you’re outside their range. At the NBA combine we were still able to interview lots of guys in that first-round range.”
Still, the situation could leave Boston’s brass feeling a bit wistful, especially in a draft that is considered as power-packed as this one. Some experts have compared the top of this class to the historic 2003 draft, in which future stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh were selected in the top five.
The Pistons are considered a lock to select Oklahoma State guard Cade Cunningham first overall. There is slightly less clarity after that, but G League prospect Jalen Green, USC big man Evan Mobley, and Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs are considered potential All-Star talents.
The Pistons will be followed by the Rockets, the Cavaliers and the Raptors, who are just two years removed from winning the NBA title.
“There are obviously some very good players,” Ainge said. “I feel like when, most of the time in the media it’s discussed, it’s a great draft or a bad draft, they’re really just talking about the top three people because the rest is so hard to predict. It feels like a good, solid draft to me, but time will tell. I feel like last year was described as a weak draft, and there were a lot of rookies that really contributed to their teams. None of us really know.”
For the Celtics, of course, the quality of this draft will not matter all that much unless they jump into it with a trade. And for the first time since 2002, decisions on picks and deals will not be made by Danny Ainge.
Ainge retired in May after an 18-year run as the team’s president of basketball operations. He was replaced by former coach Brad Stevens. But Austin Ainge said that the shift hasn’t really been noticeable in draft preparations so far.
“Obviously, Brad has been a big part of everything we’ve done for a lot of years,” Ainge said. “We’ve worked with Brad a lot, so it doesn’t feel that different. To be honest, everything happened so fast, Brad hasn’t been able to change a lot of our processes or how we do things. We just kind of hit the ground running and keep doing what we’re doing. So it’s been fun and feels very familiar.”
The Celtics and Hawks will face each other in the opening game of the Las Vegas summer league on Aug. 8 at 4 p.m., kicking off the 10-day, 30-team event.
Boston will then play the Nuggets (Aug. 10, 7 p.m.), Magic (Aug. 12, 7 p.m.) and 76ers (Aug. 14, 5 p.m.)
The format has been adjusted slightly this season, with the playoffs being replaced by a single championship game involving the two teams with the best records after four games. The other 28 teams will play a fifth game on Aug. 16 or 17.
Israeli point guard Yam Madar, the team’s 2020 second-round pick, is expected to make his Celtics debut in Las Vegas.
“Yam’s doing great,” Austin Ainge said. “Yam had a great year. He improved on all the things we asked him to improve on. We’ve been in contact with him and his people all the way through and love the progress and we’ll see what the future holds there.”
Often, first-year head coaches lead their summer league teams. But Celtics coach Ime Udoka will be with USA Basketball at the Olympics over the next two weeks so he will not coach Boston’s summer squad. He is planning to arrive in Las Vegas after the Olympics, however.