As the Celtics marched toward the brink of the franchise’s first championship since 2008, their scouting staff was tasked with keeping the focus on the future despite the fact that the present was so enthralling.
The NBA Draft does not pause for teams that reach the Finals, so the Celtics’ compact front office did not pause, either, even if it was forced to get slightly creative at times.
Obviously, the group wanted to support the current team as it faced the Warriors. It also had to be careful not to disrupt anything. Most often at this time of year, the Auerbach Center is essentially vacant, allowing the Celtics to hold draft workouts without scheduling conflicts.
But the season remained very much alive, and the current players needed access to the space for things such as individual workouts and walk-throughs. So the scouting staff brought in prospects during rare windows of opportunity, when the team would not be affected. That is why on game days at TD Garden, a few hours before tipoff, fringe draft prospects found themselves working out for a team that was preparing to face Stephen Curry in the Finals just a few miles away.
“We didn’t want to interrupt any of the normal game prep from the staff and the players,” assistant general manager Austin Ainge said, “and we wanted to ensure we were all around to see the games, too.”
The task was simplified slightly, because the Celtics are not in position to make a significant impact in Thursday’s draft. After having at least four selections in five of six drafts prior to last season, the Celtics, for the second year in a row, will enter draft night with just a second-round choice, No. 53 overall.
There is always a chance that the Celtics could make a trade involving a higher pick, so as always, they cast a wide net while evaluating prospects. But those higher-tier players would not come to Boston for workouts. Some of the middle-tier ones would not, either.
“It’s different, for sure,” Ainge said. “You still have to prepare for the entire draft, but the biggest difference is the number of workouts you can have. If you don’t have a top-20 pick, none of the top 40 players will work out for you, because they all think they’re going in the top 20.
“It would’ve been really hard had we had multiple picks like we had in other years. You can’t get everyone you want in anyway.”
The Celtics didn’t know their season would run this deep into June. Ainge said they worked out about 40 prospects through the conference semifinal series against the Bucks. They also attended workouts in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Chicago that were run by player agents, and they had a strong presence at the NBA combine in Chicago.
The combine was held during the start of the conference finals against the Heat, so Boston’s brass was unable to attend Games 1 and 2 of that series in Miami. The combine concluded on May 21, giving them time to fly back from Chicago that day and attend Game 3 at TD Garden that night.
“It’s been a lot of flying,” Ainge said, “but it’s a good problem to have.”
In addition to having fewer prospects who were willing to come to Boston for workouts, Ainge said that the muted presence in this draft has led to fewer trade calls. But the Celtics have a collection of trade exceptions, including one worth $17.1 million that is set to expire next month, and draft night can become active in a hurry.
“Obviously, you never expect the 53rd pick to affect your championship odds next year that much,” Ainge said. “But the draft is also a huge trade night, so we have some trade exceptions and so we’ll be aggressive on that front. Then in the draft, we’ll just do the best we can.”