It’s been a distracting few weeks for the Celtics, as the Doc Rivers ordeal carried the organization into draft week and they had to deal with the distraction of a potential coaching search to evaluate draft prospects.
Rivers’s departure to the Clippers and the Celtics’ rebuilding plan has made Thursday’s NBA draft even more significant than in past years. If the Celtics plan on getting younger, they have to attract talented younger players. In a draft that could be considered underrated or underwhelming in coming years, the Celtics own the 16th pick, their highest since the beginning of the Big Three era.
The Celtics certainly could use a score with this pick, and there is potential. Players such as Indiana’s Tyler Zeller, Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk, UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad, or Miami’s Shane Larkin could be available, meaning the Celtics could attract an impact player, one who could foster the rebuilding movement.
Also, according to NBA sources, the Celtics have had a series of players projected as second-round picks in for workouts over the past few days despite the fact they currently have no second-round pick, which was traded away in the Courtney Lee deal.
That lends to speculation that the Celtics are planning a draft-day trade in which they could pick up more assets and picks. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said the team is open to moving the pick and perhaps could even use a contract or another pick to move up in the draft.
“I don’t think this draft is particularly strong,” Ainge said last month. “And I think there are some players with potential who are projects. But there are some players that have a chance to blossom into players down the road. There aren’t many who are going to help a team be a winning team right now.
“There’s a lot that could happen with this year’s draft.”
Ainge said the Celtics have mostly evaluated their prospects through their college-season evaluations, and learned even more during personal interviews at the NBA Draft Combine last month in Chicago. That’s where they were able to talk directly with players such as Muhammad, Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Glen Rice Jr.
With the Celtics’ roster aging and with so many glaring holes, Ainge said the club will go with the “best player available” and there is likely to be an intriguing prospect at each position when No. 16 arrives.
In past years, the Celtics took chances with their first-round picks, scoring with Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley, but also missing with JaJuan Johnson, J.R. Giddens, and missing on Bill Walker and Gabe Pruitt in the second round.
The Celtics took a long look during the evaluation process at Larkin, the Miami point guard and son of Baseball Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin. The Celtics have been seeking a capable backup to Rajon Rondo for years and Larkin has turned into a master at the pick-and-roll.
With no coach and the process of the search just beginning, Ainge and his scouting department will make the choice on this pick and without a cemented philosophy moving forward, the Celtics are more likely to choose the “best player available” instead of focusing on one position.
The only certainties are Rondo at point guard and Jeff Green at power forward. Because of the uncertain situations of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, three starting positions could be open this fall. So look for the Celtics to seek the most NBA-ready, polished player available.
So far, the Fab Melo experiment has not worked, meaning the Celtics could be in the market for another center. There are so many questions regarding this draft and the Celtics’ short-term future, making Thursday’s selection very interesting.