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Danny Ainge says signing big-name free agent a possibility

Danny Ainge spoke Thursday about the state of the Celtics after the 2014-15 season.Steven Senne/Associated Press

WALTHAM — After months of anticipation, the Celtics are prepared to attack this offseason aggressively, pursuing all options through free agency, the draft, and trades. But president of basketball operations Danny Ainge cautioned that the franchise will not spend recklessly simply because it now has the means.

Instead, the Celtics will proceed with the same diligence they have shown throughout this gradual rebuild. They will be proactive, but their favorable salary-cap situation will not lead to desperate moves.

The Celtics will have four of the top 45 picks in the upcoming draft, and they are expected to be about $20 million under the cap — an unprecedented situation for Ainge.


"We haven't ever had cap space in the history of the Celtics, for sure since I've been here," Ainge said Thursday. "So we need to use that space wisely."

Ainge said it was "unlikely, but possible," that Boston could attract an elite free agent this summer. Many of the top players — such as San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and Chicago's Jimmy Butler — will be restricted free agents and are expected to remain with their current teams.

Others, such as Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, who can opt out of his deal with Cleveland, and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who will be an unrestricted free agent, could be options.

With the league's nine-year, $24 billion television rights deal set to kick in after next season, the salary cap is expected to balloon accordingly, so players might seek short-term contracts this summer, then capitalize when there is more money available.

For now, the Celtics will explore all avenues.

"We're going to go after anybody and everybody that we think is a significant player to upgrade our talent," Ainge said. "And when I say upgrade our talent, you've got to be pretty good to upgrade our talent, because we have good players. And so we're going after all the top names on the list and seeing what happens."


Ainge made it clear that he has confidence in Boston's current core. He indicated that the team would — as expected — extend a qualifying offer to forward Jae Crowder, making him a restricted free agent. He said he is also "very high" on unrestricted free agent Jonas Jerebko.

"We would welcome any one of [our free agents] back for the right price and the right role," Ainge said.

The Celtics thrived this season after trading away their two most talented players: Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. Set against a backdrop of constant change, it seemed the Celtics' success was tied to their chemistry and their willingness to embrace coach Brad Stevens's approach.

"Sometimes, it's just not the right fit," Ainge said. "I think an important piece of the puzzle is finding those guys that fit with the coach, with the system, and with those other players on the team."

The Celtics have been criticized for their inability to lure a marquee free agent to Boston. But Ainge said they simply have not been in position to make a splashy signing. Now the team must erase the stigma that's been attached — fairly or not — to signing with Boston.

"Most of the guys who have played here love it here," Ainge said. "And they don't want to leave once they're here. A lot of them aren't real excited about coming here when they first get here, but by the time they leave, they love the organization and they love the city. So we need to get that word out."


Ainge acknowledged that the allure of playing for a tradition-rich franchise might not resonate with young players today. But he also said other concerns are generally overblown.

"Some players will choose sunshine over cold," Ainge said. "But ultimately most players want to be paid and want an opportunity to play their game and be respected by the league, and want an opportunity to win."

Ainge touched on several other topics during a 32-minute state-of-the-franchise address at the team's training facility. He said he's hopeful that forward Jared Sullinger will "see the light" as he attempts to get in shape this offseason after suffering a stress fracture in his foot.

 Love, who is out for the postseason after suffering a dislocated shoulder against the Celtics last Sunday, has said that Boston forward Kelly Olynyk intentionally caused the injury when the two tangled. Ainge disputed that notion, calling it “a little bit over the top.”

"I'm sure there's a lot of frustration in Cleveland and they wanted some justice and they scrutinized it and felt like Kelly gave a little too much at the very end of that arm-tangling," Ainge said. "When someone gets hurt, you're just under a little more scrutiny. But I thought it was just a foul, two guys going for a loose ball."

 Ainge said that rookies Marcus Smart and James Young will participate in the Utah and Las Vegas summer leagues, but Olynyk will not because he is playing with the Canadian national team. Point guard Phil Pressey might compete, but Ainge said the team would like Smart to get extra repetitions at point guard this summer.

"He's a great instinctive defender, but I think he picked up the schemes and became an outstanding defender," Ainge said. "He got even better than he was at the beginning of the year.

"Offensively I think he's come a long way, too. I think he's getting more and more confident in his shooting. I think he's unafraid of the moments. I think anyone can see how the bigger the moment, the more he lights up."


Smart came in fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting. The guard received a second-place vote and three third-place votes. Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins won the award.

 Despite the four-game sweep by the Cavaliers, Ainge said the playoff experience was valuable.

"I think it gives our guys some confidence," he said. "I think they feel like they're maybe not as far away as the world thinks. I think they feel more confident today after playing four straight games against them than they might have been before the series.

"I think it's also a reality check of how good [the Cavaliers] are."

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The Celtics have promoted Kenny Graves to director of player development, replacing Ronald Nored, who left to become an assistant at Northern Kentucky.

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.