Danny Ainge develops strategy for NBADL assignments
So the Celtics sent rookie guard Terry Rozier to NBADL Maine, where he was expected to join fellow rookie Jordan Mickey and 2014 first-rounder James Young for Saturday night's game against Canton.
Through trades over the past few years, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was able to acquire four picks for the 2015 draft, including two first-rounders. He selected Rozier and R.J. Hunter, who has been a pleasant surprise, along with Mickey and William & Mary guard Marcus Thornton, who opted to play in Australia.
Rozier going to the D-League is no demotion. For the Celtics, it's a way to sneak in playing time and experience when the other option is inactivity. The Celtics didn't practice Saturday, and they don't play until Sunday evening in Oklahoma City, so why not have Rozier play in Ohio and then send him on a Sunday morning flight to Oklahoma City?
It's the organization's way of tutoring their younger players, using the NBADL as a means of experience. It's not a glamorous plan. Most rookies don't get much playing time in the NBA. Only one player taken after No. 11 has played more than 100 minutes and that's Jerian Grant of the talent-starved Knicks, who need the 19th overall pick as a backup point guard.
Celtics fans can't become impatient with the seasoning process because even those rookies expected to play immediately haven't. Going into Saturday's schedule, Virginia's Justin Anderson had played 60 minutes in eight games for the Mavericks. Oklahoma City's Cameron Payne had logged 11 minutes in four games for the Thunder. Bobby Portis was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and had played in two of Chicago's first nine games.
Houston's Sam Dekker had played six minutes all season.
"Listen, when I was drafted, I was the college player of the year and a first-team All-American and I sat most of my first year," said Ainge, who played 53 of Boston's 82 games as a rookie, averaging 4.1 points. "I was a starter in my second year. Yes, we had a good team. We have a lot of veterans [on this Celtics team] and we don't have to play our rookies because most of the rookies who do play out of the gate, a lot, are on losing teams. We have the luxury of trying to use the D-League to try to get experience."
Ainge said he understood that his rookies would need crash-course mentoring and seasoning before making an impact. While there may be disappointment among Celtics fans that three draft picks played Saturday night in Canton, there weren't high expectations that the trio would crack the rotation, especially with the team's depth.
"Right now, two guys that wouldn't be in uniform [Young and Mickey], instead of sitting in a hotel room in Oklahoma City will be playing in a game in Canton, Ohio," Ainge said. "That's better for their development."
The consensus was that Rozier, Hunter, and Mickey would require development entering the draft. Hunter has surprised by earning key minutes in the past two weeks, playing double-digit minutes in three of the past five games, meaning the NBADL is less of a consideration.
But those three players, and even Young, are hardly considered disappointments in the organization because a portion of their rookie seasons will be spent in the NBADL. It's part of the maturation process in today's NBA, that's why an increasing amount of NBA teams are purchasing NBADL affiliates. Toronto and Chicago are the latest clubs to announce new teams and the NBA would prefer all 30 teams own affiliates, similar to major league baseball.
"Every rookie is different, every rookie is unique," Ainge said. "Tony Allen and Delonte [West] were ready-to-play rookies [in 2004]. They were three-year college players on Final Four teams and we had places for them. Same with Al Jefferson, we had him on the Kendrick Perkins plan. We drafted Kendrick Perkins, he didn't play hardly ever his rookie year. Our plan was similar with Al Jefferson [also in 2004], but Al, like three days into training camp [coach] Doc [Rivers] thought he should be starting, because he was that good."
The Celtics have reached a point of their rebuilding plans where rookies don't need to play such a pivotal role as Marcus Smart did last season or Kelly Olynyk two years ago. They don't want to force first-year players into not-ready-for-prime-time roles just to gain experience. They have Maine for that.
"What I don't want to have happen when we draft a player is for my coaching staff to have such a burden of trying to win, trying to make the playoffs, trying to win games and making judgments on their young players who can't help them win," Ainge said.
"We've seen many, many franchises give up on players because winning was a precedent over developing players."
With potentially three more first-round picks coming to Boston next summer, the Celtics want to establish a foundation in which their younger players can develop without the pressure of having to perform on the biggest stage until fully prepared. Celtics faithful are impatiently waiting on Young to make an impact with the big club, but he is expected to spend most of his second season in Maine.
That may not indicate Young was a worthy draft pick, the Celtics plan to give him the most fruitful opportunity to succeed — eventually.
"When we drafted James he was 18 years old," Ainge said. "He's 6 foot 7, he can really shoot the ball. He's shown us a lot of great signs. He's not perfect but he's still in the development process. We really like James. We don't have to pay any attention to [the criticism] because he's not ready to help [the Celtics] win."