While the Celtics were less than their usual selves on Friday in a 102-98 loss to the Houston Rockets, snapping a 14-game home winning streak, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has been admiring his guys from afar.
He is currently scouting the NCAA conference tournaments as the Celtics have three first-round draft picks — Brooklyn’s, Dallas’s, and their own — in June’s draft. Yet, he is keeping close tabs as Year 3 of the franchise’s reclamation project could result in home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Ainge said he is impressed with the spirit and chemistry of his young bunch — 29-year-old Jonas Jerebko is the team’s oldest player — and is intrigued about their long-term future with such an improving roster.
“I’ve enjoyed watching our team play all year,” Ainge said. “They scrap and they claw and they play to win. It’s been a joy to be part of. I like being part of them. They’re fun. They play the right way. They play together. They play hard. I don’t know how good we can be. What really matters is what they believe, our health, there’s so many factors.
“I don’t want to elevate expectations. I’m just sitting and enjoying what I’m seeing with this team.”
Speaking of injuries, forward Jae Crowder suffered a sprained right ankle in the loss to Houston and said it was a “high ankle sprain.” Ainge told the Globe he doesn’t believe the injury is that serious after Crowder received an MRI on Saturday.
Ainge has essentially left the roster alone this season. He did not make a deal before the trade deadline. Instead, he waived veteran David Lee so he could sign with the Dallas Mavericks and garner playing time. The Celtics used the available roster spot on little-known NBADL standout Coty Clarke, who has yet to make an appearance after being signed to a 10-day contract Monday.
The Celtics passed on available veteran players who had been waived such as Joe Johnson, Kevin Martin, Kris Humphries, Marcus Thornton, or Ty Lawson.
“We thought Coty was the best guy available,” Ainge said. “He’s had a terrific year in Maine. He’s been with our organization all year. He knows our stuff and there’s a little bit of continuity there. There’s some carryover to what our players do in [Maine] and what our players do in Boston. So we thought it was the easiest transition.
“And we didn’t desperately need someone that was out there. Like, for example, David Lee was a terrific player but we had too many guys at that position. So Coty is a little bit different in that he can shoot the 3-ball and switch and guard multiple positions.”
One player that Ainge said he would like to see return to the Celtics for the long term is swingman Evan Turner, who has turned in a sparkling season coming off the Boston bench. Turner, who will be a free agent this summer, is averaging 10 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and a career-best 44.9 percent shooting in 27 minutes per game.
“As you know I’m a fan of Evan and I think he’s had a really good year,” Ainge said. “I think he’s had a good two years [with the Celtics]. He won a lot of games for us. Down the stretch of games, he’s a good guy to have on your team, he’s a versatile player. He plays multiple positions.”
When asked if he’d like to re-sign Turner, Ainge said: “Yes. We’re big fans of Evan. I think Evan likes us and we like him.”
It seems Ainge has accomplished his goal of re-creating a winning culture in Boston that may interest potential major free agents. Turner told the Globe two weeks ago that he loves playing in Boston and wants to continue his career with the Celtics.
Boston has historically been a difficult town to sell to premium free agents, but that perception may be changing.
“Listen, I played in Boston for eight years and I’ve been here now [as president of basketball operations] for 13 years, I think everybody that’s been here in all those years has enjoyed it, as long as they get to play and their role is right,” Ainge said. “Some guys might not like it because they don’t get to play as much as they want. But when Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson, going back to those days, came to the Celtics in that era, they loved it here.
“And Larry Bird, [Kevin] McHale. I could go on and on. KG [Kevin Garnett] still talks about his days in Boston. So I don’t think that’s anything new. It’s an exciting, wonderful place to play. Almost everybody in my experience in those 21 years has loved it here.”
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story included an incorrect version of a quote by Danny Ainge.