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Major trade doesn’t develop, so Celtics draft six players

Grousbeck discusses decision to pick Jaylen Brown
Celtics managing partner and governor Wycliffe Grousbeck speaks about the decision to select Cal forward Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

NEW YORK — For months, as the Celtics pushed through a successful 48-win season and continued their gradual ascension, so much of the focus remained on their future. They had collected an almost embarrassing amount of assets, and, finally, they would be in position to use them. They would be in position to strike.

In the weeks leading up to Thursday night’s NBA Draft here at Barclays Center, the Celtics made no secret of their intentions of being active in the trade market. They had eight picks and no desire to use all of them.

And unlike last year, when their overtures to trade up and draft Justise Winslow were rebuffed, they had a valuable chip in this draft, the third overall pick.

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But for Celtics fans, this night ended without noticeable sizzle. Boston did not complete a seismic trade, instead using the No. 3 pick on California freshman Jaylen Brown, an athletic and versatile player who has great potential.

“There have been a lot of talks for the last few months,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. “There were a lot of good players at 3 . . . . You need another team that’s going to agree to do a deal with you.”

The Celtics used their other two first-round picks — Nos. 16 and 23 overall — on French forward Guerschon Yabusele and Croatian big man Ante Zizic. It is likely that both players will ultimately remain overseas as the Celtics navigate a crowded roster. Yabusele said he would be open to that idea while Zizic, 19, said the Celtics had not mentioned the possibility to him.

“I need the day to think about it, talk with the guys from the club and everything,” said Zizic, who averaged 17.7 points and 10.2 rebounds in the Croatian League last season.

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Guerschon Yabusele is a 20-year-old from France.Brad Penner/USA Today Sports

According to a league source, the Celtics then sent their first two second-round picks, Nos. 31 and 35 overall, to the Grizzlies in exchange for a 2019 first-round pick that Memphis had received from the Clippers. Boston took Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson with the 45th overall pick, Providence forward Ben Bentil at No. 51 overall, and Iowa State forward Abdel Nader with the 58th choice.

Earlier in the night, it had seemed that the Celtics would be in position to trade the No. 3 overall pick. The team fielded numerous calls, with apparent momentum building around teams seeking to trade up to draft Providence point guard Kris Dunn.

There were also reports that the Celtics were engaged in discussions about Bulls All-Star forward Jimmy Butler. But according to one league source, the trade discussions never truly gathered steam.

“Not realistic deals,” the source said.

When Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck addressed fans during the first round of the draft at the TD Garden watch party, he was booed, and he jokingly cupped his ear at the reaction. When Yabusele was chosen, there were boos from some Celtics fans at Barclays Center, too, and one teenage fan pulled a sliced-open basketball over his face in frustration.

Nevertheless, the Celtics are eager to move forward with this group and are particularly excited about the potential of Brown, who could become a cornerstone of this draft.

“Everybody unanimously really liked Brown,” Ainge said. “He showed to us he’s a much better shooter than [reported] . . . . We feel like Jaylen is not a finished product by any stretch.”

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When Brown was 9 months old he started walking, and he started carrying a basketball soon after. He would carry it around the house and around the yard and even to day care.

“The day care would call me and say that he can’t take that to school,” Brown’s mother, Mechalle, said late Thursday night. “I said, ‘Please, I’m begging you, I’ve got to go to work. Can you please just let him have the basketball? And they did. That was his security blanket for years.”

Mechalle Brown said that her son always dreamed of reaching the NBA someday, and on Thursday, they sat together at a table at the front of Barclays Center and waited to see the dream become a reality.

When commissioner Adam Silver stepped to the podium to announce the Celtics’ No. 3 overall pick, Brown had not been notified that it would be him.

“We only knew,” Mechalle said, smiling, “when they said ‘Jaylen Brown.’ ”

Back in Berkeley, Calif., the Cal Bears basketball team was watching the draft at Pappy’s Bar and Grill. When they saw their former teammate walk across the stage, they were ecstatic.

“I think it’s just great,” Bears coach Cuonzo Martin said by phone from a quiet corner of Pappy’s. “He’s very talented and he’s going to a great program with a great coach and couldn’t ask for a better situation. I think he’ll do great with Boston, because he’s willing to listen and learn and has a lot of room to grow.”

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The 6-foot-7-inch Brown, who averaged 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds for the Bears last season, will give the Celtics an explosive, powerful frontcourt player capable of defending multiple positions. He was called back to Boston for a second workout last Monday, and he believed the Celtics had great interest in him.

“I’m happy to be a part of the family,” Brown said. “I know Boston has a lot of history, a lot of tradition, and I want to add to that. I know it’s a playoff team, so I love playoff basketball, and I can’t wait to win.”

“[The] NBA is a faster pace, faster tempo, so it’s a lot of transition, and I feel like that’s where I excel, that’s where I thrive. However, I do have to get a lot better. Decision-making has to get a lot better.”

A look at Brown's stats as a Bear.
GP-GS PPG FG% 3FG% RPG APG TO PTS
34-34 14.6 43.1 29.4 5.4 1.9 3.1 498
Source: calbears.com

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at adam.himmelsbach@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamhimmelsbach.