Jaylen Brown said all along that he bonded with Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge. Of course, all draft picks say they dominated their workouts and became the surrogate son of the team’s head coach and general manager.
This bond, however, seemed real, giving the impression that the Celtics have been set on the Cal product the past few weeks. And as much as they tried to dangle the third overall pick for an established veteran, the price was too high, and they made the astute choice of Brown, the 6-foot-7-inch physical small forward who could become a cornerstone.
The Celtics have pondered for five weeks what to do with the third pick. They desperately tried to trade it for a player who could help immediately, but teams were asking for too much. The Celtics are in the position of wanting to improve but already liking their core.
They don’t want to part with Jae Crowder or Avery Bradley. They like the potential of Marcus Smart. The uncertainty is the upside of their younger players — R.J. Hunter, Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey, James Young, Jared Sullinger, and Kelly Olynyk.
The Celtics are going to have to move some of those players over the next few weeks to make room for the new guys. But it was better for the Celtics to take a player with major upside than to make a deal they would regret in the short term.
“There was interest in the pick,” Ainge said after midnight Thursday. “Like I say every time we have some deadline like tonight, we have free agency coming up, so time will tell. I never know how close we are because ultimately you need another team that’s going to agree to do a deal for you. There was a lot of discussion, no deals. It was just that simple.”
As much as the Celtics wanted to pull off a blockbuster, it’s quite difficult to acquire a standout player without relinquishing key players in return. And while the Celtics had enough assets to make such a deal, it wasn’t going to work.
The Magic gave up a former second overall pick in Victor Oladipo, a serviceable player in Ersan Ilyasova, and their first-round pick in Domantas Sabonis (11th overall) just to get Serge Ibaka, who averaged 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Thunder this past season.
Ibaka, 26, averaged 3.7 blocks per game four seasons ago and averaged 1.9 this past season, so he’s slowing down. And it required two lottery picks to get his services.
“In terms of the trades, we weren’t close to any of the offers,” Celtics majority owner Wyc Grousbeck said. “None of them were even in the mix. It’s just the way it is. If it were close, we might have stretched. I’ve been doing deals since 1986, 30 years, and this was not a day to make a deal. This was not the right thing in our view for the Boston Celtics to make any of these deals. We’re very happy to build with a piece. Danny feels [Brown] has significant upside.
“He’s a very smart guy, I chatted with him a bit. I think it’s the right move for our team at this time and the future. It’s actually an easy day when nothing is close and this was an easy day.”
Grousbeck was booed when he addressed the season ticket holders at TD Garden. It’s apparent that what little the Celtics faithful know about Brown, they don’t like. The fans wanted either a blockbuster deal or Providence’s Kris Dunn and got neither.
“Fourteen years, that’s probably the worst [reception] that I’ve gotten,” Grousbeck said. “We’re a bunch of fans who bought this team, and being a fan means you’re emotional, you’re emotionally invested in this team, and no problem. I actually believe they knew what I knew, and we’re in the room. I think most of them might have done the same thing [draft Brown].”
If working a deal on draft night wasn’t right for the Celtics’ long-term future, you have to trust Ainge to either make a summer deal or sign a major free agent. The Celtics have salary cap space and the resources to pull off a deal, but it’s going to have to wait.
As for Brown, he could help the Celtics next season. He is considered a hard worker with a high basketball IQ. He picked up a plethora of offensive fouls at Cal because he drove to the basket against defenses that were waiting for him and drew charges. Those calls likely won’t translate to the NBA as Brown’s game is better suited for the professional level.
But he’s a still ways from being an NBA rotation player. Similar to the Celtics faithful’s unfamiliarity with Jae Crowder, a player they have come to adore, Brown will grow on the fans and become a keeper.
“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,” Brown said. “However, I do have to get a lot better. Decision-making has to get a lot better.
“But the NBA is a faster pace, a lot of versatility. Guys that can guard multiple positions are very valuable, and I think I add to that really well.”
With the draft essentially containing two can’t-miss players and the rest having question marks, the Celtics were not going to score big unless they drafted in the top two.
But patience is the key word when it comes to Brown, and he will have the opportunity to prove himself to his new fan base beginning next month in the summer leagues.
It should work out better than most of those faithful expect.