fb-pixel Skip to main content
CHRISTOPHER L. GASPER

We’re still waiting for Danny Ainge to take his next big shot

Celtics draft recap
Celtics draft recap with Gary Washburn

Celtics fans are still upset that the NBA Draft came and went without Jimmy Butler, Kevin Love, Khris Middleton, or any NBA player who qualifies as a significant upgrade for the Green walking through that door.

The impatience with the plan for Banner No. 18 is palpable, and it was quite audible Thursday night, when Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck announced to the assembled crowd at TD Garden that the team had used the third pick to select Cal forward Jaylen Brown. I’m cosigning with president of basketball operations Danny Ainge on the Brown pick, but it’s fair to wonder whether Dragan Bender or Kris Dunn would have offered greater trade value.

Advertisement



Since Thursday’s draft, which featured the Celtics using six of their eight picks, including three first-rounders, Ainge has gone on a media tour, trying to apply a tourniquet to the deep wounds of disappointment. He has pointed out that trades can take years to come to fruition and pointed toward free agency, which begins Friday.

The truth is that if you remove the hype attached to Boston’s stash of overrated draft picks and the hyperbole generated by back-to-back playoff appearances, the team is actually ahead of schedule in its rebuild. It’s the absolutism of the NBA, the ultimate league of haves and have-nots, that makes it feel as though the Celtics’ return to prominence is taking place at dial-up speed.

Ainge must heed the sage words of legendary UCLA coach John Wooden: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

When Ainge closed the book on the New Big Three Era by shipping Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn after the 2013 season for those four treasured first-round picks, it looked as though the Celtics would be playoff non-participants for at least three years. The expectation of a lengthy rebuild was one of the reasons Brad Stevens was originally given a six-year deal as coach.

Advertisement



The Celtics missed the playoffs one season. They’ve climbed from 25 wins to 48 in those three years. They have an All-Star in Isaiah Thomas, a masterful young coach, and desirable complementary players such as Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder.

The Celtics don’t have to rush into a rash or reckless move simply to satiate their fans. But the reality is that Ainge is running out of runway to land a transformative deal.

The most valuable remaining assets are the other two first-round picks they bamboozled poor Billy King and Brooklyn into surrendering for KG and Pierce. Boston has the right to swap spots with the Nets in the 2017 draft and owns Brooklyn’s pick in the 2018 draft.

So far, what they have to show for the vaunted Brooklyn picks are James Young and Brown, whose one season of college basketball was anathema to the analytics crowd.

Making a franchise-altering deal comes down to leveraging the last two Brooklyn picks and parting with popular players such as Marcus Smart, Crowder, or Bradley.

One of the issues for Ainge when it comes to making a deal is that he while he can afford to take a long-term view, most of his prospective trade partners don’t have that luxury. They need immediate gratification and results.

Danny the Dealer can be picky about moving his picks. He can hold out until he wins the deal, a common charge levied against the Celtics’ hoops honcho.

Advertisement



He is like a Supreme Court justice. He has a job for life.

With their job security not in question and new contract extensions in hand, Ainge and Stevens can afford to exercise patience and prudence.

The long view in Boston is 2021. In some other NBA locales, it’s February.

Ainge has an admirable collection of assets, but dangling a 2019 first-round pick from the Memphis Grizzlies that could be as high as ninth that year, as high as seventh in 2020, and is unrestricted in 2021 doesn’t mean much to GMs who fear they won’t stick around long enough to enjoy the payoff or credit from that pick.

A 2019 first-round pick from the Clippers that is lottery-protected isn’t going to move the needle much either if getting swindled by Ainge could have you packing up your office and polishing up your résumé.

Ainge knows he’s going to be around to sift through his cluttered roster and separate the cubic zirconia from the diamonds in the rough. He can wait for players to develop in the D-League or overseas, like Brown’s fellow first-round picks Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic.

Free agency is another avenue for Ainge. The Celtics have room for two max contracts.

It’s fun to daydream about Kevin Durant landing where he should have been all along (see: the 2007 NBA Draft lottery). The Celtics are on the short list for KD, but it’s a long shot that’s even out of Steph Curry’s range that he ends up playing his games at the Garden during the 2016-17 season.

Advertisement



With NBA teams swimming in cap space and brimming with dollars from the league’s new television deal, the temptation to bestow the wrong player with a max contract is high.

Of course, in order to overpay for a free agent, the Celtics first have to actually attract one to Boston.

What is the pitch to a prospective free agent? What are you selling — dusty days of yore, the coach, the roster, a raft of draft picks, all of the above?

The Celtics can court players like Al Horford, Chandler Parsons, Nicholas Batum, Harrison Barnes (restricted free agent), Kent Bazemore, and Ryan Anderson. All represent upgrades, if not upward mobility into the league’s upper class.

Patience is a perk for Ainge. He can drown out the disapproval and stay the course. His team has returned to relevance ahead of schedule.

Ainge was never shy about shooting during his playing days.

But at some point, he’s going to have to take a big shot with his assets to get his approval rating and another banner going up.


Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cgasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.