The Celtics on Tuesday hosted a high-profile workout featuring five potential first-round picks. The wing-heavy group included ESPN’s 18th-ranked prospect, Tyler Herro of Kentucky, as well as USC’s Kevin Porter Jr. (20th), Virginia Tech’s Nickeil Alexander-Walker (22), Arizona State’s Luguentz Dort (26), and Iowa State’s Talen Horton-Tucker (32).
And since the Celtics hold the 14th, 20th, and 22nd picks in this year’s draft, there is great value in seeing these players compete against each other. All five players are between 6 feet 4 inches and 6-6, and they offer some unique skillsets, from Dort’s powerful defense to Herro’s elite shooting.
“A lot of those players we’re trying to break ties, positionally, on our board,” Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge said. “So that can be useful, getting them together . . . If a guy just beats you over and over in all the different drills, that sure helps.”
Sometimes it can be challenging to assemble a powerhouse group like this one, because agents are wary of seeing their clients face competition that could put a dent in a player’s stock. But they also understand that there is value in facing peers and thriving.
“The agents obviously have to agree to it all in advance and sometimes people are excited about it, sometimes they aren’t,” Ainge said. “The players are always in for it. The agents who are tied to them sometimes want to do it, sometimes not. But it was a selling point. A lot of these guys wanted to be in here and show that they’re better than other guys at their position.”
This is just one slice of a much larger and multi-year evaluation process, of course, but it is still important, and it is the only time that the Celtics are in control of the environment.
“It was fun,” Alexander-Walker said. “You get to kind of compete with the best for your position, and try to give reason as to why you feel like you’re the better player. And in the NBA, it’s nothing but great players, so you’re going to have to compete. This is your first kind of pre-test for what’s to come.”
Added Porter Jr.: “Knowing the guys that are in here, that drive and competitive level goes up. So it was very competitive. We worked. Everybody worked. We made each other better, for sure. We’re all tired. So it definitely was a good workout for all of us.”
Oden in the house
Greg Oden, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2008 draft, has been assisting the Celtics with their draft workouts this week as he tries to launch his coaching career.
Ainge said it is common for college coaches and others hoping to enter the industry to stop by Boston’s practice facility, partly because coach Brad Stevens enjoys giving back to the coaching community, partly to keep tabs on potential hires, and partly because there is value in just exchanging ideas.
“Greg Oden just happens to be a little more recognizable than some of the other coaches hanging around,” Ainge said. “It’s a thing we are doing almost all year, but in the summer it’s a little easier to have more visitors.”
Oden and Kevin Durant were the consensus top picks in the 2008 draft and Oden was taken No. 1 overall by the Blazers. But a series of knee injuries derailed his career, as he was limited to 105 total NBA games.
Oden, 31, played 25 games in the Chinese Basketball Association in 2015-16 and this summer he is scheduled to take part in the BIG3, a professional three-on-three basketball league that mostly features former NBA players.
Oden has also been working with the Ohio State coaching staff to try to kick-start a new career, and Ainge said that was one of the reasons Boston’s staff wanted to meet with him.
“He did play pickup with our coaches yesterday,” Ainge said. “I didn’t play yesterday; a little too much going on. But that’s a good addition. Whoever got him probably won.”
The Celtics will once again be active in the trade market this summer. Even if they are unable to acquire Anthony Davis, they have enough assets that the draft will be filled with other trade possibilities. But Ainge said that those talks have yet to really ignite.
“Most of those conversations happen a little closer to the draft,” he said. “We haven’t had a ton of those yet, but we will. We’ll look at moving up, moving back, moving out, all of that. Not a ton going on right now.”
Porter Jr. is from the Seattle area, and he is part of the region’s close-knit basketball family that includes former Celtics All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
“Everybody from Seattle, we’re like one,” Porter said. “So, I.T., Jamal [Crawford], Terrence [Williams], Nate [Robinson], Zach [LaVine], all them guys, we just stay together. They come back in the offseason, in the summer we play five-on-five at Rainier Beach. Jamal’s got a pro-am too, so we all play in that . . . We all just stay together, really, and they give me advice, me being the youngest one. So, like, I’m just grateful and blessed.”
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