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Is Ainge a Good Judge of Talent?

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cs_da.jpgThere is a common perception that Danny Ainge is great at drafting and judging talent.  On the other hand, you could make the case that Sebastian Telfair hasn’t helped his reputation much.  I thought it might be instructive to look back and review Danny’s track record of judging talent through the years.

Of course I’ll look at who he actually drafted in relation to the guys he passed on.  But I also want to look at "Danny guys."  This is a term used by many Celtics fans to describe players (like Robert Swift) that Danny Ainge is apparently enamored with or linked to in some way.  Ainge seems to be very forthcoming about players that he likes and has been known to give draft promises and request that players pull out of workouts with other teams (hoping they would be available where he’s drafting).

So here is detailed look at the year to year draft results, rumors, and stories about Danny Ainge and the draft. (click read more to see the rest)

 

2002: Ainge wasn’t with any team at this point, but was working as an analyst.  He posted a mock draft on NBA.com that revealed some of his insight into that draft.

On one hand, his comment at the bottom of the page was nearly prophetic, calling Amare Stoudemire the sleeper of the draft: "He could be the best player of the draft when all is said and done in their NBA careers."  At the time, that was a bold statement because Stoudemire was just a raw high school kid with lots of athletic ability.  Now he’s right up there with Yao Ming as the prizes of that class.

On the other hand, Ainge also praised some players that didn’t exactly turn out to be winners: "This is one of the strangest drafts," Ainge says. "The middle of the draft is pretty strong. (Jiri) Welsch, (Kareem) Rush, (Melvin) Ely, (Jared) Jeffries, (Dan) Dickau and (Juan) Dixon could all be good impact players right away."  Ainge would later bring both Welsch and Dickau to the Celtics (even calling Welsch the key to the first Walker trade) but neither panned out.  Of the group mentioned, Jared Jeffries may have had the best career to date and he is not much more than a defensive specialist.

2003: Having only a couple of months on the job, Danny made up his mind quickly on who he was going to draft.  In fact, I remember reading Chad Ford’s report that Ainge would be drafting Marcus Banks and Kendrick Perkins with the 16th and 20th picks.  It turned out that Banks was coveted by the Magic at pick 15, so Ainge swung a deal with Memphis to move up to the 13th pick for Banks and down to the 27th pick to get Perkins (which is closer to where he was being slotted at the time).  Bottom line, Ainge got his guys.

As it turns out, Banks had all the talent to be a top point guard, but was never able to put it all together.  While he’s shown brief periods of brilliance, he’s mostly been inconsistent and hasn’t fit well with any of his coaches.  There wasn’t a lot in that draft, but it should be noted that Ainge passed on players like Boris Diaw, Josh Howard, and Luke Walton (and so did a lot of other GMs).  One last note, in recent years we’ve heard often that Ainge is a big fan of Travis Outlaw, who has shown some progress but hasn’t put it all together yet.

2004: This is where the fun really started for Danny Ainge.  For one thing, there were some rumors that Ainge might be willing to give up Pierce to the Bulls for Tyson Chandler and the 3rd pick, where it was reported that he liked Ben Gordon and Shaun Livingston. When that didn’t work out, rumors of promises ran rampant.  Ainge had 3 picks in the first round and he was doing his best to get the guys he liked the best to slip to those spots.  The list of Ainge guys that might be available at the 15th pick included Robert Swift, Sebastian Telfair, and Al Jefferson.  Nobody can be sure who Ainge would have taken had all three been available, but in this case it looks like it is sometimes better to be lucky than good.

Regarding Telfair, the Trail Blazers were hoping he would fall to them at the 23rd pick.  However, when they found out how much Ainge liked Sebastian, they decided to use the 13th pick on him instead.  We all know how that worked out in the end.  Reportedly Ainge is still trying to get a hold of Robert Swift (who hasn’t been healthy long enough to really show what he’s got).

Ainge also picked up Delonte West and Tony Allen ahead of Kevin Martin.  Both have had up and down success in Boston, struggling with injuries for long stretches at a time.  Ainge also picked up Justin Reed in the 2nd round (passing on Trevor Ariza).

2005: Another interesting year where Ainge was hoping to deal Pierce for a top pick that he would have used on Chris Paul.  That never materialized and instead Ainge watched Gerald Green slide all the way down to him at 18 (he was being projected by many to be a top 5 pick).  Shortly after the draft, it was reported that the Celtics were relieved that the Raptors picked Joey Graham because that meant they were sure to get either Green or Danny Granger.  Aside from Hakim Warrick (another project athlete) and Jarret Jack (a decent point guard), there don’t seem to be many prizes that he passed on to pick Gerald.  Ainge also reportedly liked Yaroslov Koralev, but he was gone by the 18th pick.

The real fun in this draft happened in the second round.  Ainge told people after the draft that they had considered Ryan Gomes at the 18th spot in the first round, but when he slipped to the second round, the Celtics happily picked him up. 

In addition, Orien Greene was reportedly given a promise that the Celtics would select him in with one of the two 2nd round picks.  That wouldn’t have been a problem except that another player Ainge liked a lot, Amir Johnson, had also slipped to the 53rd pick.  Reportedly Ainge tried hard to get out of the promise, perhaps offering to give him a contract as an undrafted free agent, but the agent and player held him to his promise.  Ainge selected Greene and the Pistons nabbed Johnson shortly after.  Greene didn’t last very long and Amir has started showing signs of a potential breakout year.

Ainge also was linked to Monta Ellis and Roko Ukic, but neither was available by the time the Celts 2nd round picks came up.

2006: The players that were projected to be available at the 7th pick (Brandon Roy, Randy Foye, Rudy Gay) all seemed to duplicate the Celtics deepest position (at the time), so Ainge decided to shed a ton of future salary and pick up Sebastian Telfair for the pick.  But that didn’t stop him from getting involved in the draft.

Once again, Chad Ford let us know well in advance how much Danny liked Rajon Rondo. In fact, it seems Ainge might have even selected Rondo with the 7th pick had he not traded the pick away.  As Rondo slipped in the draft, Ainge saw an opportunity to pick him up for a late round future pick and made the deal to get him to Boston.  Marcus Williams was selected with the next pick by the Nets (and the Knicks fans were still grumbling over the Balkman pick).  Point guard’s picked later included Sergio Rodriguez and Daniel Gibson.  Both of whom have shown real signs of a bright future.

Ainge also traded into the second round to pick up the undersized but scrappy Leon Powe and picked up Allan Ray as an undrafted free agent.

2007: Of course this year’s draft is still weeks away, and all we have to go on is rumor and quotes, but there are some things we can deduct.  First of all, the worst kept secret in the draft is how much Ainge is in love with Yi Jianlian.  If Yi is available at 5, I’d be shocked if he wasn’t the pick. 

More poorly kept secrets seem to indicate that Ainge really likes Corey Brewer and Al Thronton.  Brewer is a possibility at the 5th pick but he plays the same position that Ainge didn’t want to draft last year.  Does this interest mean he simply likes Brewer more than he liked guys like Brandon Roy last year or is there more to it?  Some have even speculated that it could signal a willingness to trade Paul Pierce.  Thronton had been projected to go as low as 10th or 11th, so there was speculation that Ainge may be willing to trade down.  However, if Ainge likes him enough, (he said Al "might be the second best offensive prospect in the draft") you never know.

Another interesting development is the apparent lack of interest in Mike Conley Jr., who is widely considered the best point guard prospect in the draft.  He’s noticeably absent from the list of prospects the Celtics are interested in (which also includes Al Horford, Jeff Green, and Brandan Wright).  There is evidence that other teams may be interested in trading into that 5th spot to select Conley Jr. if he isn’t taken by the Griz or Hawks.

Only time will tell if Danny will make the right call on draft night and if he was right to favor some prospects over others.

Review:

From this list, 9 players are still on the Celtics: Perkins, Jefferson, West, Allen, Green, Gomes, Rondo, Powe, and Ray. 

Only Marcus Banks, Justin Reed, and Orien Greene have left the team after being drafted by Ainge. 

The "Danny guys" that he has acquired via trade or free agency haven’t worked out so well.  Welsch and Dickau are gone and soon Telfair will be too.  So maybe we should be wary of Ainge looking to add guys like Outlaw, Ellis, Ukic, Koralev, and of course Robert Swift.

Also, if history is any guide, you can be sure Ainge will consider the option of dealing Pierce for a high draft pick.

I would have to say that the best thing Ainge has been able to do is find good value at the picks he’s had.  Nobody is perfect, and Ainge has passed on some players that would have been better selections than the ones he ended up with.  All in all, however, he has done a solid job.