WALTHAM – Floating in the winds of chance and luck is a tumultuous experience. For Danny Ainge in the Boston Celtics, they came to rest at their middle ground, staying put with the third pick in the NBA Draft.
"For a minute I was getting a little bit anxious there during that commercial break," Ainge said. "As the process was going on, I think there for a second I allowed myself to get my hopes up,"
And then they came back down, as the first envelope opened contained the Celtics logo. Isaiah Thomas’ little green marshmallows crumbled to dust as the Celtics’ luck was just short of getting a pick that could propel them back to the top tier of NBA teams.
"To get the No. 1 or 2 pick in the draft, particularly the No. 1 pick, that would have been nice," he added. "But it didn't happen."
It’s a big blow to a team who tried to knock on the second-round’s door but had it slammed shut by the Hawks. While injuries were a major reason for their loss, they clearly need another franchise pillar to have a chance at a conference finals run. The best chance was just beyond their grasp Tuesday.
"There were some groans," Ainge said. "I think that the buildup was, once we weren’t six and we weren’t five and we weren’t four, I think there was a lot of hope that we could get a good pick. But we’ll take it. We’ll give Isaiah a passing grade. We’ll keep him."
As the lottery balls turned up in the projected order for the first time ever, the Celtics ended up with both a disappointing yet satisfactory result. They miss out on the two studs at the top of the draft, but they have their pick of the stable at the top of the second tier of talent.
There are fascinating projects like Dragan Bender and Jaylen Brown, cookie-cutter shooters like Buddy Hield and Jamaal Murray, and phenomenal playmakers like Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine.
It’s not ideal, but it’s not too bad either.
"Hey listen, there’s a lot more things to be disappointed about in this life," Ainge said. "It could have been worse, but it could have been better. We’ll move on and do our best to try to build a great team."
There are a lot of players at the third pick that may be redundant on the current roster or may be a long development process that is behind the pace of the current roster’s development. When CelticsBlog asked Ainge if he would be willing to take on a long-term project, he stuck to his three favorite words.
"Best player available. Definitely. Unless you can convince me otherwise. Nobody has…yet."
As of now, that is an incredibly difficult player to identify. Ainge will be sure to get everyone and anyone in for a workout throughout May and June. A year ago, big boards across the league were in constant disarray between DeAngelo Russell, Jahlil Okafor and Kristaps Porzingis. Expect more of the same this year.
"Well you know last year at this time I think everybody saw that. It sort of changed between what everybody thought at this time and what happened at the draft. So it’s still too early. There’s still a lot of evaluation. When you’re looking and evaluating in some cases 18 and 19-year-old kids, there’s a lot that changes between the end of their college careers and the draft. So I wouldn’t say anything’s in stone other than how the draft order is going to go. So we’ll just evaluate them all and see how it falls." - Danny Ainge
But Ainge will spend every minute he is not at a workout on the phone with other GMs, shopping his bag of picks for a championship-ready player. His point guard is way ahead of him.
"You can’t be mad at the third pick," Thomas said. "Hopefully we can either pick a great player in the draft or use it for something else."
Thomas was down at the lottery in New York, being photographed in conversation with Jimmy Butler. While they were probably talking about how nice the weather was today, Isaiah gave the fans what they wanted when asked if he was recruiting at the lottery.
"You know how I do. I’m not going to say too much more. But, you know."
Ainge doesn’t see trading the pick as some sort of foregone conclusion once he identifies the star he wants. Trades have to be mutually agreed upon by definition and must jump through many hoops to fit within the parameters of the CBA.
"Trading the number three pick will be difficult. Sure, because there are some good players at number three," Ainge said. "But there are some players out there [on the trade market] that it wouldn’t be difficult for. Usually trades aren’t the ones that are so easy to figure out. Those are the ones that are difficult because it benefits both teams."
Ainge will have a very difficult road ahead, but the team is still armed with one of the best war chests in the league and enough cap space to make any kind of move. Ainge will finally have the chance to make a top-three pick, or once again swing the pick for his next great star.
As a wise man once said, there are a lot more things to be disappointed about in this life.
What will the Celtics do with their pick?
This poll is closed
Draft Jamaal Murray
Draft Jaylen Brown
Draft Dragan Bender
Draft Buddy Hield
Draft Kris Dunn
Trade for a star