Ainge has a type. If there's a line that runs through Danny's draft strategy over the last several years, it's this: He puts high value in character, and for the most part, that shows up on defense. Whether it was Avery Bradley in 2010 or Marcus Smart in 2014 or last night with Jaylen Brown, Ainge doesn't worry too much about offense. For better or for worse, there's a grittiness to the guys that Danny has picked, and he's prioritized that since the rebuild started. Until training camp starts in October, you'll be hearing about how Brown can't shoot or how Brown is turnover prone. Those criticisms are fair, and the analytics prove that, but history isn't always a harbinger of things to come, especially when we're talking about a teenager. All those negatives are reversible and if Brown passes Ainge's character test, I have no doubt that he will.
Brown is raw, but executives and scouts agree that he's a smart kid with a ton of upside and if developed to his potential, could be the best player in this draft class. Brad Stevens has shown an uncanny ability to draw the best out of his players, and I wouldn't expect anything less out of a prospect with Brown's physical tools. Of Brown, Ainge said:
"We grew very fond of Jaylen," Ainge said. "He's a great kid; 19 years old who has a man's body, great athleticism, sort of a vogue new type of player in the NBA, of the versatile player, the versatile wings, can play multiple positions, defensively. And we think he has a lot of upside but we think he's a 19-year-old kid that can get on the court and play with the big boys right out of the gate."
My favorite little tidbit that came out of the draft was this story from Brown on his meeting with Jimmy Butler at the combine:
Ainge didn't pull the trigger on a Jimmy Butler trade, but he drafted a kid that can already stop him.
Celtics value Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder. When Ainge was on the clock at #3, there was chatter that the Celtics had discussions with both the Sixers and Bulls for the right to pick Kris Dunn. Talks eventually fizzled on both ends, and it was reported that Minnesota and Chicago rekindled a swap after the Timberwolves got Dunn at #5. Why didn't Ainge pull the trigger?
It was reported that TWolves' GM Frank Layden wanted to include Ricky Rubio in a trade for Jimmy Butler, and my guess is that for Ainge, that was a deal breaker. Rubio is owed $42M+ over the next three years, and after spending the last three seasons grinding out the contracts of Gerald Wallace, David Lee, and Kris Humphries, Ainge wanted to keep the books clean of cap cloggers.
And based on Jae Crowder's reaction on Twitter, it sounds like a deal for Butler included him and/or Avery Bradley, and that was just too high a price for Danny to pay. Ainge and Stevens have been very careful cultivating a culture in Boston since the rebuild started and gutting the team of its heart and soul could have potentially upset the balance of the locker room. By most accounts, Jimmy Butler fits the Celtics' mold too, but with both players also on team-friendly contracts, you can see why Ainge eventually passed.
However, there's ESPN's Marc Stein's reported Godfather offer of Nerlens Noel, Robert Covington, and picks #24 and #26 for the third pick. That sounds like a king's ransom and very similar to Ainge's offer to the Hornets last year for the opportunity to draft Justise Winslow. Either AB and/or Crowder were also part of that deal or Danny just couldn't see the team using all those players and picks. There's also Noel's impending restricted free agency. Philadelphia has a log jam in the front court, and it's possible that Noel could be available later this summer, before the trade deadline, or in a year.
Two Euro stashes at #16 and #23 saves roster spots. Heading into free agency, the Celtics have nine guaranteed contracts plus restricted free agents Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller plus the non-guaranteed contracts of Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko. Odds are, they'll pick up the options on AJ and JJ, and with Jaylen Brown in tow, that's 12 players for 15 spots.
After the draft, Ainge suggested that two or three players could potentially make the roster next season depending on free agency and trades. Guerschon (French Draymond Green!) Yabusele has already stated he's fine staying abroad for another year or two. The 19-year-old Ante Zizic's status is still up in the air, but he'll likely spend next year overseas, too. Second rounders Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil could join Jaylen Brown in the big club, but you can bet if Ainge needs a roster spot for an impact player, they'll end up in Maine.
Trades will hopefully consolidate the roster even further, but those disappointed in the draft results have to remember that there's a real number crunch for the front office. It would have been nice to take flyers on some NCAA talent, but those are guaranteed contracts that the Celtics just can't afford right now. Ultimately, tonight's draft signals an effort from Ainge and the front office to win now with some caveats.
The last three rebuilding years—particularly the two most recent—were not just incubator seasons for young talent to be groomed, nurtured, and later shipped off. Boston has targeted specific guys that fit their style, system, and mindset. You can have all the upside in the world, but if you're not coming to work with a hard hat and a lunch pail, you're not going to be in Celtic green. Don't think of the picks as reaches because they didn't fit the narrative of some mock draft. Ainge knows what players he wants and he'll get them when he can.
But as laser focused as Ainge might be, he understands that this could take awhile. Before the draft, he had eight picks at his disposal, and after five hours in the war room, the Celtics are only one player closer to contention, and that's OK. Aside from drafting Smart two years ago, Boston hasn't reaped the benefits of tearing everything down from the Big Three. There's next year's pick swap with Brooklyn that looks even more appealing now after the Nets traded Thaddeus Young to the Pacers, and the Nets will yield the Cs more additional first-rounders in the future. There's the untouched cap space that gives Danny the freedom to hand pick players without giving anything up. And there's Brad Stevens whose reputation around the league can finally be a selling point to big time free agents.