Boston Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge held his first media availability of the 2020 offseason. Ainge hit on several different subjects. Topics ranged from thoughts on the just-completed season to development of the Celtics players to plans for the offseason. Here are the main takeaways from Ainge’s time at the podium.
1. When asked what he learned this season, Ainge said: “How good our young players are and how much they are improving. How special Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are. How good we are when Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward are healthy. Unfortunately, we didn’t see enough time when our team was healthy. But we learned a lot about our team and our individuals. We also learned we aren’t good enough.”
Ainge was equal in his praise for the team, while also admitting that the Celtics have to get better to beat teams like the Miami Heat.
2. Ainge was asked why the Celtics didn’t the Heat: “Well, we got beat. I think we had a chance. We feel like we can beat Miami, but we didn’t. They beat us fair and square. They played better down the stretch of the games in that series. I have great respect for them and all that they’ve accomplished. We’re going to try to get better.”
Ainge was later asked about the Celtics chemistry and he said that he felt the team had great chemistry all season. Ainge noted that the only time it was in question was following Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart’s confrontation in the playoffs. Even then, Ainge said “I’ve been around a long time. That happens sometimes. Especially with guys who care. I don’t see it as necessarily a bad thing.”
3. When asked, with the benefit of hindsight, if he wishes he had done anything different at the trade deadline or buyout season, Ainge doubled down on his belief that Boston just needed to be healthy: “We had plenty of depth, assuming we don’t have Gordon and Kemba banged up.”
Ainge did say that the team was active in discussions for improving the roster, saying “We tried to do some things. We tried very hard. I don’t think I would do anything different though.”
The 2020 trade deadline marked the fifth consecutive year that the Celtics failed to add a player at the deadline. While Ainge and Boston are always active during the offseason, the last time they made an in-season trade was during the flurry of deals during the 2014-15 season.
4. Kemba Walker’s health was an issue after he tweaked his knee in late-December. Walker missed several games throughout January and February while dealing with the soreness in his knee. Other than being held out of a couple of meaningless games during the restart, Walker played in every game, albeit with a minutes’ restriction during the seeding games.
Ainge said despite Walker playing, it was clear he wasn’t right physically: “I could see he was definitely not himself. In fairness to Kemba, he doesn’t want to say that. He doesn’t say that to our coaches, the media or to me. Even in games where he played well, I could tell he wasn’t the same physically as he was in October, November and December. We’re going to do what we can to get that Kemba back. He’s still a really good player, but he wasn’t what he was. There’s nothing more frustrating for an athlete to not be able to be yourself.”
Ainge went on to share that over the next couple of weeks, the team will have a full plan for Walker for the offseason. Ainge did not that he doesn’t believe, nor has he been told, that surgery is necessary for Walker.
As for what he learned about his point guard, Ainge was complimentary of Walker’s leadership: “We learned he’s a great leader. He was great for our younger players. I’m just sad he wasn’t able to be himself on the biggest postseason stage for the first time in his career.”
5. On the topic of leaders on the Celtics, Ainge was asked about the progression he’s seen in Jaylen Brown as both a player and a person. Ainge made it clear how highly he regards Brown: ““He’s an impressive young man. I’m proud of how his game has developed. No one who has met him would be surprised at the type of person he is. He is special. I knew that from the first time I met him. So, I’m not surprised. I’m happy with how he’s developed. I couldn’t be happier to have him on the Boston Celtics.”
6. Turning to the offseason, Ainge somewhat danced around a question about a contract extension for Jayson Tatum. He noted that the Celtics and Tatum aren’t allowed to talk about that yet, due to NBA rules. Ainge did say “Jayson knows how much we like him. Jayson likes it here. I’m confident we’ll be able to work something out.”
7. When asked how the Celtics improve this offseason, Ainge was evasive on details, as one would expect. However, he was clear that Boston isn’t where they need to be: “We’ve got some work to do. No question about it. I’m not overreacting to a tough loss to a tough opponent. There are some things I’d like to do to make our team better. We have a lot to do.”
8. As it stands right now, Boston projects to be over the luxury tax for the 2021 season. Ainge said that isn’t a barrier to improving the team in the offseason: “We anticipate being in the tax next year. We’ve planned for that for a while. We’re prepared to do that.”
9. At the 2020 NBA Draft, Boston has three first-round picks and a second-round pick. The Celtics are also likely to return somewhere between 12 and 14 players from their current roster. When asked if having all those picks, and a roster crunch, changes his approach to the draft as far as trades or draft-and-stash opportunities, Ainge said he’s open to everything. “Yeah sure. We’ll consider all of that. We have a lot of picks and it’s a draft where you might want a lot of picks. Or you might want to do different things. You hear you want to draft the best player available a lot, but sometimes you have to draft for need as well. So, we’ll take everything into consideration with the players on our roster and the players in this draft as well. Also, if we draft a younger player who needs some G-League time, we have that luxury as well.”
10. Ainge wrapped up his time talking about two of the Celtics youngest players in Robert Williams and Romeo Langford. Ainge said being in the bubble was great for Williams and his development, as he was around the coaches all the time and all distractions were removed. Ainge noted that this time was big for Williams because “He’s spent a lot of his time injured. He really improved in the bubble and the restart. We’re really excited about him.”
On Langford, Ainge shared that the Celtics remain high on him as a player despite his already lengthy injury history. Langford started his NBA tenure recovering from injury, but that was always a known thing. Ainge said “We knew he would miss Summer League last year. We knew he would need some time. He showed some really, really positive signs. He’s a great place mentally and has a very bright future.”
Overall, Ainge seems happy with the development of the Celtics young players, but clearly knows the team needs to upgrade to take the next step. He briefly touched on not being able to talk about the future with either Gordon Hayward nor Enes Kanter just yet, due to NBA rules. Without giving details Ainge seemed to drop hints that changes are coming to the roster. This has always been likely, due to the vast number of players with guaranteed money and four more draft picks potentially incoming. Stay tuned to CelticsBlog for all your coverage of a busy upcoming offseason for the Boston Celtics.