Danny Ainge smiled and said that the Boston Celtics front office is plenty busy a week out from the 2020 NBA Draft. During his pre-draft media availability, Ainge made it known that the Celtics are engaged in trade talks around the NBA, while also preparing for free agency in a condensed offseason.
When asked if having three first round picks and a second round pick makes it more important to consider trades than usual, Ainge said “I wouldn’t say it’s more important, but we always look at everything all the way up until we make the pick. You have to make good deals.”
Ainge also noted that it’s not ideal to add four rookies to the roster for next season. Boston added seven first-year NBA players last summer.
On teams knowing the Celtics likely don’t want to add that much more youth, Ainge opined “It’s not a great draft, but it’s a deep draft. Not every rookie is the same. Not every rookie is a 19 or 20-year old. Some are ready to step in and play a role. That will be a factor with these picks.”
The NBA offseason is coming fast and furious. The draft is next week, free agency opening a couple of days later and then training camp only a couple weeks later, Ainge said it’s been a difficult process. Ainge said the draft process has been especially tricky due to the lack of in-person meetings with prospects.
“I think getting to meet people up close and personal contact is very helpful. We have been able to do none of that. We’ve seen eight individual workouts. One coach, one player shooting in the gym. That’s not ideal, but we’ll do the best we can” Ainge said.
As far as preparing for free agency, Ainge noted that the Celtics have prepared their usual list of free agent targets. He said who Boston is able to add will depend a lot on how much money they will have to offer.
A big driver in how much money Boston will have to offer is what happens with Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter and their player options for the 2020-21 season. Ainge said he doesn’t have a sense of where either player is leaning. Ainge also noted that his understanding is that those option decisions won’t need to be made until after the draft. The NBA has not confirmed this year, but on Friday, November 13 the league will inform teams, players and agents of updated option deadlines.
Ainge noted that Boston has been working on the offseason long before they were finished in the bubble: “We’ve been doing nothing but work. Preparing for the draft and free agency and ways to make our team better. We’re trying to do good deals. Not just do deals. It’s hard to get deals done. There are teams that want to do deals, but we can’t match up contracts. You have to get third and fourth teams involved and deals fall through. There will be some deals done though. There’s been a lot of talk.”
Ainge also stated that not making a trade could be the best move forward for the Celtics: “We don’t feel a need to have to do anything, because we like our guys. Some see that as overvaluing our players, but we do value them. They’ve been to the final four in three of the last four years. That’s not nothing. The best step could be player development and not doing a deal.”
With the draft just a week away, Ainge hinted the Celtics have been active in trade discussions. He said there are deals Boston would like to do before the draft, but cautioned that may not come together in time.
As far as draft targets, Ainge wouldn’t give away any individual players, but spoke of the characteristics he prizes: “Shooting is always something I’m looking for. You can never have too many great athletes and defenders. I’m always looking for more guys like that.”
One characteristic Ainge didn’t mention when building the roster was adding more size. But when asked if building a team that can play small is more important than ever, he pushed back, saying “I think that’s a little bit not-true in my opinion. LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a small lineup is a little ridiculous. Those guys aren’t small. Giannis (Antetokounmpo) at center isn’t small. When I was a coach in Phoenix, we played small because my best players were small. Brad (Stevens) plays small, because his best players are small. We played big in the past when we had Al Horford and Aron Baynes. I think you need to be able to play both ways.”
Ainge also touched on Kemba Walker and if there are any lingering concerns about Walker’s health, especially in a compressed offseason and season. For his part, Ainge seemed relatively unconcerned, saying “I have all the confidence in the world he’ll be fresh and healthy and ready. We know what a good player Kemba is and what he can be when he’s healthy. We have to put Kemba’s health as a number one priority. We have three more years with Kemba at least. We’re excited about those years. There could be maintenance issues in training camp and in the early part of the season, but at some point he should be ready to go.”
With the Celtics losing treasured long-time franchise legend Tommy Heinsohn, Ainge spoke of missing his friend: “Tommy was a great friend. When I was a rookie, he took me under his wing. He gave me a lot of great insight as a mentor. Sometimes, in recent years, I’d leave the game and he’d be back in one of the offices watching the game on TV. I talked with him a lot. He’s a great storyteller. Such a wealth of knowledge. He was fun to be around. He was a guy you knew always had your back. He was a very loyal friend and supporter of the team.”