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Ainge on future plans: “there will be changes” this summer

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After such a disappointing year, all eyes are on the offseason already.

2019 USA Basketball Men’s National Team Training Camp - Los Angeles Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Celtics are heading to the play-in tournament next week and hopefully the playoffs after that, but much of Danny Ainge’s visit today with 98.5 The SportsHub’s Toucher & Rich focused on the long-term future of the franchise.

“I think that we will definitely be looking to make some changes in the offseason and obviously I can’t go into any of those details, but yeah, there will be changes,” Ainge said with his team sitting with an underwhelming 35-35 record. “How significant? I don’t know yet. We’ll see.”

After staying under the luxury tax threshold this year, Ainge will have a couple of cap tools at their disposal to improve the team. They still have the $11M remainder of the Gordon Hayward TPE, a handful of smaller TPE’s after trading Daniel Theis, Enes Kanter, and Jeff Teague, and the mid-level and bi-annual exceptions.

However, a roster crunch exists. Heading into 2021-2022, the Celtics have 13 guaranteed contracts. Semi Ojeleye and Luke Kornet head into the summer as unrestricted free agents and Jabari Parker is on a non-guaranteed deal. They own their first round pick and of course will be looking to re-sign Evan Fournier with his Bird rights.

“The bottom line is our team hasn’t been as consistent, hasn’t been as healthy. We definitely will need to make some changes. But I wouldn’t say there’s any needed changes of our best players,” Ainge said.

To that point, the Celtics President of Basketball Operations also defended the job of Brad Stevens and any speculation or suggestion that he’d be looking to replace their head coach. “Listen, we all have blame to share. There’s no doubt about it, but you can’t just look at a coach and take his whole body of work throughout his whole coaching career and throw this year and make a judgement for crying out loud. That’s idiotic.”

Stevens’ reserved nature can often be misinterpreted as disinterest or a lack of fire, but Ainge assured Toucher & Rich that he’s seen Stevens’ passion behind-the-scenes, especially this year.

“Somebody’s gotta keep the even keel perspective during the games. We have a lot of players that are very emotional. Most players are very emotional and ride the ups and downs, so having someone of his temperament is a great advantage, not a disadvantage.

Brad snaps, Brad loses his mind, but he puts more time and effort into this than anybody and coaches are prepared. I’m not saying Brad is a perfect coach. He’ll tell ya. He’s got things he can improve on that he wishes he had done different and better this year, but that’s not the issue. Brad Stevens is a fantastic basketball coach. Always has been and is getting better, not worse.”

And as is customary on these weekly visits with The SportsHub, the conversation with Ainge turned into The Defending Marcus Smart Hour. After Kendrick Perkins suggested that Smart had lost the locker room and needed to be moved this summer as he enters a contract year, Danny again stepped up to defend the longest tenured Celtic despite Perk suggesting that Smart had already “run his course.”

“Marcus has been playing well as of late. Since the trade deadline I think, he’s playing his best. He has shown great leadership. Marcus is one of the guys that has that resolve that this team has lacked through a lot of this year.”

Of course, all criticism, even the slings and arrows of sports radio, deserves context. Yes, the Celtics have been bad:

But on top of the compacted schedule and COVID, they’ve been incomparably hit by the injury bug:

But for Danny Ainge, even he expected more despite the difficult hand the team has been dealt. “I blame everybody. Everybody is guilty of playing great in the good games and bad in the bad games. It’s a collective team.”