BOSTON (CBS) — Danny Ainge is feeling great after suffering a heart attack just five weeks ago, ready for what should be an extremely busy offseason for the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics president of basketball operations won’t be scaling back his workload this summer, though he did admit that doctors have changed his diet since he suffered his second heart attack in the last decade.
“I’m eating more plants, and not the kind of plants in [Bill] Walton’s garden, by the way,” an extremely chipper Ainge joked with reporters at the Auerbach Center on Wednesday.
It’s always a good day when Ainge can work in a shot at his former teammate. Ainge certainly didn’t show any signs of slowing down as he held court with Boston reporters for over 20 minutes Wednesday, touching on the wide range of topics that surround the Celtics this summer. Doctors want him to avoid stressful situations, but that may be a tad difficult this summer.
Which is where Kyrie Irving comes into the conversation. The All-Star point guard will be opting out of the final year of his contract at the end of the month and testing the free agent waters. While rumors are swirling that Irving will head to New York to play for either the Knicks or Nets, Ainge said that nothing from their conversations since the season ended has led him to believe that Irving will be playing anywhere but Boston next season.
“There is not much I can say about that, but there are ongoing conversations,” said Ainge. “I have not received that indication [that he won’t be coming back].”
We’ll see about that one. Ainge said that he’s never afraid to swing deals, even those that carry some heavy risk. Trading for Irving two summers ago, sending a future lottery pick, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic to the Cavaliers for what could end up being just two seasons of Irving qualifies as a risky move, but is one that Ainge would make again if given the opportunity.
“No matter what happens with Kyrie, I’ll never regret that,” he said. “Just move on to the next deal.”
What that next deal could be is anyone’s guess. Ainge said he doesn’t know if there’s a move out there that will convince Irving to stay in Boston, a decision that will likely create a domino effect on the rest of the Celtics roster. Ainge said the Celtics usually have Plans A through G ready to go for a given offseason; with all the potential scenarios they face, Ainge said the Celtics have Plans A through Z at the ready.
That includes preparing for the NBA Draft on June 20, where the Celtics own three first-round picks. They’ve had over 70 players in for workouts, as Ainge decides what to do with picks No. 14, 20 and 22. Ainge also added that re-working Al Horford’s contract is a priority this summer. Horford has a player option for over $30 million. The Celtics would like to see that price tag go down a bit, while the 34-year-old Horford would probably like a few more years added to the deal.
Ainge’s offseason planning started much earlier than anyone would have liked, thanks to an embarrassing five-game loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the East Semifinals. It was a disappointing end after a frustrating regular season, one Ainge hopes the Celtics will learn from going forward.
“We didn’t play as well as we wanted to play during the season. We never came together the way we’d like to for a sustained period of time. I feel like we’ll learn from that,” he said.”I’m not saying we want adversity, but it’s there whether we want it or not. It’s a tough league.
“In exit interviews, our guys all had good things to say and I think there will be a great learning curve from that experience,” Ainge added.
While many fans are quick to put the bulk of the blame for last season’s failures on Irving, Ainge refused to do so on Wednesday.
“I just think it’s unfortunate that one person gets credit or blame for a team’s failures. We had a lot of reasons why the team did not succeed this year, and Kyrie deserves his share of the blame, but not any more than anyone else,” said Ainge. “There are a lot of guys who didn’t handle things the right way and make the sacrifices that needed to be made for the better of the team. They’re all going to learn from it, even Kyrie — he’s still a young player. I think Kyrie is going to come back even better next year.”
That includes head coach Brad Stevens, who was pretty hard on himself in the moments after Boston’s season ended. Some may be questioning the young coach’s abilities after a trying campaign, but Ainge has no concerns about him.
“There’s no other coach I’d rather have than Brad. He’s the best,” said Ainge. “It was a very difficult job. I knew it would be difficult from the beginning of the year, but I think it was more difficult than I anticipated and he anticipated. But again, I think he’s going to be a lot better because of the year he went through. He’s the least of our worries; we know he is going to work to be the best that he could be. I wish every one of our players would put the time and effort and energy and thought into what Brad does. There is no other coach I’d rather have than Brad Stevens.”
The Celtics are heading into the great unknown this summer, and the franchise could look a whole lot different by mid-July. Nothing about it will be very relaxing for Ainge, but he sounds ready for any challenge that lies ahead.