By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — As the Celtics and NBA prepare for a frenzy when the league opens up shop again next week, we heard “Danny’s Greatest Hits” on Wednesday. Celtics president of basketball ops. Danny Ainge hit all the favorites during his chat with reporters, all without really saying much of anything.
Are the Celtics looking to make a move? You betcha. Are trades hard to make? Absolutely. Do the Celtics like their players. You are gosh darn right they do.
It was a cornucopia of all fixings that we usually get from Ainge. Here’s a quick rundown of what Ainge had to say with next Wednesday’s NBA Draft set to tip off a wild few weeks in the NBA.
Ready To Deal
It may seem like the NBA season just came to an end. It was just six weeks ago that the Celtics fell to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, once again coming up short of a trip to the Finals.
After a few weeks of the great unknown, the Celtics are ready to get this party started. But will it be a green-lit rave or a boring kid’s party?
“We’re ready for it to begin,” Ainge said Wednesday. “We’re ready for the draft. We’re still trying to make some deals before the draft to improve our team. We have our list of players we’ll try to pursue in free agency. There’s a lot of unknown factors. Draft day, the 19th and the 20th are gonna be crazy. We’ll be resting up and ready for that battle.”
The NBA Draft is next Wednesday, with free agency likely opening two days later. That will set off a wild stretch in the league that could see several big names changing laundry.
Teams still don’t know when players will be able to pick up or drop their player options, with Gordon Hayward’s option the biggest wildcard of the offseason for Boston. Unfortunately, that will not be the first domino to fall, with free agency set to start after the draft.
But It’s Hard To Deal
But as we usually hear after the Celtics come up short of making a trade, Ainge also said that deals are hard to pull off.
“There are teams out there that want to do deals that can’t match up contracts, so you have to get third and fourth teams involved. A lot of times deals fall through in that scenario,” explained Ainge. “This is a difficult time for every team. I think this quick turnaround and just a few days of big decisions to be made, I think there will be some deals done. There certainly has been a lot of talk. I just don’t know which deals will or won’t be done. If they won’t be done, it’s because teams weren’t able to get them done, not because there was a lack of work and effort.”
What’s interesting here is Ainge isn’t talking about trading Boston’s three first-round picks, but players on the current roster. Interesting. Very interesting.
But They Like Their Guys
That doesn’t mean Ainge doesn’t like this current group of Celtics. In fact, he said the team doesn’t need to make a move just to make a move.
“We like our guys. People view that as overvaluing our players. We do value our guys and our team has been to the [Easter Conference] Finals three of the last four years with a very young core group of guys. That’s not nothing,” said Ainge. “We would like to take a step and the best step right now could be player development and our young players just getting better and more experienced.”
So in case the Celtics don’t make any big moves this offseason, they are OK going into next season with just a few tweaks to the roster.
The Celtics have four selections at next week’s draft — Nos. 14, 26 and 30 in the first round and No. 47 in the second round. Ainge said Wednesday that he has no plans to add four rookies to the Boston roster, so the team will have to get creative when it comes to dealing some picks. He did say that shooting remains the biggest need on the team, a need they could try to address at the draft.
“I think that shooting is always something that I’m looking for,” said Ainge. “But you can never have too many great athletes and great defenders. Everything matters: size, length, shooting, passing, thinking, savvy. All of those things matter.”
Making picks will be a lot trickier this year based on the restrictions in pre-draft visits and workouts due to COVID-19. Ainge said that the Celtics have watched eight individual workouts, but those were just a player shooting in a gym.
It’s not ideal, but it’s what every team in the league is dealing with.
“Those workouts mean a lot. Doesn’t mean everything. We certainly know who and what they’ve done throughout their college careers and high school careers,” he said. “But I think getting to meet people and get up-close personal contact, watching them work out against other players that you may be weighing them against — it’s very helpful. And we have been able to do none of that.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s the same for every team. So it is what it is,” added Ainge. “And we’ll do the best we can. That’s why we scout all year and watch players throughout the course of the season and try to prepare for this moment.”
Dissecting What Danny Said
No one really ever knows what is going on inside Danny Ainge’s head, but he pretty much tempered expectations for the coming weeks on Wednesday. The Celtics have learned from the great firework fiascos of years past (though the Kyrie trade — Ainge’s last swap — certainly counts as fireworks) and aren’t going to raise expectations for a blockbuster trade.
Ainge clearly likes this current Celtics team, and sees a lot of potential in them. But he also made it clear that they are exploring trades that involve players and not just their bounty of draft picks. Ainge will never say what he’s exploring, but he did drop a few hints that something could happen.
But knowing Ainge and the Celtics’ recent track record, it all likely means that not much will happen.