As the Boston Celtics struggle towards the end of a tough 2013-14 season, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge must be appreciating the relative quiet before the storm that will be this year’s offseason. Sure, there would be an enormous amount of scouting being done in the Celtics’ front office right now but with a full roster, the trade deadline over and no playoff aspirations, the Celtics’ GM now looks towards the offseason as the next step in once again creating a team that can contend for the NBA championship. The first item on the agenda will be the NBA Draft Lottery which will take place on May 20, then, while the conference finalists are battling it out in the playoffs Ainge and co. will know exactly which pick(s) they will have in the 2014 draft and be able to turn their attention to who they will bring in for workouts and identify potential trade partners for draft day on June 26.
The latter of those two options may suddenly be far more likely than we originally expected. After the move to trade Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, we assumed that Ainge had decided to rebuild his Celtics’ roster around youth and draft picks and without his star veterans the team would contend for a top pick in the much hyped 2014 draft. However, Ainge has now publicly stated on multiple occasions that he is not as caught up in the hype of the 2014 class and that it may have been overrated in the media before these players had a chance to even play in the NCAA. Speaking to Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe, Ainge explained that this draft does not contain the franchise talent that many had reported.
As the college season has progressed, that opinion has started to fade somewhat, with more NBA types — including Ainge — saying this class has quality players, but overall isn’t nearly as good as it has been made out to be.
“I think that’s it’s realistically hyped now, because I thought — and I said — before the season even started that it was completely overhyped,” Ainge said. “It’s like, mock drafts are never accurate until about a week before the draft. They incrementally get a little bit more accurate. But really, until June, the history would say that you really don’t want to pay too much attention to it.”
Yet is this draft class realistically better, or is it just better than the 2013 class, which was one of the worst draft classes in a decade or so?
“I think it’s maybe a little bit better by comparison, but it’s not even close to one of the best draft classes in the last 10 years,” Ainge said.
Currently the Celtics have the fifth-worst record in the NBA but a number of teams boast a similar record as we enter the final stages of the season and they could finish anywhere between fourth and eighth before the lottery is drawn. It may be that lottery draw that determines whether or not Ainge wants to keep his prized lottery pick at all. To many, the draft has a clear top three prospects in Duke forward Jabari Parker and the Kansas freshman combination of Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins, of course depending on them all declaring for the draft in the first place. The wildcard is Australian guard Dante Exum who some believe could contend for the top pick and will have a chance to do so in workouts after all three freshman had their NCAA seasons cut short in disappointing fashion. Regardless, right now the Celtics have just a 29 percent chance at landing a top three pick and that will nearly half if their record improves from just the fifth to seventh worst in the league. With two games remaining against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics could realistically be looking at a pick in the six-to-eight range without the luck of the Basketball Gods on the night of the Draft Lottery.
Danny Ainge has also stated on multiple occasions that he does not intend for this to be a long rebuilding process and that he wants the Celtics to once again contend for an NBA championship within just a few short years. Perhaps the quickest way back to the top of the Eastern Conference will be for Ainge to move his top pick in the draft, along with some of his young assets for an established star to pair with point guard Rajon Rondo.
He will not be alone in his quest for top-tier talent if he does choose this path but may have the most available trade assets of any GM in the NBA right now, but who could the possible targets be? Two names that jump out immediately are Minnesota’s Kevin Love and New York’s Carmelo Anthony. Both players appear likely to miss the playoffs entirely this season, are nearing the end of their current contracts and have publicly expressed their desires to be in the position to win an NBA title sooner rather than later. While the Celtics may appear a long way from that goal right now, pairing one of the NBA’s best point guards with an elite forward the calibre of Love or Anthony would go a long way to retuning the Celtics to the top of the conference and in with a chance of becoming a legitimate contender within a very short time-frame.
This may be all smoke and mirrors from Ainge and he may in fact be extremely high on this draft class, but it is not the first time he has expressed this opinion and if it is in fact true we could see a blockbuster deal occur in Boston as soon as draft day 2014. Once again, if you are looking for fireworks this offseason you should look no further than the Celtics’ front office where Danny Ainge and his crew will likely be among the most active and ambitious team’s at the draft and especially in the trade market.