Ainge Leaves Options Open for NBA Draft

WALTHAM, Mass. – This offseason for the Boston Celtics may hinge on the future of Kevin Garnett, but Thursday’s NBA Draft will not.

Danny Ainge spoke to the media for about 15 minutes during a pre-draft media availability session Wednesday morning in Waltham, Mass. During that time, he stated clearly that while Garnett’s possible return is the key piece to Boston’s offseason, he will approach Thursday’s draft with the same mindset as every other draft. That mindset is to take the best player available.

Danny Ainge, Avery Bradley

Danny Ainge found Avery Bradley with the 19th pick in the 2010 draft. Who will he find this year?
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

Ainge and his group have followed that plan ever since he took over Boston’s basketball operations department back in 2003. It has yielded great results, with the likes of Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Tony Allen, Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis and others winding up in a Celtics uniform.

Maintaining such a stance is even more critical to the Celtics as the 2012 draft approaches, says Ainge.

“Yeah, especially since we only have four guys under contract,” he responded after being asked if he’d select the best player available. “We need every position filled.”

Boston’s intentions to select the best players available are now obvious, but the manner in which it will select those players is not. The C’s are currently owners of the No. 21, No. 22 and No. 51 pick of the draft. While there have been no rumors of the team moving up in the draft via a trade, Ainge did not dismiss that possibility on Wednesday.

“I think it is worth trading up, but it all depends on the price to get up,” Ainge said.

When he was pressed again by another reporter as to whether he’d consider dealing his two first-round picks, Ainge said, “Yeah, we might make a trade, but generally I would expect to keep them. We’re preparing to keep them, but we’re also preparing to move up and move back, and move for future picks. There’s all sorts of things that will be on the table on draft night.”

That includes drafting players who may generally be considered “projects.” You hear about this type of player each and every year: their upside is as high as the sky, but they’re raw and aren’t ready to contribute immediately.

In an offseason like this one for the Celtics, who have 11 of their 15 roster spots open, one would expect Ainge to shy away from such projects. However, Ainge, who has gone against the grain in the past, said he doesn’t necessarily need to select a player who will be ready to play next season.

“I don’t think it’s critical,” Ainge said. “There’s a lot of people that will be looking for work this summer, a lot of good players. So I don’t think that’s critical. That’s not the most important thing. If we think that there’s a player that might take a year or two of development before he becomes a good player, we’ll certainly look into that, as well as ready-made players in the draft.”

That statement doesn’t necessarily mean that a project-type player is on his way to Boston. This draft is loaded with “ready-made” players, as Ainge calls them, and he noted on Wednesday that there is plenty of talent in this draft to assist the Celtics immediately.

“I’ve said from the beginning that this is a deep draft,” said Ainge. “I think this draft is not necessarily as top-heavy as a lot of people think, but there are some good players at the top of this draft. And I think that we’re going to be able to find some good players that can fill a role and can contribute to our team in this draft. I think even in the second round there’s a possibility there, too.”

There are only 60 selections in this draft, but Ainge said on Wednesday that his team has already watched about 80 players work out. That gives an indication that there is plenty of talent to be had and that these three picks might be more valuable in this draft than they would be in other years.

With those three valuable picks in tow, Ainge has the power to load the Celtics up with talent for the future. He left the door open to do anything and everything tomorrow night, and we can all rest well in knowing that Ainge will ultimately do what’s in the best interest of the future of the franchise. Ainge understands better than anyone that free agency is important, but also that the draft can change everything.

“As I look back on the drafts, I think that they’ve been critical for our success,” Ainge said. “Drafts of Delonte (West) and Tony (Allen) and Big Baby (Glen Davis). Guys like Rajon (Rondo), obviously… (Kendrick) Perkins. Those guys contributed to winning, championship seasons and they also helped us to acquire players like Ray (Allen) and KG. So it’s important to draft well.”

For the Celtics, that importance may be at an all-time high on Thursday night.