Ainge Keeping Celtics Prepared for Unknown Road Ahead
BOSTON – While the NBA is currently in a state of indefinite hiatus, Danny Ainge and his basketball operations staff are most certainly not.
Even though the hands-on nature of their jobs has been severely limited because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ainge and Co. are adapting to the unprecedented circumstances by staying on top of their roster-building responsibilities, while remaining hopeful that basketball will return in the near future.
“Right now, I’m just preparing for free agency, preparing for the draft, watching a lot of film and controlling the things that I can control,” Ainge said Wednesday morning during a conference call with the media.
The draft preparation process, in particular, has been altered significantly due to the global crisis. Normally at this time of year, the college season would have just wrapped up, the Draft Combine would be on the horizon, and teams would be just starting to invite players into their facilities for workouts and interviews.
But this year, college basketball ended a month early without any tournament action, the Combine, which is scheduled yearly for mid-May, will likely be postponed or canceled, and the same can be said for all in-person workouts and interviews.
Ainge, however, won’t let such obstacles get in the way of his roster-building goals.
“You still have to study and watch players,” Ainge said. “You still have to do background checks and gather information on players. You still have to keep working and preparing as if the Draft is going to happen on June 25 until we hear otherwise. I don’t think that any of us anticipate that will be the case, but it’s possible.”
The importance of film study and background checks becomes magnified when a team is unable to meet a prospect in person, especially for someone like Ainge who considers first-hand interactions to be a critical part of the decision-making process.
“Let’s just take Rajon Rondo as an example,” he explained. “Had I not been able to see him in the draft workout and sat down and talked with him and looked into his eyes, I don’t think I would’ve drafted him. And so, I think that there is value in that.”
Though, it’s also possible to learn a great deal about a player through intensive research, just as Ainge has done with some of his other top draft choices from the past.
“We drafted Avery Bradley without any draft workouts,” Ainge recalled. “We drafted Steve Nash back in our Phoenix days without a draft workout. You don’t always get guys in for draft workouts, so you have to be prepared to take guys. So that’s why we’re doing so much homework at this time and taking advantage of getting ahead of the game in case we don’t get draft workouts and hope that we’ll be prepared.”
As for his current squad, Ainge is making sure that they are prepared as well. He remains hopeful that the 2019-20 season will resume, which is why he’s encouraging all of his players to stay physically and mentally ready.
“We’re approaching this like we’re going to return to play and we’re going to be playing playoff basketball,” Ainge said. “And we are staying in touch, we are having conference calls where we have guest speakers, motivational speakers that address all of our guys on Zoom. We are doing workouts with the coaches and with the strength coaches via zoom. So we’re trying to do all we can and, for the most part, I’ve been impressed with how much our players have bought in and the work that’s going on behind the scenes.”
Meanwhile, Ainge and his staff will continue their hard work behind the scenes as well, as they adapt to the unprecedented circumstances while preparing their roster for future success.