Austin Ainge meets with a group of prospects during a pre-draft workout.

Pre-Draft Process a Tireless, Yearlong Project For Austin Ainge & C’s Staff

WALTHAM, Mass. – The Boston Celtics are scheduled to make just one phone call during Thursday night’s NBA Draft. In the meantime, however, the cell phone of Director of Player Personnel Austin Ainge will continue to ring off the hook.

Despite the fact that Boston owns only the 27th overall pick in the Draft and nothing more, Ainge and the Celtics’ scouting staff find themselves with their hands full during the days leading up to the biggest night of the offseason. Because they are preparing for anything to happen.

Boston could trade up in the Draft. It could trade down. It could offer or acquire future draft picks, and it could deal current players. With all of those scenarios in mind, Ainge, whose job focuses on roster construction, has been working his tail off trying to gain any and all information about every single draft prospect who will be available on the board.

“People on the outside may not understand how many phone calls with the players’ agents in the draft happen,” said Ainge, while sitting at his desk three doors down from the office of his father and boss Danny Ainge. “It’s so many calls right now because they’re calling us either trying to talk about their player or to see where we view their player. And we’re calling them trying to get them in for workouts or discuss medical records. There’s just so much communication.”

But the basketball ops staff isn’t only communicating with agents in regard to the Draft.

“We’re also having a lot of meetings about players and having so many phone calls and discussions with other teams as well,” added the 36-year-old, who is in his 10th year with the organization. “So, even though we have one pick, we potentially have four first-round picks next year. And teams are inquiring about those, so we have to know, ‘Hey would we take the whatever pick this year for a certain pick next year?’ And so, we have to know the entire draft.”

Building up that knowledge base is a yearlong process. There are so many prospects to see all around the world, keeping Boston’s scouts constantly on their toes and always on the go.

Within the United States, Ainge and Co. target specific events, such as college tournaments and the NBA Combine, that allow them to kill two birds with one stone by seeing a plethora of prospects play at once.

Ainge and his colleagues spend a lot of time traveling outside the U.S. to evaluate international prospects as well. They attend many Combine-like events, such as the NBA Global Camp in Europe, which allow them to view the top players overseas.

Players who pique the interest of Boston’s scouts will often garner multiple visits throughout the year, at games, practices, et cetera. The scouts aren’t allowed to speak to the players during this process, but they can talk to coaches and people who work closely with the players.

From there, Boston’s basketball ops staff begins to narrow down its list of top prospects. Ainge maintains a group text chain between himself, his father and assistant general manager Mike Zarren throughout the year to discuss updates on prospects. And Ainge is also in constant contact with the half-dozen or so scouts who are employed by the team.

“We communicate and talk about who we like, who we don’t like, who wasn’t on our list initially but should go on there because they’re playing well now,” explained Ainge. “And we’re always reevaluating and readjusting.”

Regardless of how many picks the Celtics have in a draft, the evaluation process remains the same. So, the workload leading up to the 2016 Draft, in which the C’s owned a whopping eight picks, wasn’t all that different from the preparation for the 2018 Draft, in which the team is slated to make just one selection.

And boy, is that workload heavy. It is a yearlong, day-and-night job that doubles as a hobby for these basketball-obsessed talent evaluators.

“We’re going to work all day and then we’re watching games at night,” he said. “It’s a big part of our lives.

“It’s like anything where sometimes it’s a lot of fun, and sometimes it’s a grind. It just depends a lot of times on the time of year and how it goes. We’re traveling so much in the winter, if I get snowed in and delayed for three straight stops, you get frustrated with those things. But in general, it is a great, exciting, fun job.”

The nature of the work builds up as the year moves along, with the most hectic period coming in June. This is when the team narrows down its list and makes educated, hypothetical guesses as to where their targeted players may fall in the Draft.

The Celtics worked out roughly 60 players in Waltham leading up to this year’s draft, and the scouts also attended countless pro days where agents had their respective players run through drills.

To play things safe, the C’s have compiled a list of about 10 players of whom they are interested in who could be available at No. 27. But, of course, many other scenarios could occur that would change their plan tremendously.

Phones will be buzzing constantly in the “War Room,” where Boston’s basketball ops staff and front office brass will sit, discuss and make all of their draft-related decisions Thursday night. It’s a chaotic scene to say the least, but a year’s worth of research allows all involved to remain calm and level-headed throughout the night.

“There’s just lots and lots of preparation beforehand, so that we’re ready for what hits us,” said Ainge, who has logged nine drafts with the Celtics. “We’ve made most of the decisions in a hypothetical sense before any of the stuff hits us for real, and then just do your best in the moment.”

In recent years, the basketball ops crew has seized the moment on Draft Night. The Celtics have cashed in big with lottery picks such as Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum.

But the most rewarding aspect of the Draft is when the later picks – players who fall late in the first round and into the second round – exceed general expectations and pan out to become strong contributors.

In 2015, Terry Rozier fell to the C’s at pick No. 16, and he has since grown into one of the top players from his draft class.

More recently in 2017, Boston selected Semi Ojeleye with the No. 37 overall pick, and he earned an immediate spot in the rotation, while eventually playing a key role during Boston’s 2018 postseason run.

“It’s so fun just because we do so much background and research on these players, and you get to know Semi’s story and what he’s come from and the hoops he’s had to jump through,” said Ainge. “Just to get to know the players and to see them have success, you’re just so happy for them.”

Boston is hoping to find a similar success story with pick No. 27 this season.

“We’ll just be looking to add the best player possible,” said Ainge. “A guy who can help us win a championship.”

Until that pick is made, Ainge’s cell phone will remain an extension of his body. He’ll continue his constant line of communication with his fellow colleagues, as well as agents of potential draftees and executives from other teams.

It will all lead up to the ultimate call of the night. That call could be made to the league to select the 27th overall pick, or it could be made to or from another executive in the form of a blockbuster trade.

Whatever the decision entails, the Celtics will be confident in making it, thanks to the tireless, yearlong work of Ainge and the entire scouting staff.


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