Ainge Dives Into 2019-20 Impressions, Offseason Goals, and More
BOSTON - Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge held his first media availability of the offseason Thursday morning and there was plenty to catch up on following his team’s yearlong campaign. Ainge touched on a variety of subjects throughout the 21-minute session, ranging from his general takeaways from the 2019-20 season, to individual player observations, to future goals for his team.
Here is a breakdown of some of the noteworthy topics from the discussion:
A Roster ReflectionIt’s an extraordinary feat for the youngest and most inexperienced playoff team to make it all the way to the Conference Finals, which is exactly what the Celtics accomplished this past season. Such an achievement was not lost on Ainge, as he piled on the praise for his developing core.
“I’ve been very impressed with the development of our young players and how good they’re getting,” Ainge stated. “I think that Jaylen (Brown) and Jayson (Tatum) are very special, and Marcus played a huge, huge role for us. He’s a great complementary piece for those two guys.”
Ainge also learned “how good our team is” when his other two stars – Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker – are fully healthy. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for most of the season as the two veterans experienced injuries both pre-hiatus and following the NBA restart, which may have hindered Boston from reaching its fullest potential.
With that being said, several other players were able to step up and show their worth.
“We saw Grant (Williams) finish up pretty strong with a few short-minute opportunities,” Ainge said. “Robert (Williams) had a good finish to the season. Enes (Kanter) gave us a big boost many times throughout the year. Daniel Theis had a terrific year. I think there’s a lot we learned about each of the individuals and about our team collectively.”
However, there is still much to be learned about the remainder of Boston’s young roster. As Ainge noted, “I feel like there’s a lot that we don’t know about our team just because the opportunities haven’t come for so many of our players that are on our bench.”
High Hopes for Romeo
One bench player in particular whom Ainge is both curious and excited about is Romeo Langford.
The 20-year-old wing had an unfortunate introduction to the NBA, as his first campaign was bookended by injuries. However, the 2019 lottery pick still managed to display glimpses of promise on both ends of the court during his 32 regular-season appearances.
“He showed some really, really positive signs in NBA games in small doses, and in practice and in some G League games,” Ainge said. “We think he has a very bright future.”
One obstacle still remains for Langford, which is to recover from the surgery he underwent on Sept. 22 to repair the scapholunate ligament in his right wrist. It’s possible that his rehab could bleed into next season, but Ainge is confident that he will bounce back strong.
“I know that Romey’s in a good place as far as committed to getting healthy and committed to having a dynamic year next year,” Ainge said. “We’ll just see how the offseason goes. I mean, we don’t even know when our season’s starting yet, so we’ll just do the best we can and get him back as quick as we can and as strong and well-conditioned and ready to play next year as he can.”
Getting Kemba Back to Full Health
Another first-year Celtic whom Ainge expects to bounce back from injury is Walker. The veteran point guard had a magnificent beginning to his first campaign in Boston, as he led the team in scoring and assisting through the first three months of the season while earning a starting spot on the All-Star team. However, midway through the season, he developed a nagging soreness in his left knee and was never quite the same after that.
The injury caused Walker to miss nearly a dozen games prior to the season’s suspension in mid-March. The team then had a few months off, but his soreness returned when the season rebooted in July, causing the training staff to place him on a minutes restriction throughout the seeding games in which he participated. Walker’s restriction was lifted for the Playoffs, but Ainge could tell that he still wasn’t at full health.
“I could see, even when he was here (in Boston) before the bubble started, which is why he was shut down a little bit and doing strength training and trying to prepare himself for the playoff run and the intensity of the playoff run, but he was definitely not himself,” said Ainge. “In fairness to Kemba, he doesn't want to say that. He doesn't say that to our coaches, he doesn't say that to you, the media, he doesn't say that to me. I haven't heard one excuse from him. But watching the games, even the games we won, even the games where he played well, I could tell he wasn't the same physically as he was in October, November, December. So we're going to try to get that Kemba back.”
Fortunately, it does not appear as though Walker will need surgery and the team expects to have a full offseason plan in place for him within the next week or two. Ainge can’t wait for Walker to get started on that journey back to full health, and he’s also looking forward to just being back in the presence of his charismatic point guard.
“He’s just great to be around,” said Ainge. “And that’s why I feel so bad. It’s his first time on this big of a stage and this huge of a stage and he gave everything that he had. He played well, but we know that he wasn’t himself. But he’s a terrific leader, and a terrific teammate, and an amazing person.”
Brown’s Emergence as a Leader
Ainge also lauded the character of an “impressive young man” in Jaylen Brown, who emerged this season as a team leader both on and off the court. As the second-longest-tenured player on the roster, Brown has gained a great deal of respect from his teammates inside the locker room and on the court, where he has developed into an All-Star-caliber wing. However, his most impressive leadership has been displayed outside of the game, where he has emerged as one of the nation’s loudest voices during an ongoing fight for social and racial justice.
“I'm not surprised – nobody would be surprised – that he's become a voice of our locker room and a voice of our organization,” Ainge said proudly. “He's in meetings with our owners, (director of player development) Alison Feaster and (vice president of community engagement) Dave Hoffman organizing plans for social justice. He is special and I knew that from the first time I met him.
“I'm not surprised, and I'm also not surprised by the progress he's made as a player and how good a player he's becoming right before our eyes. I think he's ready to take on bigger roles, bigger opportunities, and I couldn't be happier to have him on the Boston Celtics and be with him at this time of his career.”
A Busy Offseason Ahead
While his players continue to grow both on and off the court, Ainge is seeking to make improvements as well. Even though his young team made it all the way to the conference finals, “We learned that we’re not good enough.”
Therefore, Ainge indicated that the team could have a busy offseason ahead and he will be constantly looking for ways in which he can enhance the roster, whether it’s through the Draft, trades, or free agency.
“We've got some work to do, no question about it,” Ainge said. “I'm not overreacting to a tough loss to a good opponent. I'm just saying that there's some things we tried to do at the trade deadline, that we weren't able to do, and there's some things I'd like to be able to do now, this offseason, to make our team better. But we have a lot to do.”
And with that, it’s back to work for Ainge and his basketball operations staff as they enter one of the strangest offseasons in league history.