Ainge ‘Ready for Battle’ With Draft, Free Agency Just Days Away

BOSTON – The most exhilarating, unpredictable time of the year is about to begin for Danny Ainge and his basketball operations staff, and it is likely to be even more chaotic than ever before.

One week from today, the NBA will hold the 2020 Draft, in which the Celtics possess four picks, including three first-rounders. Less than 48 hours later, free agency will begin, giving general managers such as Ainge a much tighter window than the typical week they are given between the two significant offseason events.

However, such a tight window just means a more fun-packed week for Ainge and his group, who are already looking to make some deals.

“We’re ready,” Ainge said during a Zoom call with the media Wednesday afternoon. “We’re ready for it to begin. We’re ready for the Draft. We’re still trying to make some deals before the Draft to improve our team. We have our list of players we’ll try to pursue in free agency.”

While the Celtics have a plan in place, there are still infinite unknown variables on the table, since there are in fact 29 other teams going through the exact same process right now. That’s why there’s got to be a Plan A, a Plan B, and all the way down to Plan Z.

“As you know, we don’t know who everyone’s going to draft,” Ainge said. “We don’t know who else is interested in the free agents we might have (on our list). We don’t know exactly, depending on what deals we’re able to do and not do, the amount of money we can offer free agents. So there’s a lot of unknown factors.”

Those unknown factors exist during every draft and every free agency period. What’s different this year are the limitations surrounding those events, particularly leading up to the Draft.

This year’s draft class did not have the typical exposure to NBA scouts due to the COVID-19 pandemic which shortened their college season. On top of that, there have been significant restrictions in regard to the draft workouts, ranging from the reduced number of players that can work out at one time to the lack of one-on-one interactions between the prospects and basketball operations staff.

“We certainly know who and what they've done throughout their college careers and high school careers,” Ainge said. “But I think getting to meet people, and get up close personal contact, and watching them work out against other players that you may be weighing them against, is very helpful. And so we have been able to do none of that. I think we've seen eight individual workouts – one coach, one player, shooting in a gym – and that's about it.

“It’s not ideal, but it's the same for every team, so it is what it is. And we'll do the best we can. That's why we scout all year and watch players throughout the course of the season and try to prepare for this moment.”

Ainge and his group are also preparing to make transactions outside of the Draft, although they will approach negotiations with level heads. He does not appear desperate to make any moves considering the strength of his roster, however, he will pounce if the right opportunity presents itself.

“We are trying to do good deals, not just deals,” Ainge explained. “I know there are a lot of opinions on what we should and shouldn't do but it's hard to get deals done. It's hard to get deals. I mean, there are teams out there that want to do deals, that can't match up contracts, so you have to get third and fourth teams involved. A lot of times deals fall through in that scenario.

“This is a difficult time for every team. I think this quick turnaround and just a few days of big decisions to be made, I think there will be some deals done. There certainly has been a lot of talk, I just don't know which deals will or won't be done. If they won't be done, it's because teams weren't able to get them done, not because there was a lack of work and effort.

“We'll keep doing what we always do and see what we can do to make our team better but we don't feel the need to have to do anything. We like our guys. People view that as overvaluing our players. We do value our guys and our team has been to the final four three of the last four years with a very young core group of guys. That's not nothing. We would like to take a step and the best step right now could be player development and our young players just getting better and more experienced.”

Taking the next step could hinge upon any transactions that take place over the next nine-plus days. Ainge couldn’t be more excited about that possibility.

“Draft day, the 19th and the 20th are gonna be crazy,” he said. “We’ll be resting up and ready for that battle.”

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