2019 Free Agency

Ainge takes stock of Celtics as summer looms

Celtics president addresses his health, Kyrie Irving's plans and more

The Boston Celtics saw a season with promise and hopes of a run to The Finals end in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks. Since then, the Celtics have been looking ahead to a summer that could mark some key changes to a contending roster.

Team president Danny Ainge addressed the media in Boston today and touched on a variety of topics on the minds of fans, particularly the future of coach Brad Stevens, the looming free agency of star guard Kyrie Irving and the contract future of center Al Horford. Ainge, who suffered a mild heart attack in early May, said he is feeling better since then and that his role with the team will not change in the wake of it.

As for Irving, NBA free agency rules forbid players and teams from working on deals until the free-agent moratorium is lifted on June 30 at 6 p.m. Ainge told reporters that he is in a position most Celtics fans are with Irving: a wait-and-see mode. When asked by reporters about Irving’s exit interview with the team after the playoff loss to Milwaukee, Ainge said, “It was good.”

Reporters then asked Ainge about Irving, who can opt out of his contract this summer and become an unrestricted free agent. Last summer, Irving seemed to guarantee he would re-sign with the Boston Celtics, but later backtracked on that stance in early February. Ainge followed up those comments days later by drawing a parallel between Irving’s summer comments and his February comments to an “engagement” of sorts with the Celtics (that could become a “marriage” once the moratorium lifts).

On Wednesday, Ainge was mostly mum about whether or not Irving will be back in Boston come the 2019-20 season.

“I don’t know, I mean, there’s not much I can say about that, honestly. But there’s ongoing conversations. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens there,” Ainge said.

When asked if there were any indication from Irving’s camp that he does not want to come back to Boston, Ainge said that was not true.

“I have not received that indication, no,” Ainge said.

Irving is coming off a stellar season in which he averaged 23.8 points per game and a career-best 6.9 assists per game while shooting 48.7 percent from the floor and 40.1 percent on 3-pointers. He was named to the All-NBA Second Team (his second All-NBA nod in his career), adding to a career that includes an NBA championship, an All-Star game MVP, a Kia Rookie of the Year Award and six All-Star appearances.

Ainge says he doesn’t blame Irving for Boston failing to meet expectations and does not regret pulling off the blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers two summers ago that netted him.

“It’s unfortunate that one person gets credit or blame for team’s failures,” Ainge said. “We had a lot of reason why the team did not succeed this year. Kyrie deserves his share of the blame, but not more than anybody else. There’s a lot of guys that didn’t handle things the right way and make the sacrifices that needed to be done for the benefit of the team. I think they’re all going to learn from it, including Kyrie.

“There’s always risk in making deals. We’re not afraid of risk. We made a risk by trading for Kyrie. No matter what happens with Kyrie, I’ll never regret that. Just move on to the next deal.”

As for Horford, Ainge said he expects to meet with him to discuss restructuring the big man’s contract. Horford has one max-season left on his current contract and, like Irving, holds a player option this summer on his deal. Ainge called contract restructuring talks with Horford a priority this summer.

Ainge also squashed talk of Stevens’ future being anything but solid with Boston as well, saying that he is “the least of our worries.” Stevens has amassed a 270-222 record in his six seasons as Celtics’ coach, but the earlier-than-expected playoff exit had some wondering if his future with the the Celtics was in doubt.

“There’s no other coach I’d rather have than Brad. … I think he’s going to be a lot better because of the year we had, he’s the least of our worries,” Ainge said.

Lastly, Ainge also discussed two other players on the Celtics: guard Terry Rozier and forward Gordon Hayward. Rozier voiced his complaints about the Celtics and their roster in separate interviews on a pair of ESPN television shows. In short, Rozier — an unrestricted free agent this summer — said he didn’t want to come back to the Celtics if the roster remained the same as it was last season.

In response to Rozier’s recent comments, Ainge said Wednesday: “I’m a big fan of Terry’s. I don’t always agree with how everybody handles the media. But I’m a big fan of Terry’s. If Terry was in the right circumstance and the right role, I think he would love playing in Boston.”

Hayward, currently the team’s highest-paid player, is coming off his first healthy season since suffering a gruesome injury in his first game with the Celtics in 2017-18. He played in 72 games (his most since 2016-17 with the Utah Jazz), averaging 11.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 3.4 apg in mostly a reserve role for Boston. He got off to a solid start in the first round of the playoffs against the Indiana Pacers, averaging 12.3 ppg, 5 rpg and 1.8 apg in 31.1 minutes per game.

However, he struggled considerably in the East semis with averages of 7.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg and 3 apg in 28.4 mpg. Ainge defended Hayward while also lauding the offseason work he has put in to gear up for 2019-20.

“I’m really excited for Gordon’s upcoming season,” Ainge said. “He’s working hard. He’s here every day with five or six coaches. He’s put a lot of time in and I’m anticipating great things from Gordon this next year. I don’t really look at it as fading in the Milwaukee series. I look at it as opportunity. I’m not worried about Gordon Hayward. I’m not worried about his future or how good of a player he is. If he doesn’t become the player he wants to be, it won’t be from a lack of trying.”

Last season, the Celtics won 55 games and came within a victory of reaching The Finals with Irving and Hayward both sidelined with injuries.

The reintegration of both underscored shortcomings that included moments of infighting that culminated with the Celtics winning only 49 games and finishing fourth in the East. Since then, a pivotal offseason regarding the future of Irving and Horford — as well as those for key reserves Rozier and Marcus Morris — continues to hang over the team.

Stevens said in early May it was clear that expectations weighed on not only Irving, but the entire team.

“There’s no question. They have TVs. They have phones. They hear everything,” Stevens said in May. “There’s a lot of pressure to live up to all these expectations, to put on a cape. to do all those things. And that’s hard to do.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.