BOSTON — The Boston Celtics entered the 2014 NBA draft as a team in a seemingly great position to make a draft-night deal. Armed with nine future first-round picks over the next five years and a long list of trade exceptions and non-guaranteed contracts that could help facilitate any trade, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had the assets to pull the trigger on a major move Thursday night.
Much to everyone’s surprise, though, the Celtics had arguably the quietest night out of everyone in the draft, making no trades while selecting Marcus Smart at no. 6 and James Young at no. 17.
“We wanted to make trades in recent days,” Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck explained in a press conference after the picks. “We have been on the phone quite a bit with other teams about other ideas. Nothing ever seemed close to fruition, no matter how hard we tried.”
Boston’s front office and ownership had big intentions entering this offseason to make significant improvement to this team’s roster, but a lack of moves last night begs the question: With two more young players in the fold, are the Celtics resigning themselves to another year of rebuilding after a 25-win season?
Head coach Brad Stevens wasn’t ready to go down that road yet, toeing the company line when asked about the prospect.
"I think, at the end of the day,” Stevens said, “When you're a coach, and you're in the midst of it, you're trying to win every game, trying to win the next game. You don't look at anything as rebuilding, you look at it as your next opportunity. As long as you can prepare and strive and do your best, it's hard for me to say that [the team is still rebuilding], because I don't want to sell our team short."
Ainge shook off any commitment to a youth movement next season, as well, for the time being.
"We'll see. We'll see what happens the rest of the summer," Ainge said about potentially focusing on developing youngsters for next year. "I'm not sure yet. It's too early to say that. I mean, it's an emphasis always to develop young players, so we're always trying to do that. But how many of them we have, and what our final roster is, I don't know. But we're very excited about [Smart and Young] and our young core right now."
Grousbeck went a step further, noting that the team could still be very active in the trade market during the upcoming free-agency period in July.
“I always said fireworks was a possibility,” Grousbeck said of making moves this offseason. “It takes two [teams] to tango around here. There just hasn’t been too much movement tonight. We like to be aggressive about rebuilding this team and we like to try to become contenders again as quickly as possible. We will keep working the phones, but it takes two partners to make a trade.”
The problem with Grousbeck’s comparison is that the Celtics had already put the wheels in motion for acquiring Garnett that July by trading for Ray Allen on draft night in 2007, using their fifth overall selection.
After using its own lottery pick on Smart last night, Boston has now lost arguably its most valuable trade asset outside of Rajon Rondo. Without it, Boston has nearly no chance to land a star like Kevin Love in a trade, making the prospect of acquiring an impact player via a blockbuster deal a pipe dream for the time being.
Mid-tier prospects like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, along with future first-round picks that will likely be non-lottery selections from the L.A. Clippers and Brooklyn Nets, aren’t going to land you a player, or players, who can turn your team around in a season.
Despite the attempts of Ainge, Grousbeck and Stevens to steer clear of the rebuilding path as an inevitable conclusion to this offseason, the team’s picks Thursday night indicate that’s exactly where this roster is heading. Young prospects like Olynyk, Sullinger, Smart, Young, and Vitor Faverani now make up a significant core of the team’s roster. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for the team’s future, but it probably wasn’t Plan A entering this offseason.
The looming question now is what veterans Ainge wants to surround these youngsters with as he enters the next phase of the rebuild. The start of the free-agency period next week should give us a better indication of what Ainge’s plans are in that realm.