What's Next for Boston Celtics' Offseason After Questionable Draft Night?

Brian Robb@CelticsHubFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2016

Jaylen Brown answers questions during an interview after being selected third overall by the Boston Celtics during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 23, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics surprised the NBA world this past Thursday by electing to keep their No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft.

They did it again by using it on California forward Jaylen Brown.

What likely seemed disappointing to Boston fans at first is actually still part of the plan.

The Rookie is Flexible

Brown was Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, averaging 14.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in his only collegiate season. But he struggled mightily with both his perimeter shooting (29.4 percent from three-point range) and turnovers (team-high 3.1 per game).

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge and the rest of Boston's brass believe those issues are correctable at Brown's age (19), and they're intrigued by the wing's defensive upside and physical frame. At 6'7'' and 223 pounds, he has the athleticism to hold his own defending multiple positionsimmediately.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

"In this league right now, one of the deciding factors in being able to compete at a high level is to be able to do multiple things with one person," head coach Brad Stevens said. "Very few guys can move like Jaylen, can move at his size and at his length. The defensive versatility is a big piece of that. That should be transferable right away.

"The biggest needs as we look at it are continuing to grow ourselves on the offensive end and what we decide to do with regard to protecting the rim. You can protect the rim in a couple of different ways. No. 1 is you have somebody in there to protect it. No. 2 is you don't let the ball get there, and you need versatile guys at a bunch of different positions. You need to keep guys out of rotations. If you look at our team right now, No. 2 would be more of the option."

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Wing depth was a weakness for Boston last season, so Brown should slide into the rotation behind Jae Crowder at the small forward spot. Barring a trade to clear out some of the backcourt glut, Brown's presence also gives Ainge some insurance for the potential departure of sixth man Evan Turner, who will be an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Turner, 27, is expected to command a sizable raise from his $3.3 million salary in 2015-16, and the Celtics only have early Bird rights on the 6'7'' forward. While Turner's shot creation was a vital part of the team's offense the past two seasons, it's unlikely there will be room in Boston's rotation even though Brown doesn't have the offensive skills to replace that yet.

Emphasis on Flexibility with Later Picks

With 12 guys currently under contract even before the Celtics selected six players Thursday, there simply isn't room for such an influx of young talent on the roster this summer. Brown is the only one of Boston's three first-round picks expected to be on the team's roster at the start of next season; the Celtics went with two draft-and-stash candidates in the bottom half of the first round: French forward Guerschon Yabusele at No. 16 and Croatian big man Ante Zizic at No. 23.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

"It's complicated, but yes, we have had initial discussions with their representatives," Ainge said of potentially stashing the 20-year-old Yabusele and 19-year-old Zizic overseas next season. "And we have not concluded anything yet. We're still in that discussion, and we're not sure on some things."

Leaving both players abroad will allow them to gain valuable reps while Boston manages its salary cap and maintains roster flexibility.

Second-round picks Demetrius Jackson, Ben Bentil and Abdel Nader will face stiff competition for spots in training camp, so it's possible they may elect to sign a deal with a pro team overseas instead. The Celtics would still maintain their NBA rights in that situation, giving them an opportunity to sign them down the road.

Even if Ainge adds just one or two rookies to the roster next year, he will also have to do internal evaluation of the team's current personnel in the next couple of weeks if he wants to land talent upgrades in free agency.

Late-season signee John Holland is merely a salary trade chip with his non-guaranteed contract, but former first-round picks James Young and R.J. Hunter may be playing for their spots in NBA Summer League this July. Both players struggled with their shooting last season, and with Boston's backcourt logjam, either could be moved to another team once free agency opens to clear up some roster spots.

Flexibility for Free Agency

Boston's lack of trade activity on draft night may directly correspond to its sit-down meeting with free-agent star Kevin Durant on July 1, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

While the Celtics may not have the talent of Durant's other suitors, they're currently the only team in that group with salary-cap room for two max contracts in free agency. That's a situation Ainge did not want to sacrifice on draft night.

"We had opportunities to do some trades, but they weren't significant enough of an upgrade to our franchise to do, and we felt like it was more important to preserve flexibility this summer," Ainge said Friday.

While Wojnarowski reported Durant is still expected to re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder on a one-year deal this summer, the Celtics are clearly trying to lay the groundwork to land the seven-time All-Star either this offseason or next.

Ainge maintained future flexibility last summer by signing players (Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko) on short-term deals with non-guaranteed contracts for the second season. Opting for the same route this offseason seems probable in order to keep Boston's options open for the summer of 2017 and help improve upon a 48-win season.

Until top players become available once again (DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love) or see their asking prices come down (Jimmy Butler), it does not make sense for the Celtics to push hard for a deal—unless it's one that's sure to land a Durant-like superstar.

Boston's front office can't feel confident about that just yet, especially after a first-round exit in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Using a number of the team's top value contracts (Avery Bradley, Crowder, Isaiah Thomas) and draft capital (pick swap with Brooklyn in 2017, unprotected 2018 Brooklyn pick) on a player such as Butler won't leapfrog Boston into contention right away.

Instead, patience for the right deal at the right time remains essential as the Celtics enter the fourth year of their rebuild. Ainge must hold on to his chips until he knows he's putting them in the middle of the table with a winning hand.