In the end, moving up into the prized Top 10 of the 2015 NBA draft was not in the cards for Danny Ainge.
“I’m not disappointed,” said the Celtics president of basketball operations. “We tried. It just didn’t happen.
“We tried hard. We tried hard to trade up. We spent the last couple of weeks trying to move, and really today was the only time we had any indication that we could move up. But we were trying. At the end of the day, it’s like Red used to say, sometimes the best trades you make are the ones you don’t make. Maybe we were going too hard at it. And there was a time when I thought, ‘Whoa, this is getting a little out of control. We’re putting a lot of eggs in one young player’s basket.’
“So, I’m not frustrated. And, in the long run maybe it’ll be the best.”
The “one young player’s basket” may be a reference to the rumor of the Celtics’ effort to move up to No. 9 earlier in the day, trying reportedly to nab small forward Justise Winslow of Duke. There were reports that the team was going to part with Jared Sullinger and ship him to Charlotte. Sullinger had reportedly even followed the Hornets on Twitter and stopped following the Celtics.
Ainge could only laugh.
“The fans feed into what’s being written and said a lot, too,” Ainge said. “I did say we would try to move up. The price was way too high. There’s so many rumors out there. There are so many things are being said and written that aren’t even close to being true, that are just made-up stories. No sources and fake sources and people get caught up in these rumors and their expectations grow even higher. Don’t you think?”
Did he come close? “Yeah, we thought we were close,” Ainge said.
Instead, Ainge stayed put and made selections at all four of his spots going into the night. He took Terry Rozier at No. 16, R.J. Hunter at No. 28, Jordan Mickey at No. 33 and Marcus Thornton at No. 45. Three of them, Rozier, Hunter and Thornton are guards, adding to an already crowded and jumbled backcourt.
“Listen, it all comes down to how good the players are that we have,” Ainge said. “It doesn’t matter what I say about it. We’ll just wait and see how good they are. We like the guys we have and I think our fans are going to enjoy them.”
Ainge had said he was looking for quality over quantity, and was not likely to make all four picks. He reiterated Thursday that he won’t be able to keep all four picks on the active roster, instead will try to stash them in Europe.
“No, we don’t have room on the roster for all four guys, most likely,” Ainge admitted. “We probably don’t have room for them so we’ll work out deals where guys can play overseas in some of the situations.”
Terry Rozier will have his hands full to make the Celtics crowded backcourt.
But listening to the 21-year-old product of Louisville, the guard is more than up for the challenge.
“I came in for two workouts so I had a pretty good feeling about it,” Rozier said during a conference call after being selected with Boston’s first of two first-round picks. “It worked out well. Danny Ainge is a great guy. Stevens is a real great guy. He’s really interactive with his guys. It was just amazing.”
With names like Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart already on the roster, Rozier will have to battle with those veterans and fellow rookies R.J. Hunter (Georgia State) and Marcus Thornton (William and Mary) to make an impression.
“I’m very excited,” Rozier said. “I know the tradition. Fans are crazy about basketball. And I’m just to excited to be a part of something like this. I’m just to ready to bring something to the table.
“It’s kind of the same thing I went through with a lot of guards when [Louisville] won the national championship [in 2013]. I just want to come in and bring the Celtics the same kind of defense, find my way to fit on the floor and compete. That’s my thing. I’m not worried about who’s there. I’m worried about how can I get on the floor and things like that.”
One of the big influences, naturally, has been his coach at Louisville and former Celtics coach Rick Pitino.
“He was a big help,” Rozier said. “He helped me relax. He knows the area [in Boston]. He talked to me every day. He was a guy in my corner, in my ear, just giving me the confidence.”
The Celtics selected LSU sophomore power forward Jordan Mickey with the No. 33 pick, the first of their two selections in the second round.
“Jordan’s a good player,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “I’m surprised he was there at 33. Really surprised.”
The C’s added William & Mary senior point guard Marcus Thornton with the 45th pick, their fourth and final selection of the night.
The 6-foot-8, 235-pound Mickey averaged 15.4 points (50.4 FG%), 9.9 rebounds, 3.6 blocks and 1.3 assists in 34.9 minutes over 31 games, leading the Tigers to an NCAA Tournament berth. For WEEI.com’s draft prospect profile on Mickey, click here.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Thornton averaged 20.0 points (45.6 FG%, 40.2 3P%, 83.0 FT%), 2.9 assists and 2.8 rebounds in 36.7 minutes over 33 games.
Stevens said he expects all of the team’s picks to compete in summer league play.
Scouting report: Nance has the prototypical measurables and skill set to play power forward in the NBA. With a 6-foot-9 frame and an extremely rangy 7-foot-2 wingspan, he brings the potential to fill out his body and dominate the position at both ends of the floor. He is an explosive athlete, with the mobility and quickness to navigate the lane and guard wings off the pick and roll. Although he’s not a post scorer, Nance brings stretch-four potential to the NBA with a solid mid-range game and a decent 3-point shot (34.1 percent in 2014-15).
While Nance., a projected second-round pick, holds great catch-and-shoot potential, he needs to improve his mid-range game off the dribble, according to some scouts. However, the major area of improvement NBA execs will be looking for from Nance is his post moves. He has a limited array of options and his footwork leaves much to be desired.
Nance felt good after his early workouts.
“Some went better than others, but I felt really good about all of them,” Nance said. “I’m very confident where I sit in the eyes of the NBA teams.”
Notes: Nance is the son of three-time NBA All-Star Larry Nance, who played 14 seasons in the league with the Suns and Cavaliers. Nance Jr. led Wyoming in points, rebounds and blocks in 2014-15 en route to All-Mountain West first team and Mountain West co-Defensive Player of the Year honors. He led Wyoming to the Mountain West Tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, the team’s first since 2002.
The point of emphasis for the Celtics in approaching this year, according to Ford, is that they’ll be looking to draft someone similar to Marcus Smart in the way that the point guard plays with a competitive edge and with a “fire in his belly.”
It’s for that reason that, though the C’s might focus on Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein for his talent, Ford said president of basketball operations Danny Ainge likes picking guys for their personality too. Ford suggested that Boston might opt for Croatia shooting guard Mario Hezonja because of his attitude.
“If you want to project who the Celtics are going to take at 16, you ought to look at what sort of player Danny [Ainge] likes from a mental makeup, and why they might be excited by a guy like Mario Hezonja from Croatia,” Ford said. “Everybody’s talking about them going after Willie Cauley-Stein, but Willie Cauley-Stein — from a talent standpoint, I see why the Celtics need him, but from a mental makeup, he doesn’t look anything like a Celtics pick. Mario Hezonja? That looks like a Celtics pick.”
Scouting report: Hunter is perhaps the best pure shooter in the draft, reminiscent in size and makeup to Klay Thompson. At 6-foot-6, Hunter is a long, athletic wing with an unconventional release but sure-fire results, including 2.2 3-point makes per game and the game-winning buzzer-beater against No. 3 seed Baylor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. One of the most underrated aspects of his game is his passing, stemming from a high basketball IQ and an advanced understanding of court spacing.
Hunter faces criticism from scouts for his wiry frame, which prevents him from reaching his defensive potential. Additionally, scouts wonder about his ability to create for himself off the dribble, an aspect of his game which needs work, especially against bigger, stronger defenders.
At the NBA combine, Hunter, a projected late-first-round pick, discussed the questions about his defense, citing that as the focal point of his workouts.
“I think that’s the main question. I’m ready to show that [capable defense],” Hunter said. “That’s another challenge for me and another [weakness] I’ve got to knock off. I’m ready for that.”
Notes: Hunter played three years for his father, Ron, at Georgia State. Hunter earned two Sun Belt Player of the Year awards. His buzzer-beater over Baylor capped off a 12-point comeback, leading to the 2015 tourney’s iconic Cinderella moment. In three years, Hunter became Georgia State’s all-time leading scorer with 1,799 points.