Playoffs? Celtics president Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens aren’t talking about playoffs. Are you kidding me? (Getty Images)
Asked by one reporter to name his favorites in the NBA’s Eastern Conference this season, Celtics president Danny Ainge listed the Cavaliers, Bulls and Wizards.
“You left off the Celtics,” another media member countered.
“I did. Yes, I did. Good observation,” said Ainge, pausing, and then adding, “but I do believe the extraordinary is possible.”
Ladies and gentleman, the 2014-15 Boston Celtics, where the extraordinary is possible, but the reality is the roster looks an awful lot like the edition that won 25 games this past season.
“There were things that we wanted to do that we weren’t able to do,” said Ainge. “There were some things that were tempting that we didn’t do, that I’m very glad we didn’t do. I like that we were able to get some things accomplished, although we weren’t able to get a big, big deal accomplished that we wanted to. But I’m excited about our two young guys that we drafted, I’m very happy that we have Avery [Bradley] coming back and I really like our young core.”
It’s no secret the Celtics wanted Kevin Love, but all reports indicated their interest never amounted to much. Now, it seems, there was another trade ownership considered “a major deal” this summer that Ainge dismissed.
“I expected a lot of activity, phone calls and possibilities,” said C’s owner Wyc Grousbeck. “We got all of those. We didn’t consummate a major deal that I certainly would’ve welcomed, probably, to be honest, but we have a lot of assets, and I like how we used our first-round picks. I’m not claiming to be the basketball guy, but what I see from my fan’s standpoint is [James] Young and [Marcus] Smart both look like they can really add something to this team.”
Asked to clarify if “a major deal” reached his desk, Grousbeck retreated. “I always welcome a major deal in a sense, because that’s what happened in ’07, and I have fond memories. It’s not going to be easy to rebuild. We’re on that path. I think that we’re going to be better this year. That’s my hope. That’s my expectation, and we’ll let it play out.”
Whatever the deal was — whether it was Josh Smith or any number of second- or third-tier talents — it wasn’t ’07. Grousbeck’s motivation for making a deal, any deal, major or minor, was twofold: 1) “fireworks” and 2) tickets.
Ainge, however, has ulterior motives.
“It’s challenging, because there are always things you think you might be able to do to get a tiny bit better, but our goals are much bigger than that,” Ainge said of the temptation to make a trade for the sake of making a trade. “We want to hang banners in Boston, and ultimately that’s what drives all of our decisions.”
So, the C’s instead made the best of their trade exception from dealing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — adding Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton’s expiring contract and another first-round pick — drafted the best players available at their two slots and signed Evan Turner off the scrap heap, letting Kris Humphries and Jerryd Bayless walk.
“We obviously lost some pretty good players from last year’s roster, obviously, that went to other teams, and I’m happy for those guys, but I really like what we’ve added,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “I like the fact that we can improve individually with the guys that were here, and I’m a big believer in that this is a game of small details that really add up at the end, and hopefully we can be better in all of those other things with the people that were here, and hopefully the new guys add to our collective ability to win, and obviously that’s the goal.”
That coach-’em-up mentality worked at Butler, but even if it translates with another young NBA roster in his second season, how many extra wins are we talking about here? 30? 35? Enough to make the playoffs in the East?
“I don’t know what my expectations are,” said Ainge. “I really want to see this team get together. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what my expectations are. It matters what their expectations are, the trust that they have in each other and the belief in what they can accomplish together. I think they’ll build a unity as this training camp goes on, but I’m excited to see them. I’m excited to see how it all works and how Marcus Smart sort of fits in with Bradley and [Rajon] Rondo and Jeff [Green] and how Evan fits in — I think two terrific players — and how Kelly [Olynyk] and [Jared Sullinger] have improved over the offseason. So far, they look really good, and I’m excited about them.”
This is the sell Ainge and Stevens and Grousbeck are making to Celtics fans after a fireworks-free summer, and it’s a tough one to buy. But, hey, at least they’ve still got all those assets. And Rondo. For now.