True to their word, the Celtics were merely bystanders in what most observers called the weakest draft since 2000, holding steady with the 58th pick where they selected Lester Hudson from Tennessee-Martin.
But the draft was merely a sidebar on a day when the top contenders in the East added mega-watt star power as Cleveland grabbed Shaquille O’Neal and Orlando traded for Vince Carter. Add in Washington’s moves earlier in the week to get Mike Miller and Randy Foye, and suddenly, the Eastern Conference got a whole tougher.
“Vince is a great player,” Boston basketball boss Danny Ainge said after the draft. “That makes Orlando a stronger team. I think the East is getting better. We have our summer plans. Nothing that’s happened has changed any of our plans.”
Ironically -- or maybe not so ironically, given the nature of NBA trade rumors -- the Celtics stood pat, despite an avalanche of rumors to the contrary. Ainge reaffirmed his stance that he’s not looking to move Rajon Rondo.
“Nowhere,” was his response when someone half-jokingly asked where Rondo was going on the post-draft conference call. “Those of you guys that talk to me on a regular basis know that I didn’t say anything (on WEEI) that I haven’t said before. In light of all the rumors it probably made for a better story. We’re not trading Rondo. We love Rondo. We always have. He’s not perfect. He’s a young player that has to get better.”
Still, Ainge couldn’t resist another subtle jab adding, “We just don’t like it when you’re late.”
In the wake of the momentous moves Thursday, where does that leave the Celtics? In the same place they were before Shaq joined forces with LeBron (credit Howard Beck of the New York Times with tabbing Shaq as “The Big Witness”), and Carter was dealt to the Magic.
It’s worth noting that neither the Cavs nor the Magic gave up much value to obtain their new superstars. The price for Shaq was a straight salary dump with Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic going to Phoenix, and the Magic unloading the expendable Rafer Alston, backup big man Tony Battie and Courtney Lee (the best player to leave either of the contenders) to get Carter and Ryan Anderson from New Jersey.
The Celtics don’t have those kinds of pieces to move. If Ainge does make a deal, he would have to part with one of his core players, whether it’s Rondo, Ray Allen or Kendrick Perkins to name the three that have surfaced in various rumors.
That isn’t to say there won’t be a trade in the offing, but with the draft now behind us the chances grow slimmer. Now comes the hard part for Ainge and the Celtics. With the start of free agency just days away, Ainge played it coy when asked about any of his plans although he did say there was nothing new on the Eddie House front. House can opt out of his contract and his agent has made indications that he might.
In the end this may all have been an elaborate smokescreen designed to shake Rondo up a little bit and negotiate publicly on a possible contract extension. But on a day when the Magic certainly got better and the Cavs gave LeBron a new toy, the Celtics played it close to the vest, offering a little sanity to an insane last few days.
Five more things from draft day where every pick is a winner, at least according to ESPN’s expert panel.
1. MEET LESTER HUDSON
With the 58th pick the Celtics chose Lester Hudson, a 24-year-old shooting guard from Tennessee-Martin who rose from a difficult childhood to become the two-time Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year.
Hudson never graduated from high school. In fact he didn’t even graduate from junior high. A product of a rough area of Memphis, Hudson had problems with truancy as a young man, but managed to get his life together -- and earn a college degree -- while averaging over 27 points a game.
“He’s a tough kid,” Ainge said. “I don’t care about those kinds of things. I care about how hard he competes. He instigates physical play with the ball in his hands.”
Hudson is only 6-foot-2 but he has long arms and a strong body. He’s a terrific shooter, but he’s also adept at driving to the basket, initiating contact and finishing. Whether he will be able to do that against NBA defenders will determine whether he can have a future in the league.
There were a number of intriguing players who fell into the second round and Ainge said he had discussions about moving up, but elected to stay put. Among those mentioned were former Big East stalwarts Sam Young and DeJuan Blair from Pitt and DaJuan Summers from Georgetown, who went in consecutive picks from 35-37.
Another name that apparently intrigued Ainge was St. Mary’s point guard Patrick Mills, who went three spots ahead of Boston to Portland.
Still, Ainge said he was happy to get Hudson saying, “We had him rated much higher.”
2. REMEMBER THE ALAMO
Lost in the Shaq-Vince Carter insanity (“Kazaamsanity”?) were the subtle moves made by the San Antonio Spurs, who added Richard Jefferson and Blair.
Jefferson is a little overrated, thanks to his high scoring average, but he is a perfect compliment to the San Antonio machine and he is particularly adept at hitting the corner 3-pointer.
To get RJ, the Spurs gave up Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and the perpetually traded Kurt Thomas. Bowen and Oberto had fallen out of favor and Thomas always seems to find his way back to the Spurs.
But getting Blair may have been the masterstroke for the Spurs. The Big East Player of the Year had off the charts rebounding numbers at Pitt, and despite being undersized at 6-foot-7, he is a rock solid 265 pounds. Blair dominated Hasheem Thabeet, the No. 2 pick in the draft, despite giving away eight inches and one of the iconic moments of the NCAA season was when Blair flipped Thabeet over his shoulder like a sack of groceries.
There were concerns about his knees but in a draft long on nebulous potential and short on production, the Spurs scored a coup.
3. HOW MANY POINTS GUARDS DOES IT TAKE TO SCREW UP A DRAFT?
Meet the anti-Spurs. Minnesota made a big move to secure the fifth pick in the draft from Washington and tabbed Spanish star Ricky Rubio with the pick. Applause all around. Then the Wolves took Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn one pick later. Huh?
At 18 they took another point guard, Ty Lawson, and traded him to Denver. In the second round they took still another point guard, Nick Calathes, who has already signed with a team in Greece.
The euphoria over Rubio has already dissipated. The Pistol Pete lookalike mentioned several times how cold it was in the land of Great Lakes, and his father suggested R-squared was heading back to Europe for a year or two. Later in the second round the Wolves took a project from the Netherlands named Henk Norel.
So despite having four picks in the first round and six in the draft, Minnesota looks like it might go to camp with just Flynn and Wayne Ellington (with the pick they got from the Celtics in the Kevin Garnett deal) who they took late in the first round despite having Summers and Blair available. Naturally, Jay Bilas loved their draft. Anyone for a do-over?
4. THE KINGS MADE SOME OF THE BEST PICKS
Up until the very last, none of the mock drafters knew for sure whom the Kings would be taking at No. 4. It had long been assumed that Rubio would be the choice, but after a less than stellar interview process the Kings elected to take Memphis guard Tyreke Evans instead.
Evans is a skilled 6-foot-5 guard who played point for John Calipari, but is probably better suited to play off the ball in the NBA. Regardless of his position, Evans might wind up being the best player in the draft when we look back in a few years.
DeMar DeRozen (Toronto, No. 9), Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee, No. 10) Austin Daye (Detroit, No. 15) and Jrue Holiday (Philly, No. 17) all represented great value and potential when they were chosen and Denver made a nice move to get Lawson.
5. THE PACERS MADE SOME OF THE WORST PICKS
There is no way Tyler Hansbrough should have gone as high as he did to Indiana at No. 13. Yes, he had a brilliant career at North Carolina, but his game just doesn’t translate and he’s redundant on a Pacers team that already had Troy Murphy and Jeff Foster.
The Pacers followed that up by taking AJ Price late in the second round when Mills was still available.
The Cavs chose a player from the Congo at No. 30, but scored in the second round with North Carolina’s Danny Green who might be able to provide backup minutes to LeBron James.
Memphis GM Chris Wallace swears he didn’t extend a promise to DeMarre Carroll at 27, a practice he says he no longer engages in because of his infamous selection of Kedrick Brown when he was with the Celtics. A pity because that would be a better explanation than any for why he passed on Blair.