NBA Draft Lottery Gives Danny Ainge, Celtics Validation For Strategy

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WALTHAM, Mass. — Boston Celtics fans, take yourselves back to the days before the 2017 NBA trade deadline.

How were you feeling? What did you want president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to do with all of his assets? Did you want him to let the deadline pass without making a deal or to go for a blockbuster trade?

Regardless of how you felt, Ainge decided against making a deal. And Ainge sure looks like he made a good decision based on what happened the past two nights.

First, his C’s proved they didn’t need to add a player to make the Eastern Conference finals, as they beat the Washington Wizards to clinch a berth in the NBA’s Final Four against the Cleveland Cavaliers. And the night after, Boston’s right to swap picks with the Brooklyn Nets turned into the No. 1 overall pick at the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery.

“Well, I think sitting here right now with the No. 1 pick in the draft, the answer obviously is yes,” Ainge said during a post-lottery press conference Tuesday night. “And sitting in the Eastern Conference finals, I think the answer is obviously yes. I think that being patient, sometimes you need to be patient. It’s hard for me to be patient. I like action.

“But we have a good group of guys around us. My whole staff and ownership, we sit and we calmly try to figure out what the best path is to take.”

And they decided that best path was to have a quiet deadline.

That doesn’t mean they’ll do the same before the draft. They almost certainly will get calls from teams wanting to acquire the No. 1 pick. But the Celtics now have an even more valuable asset than they did at the deadline.

“I’m sure we’ll hear in the next little while,” Ainge said. “Lot of discussion. I think the most exciting thing, I mean, is getting the No. 1 pick is very fun, it’s very exciting. We’ve never had that before, so that would be a lot of fun to explore those options. But right now I think it’s just good to have clarity as to where everybody is in the draft.

“When you’re in the trade deadline and you’re talking about trading picks, it’s one through four or possibly five if Brooklyn starts winning games and so forth. So there’s so much uncertainty when you’re making the trades. I think for both teams. And now there’s certainty and clarity.”

Ainge wouldn’t tip his hand as to which way he’s leaning. But he said he’s seen all likely top four draft picks — Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum — play anywhere from five to seven times, so he probably has a pretty detailed draft board to help with what’s considered to be a very deep class.

“I think it’s a little bit deeper,” Ainge said of the draft. “I think the very top of the draft, it’s not as obvious as some and more obvious than others, the lines of separation in this draft. But I think that it’s going to be a tough choice for us where we sit at No. 1. And with No. 1 sometimes there comes a little bit more pressure for the player that comes with high expectations to live up to past No. 1s. Most likely the No. 1 is going to be a freshman in college and so that’s a little bit different than some No. 1s have been.

“We certainly don’t have expectations for a No. 1 pick to come in and turn our franchise around and make us a better team than where we are right now in the Final Four. I think that they can add to our team and help us in some capacity, but I think it’s dangerous to think that a 19-year-old’s going to come in and transform our franchise.”

And if you’re wondering how Fultz or Ball would fit in with point guard Isaiah Thomas on the team, Ainge certainly isn’t.

“Isaiah can play with anybody,” he said.

Ainge was right about the deadline. And if he’s right about who he picks at No. 1 and how he fits in with the team, the Celtics could be set for years.

Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images

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