Danny Ainge Explains Why He Passed On Giannis Antetokounmpo In 2013 NBA Draft


April 3, 2018

When the Boston Celtics play the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, it will be another friendly reminder of what could have been.

That’s because Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, one of the NBA’s most electrifying talents, very easily could have been a member of the Celtics.

Boston held the No. 16 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, which took place just hours after the C’s traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge swung a trade with the Dallas Mavericks that, essentially, allowed the C’s to move up to the No. 13 spot to select Kelly Olynyk. The Mavericks wound up doing some wheeling and dealing of their own with the No. 16 pick — but none of that matters.

What matters is that Antetokounmpo was selected with the 15th overall selection, and since has become the dominant force known as the Greek Freak. Olynyk, meanwhile, now is performing as an occasionally above-average act for the Miami Heat.

So, why did Ainge pass over Antetokounmpo, a potential franchise-altering talent?

“Giannis was a really bright talent,” Ainge recently told the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett. “He was really young. He played on a pro B team in Greece, and I saw him practice. I met him. He was very skinny. I thought he was absolutely a worthwhile project.

“But never in a million years did I see him becoming a potential best-player-in-the-league type of player. And I saw his potential as a good player because he could handle the ball, and he was long. But he was really, really skinny, and I think he was about two or three inches shorter than he is now. But what an amazing player.”

And what about selecting a very, very poor man’s version of Dirk Nowitzki?

“We needed shooting at the big positions,” Ainge said. “Brad (Stevens) wasn’t hired yet, but even when Doc (Rivers) was here, he liked his big guys to handle the ball some. That’s one reason why we brought (Brian Scalabrine) in as a big that could shoot and dribble, and dribble handoffs are a big part of the game nowadays.

“That’s why we like (Al) Horford and lots of guys, but Kelly was a very versatile guy that could play the 4 and the 5, and those guys are hard to find.”

Well, there you have it.

Is Ainge’s explanation fair? Absolutely — plus, he’s not the only general manager who passed on the Freak in the 2013 draft. Still, knowing that Antetokounmpo could be defying gravity as a member of the C’s might be a tough pill to swallow for fans.

Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images
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