After a difficult rebuilding season that saw the Boston Celtics miss the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2007, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge took some time to reflect and look forward on Wednesday evening.
The Celtics played their final game of the 2013-14 season on Wednesday night against the Washington Wizards at TD Garden. The playoff-bound Wizards won, 118-102, as the Celtics finished with a record of 25-57. Prior to the contest, Ainge touched on a variety of subjects.
"It was a long season, I guess not that long, but it was a tough, tough year and I saw a lot of positive things from individuals," said Ainge. "I thought our team gave good effort most nights. I think consistency was our biggest challenge and I don't think the team was a great fit, great mix. But individually, I like what I saw in almost every player. I just feel like we didn't have the size inside to protect the rim. I thought that was a big factor that cost us a lot of games and we didn't finish a lot of games down the stretch."
That may provide a clue as to what Ainge is thinking as he looks to build next year's team. Presumably, the Celtics will try to avoid, at all costs, another challenging season marred by talk of tanking and ping pong balls.
Back in the preseason, it was fairly evident that the young Celtics would be lottery-bound and would finish with a low win total.
First-year head coach Brad Stevens inherited a squad that traded superstars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn last summer for draft picks and role players. Star point guard Rajon Rondo didn't return to action until Jan. 17 after recovering from knee surgery. He sat out Wednesday night and played in just 30 games this season.
"I think that we started the season out very concerned with the personnel," said Ainge. "I think all the way up to the trade deadline we looked at opportunities to make our team better, but we wouldn't sacrifice draft picks to make us better for just this year. We look for opportunities to make our team better in the long term."
The Celtics own two picks in the first round of June's NBA Draft. Their lottery odds are solid after finishing tied for the fourth-worst record in the league. The lottery will shake out on May 20.
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said last month that "there could be some fireworks" in June, which lends to the theory that Boston will try to get back to playoff-level through a blockbuster deal (think 2007) that would most likely involve those draft picks.
"I think the 4th of July we'll have some fireworks," joked Ainge. "I don't know, we're hopeful. I have some ideas and some plans that I'd like to do but there's just no guarantee that we can do it. We need to find good trading partners. We always are trying to make fireworks, every summer we try to do something that's unique and special, and we will definitely try this summer."
Adding more draft picks is always a possibility as well.
"That depends on what else we can accomplish, what other options we have," said Ainge. "I could see that possibly happening, acquiring more assets. I could see giving up our assets, our young assets and some draft picks for players as well, and everywhere in between."
Rondo, who is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2014-15 season, is talking point No. 1 when it comes to discussing the future.
"I think that Rajon will have the best year of his career next year," said Ainge. "I think he's sort of in a phase of his life where he's matured, he's just smarter, the game has slowered him. I think he'll be really healthy and fresher with a summer of strength. You sort of bypass the mental anguish from coming back from the knee surgery and the ACL, and that's been sort of the pattern of guys in the past. The first few, 30, 20 games whatever is an adjustment period, so I'm confident he'll have the best year of his career.
"Listen, there's no one person that's more important than the whole organization. We need to be good because we all want to be good. I want my coach to stay, I want Jeff Green to want to be here, I want free agents that are out there looking at us play to want to play here. I want fans to want to come to the game. Ya know, everybody wants to win, but not just for one player, not just for one person. We all want to win and that's what we are trying to accomplish."
The aforementioned Green (16.8 ppg) could be talking point No. 2. Inconsistent play has been a theme for the 6-foot-9 forward. He hasn't made the leap in production that the team had hoped for, but Ainge still praised Boston's leading scorer, who still has two years left on his deal -- the last with a player option.
"I think Jeff had a good year and Jeff has been consistently a very good 3-point shooter and very good in transition offense throughout his whole career," Ainge said. "And I think that he got even better at that this year and he got more versatile. He became more of a focal point of the offense and he had his ups and downs with that, but I think his game is complete and I think that Jeff is improving as a player. I think he still has a lot of growth still left in his game and I think he's going to have a better year next year than he had this year."
There are also questions as to whether or not guard Avery Bradley, forward Jared Sullinger, and rookie center Kelly Olynyk factor into the Celtics' future plans. All have had moments this season that make Ainge optimistic.
However, no player on this roster appears to be a lock to be back next season. Ainge says he has no list of priorities in regards to his current personnel.
"I don't know anything about what we can do," Ainge said. "I'm hopeful, I'll work my tail off to duplicate what we've done in the past. But there are no guarantees."
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