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How the Celtics dug themselves a hole that needn’t have happened

Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge has put his team into a deep hole, but can it they be salvaged?


Despite all the rumours that circled around the Boston Celtics during draft day, General manager Danny Ainge ultimately had no luck in making a move. Ainge was supposedly in a strong position, with a total of eight picks to potentially package in order to upgrade the current roster. But reports indicate that Ainge was simply too stubborn during negotiations, failing in notable attempts to trade for Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls, and Nerlens Noel of the Philadephia 76ers. Now they’re left with a dearth of young talent without any clear plan to incorporate all the players that were drafted.

Many had expected the Celtics to make a splash before the 2016 draft, due to smartly gathering picks since the blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets. This would not only ensure their future, but also assemble a roster that could genuinely compete in the weaker Eastern Conference for years to come. Although this route is not completely beyond them, they’re undoubtedly in a much more difficult position.

With the third pick, Ainge chose to select Jaylen Brown – 6’ 7” forward from the University of California – who was expected to go towards the end of the top ten. Some found it to be a confusing pick, considering the Celtics already owned a forward in Jae Crowder, who is relatively similar in size and style of play. Whether Ainge had no faith in other prospects on the board such as Kris Dunn, or he made the choice in fear of having to overpay Crowder this summer, Boston is in a far less desirable situation than anticipated.

A deal for Jimmy Butler, arguably behind only Klay Thompson as the best two-guard in the game, would’ve transformed their fortunes for the coming season. Paired with Isaiah Thomas in the back-court, the Celtics would’ve surely made a significant improvement on last season’s performance where they disappointingly exited in the first round, at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks. Even taking advantage of the inconvenience surrounding big men in Philly could’ve made a difference to the ‘The Green Machine’, a team sorely lacking an athletic rim protector.

The Sixers reportedly offered Noel, Robert Covington and picks 24 and 26 for the No. 3 overall selection, which at first glance does seem like a very trade. A centre in the mould of Noel would have allowed power-forwards such as Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger to play to their strengths and spend more time out on the perimeter when necessary. Covington too is an extremely underrated two-way player that has produced well in his two years in Philadelphia, and could’ve played as a valuable impact player of the Boston bench.

Now coach Brad Stevens and his board have to evaluate the quality that lies before them in preparation to go again in October, when the season begins. It is now questionable whether they can move some of their pieces for an established player. DeMarcus Cousins, so frequently linked to the Celtics last season, would’ve been the ideal signing for the Massachusetts franchise. His ability to dominate down low would only have added a unique dimension to a team that realistically isn’t very far away from challenging the heavyweights in the East. But this ship may have sailed due to Danny Ainge’s perseverance in his attempts to ‘win’ every trade outright. His reputation has taken a hit in the last week and if he continues this trend in the offseason, Boston may be looking at the unenviable scenario of having made no real improvement after initially holding all the cards.

Boston’s GM has claimed to have confidence in the ability of his six new Celtics, insisting that they are all physically ready for the game, supposedly giving them an advantage at the start of their NBA careers. This may be true, but he’s clutching at straws when considering this was not the position he expected to be in at this stage.

Ainge still has time to salvage his team’s fortunes and after the majority of free agents decide their destinations in the coming months, he will most definitely receive contact from dissatisfied General Managers looking to rescue their own forthcoming campaigns.

How the Celtics dug themselves a hole that needn’t have happened

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