Preseason Blues: Celtics back to work

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Preseason Blues: Celtics back to work

The Celtics are in Philadelphia tonight for their second real preseason game (now there's an oxymoron) of the year, while everyone back home readjusts to the preseason's overwhelming irrelevance.

It's been a while since we were here. Two years, to be exact. Thanks to last year's lockout, the 2011 preseason lasted all of two games both of which came against the Raptors and served very little purpose. But on the bright side, at least it was brief. It was over as soon as it began. This year, we're back to the norm two weeks of meaningless games! Where little is gained by the players, less is learned by the fans, and to make matters worse, we all scramble to convince ourselves otherwise. As if anything we see tonight will alter the game plan for this season. As if Kris Joseph or Dionte Christmas might catch fire and keep Doc up at night, figuring out a way to work them into his rotation. That might be the case on some teams, but it's nothing that concerns these Celtics.

Rondo, Lee, Terry, Pierce, Bass, Green, Sullinger, Milicic, Wilcox, Garnett, Collins.

That's 11.

That's the team. Whether the season starts on the 30th or tomorrow, you already know the contributors and how they'll be utilized. Anything we don't know is far more likely to be worked out behind the scenes in practice as opposed to in exhibitions against a string of division rivals.

Kevin Garnett will sit tonight, and you know this won't be his last preseason DNP. You know he'll be joined on the sidelines by Pierce and Rondo on more than a few occasions. That's because the positives to be gained in the preseason are far outweighed by the potential negatives a.k.a. injuries. We watch these games hoping no one gets hurts, fearing that someone will get hurt, and that's no way to watch basketball.

But that's the preseason. And believe it or not, it's just getting started. On one hand, it's seems crazy to complain. Would we rather go back to last year's mess, when we spent October hating everything the league stood for and wondering if there might be basketball at all? Of course not. A longer pre-season is a small price to pay for the ability to eliminate "lockout" from our daily vocabulary.

But there's no question that the best part of tonight's game in Philly is that once it's over, there will one less game standing between the Celtics and the real thing.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Danny Ainge tweets photo from scouting trip in Croatia

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Danny Ainge tweets photo from scouting trip in Croatia

Where in the world is Danny Ainge? The Celtics president of basketball operations let everyone know on Wednesday by sharing a photo from Croatia.

The tweet shows Kresimir Cosic and Drazen Petrovic pictured on a wall and the caption: “Two of my all-time favorite players and people.”

Here’s the photo:

Ainge spent two seasons playing with Petrovic, and Cosic went to BYU, Ainge’s alma mater.

But Ainge isn’t in Croatia sightseeing. He’s scouting. With the 2016 NBA Draft less than one month away, we're entering crunch time of draft preparations.

Cibona Zagreb has two draft prospects on their roster: Ante Zizic and Nik Slavica.

Zizic is likely the player Ainge had his eyes on. He’s a 6-foot-11 center who has endless energy on the floor and bullies opponents with his bulk in the paint. With three first-round picks, the Celtics might have to draft-and-stash one of their prospects. Zizic could be on their radar with the No. 23 pick in the first-round.

Cibona won Game 2 of the Croatian League's semi-final playoff game 8-81 over Zadar. Zizic had a solid stat line with 12 points and 13 rebounds playing in front of Ainge.

But you're probably wondering about Dragan Bender. He plays on Thursday in Tel Aviv, Israel. If Ainge makes the nine-hour flight over the Mediterranean Sea he'll get a first-hand look at their potential choice with the third pick.

Celtics should roll the dice on Dragan Bender

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Celtics should roll the dice on Dragan Bender

Danny Ainge recently hinted on Toucher & Rich that the Celtics were interested in drafting Dragan Bender.

And they need to do exactly that. 

No, I'm not crazy. Neither is Danny.

Drafting Bender is the Celtics' best option. As Ainge pointed out, his job is to make the move that's best for the team. Not just for the short term, but for the long haul.

Now, I can't say I've been to Croatia to work out Bender. Like many of you, I 've only seen him via the Internet.

It is easy to look at him and think he’s a project. That’s because he is. He’s 18 and, even though he's 7 feet tall, he only weighs about 220 soaking wet. He's a kid, too skinny at the moment for the NBA, and would no doubt get killed if you put in the post today.

And, like I said, I'm not crazy. I'm not committed to Bender. If  Sacramento calls and offers Boogie Cousins for any combination of picks the Celtics have, the deal should be made immediately. To a degree, I feel the same way about Jimmy Butler. However, the consensus is those two players aren't going anywhere. (And even if they are available, suppose the Lakers decide to dangle the No. 2 pick for either of them? That would make a trade nearly impossible for Boston.)

But if the Celtics keep the third pick -- and he isn't taken by either Philly or L.A. (highly unlikely) -- Dragen Bender should be Ainge's choice. And it will be the right move.

Let’s break it down.

There's just no one else in this draft with Bender's upside. Buddy Hield is a 22-year-old shooting guard who completely disappeared in the NCAA championship game. He has a shot to be a very good NBA player, but he won’t transform the organization. Neither would Jamal Murray from Kentucky. Nor Kris Dunn from Providence.

The risk for Bender is HUGE. The reward is even HUGER. Ah, that’s not a word, right? Well then, BIGGER THAN HUGE! Or HUGEST!

Bender could be that guy.

And, I also admit, he also wind up playing in Europe or Israel.

Still, Danny has to roll the dice on this guy.

Bender can handle the ball, block shots, shoot the 3, and -- like all European players -- is fundamentally sound. The issue for this kid is toughness in the low post and getting stronger. I put my money on Celtics strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo to get him ready for NBA life.

And I'm not one those boneheads who are pushing for Bender because Kristaps Porzingis has worked out for the Knicks. One has nothing to do with the other. For every Porzingis there's at least one Stojko Vrankovic. Or Darko Milicic.

Take Bender, Danny. In two years this guy may have gained 15 to 20 pounds of muscle, learned the rigors on and off the court of the NBA, and look like the next Porzingis, Or Dirk Nowitzki or Porzingis. Then use the other two Brooklyn first-round picks, and the Celtics could be back on their way to greatness.

But if you play it safe, Danny, and don't take Bender, the Green will simply be stuck in the mud of mediocrity.