Draft to the Future

Draft to the Future
June 29, 2012, 5:08 pm
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Remember the trade deadline?

Yeah, you remember. This past March, the NBA trade deadline approached these parts amidst more hype and speculation than at any point in recent memory.

We knew that Danny Ainge was ready to make a move. We knew that Danny Ainge was trying to make a move. And because Danny Ainge is Danny Ainge we knew that he was willing to move anyone. So as the deadline arrived, we took a deep breath, stocked up on canned goods, told friends and family that we loved them and braced ourselves for the end of the world . . .

Then, we all looked like idiots. Like a crazy cult, huddled around waiting for an asteroid that missed Earth by five million miles.

The deadline hit, and the Celtics disappeared. They backed off their reportedly relentless pursuit of a trade and settled on standing pat. And while the reviews were mixed, the results taught us an important lesson about Boston's vice president of basketball operations.

Sure, hell exhaust every option to make a deal no one's off limits! but hell never make a trade just for the sake of making it. At the end of the day, he understands value, he's confident in his own perception of value, and has no problem walking away if that value isnt reciprocated.

Would Danny Ainge trade his own mother? Yup! But only if he gets a better mother in return.

And that brings us to last night: The NBA Draft

The most hyped and rumor-ridden draft in recent Celtics memory. And while no one was expecting a deal on the level of what could have come down at the deadline, we were expecting something.

There was alleged interest in Josh Smith and OJ Mayo. Familiar tweets about how the Celtics were aggressively trying to move up, perhaps in polarizing pursuit of Austin Rivers.

Thats Danny, we thought. Up to his old tricks.

And he was. Theres no question that Ainge spent most of yesterday, and the better part of the last few weeks, in a frantic attempt to move up and improve the Celtics situation. I mean, what else would he be doing? Thats his job. But again, much like with the trade deadline, nothing clicked. The Celtics stood pat. Leaving them with the 21st and 22nd picks and the rest of us with an even greater excess of canned goods.

In retrospect, thats all easy to understand. But in real time, the moments leading up to the picks were pretty hectic.

It all started when New Orleans took Rivers off the board at No. 10. Not a surprise, but a necessary development in helping all of us officially eliminate the possibility and make a graceful landing back on Earth.

It escalated when the Rockets nabbed Royce White at 16. Man, that hurt. Regardless of all the indecision that awaited on draft night, I was pretty confident that the C's would find a way to emerge with White wearing Green. (Then again, I'm the same guy who said they wouldn't draft Fab Melo). I'd already fitted White for a jersey. I'd already nickname him "Royce da 6'8." I'd already carved out a spot on my mantle for his multiple Sixth Man of the Year Awards (not sure why he'd be giving them to me, but that was the plan).

Just like that, he was gone.

At 17, Dallas Mavericks selected Tyler Zeller (of the Zeller brothers), but not before Ric Bucher broke onto the scene with an important announcement: Dallas has traded Tyler Zeller to . . . He paused just long enough for me to scream at the television: "Damn it, Bucher! Spit it out!" . . . the Cleveland Cavaliers. OK, so no Zeller. Now who's left: Nicholson? Sullinger? Melo? Terrence Jones?

Yeahhhh, Terrence Jones: Intense, athletic, solid rebounder, great hands. Cool name.

I typed "Terrence Jones" into YouTube just time for . . .

David Stern: "With the 18th pick in the (BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!) 2012 NBA Draft, the Houston Rockets select . . . Terrence Jones."

Gah! Morey! He's officially that shrewd dude in your fantasy league who you hate drafting anywhere near. Who you just know is going to steal your pick and break your heart at least once every couple rounds.

Last night, Morey broke Boston's heart twice. In one round.

At 19, Orlando and their new GM Rob Hennigan (a protege of OKC's Sam Presti) nabbed Andrew Nicholson from St. Bonaventure another guy who Boston had rated high.

I don't know about you, but I feel like the NBA was a much better place for the Celtics when the rest of the teams were run by idiots. But now between guys like Morey, Presti and their forthcoming spawn, the league is getting smarter. It's a pretty exciting development, but last night was an enormous pain in the ass.

OK, pick No. 20 and at this point it was all about Jared Sullinger. The one guy who you knew the Celtics would take if he was still around. But there was one pick to go. Time for a little more heartbreak?

David Stern: "With the 20th (BOOOOOO!) pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Denver Nuggets select"

Some French guy!

I'm sure Mickael Pietrus was crushed, but the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief. The Celtics got a Sullinger, and even though he wasn't the best-case scenario when the night began, all things considered, he was the right pick.

Sure, he's not a great defender. He's not explosive or all-that-athletic. He may not have many SportsCenter Top 10's in his future. But he can play basketball. He's NBA ready, and even if back problems derail his career five years from now, if he can give the Celtics two or three years of consistent and immediate impact so that they can squeeze every ounce out of this KGPierce era it will be enough.

I heard Donny Marshall lamenting the Sullinger pick on CSN's post draft show because Sully (are we calling him that yet?) doesn't run the floor or play above the rim. But I can live with that. So he can't run with Rondo? That's fine. Between Bradley and likely Jeff Green, Rondo will have plenty of guys to run with. And anyway, how much do we think that Sullinger will even play next year? Maybe 15 minutes a game? For that, I'll forfeit a little athleticism for a guy with a boat load of talent and understanding of the game.

But what about a boat load of talent and little understanding of the game?

That's where the Celtics went at No. 22: Fab Melo.

I'm on record saying that I wanted Perry Jones there not to mention, I tweeted out a few weeks back that the Celtics were unimpressed after working Melo out but all that being said, I understand where they're coming from with Fab. Even if they weren't entirely impressed with the workout, the raw talent is still there, and at some point the risk is worth it. He's an athletic seven-footer, and in today's NBA, those guys are few and far between. If you've talked to the kid, have faith in what you heard and the people you'll put around him, then why not take a chance? The Celtics did, and I'm looking forward to watching him develop.

One thing though: It's clear that the C's are NOT messing around with Melo. That despite any and all perceived problems, they won't take it easy on him. "I dont know what we project him as, but we have to treat him the Celtics way, and show him how to work," Doc Rivers said after the draft. Before adding, "I have a feeling Melo's first practice could be rough."

So, that's how it's going to be. They're going to put Melo through the ringer, really test the limits of what this kid can handle. And in the process, they'll create two very distinct possibilities: This will either end really well, or really badly. There's no in between.

We'll just wait and see.

Yes, wait and see. That's the theme of all things Celtics for the next few days, while we await word from Kevin Garnett.

At this point, I think we all believe that he's coming back, but our assumptions mean nothing. It's time for answer. For the Celtics to finally know what they have, so they can get their ducks in a row for what will be an undoubtedly interesting off-season.

No doubt we'll find ourselves right back in the midst of non-stop rumors. Talk of Danny Ainge frantically trying to do this, or offering his entire team for that. You can already see the tweets: "Sources close to the situation say that the Celtics are burning up the phone looking to make a splash in free agency."

If you can't, then it's time to wake up, because while Draft Week was chock full of speculation, in reality the speculation season has only just started, and knowing Danny Ainge, you know the Celtics will be right there.

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