Draft to the Future

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Draft to the Future

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

Celtics report card: Isaiah Thomas gets high marks

Celtics report card: Isaiah Thomas gets high marks

BOSTON -- The first quarter of the NBA season is about over for the Boston Celtics, a team that like so many in the league is far from a finished product.
 
When you look at where this team is versus where they could be if not for a slew of unfortunate injuries to key players, there’s a sense within the organization that they have weathered the early season storm and are in good shape going forward.
 
And while there’s plenty of fodder that would help explain away some of the team’s early season issues, the bottom line is the Celtics have been an inconsistent bunch at times regardless of who has been healthy enough to play.
 
Still, they Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season, third in the Eastern Conference and by all accounts are nowhere close to being as good as they should be this season. Which is why the evaluation of this team has to be about their sum parts as well as their individual success. 

And with this group returning so many key performers from a year ago along with adding Al Horford to the mix, expectations were realistically high.
 
So naturally, how close they have come to achieving those expectations is a factor in both their collective and individual grades as well.
 
Here’s a grade breakdown for the Celtics’ guards, wings and bigs at the quarter-way mark of the season.
 
GUARDS’ OVERALL GRADE: B
 
ISAIAH THOMAS: Showing last season’s all-star appearance was no fluke, Thomas has made a strong case to be considered among the top guards in the NBA. His 26.3 points per game ranks ninth in the league, and he’s at his best in the fourth quarter (his 7.9 points which trails only Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard) – a trait that often separates good players from great ones. He’s the star of this team, without question. GRADE: A-

AVERY BRADLEY: The season began with Avery Bradley putting together a legit campaign to be a first time all-star. He’s still playing at a relatively high level, but he’s no longer deeply entrenched in that conversation in part because the Celtics haven’t won more games and his numbers have tailed off. After averaging 18.5 points and 8.6 rebounds through the first 10 games, Bradley’s numbers since then have been 16.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. But to Bradley’s credit, this was yet another season in which he came back and showed tremendous growth in a specific facet of his game. That would be rebounding. The 6-foot-2 guard is currently the Celtics’ leader with 7.9 rebounds per game. GRADE: B
 
MARCUS SMART: He is the Celtics’ best defender not named Avery Bradley, and before his career is over he will be named to one of the NBA’s all-Defensive teams. His shot-making remains sporadic, although he has shown a knack for hitting big 3s late in games. Shooting struggles aside, his defense and much-improved playmaking have been good for the Celtics this season. GRADE: B- 
 
TERRY ROZIER: He was so impactful this summer and in training camp, it created expectations that he could easily slide in and fill the void left by Evan Turner who signed a four-year, $70 million deal with Portland during the offseason. Rozier has a ridiculously high assists-to-turnover ratio, but he doesn’t make as many impactful plays as the Celtics would like. The second-year guard hasn’t been bad out there, but the difference-making talent he showed earlier has not materialized yet. GRADE: B-
 
DEMETRIUS JACKSON: My initial thought was the sample size is too small to give Jackson a grade. But looking back at the three games he has played in for the Celtics as well as those stints in the D-League, Jackson has a bright future in this league. To his credit, he has made the most of his opportunities to play whether it’s with the Celtics or the Maine Red Claws. Still, he hasn’t done enough to knock any of the team’s more seasoned guards out of the rotation … yet. GRADE: B-

WINGS’ OVERALL GRADE: B-
 
JAE CROWDER:
This is one of the tougher players to grade (see Al Horford). I absolutely love the fact that Crowder is such a jack-of-all-trades kind of player who is all about helping teams win. But the fact that he has missed eight games has to be factored into his grade thus far. Aside from missing games with injuries, there’s a lot to love about Jae Crowder and his role on this team: B+

JONAS JEREBKO: Aside from Isaiah Thomas, Jerebko is probably the most improved player who was on the roster a year ago. He doesn’t take many shots, but when he does he makes them at a ridiculously high rate. And his overall effort defensively and on the boards has solidified a spot in Brad Stevens’ regular rotation. GRADE: B+
 
JAYLEN BROWN: There are always off-the-charts expectations when you’re a high draft pick, and Brown is no exception. But he joined a playoff-ready team which means getting on the floor as a rookie has not been easy. Brown has shown tremendous athleticism and a willingness to learn, but like most rookies he hasn’t been as consistent as he needs to be and does more thinking than just playing when he’s on the floor. But he has shown progress on that front of late.  GRADE: B-

GERALD GREEN: Having signed a veteran’s minimum contract at a time when the salary cap exploded should have been the first sign that Green wasn’t going to make much of an impact. He has a very simple job with this team and that’s to be an adequate defender and a shot-maker. Unfortunately, he has struggled on both fronts in his second tour of duty with the Celtics to the point where he has not played in eight of Boston’s last 11 games. GRADE: C-
 
JAMES YOUNG:
He barely beat out R.J. Hunter for the final roster spot and frankly, hasn’t done much since. From the time he arrived in Boston until now, there’s no question he’s a better player. But the former first round pick still hasn’t done enough to secure a spot in the rotation. And barring a couple injuries, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. GRADE: C-
 
BIGS’ OVERALL GRADE: C+
 

AL HORFORD: There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding Boston signing Al Horford in the offseason. And to the surprise of many, the Celtics have been exceptional when he has played. But that’s the problem. He has missed half of the still-young season primarily due to a concussion. There’s an old saying that one’s availability can be their best ability. And with Horford missing so many games, those absences have to be factored into his grade thus far this season. GRADE: B+
 
AMIR JOHNSON: If there’s one player whose impact can’t be measured in statistics alone, it’s Johnson. His job is to defend at a high level, score once in a while, and grab a few rebounds when he’s not sealing off his man so that Avery Bradley and the rest of the team’s guards can come in and scoop them up. There’s no glory in what he’s tasked with doing other than the knowledge that it’s important to winning. And to some degree his impact on games is limited due to him playing limited minutes because of Boston’s desire to spread the floor with long-range shooters – something that’s definitely not a strength of Johnson’s game. GRADE: B-
 
KELLY OLYNYK: Olynyk missed the first six games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He has had some really impressive moments (19 points vs New York; 16 the following night at Indiana), but far too often he doesn’t make the most of what sets him apart from most players and that is being a 7-footer with legit 3-point shooting range. He has been solid, but he’s not having the kind of breakout year the Celtics could really benefit from this season. GRADE: B-
 
TYLER ZELLER: There were some who were surprised the Celtics signed Zeller to a 2-year, $16 million contract (team option on second year), but that’s actually below the going rate these days for a backup center. Zeller today isn’t all that different than he was when the Celtics acquired him via trade a couple years ago. And that’s kind of the problem. He’s looking to shoot the ball more facing up and from the perimeter, but that’s very much a work in progress. To his credit, he stays ready and when he does get a chance to play he usually gives good effort. But effort can only take you so far. GRADE: C
 
JORDAN MICKEY: Viewed by many (self-included) as a draft-night steal for the Celtics, Mickey’s growth has been OK but not great. He has great instincts defensively as a shot-blocker and his offensive game is definitely trending upwards. But he doesn’t do enough of the little things to get on the floor with consistency just yet, which is why his most recent D-League stint probably won’t be his last this season. But again, he still has legitimate upside and in time should get more opportunities to help. GRADE: C

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

BOSTON -- Compared to most high draft picks, Jaylen Brown doesn’t log a ton of minutes for the Boston Celtics.
 
Playing on an experienced team with legit hopes of making a deep playoff run, rookies seeing limited minutes is a given.
 
Knowing playing time will come in a limited supply, Brown understands all too well the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on the floor.
 
He did just that on Saturday in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia, and he hopes to do more of the same on Monday when the Celtics take on the Houston Rockets.
 
When you look at Brown’s stat line, nothing about it looks impressive. He played 15 minutes, scored two points with one rebound and one blocked shot.
 
But beyond the stats was the fact that he was on the floor for seven minutes in the fourth quarter in a close back-and-forth game on the road. Rookies on the floor in crunch time is not the norm in the NBA.
 
“It means a lot,” Brown told reporters after Saturday’s win. “I try to be as best I can be for my team; try to put my best foot forward every night out.”
 
And he did just that on Saturday.
 
In the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading 87-83, Brown blocked a Gerald Henderson shot that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Moments later, Jonas Jerebko hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 90-83.
 
And just two minutes prior to the blocked shot, he was out in transition following an Isaiah Thomas steal and threw down a dunk that pushed Boston’s lead to 86-83 with 7:11 to play.
 
Brown acknowledged making the most of those opportunities bodes well for him and the franchise.
 
“It’s great for our team in general; not just for me,” Brown said. “Those plays helped us to pull the game out in the end. So I’m glad we got the win. I think we should have played a little better than we did.”
 
The continued pursuit of self-improvement is a hallmark of what Brown’s focus and desire are at this stage of his pro career. He has talked often about not wanting to be just one of the best in this draft class but also one of the best in the NBA overall.
 
But he’s also learned that to get there takes time and experience developing both physically and mentally. Part of that mental growth entails having the right approach to games.
 
“Usually you try to tell yourself not to mess up,” Brown said. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable, it’s just play basketball, bring energy, things like that; come out and do what you’re supposed to do. A lot of times you try to tell yourself to not mess up and it’s counteractive; just come out and play basketball and have fun.”
 
And by doing so the minutes will come.
 
“You can’t control that. I just have to control what I can control,” Brown said. “I trust coach (Brad Stevens); I trust my coaching staff. I have to come out and in the minutes I get, play my hand as best I can and take advantage of what I do get and impact this team as much as possible.”
 
This season, Brown is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.