Storyline: Celtics Front Office

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“You know what? Sometimes I talk too much,” said Ainge. “‘Setback’ wasn’t the right word, so let me rephrase that because it’s not exactly true to say it — or say it that way. What happened is he went on the AlterG [anti-gravity treadmill] the first day and he felt some soreness. It was the first day he tried the AlterG, a long time ago. He just wasn’t ready for it at that point. That’s all it was. So I think ‘setback’ is the wrong way to put it. I mis-phrased that.”

“I’m not sure what the right word is, but he wasn’t ready for that. So we waited a couple of weeks before we started that again, and since we started that again it’s been great and he’s progressed along on the AlterG. That’s all. It wasn’t like he had an accident or anything like that. I used the word ‘setback,’ and it became a headline. Like, ‘Oh, setback.’ It got blown out of proportion. It’s my fault. I’m not blaming anybody. ‘Setback’ was probably too strong of a word.”

As the Thursday trade deadline approaches, Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens suggested his organization should be careful not to disrupt the current roster’s success. At 39-15, the Celtics lead the Eastern Conference despite losing All-Star Gordon Hayward to a bad ankle injury five minutes into the season opener. “I think the biggest thing we have to be really cognizant of is if we do add anything it’s somebody that really complements who we have,” Stevens said before a team shootaround Tuesday morning. “Because we have a lot of guys that have played a really good role in helping us be successful. And we value that up and down the roster.”

“I think we will use that exception,” said Danny Ainge. “I’m pretty sure. Or at least a portion of it in a trade or a buyout situation before the deadline’s passed. But I’m not sure who that’s going to be yet.” But he made an important distinction. Stevens has talked about her need for more shooting and playmaking, but Ainge is not acting positionally focused at the deadline. “I think it’s more important on the player than the position right now.”

Benas Matkevicius could stroll unnoticed through the streets of Boston if he wished, but he is one of the most essential parts of the Celtics operation. His task is simple, yet also massive and almost inconceivable. He just has to identify, keep track of, and evaluate basketball prospects on an entire continent from his one-man traveling European office. “It is not easy,” Matkevicius said, chuckling. “At first I was pretty flabbergasted by the whole situation. It took a while to organize myself and figure out the ins and outs of where to start.”

Over the past two years, the Celtics have been busy in Europe. In 2016, they drafted French forward Guerschon Yabusele and Croatian center Ante Zizic. Then last summer they signed German forward Daniel Theis and veteran point guard Shane Larkin, who spent last season playing in Spain. With so much focus on college basketball, and for obvious logistical reasons, the Celtics’ small and diligent Boston-based scouting staff cannot have a constant presence overseas. So that is what Matkevicius is tasked with, and the Celtics’ lone full-time staffer and scout in Europe played a key role in all of the recent additions. “Benas has an amazing work ethic,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said. “He just seems tireless.”

In the summer of 2012, Matkevicius was sitting in the stands scouting an under-18 tournament in Poland when Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge walked over and introduced himself. The two traded scouting stories and stayed in touch afterward. Ainge was impressed by Matkevicius’s knowledge and thoroughness, and when the Celtics had an opening for a European scout in 2014, the choice was obvious. “The hardest thing is when you’re working in a one-man office,” Austin Ainge said. “It gets lonely. Benas is so diligent and detail-oriented. He just works and works and works, and that can be hard to stay motivated by yourself on the road all the time. He’s amazing. He never tires, and he watches video constantly in all his travels. He’s a huge asset.”

Is it possible that Danny Ainge’s best acquisition will never score a point for the Celtics? As the club piled up a few losses in the last couple of weeks and people came to the conclusion that, no, the Celts are not the best team on the planet, a few scouts and others said greater light is being shed on what coach Brad Stevens has done since he arrived to get more out of the C’s than the sum of their parts. “Best move Danny ever made,” one NBA executive said. “No question.”

The Celtics were trying hard to keep Doc Rivers in 2013, but Brad Stevens has worked out better than even Doc might have with a constantly changing roster. “Well, listen, when I hired Brad, I believed he would be a very good NBA coach,” Danny Ainge said. “I certainly didn’t know it, because he had never coached in the NBA, but I knew he was a great person, and I knew he was smart, and I knew he had a great work ethic. And that’s a great place to start, and that often times leads to success. “You know, Brad was an outstanding move, yeah. He’s a joy to work with. I think that not only is he fun for me to work with, he’s fun for everybody to work with. I think he’s someone that respects every person in the organization, from the lowest-level people all the way up to Wyc and Pags (part-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca). I think he has relationships with everybody in the entire organization. And that makes my job easier, because so much of my job is managing people, and when there’s conflict, it just makes my job harder. So having a guy like Brad around makes my job easier, and I can focus on more important things.”

Plus-minus has become a popular stat in the past few years. As analysts have greater access to advanced analytics — which Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren constantly calls a BS phrase — this simplified number finds its way into game analyses, tweets and so forth on a nightly basis. So when Ainge appeared on 98.5 The Sports Hub Thursday morning, he made a point to note that on a game-by-game basis, it’s not worth anything.

Now with the Bucks, playing at TD Garden on Monday, Terry has an appreciation for the changes president Danny Ainge, who signed Terry in 2012, has made with the 20-4 Celtics, the best team in the league. That begins with coach Brad Stevens, hired out of Butler after the Nets trade. Terry was with the Hawks when, in his second NBA season, Atlanta brought in coach Lon Kruger from the college ranks at Illinois. Kruger went 69-122 in two-plus seasons with the Hawks, so Terry is aware of the difficulties a college coach can have in the NBA. “The first thing I was impressed with was the coaching,” Terry said. “When you get a guy who comes from college, it doesn’t, in our league, usually take effect very well. When you get a guy coming from college, one, he has to have respect in the locker room. Two, he has to implement a system that can carry over. For him, he has done an outstanding job with the personnel he has been given.”

“That was the big thing,” Terry said. “Coming back again last summer, trading Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas, two guys that got them to the Eastern Conference finals, that took a lot of guts. But Danny knows what he is doing, he has been around this league a long time, not only as a player, but as a coach and in the front office now. He has had so much success, because he has an eye for talent. “Now you have him putting the right pieces together within a great system, with a good coach, with this fan base — you are going to have a great Celtics team here.”

David Aldridge: The Celtics decided to blow up last year’s team, even though it was successful. Is there any part of you that wonders why? Avery Bradley: There’s a lot of what ifs. But like I said, it’s a business, and that’s not our decisions to make — it’s Danny (Ainge) and the guys up there in the front office. All you can do is respect that and move on. One thing I understand about this league is you have to do what’s best for you, as players and as organizations. So I respect every decision they made.

Gordon Hayward’s horrific and saddening injury not only robbed the Celtics of a standout player and fresh face of the franchise, it has also put the organization in a roster quandary and perhaps changed season expectations. “When KG went down in ’09, we weren’t sure that he was done,” Danny Ainge said. “We were sort of thinking that he might come back, he’s not too far away, and that made that a challenging year. We weren’t sure what to do because we were trying to buy time, and in Gordon’s case, he’s most likely out for the year. So that’s a different scenario.”

Ainge said he will be patient in making roster moves and he doesn’t necessarily feel there’s immediate pressure on the organization to react to such adversity. “Right now there’s no deal we’re doing right this second,” Ainge said. “It’s next man up, opportunities for the guys that [were not] going to get these opportunities all of a sudden play with no Marcus Morris and no Gordon Hayward. That’s 65 minutes a game right there. Until we find a deal that we like, we’ll do all we can to be patient.”

“A lot of our players and coaches had planned on Gordon being a big, big part of our season, our planning, end-of-the-game situations. Yeah, you’re losing a key guy, the most versatile of all of them, play four positions and play with all sorts of different lineups, could lead our second unit of young guys and a guy that could be on the court and finish the game with Kyrie [Irving] and Al [Horford], so yeah, there’s a lot of adjusting on the fly. Brad [Stevens] has a very difficult job ahead of[ him and so do our players. But like I said, I believe there’s a lot of good that could still happen this year for us.”

But it’s a long drive to get there. He has the keys in hand, ready to start the trip. “I would say when you have to satisfy a want for more, it’s an interesting conversation you have to have with yourself,” Irving said. “How much more do you want out of what you’re in right now? And that was an answer that led to me going to take the bold move of wanting to get traded — especially with two years left on my contract. It’s unheard of. But to have that understanding and know what I got myself into — I’m taking a leap of faith. With the confidence I have in myself, it was pretty easy. Like I said, I got pretty fortunate to have a situation like this to come across, for Danny to take a chance like that.”

As Celtics training camp approaches, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge appears at ease with the major overhaul to the roster over the summer. In the coming weeks and months, the Celtics will have to find their locker room leader and spiritual leader because the incumbents — Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder — were traded to the Cavaliers. The Celtics’ brass essentially have no idea one week before camp who will assume these roles. Nothing at this point is certain, and Ainge is OK with that. “So when we acquired Isaiah, nobody knew he was going to be this Isaiah,” Ainge said. “Going into it nobody knew he was going to be the player that he was last year. When we got Jae Crowder in the trade for [Rajon] Rondo, nobody knew who Jae Crowder was. They just knew he didn’t play very much in Dallas.

The Celtics will enter training camp with potentially 11 new players, including four new starters — Irving, Hayward, Marcus Morris, and perhaps Jaylen Brown to join Al Horford. Ainge also added Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis, and Shane Larkin, while taking Jayson Tatum and Semi Ojeleye in the draft. “This isn’t any sort of plan like we wanted to make a whole bunch of changes — part of it is just managing payroll and getting guys to fit on the court, just building a team,” Ainge said. “It’s not about getting rid of somebody or bringing new faces in, but in the world we live in today you have a salary cap and a luxury tax and there are short contracts that are attached. When I played, I signed a six-year contract. Now, most contracts are four years [at the longest]. It’s just the nature of our business and it’s not ideal not to have continuity. But there are rewards for a freshness. What really matters is how well they play and as I said, time is our judge.”

“I’m excited, no question, as I said, you can feel it,” Ainge said. “You can feel the energy here at our practice facility, you can see it in guys that are trying out for the [G-League], guys that are going to play major roles on our team this year, young and old, you can just see the energy that exists around here and it’s good. It’s exciting. I’m excited to get the season started and see how it all works. “I think Terry [Rozier] and Marcus [Smart] are really ready to step up,” Danny Ainge said. “And Jayson and Jaylen we can be a little bit more patient with, but they are going to play an important role.”

Isaiah Thomas said the Boston Celtics he left behind were as shocked as he was when he was traded to the Cavaliers. “After all you did, that’s how they do you,” Thomas said to “That was everybody’s text message. … I can’t control that and my teammates know what I meant to that team and the organization knows and that’s what matters the most. The people I was around each and every day. “But I think not just myself, everybody was surprised. Everybody.”

Isaiah Thomas: And then somewhere in there, it was just like … it was barely anything. This little pause in the conversation. And that’s when Danny Ainge told me. “I just traded you.” Simple as that. No big words, no big speech. Though I guess when it comes to shit like that, there’s not much more to say. “To where.” That’s all I could manage. “To the Cavaliers, for Kyrie.” You ever been on the phone, and someone says something … and then all of a sudden, all you can think about after is, I don’t want to be on the phone anymore? Not even in a rude way. Just, like, your willpower to have a conversation shuts down. That’s what it was like for me in that moment. Danny started going on about everything I’ve done for the city of Boston, and for the Celtics organization, both on and off the court. About what a great player I am, and how I’m going to be great in Cleveland. You know, telling me that type of stuff. And it was just like … at that point in time? I definitely didn’t want to hear none of that.

Isaiah Thomas: It’s not that I don’t understand it. Of course I get it: This is a business. Danny is a businessman, and he made a business move. I don’t agree with it, just personally, and I don’t think the Boston Celtics got better by making this trade. But that’s not my job. That’s Danny’s. And it’s a tough job, and he’s been really good at it. But at the end of the day, these deals just come down to one thing: business. So it’s no hard feelings on that end. I’m a grown man, and I know what I got into when I joined this league — and so far it’s been more blessings than curses. I’m not sitting here, writing this, because I feel I was wronged. I wasn’t wronged. It was Boston’s right to trade me.

“I’ll leave it to your own imaginations to realize how difficult that conversation might have been—for me and Isaiah,” Ainge said after the trade. “Isaiah had just an amazing season this year and entertained us all—the whole city of Boston, and everybody fell in love with him. You know, he’s such an underdog because of his size and his heart and his spirit in which he plays. It was very challenging to make this decision.” An agent texted me that “Danny would trade his son Austin if he had to.”

“(The Celtics are), of course, a little ahead of us,” he said. “Danny (Ainge)’s done a great job, when you think about drafting and (Gordon) Hayward, who is . . . the guy just knows how to play, you know? And you put him in with (Isaiah) Thomas. You put him in with all the rest of the great players that they have. And then I think you’ve got one of the best young coaches in all of basketball in Brad (Stevens), and we feel like we have a great young coach (Luke Walton). “So we got young talent; they have young talent. They’ve got a little bit more with (Al) Horford and Hayward, the veterans who are stars, especially Hayward. And then hopefully next summer we can add something to our roster. So I think it’s going to come together.

“I think sometimes teams make false assumptions of their team based on things like that. I think that our team is not that much different than a lot of our competition in the East. I think we had a good year in spite of some injuries, you know, with [Al] Horford going down early and Isaiah [Thomas] missing a short time and Avery [Bradley] missing 22 games there in a stretch. We had to overcome some injuries, and it was good because our depth got a chance to play. Everybody on our roster got a chance to prove their worth. “But I feel like it doesn’t really matter what we’ve accomplished. If we’d lost Game 7 against the Wizards, I don’t feel any different than if we’re where we are today. I know that we’re good. I know that we’re not great. I know that we still have more to do, and, you know, that next step is by far the hardest.”

“Just because you’re one piece away doesn’t mean you can get it. And if you force yourself to get it, and if you force a deal or force yourself to get the second best available or the third or fourth best available player at that position that you need, then it might not make you that much better or make you still not good enough, and you’re stuck. So, yeah, we’re not that far away, but we’re still a ways away. We still know we need to get better. Everybody in our organization knows we need to get better. We need to add.”

But Ainge said the Ball family’s wishes will have no impact on how the Celtics will use the top overall pick, which Boston won on Tuesday night at the NBA Draft lottery. The Lakers will pick second. “No, not at all,” Ainge said when asked if Ball’s desire to play for the Lakers would affect the Celtics’ decision. “We understand that he’s from Los Angeles, but we’re going to draft whoever can help the Celtics regardless of where the players want to play.”

If there was any doubt, Wyc Grousbeck confirmed Monday morning on Toucher & Rich that we’ll never see another Celtics player don the No. 34 jersey. That will forever belong to Paul Pierce, whose 19-year NBA career came to an end Sunday afternoon when the L.A. Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs. Pierce spent 15 great seasons with the Celtics, leading the team to their 17th NBA Championship in franchise history in 2008, earning NBA Finals MVP honors in Boston’s six-game series win over the L.A. Lakers.

“There have been conversations in general by people close to him,” said Grousbeck. “But we haven’t been allowed to talk directly to Paul while he’s been playing. He’s made it clear he’ll always feel like a Celtic and this is his basketball home. I think he wants to come back. We’re a little busy right now, thank goodness, and we’ll speak to him when the time is right. “I’d like to get Danny [Ainge] and Brad [Stevens’] input on it the this offseason, and see what Paul would like to do. But he’s a finals MVP, and the last player to wear No. 34 for us.”
1 year ago via ESPN

Said Yabusele: “All I am saying is, in every league, you can find people who play defense and people who don’t. I think the CBA is a good league. People say they don’t play defense and things like that, but think about it — if you have some players who can accomplish a lot in this league, they can also do it elsewhere. They are just good. It’s like when you are guarding Kobe Bryant and he’s killing everybody, it doesn’t mean the defense is bad. I really think a lot of players here can do the same thing in other leagues where there’s definitely defense.”

Ainge also said he has not talked to Isaiah Thomas or Avery Bradley about possible contract extensions. Both will be eligible for extensions this summer if the Celtics remain under the cap, but they have made it clear they would like to chase top free agents. “Those are things that can’t happen until the summer time anyway. Isaiah knows that we love him. He loves playing in Boston and he knows that we love him as well. And same with Avery Bradley,” Ainge said. “I think they’re a good combination. Both of those guys know how much we appreciate them as players and all they’ve done, and what they’re becoming. So yeah, there’s going to be a time when we’ll sit down and have conversations with all of our guys. But in the meantime we’re trying to build a championship-caliber team.”

The duo found the league was undervaluing the 3. But this wasn’t like baseball, where the analytics guys came in claiming everything was wrong. In the NBA, Morey said, many of the traditional ideas about the game were already right, so it was easier to make suggestions on what could be done better. “A lot of the great coaches, of the 10 decisions they were making on how to build their team, they were making eight of them right,” Morey said. “A lot of what we’ve done is taken what a lot of great coaches have done and said, ‘OK, but there’s still these two areas we can push the envelope even farther.”

When the focus turned to free agents and the club’s ability to attract them, Thomas was very direct. “You know what? Boston recruits itself,” the Hall of Famer said. “I mean, it’s a city and a place that you want to play in and want to be there. Even though we had battles with the Celtics, I get mad love whenever I come to Boston, and whenever I’m around the city and in the restaurants and whatever, it’s . . . you know, they root like hell against you, but they respect a competitor and talent and the game that you brought.

So Isiah obviously thinks Ainge was smart to see how Isaiah could blossom, and he believes similar prescience will guide the Celtics in the proper direction. “Hey, Danny’s good, man,” said Thomas. “People have great respect for Danny. Looking at the draft and trades and free agent possibilities, he is bullish on the Celtics’ future,” Thomas said of Ainge. “You know, if he doesn’t hit a home run and he hits a double, you best believe that Boston from this point on is going to be in a position where they’re always going to either do great things or have the potential to do great things. That’s a credit to Danny.”

He said the Celtics’ decisions to extend the contracts of head coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge sent a “great message” to current and prospective players. “I think it starts with knowing your foundation is set, and you’ve got to go from there,” Thomas said. “Hopefully, even with the free agents and things like that, players looking into coming to Boston see they’re committed to Danny and Brad and the future.”

One of the reasons Doc Rivers left Boston for the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013 was to have a bigger say in personnel matters, with the ex-Celtics coach doubling as the Clippers’ head coach as well as their president of basketball operations. Current Celtics coach Brad Stevens does provide input to the team’s front office, but Stevens – for now at least – has shown no inclination of having a louder voice when it comes to roster decisions even with a contract extension. “My voice is plenty loud,” quipped Stevens. “I’m not worried about that.”

Celtics extend contracts of Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens

The Boston Celtics announced Wednesday that they have extended the contracts of president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge, and head coach, Brad Stevens. The terms, per team policy, have not been disclosed. Managing partner, governor and CEO Wyc Grousbeck told that based on Stevens’ and Ainge’s success in their respective roles, the decision to extend their contracts was made without hesitation.
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