NBA Rumor: Celtics Front Office

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Celtics interested in Hawks assistant GM Landry Fields

Any team’s march into later playoff rounds also prompts rivals searching to brain drain from a successful front office, and the rumors linking Hawks assistant general manager Landry Fields have not quieted either, sources said. Amid ongoing questions about the future structure of Boston’s basketball operations, Fields very much remains a top choice of Stevens and Celtics ownership to join Boston as the team’s general manager, sources told B/R.

Atlanta could simply block the Celtics’ pursuit by elevating Fields to the same post underneath Hawks president Travis Schlenk, who currently holds the title of general manager. In that scenario, it’s believed Boston’s vice president of player development and former WNBA veteran Allison Feaster would be the leading candidate to be named general manager under Stevens. The 45-year-old was the only Celtics figure aside from ownership and Stevens who partook in Ime Udoka’s final interview, sources said. “It seems like she’s getting some serious traction,” said one assistant general manager.

Members of the Celtics' front office and coaching staff in the dark about their futures

Members of the front office who spoke to The Athletic under the condition of anonymity said they have not had definitive conversations on their future as of yet as they continue to fulfill their roles. Stevens has stated publicly he will continue to consider making additions to the front office, which does not have anyone with top-flight playing experience besides Feaster, who spent a decade in the WNBA.

News of Stevens’ abrupt change in title did, however, surprise many figures around the NBA. It is rare for such an esteemed young coach to leave the sidelines so soon and so suddenly. The fact that Stevens, 44, is signed to a lucrative deal through 2025-2026, further perplexed several league executives contacted by B/R. “One of the best coaches in the NBA deciding to join a front office and leave the sidelines doesn’t just happen overnight,” said a team capologist. “It doesn’t happen over a few days. It happens over a few months.”

Colleagues believe Brad Stevens will succeed in front-office role

Brian Scalabrine, who was an NBA player and assistant coach before becoming the color commentator on Celtics broadcasts, said he was unsure what qualities make a general manager successful. Roster construction, he said, can be a jigsaw puzzle. And luck is involved. “But I think that Brad grasps and understands the big picture better than most,” Scalabrine said. “Sports are emotional, from fans to players to family members to front offices, it’s an emotional thing. I think he controls his emotions and makes calculated, measured decisions based on what he feels like matters, and he pushes aside things that don’t.”

One man who has had a bit of success as both a coach and an executive and still fills both roles believes that Stevens’s background should help. “There’s a lot of lines that run together there,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “You can’t be the head coach and not be aware of contracts and acquisitions and things like that. I don’t know exactly how they’re set up, and each situation is a little bit different, but Brad has enough experience in basketball and with the Celtics and with the NBA to handle all the things that he’ll need to be handling.”

Celtics considered pursuing Sam Presti

Before hiring Stevens, league sources say Celtics ownership considered other internal candidates and even pondered pursuing Sam Presti, a Massachusetts native who has run the Thunder since they were still the Sonics. Presti is a proven front-office boss who steered a small-market team to great success through savvy acquisitions and wise draft picks. Stevens has no front-office experience, and has been in the NBA since only 2013, when the Celtics plucked him from Butler.

Ainge will have more time for golf now. He has not ruled out resurfacing in another front-office position elsewhere. Though the world learned of his decision to step down from his role with the Celtics on Wednesday, he has been plotting the move for some time now. He said he trusted his instincts to tell him when he needed to leave. “And my instincts told me a couple months ago that it was time for me to move on,” Ainge said. “And that’s what’s best for us. That’s what’s best for the Celtics.”

Repeat for every player picked since 2010, and this method allows us to approximate performance above or below average for every team in the past decade or so. (For players technically picked by one team but traded to another before playing a game, we included them for the second team; Kawhi Leonard is a Spurs selection, not a Pacers pick, for these purposes.) All together, Celtics draft picks since 2010 have had an expected value of 84.7 wins. And they’ve had an actual value of 83.3 wins—nearly a perfect match for expectation.

Despite developing two All-Stars in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Boston’s momentum has cratered. A series of free agent defections, misspent draft picks and cuts in payroll has resulted in a team that finds itself far off from the stated goal of hanging an 18th championship banner to the TD Garden rafters. Their weaknesses have been exposed, and they’re lacking in good options to fix them. So, with two games left before the All-Star Break and less than four weeks until the trade deadline, the Celtics are still searching for their identity. “I feel like our group is pretty together,” Celtics GM Danny Ainge told ESPN. “Guys are working hard still, and I feel like we don’t really know who this team is yet.”

The Boston Globe has an interesting interview with Danny Ainge this morning. In it he tries to deflect the blame game from falling on Brad Stevens and the coaching staff. Instead he takes the full weight of responsibility upon his own shoulders. What about you, Danny? Is it time to start ripping the president of basketball operations? “Sure!” he said. “We’re not playing with the passion that we need. I think that’s on the players. And the players on the team are on me.

BSJ: Danny has talked openly about the fact that he does not plan to make any big moves ahead of the trade deadline and wants to make a run at it with this core group. When he provides that vote of confidence publicly, does that provide any kind of a boost or help make you feel better about the situation? Jaylen Brown: It kind of feels the same. It doesn’t make a difference. We just have to come out and play basketball. We know this game is a business. We understand that. We’ll see what happens after the All-Star break. Like Danny said, this group is the group that we have. That’s great. Let’s continue to move forward and try to build towards a championship.

Q. What’s the next step? Wyc Grousbeck. What we’ll do over the next month is determine if there’s anything we can do in February [prior to the trade deadline] to advance the team to a new level. But when I look at the team right now, I feel really good about their character, really good about their skill, really good about the upside over the next 5-6 years, with young players and the draft. I feel overall confident and excited we can make some noise over the next 5-6 years with this core group, adding on when we can. But this season still does feel like a work in progress, and it feels like we’ve got a long way to go if we want to make some noise in May again, or even in June.

Q. You mentioned spending the next month looking at possible moves. What is your role in that? Wyc Grousbeck. We’ll just leave that in the mystery category. But what happens with trades is that they’re proposed by the basketball side and I’m kept up to date all along as the phone calls develop and as we think about what assets we might include and what the team might look like after a trade. And so I approve them or disapprove them, or try to change them, and that’s gone on for 16 years.

Wyc Grousbeck. I know both February and June will be very active. Because we have all these draft picks and young players, we get a lot of calls. And so Danny, Mike Zarren, Austin Ainge, they get a ton of calls and try to figure out if there’s anything to recommend to me to make the team better. My view of this draft right now is it’s going to be as many phone calls as we’ve ever had. I don’t worry much about what players we end up drafting, because that’s completely on the basketball side.

The 2019 NBA trade deadline is just over a month away. Should fans expect the Boston Celtics to make some moves? It’s a fair question, as the Celtics haven’t quite met their lofty expectations to date and have dealt with some depth-thinning injuries. But while C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will do his due diligence, he seems to like the roster he has right now. “We’re always looking to upgrade our team if those opportunities present themselves. But I think that’s going to be tough,” Ainge said Thursday on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich.”

Ainge scrunches his face as he ponders a future he rarely tries to picture. “No, I don’t really look forward to being retired,” he says. “I don’t think I will leave this job ever and, like, retire. At least not in the near future. I don’t see doing that, no. I need to be doing something. I’m too hyper. My wife and I have had 40 years of a great marriage. I think that if I was home too much, it might not last much longer. I think she needs me out of the house at least six or eight hours a day.”

The grandkids get their playing time because, hey, Danny Ainge is the one who makes out Danny Ainge’s schedule. “That’s the best part of my job,” he says. “I work more than I ever have, but because I don’t have to be with the team every single day, there are more times when I can be at important things. Like, I’ve been to a few weddings this year. Unfortunately, I’ve been to a few funerals. I have time for life things, and I can schedule my work around some of them.”

Fair to say you didn’t trade any of your treasure trove of assets at the deadline the last couple seasons because LeBron was standing in your way? Ainge: “Absolutely. I think that’s very fair. I’m not big on draft assets at the trade deadline. Most of the time those trades don’t work out. Occasionally they do. We were never faced with anything that was tempting enough to trade our assets that would get us over the hump or would guarantee us that we were going to beat LeBron or Golden State.”

Smart’s feelings were admittedly hurt when the Celtics didn’t immediately reach out to him at the start of free agency on July 1, after offering him only a qualifying offer to retain matching rights once he entered the restricted free agent market place. That all apparently changed the day Smart signed his new contract. “There’s no bad feeling between me and the organization,” said Smart. “I knew coming in this was a business. You have to overlook the business side to build a relationship personally with certain people, certain organizations, certain teams.
3 years ago via ESPN

Boston’s front office inner circle — Ainge, Zarren, director of player personnel Austin Ainge and director of scouting Dave Lewin, with heavy input from coach Brad Stevens — was in agreement that Irving was the sort of player the team absolutely had to pursue. “I feel like there’s opportunities that you have to look at and explore, and Kyrie was one of those opportunities that, unanimously, internally it was something that we all felt like we should do,” Danny Ainge said. “Everybody, unanimously, wanted to do it.”
3 years ago via ESPN

The deal, exciting as it was, still left Boston brass with mixed emotions, particularly because of what Thomas had given to the team during a mesmerizing 2016-17 season in which he finished fifth in MVP voting and gave up his body to help Boston get to the conference finals, all while dealing with the tragic loss of his younger sister. As the Celtics and Cavaliers prepped for a trade call on Aug. 22, Ainge made the heart-wrenching call to alert Thomas of the impending deal. Zarren said he isn’t sure he could have made that call; neither is Stevens. “The range of emotions were really wild because you would have no thought that Isaiah Thomas would ever be a part of a trade,” Stevens said. “I thought, with Isaiah, that was really hard. I’ve talked about the emotional investment that you have as a coach and a player, and working together every day, and that’s why I’ve said that I don’t think I could do the front office because those hard decisions — I do not envy those. The only way you would even consider doing that is for a person of Kyrie’s caliber. But that doesn’t make it any easier.”
3 years ago via ESPN

The addition of Irving, during a summer when the team added Hayward and drafted Tatum, also morphed Boston from spunky overachiever to legitimate title contender. It’s why the Celtics couldn’t pass up the opportunity to pursue Irving last summer — no matter the obstacles it took to get him. “I thought Kyrie was going to be a great fit and obviously I still feel that way,” Danny Ainge said. “At the same time, [the trade] was a challenge, as was moving Isaiah and Jae, and there’s always a part of that when you’re in the middle of acquiring a player. That’s the hard part of it. “The price and the timing, it was all critical. I think there’s risk in every deal we do, but with a player like Kyrie, I think we were all willing to take that risk. And we’re glad we did.”

The Celtics selected Tatum with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. But he could have gone No. 1. Boston originally had the first pick and famously made a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers to move down to No. 3, where it knew it could still land its top choice. Celtics president Danny Ainge has openly spoken since about how the team would have taken Tatum first had it kept the pick. “I joke with Danny all the time, he should’ve just took me No. 1,” Tatum said while guesting on The Bill Simmons Podcast at The Ringer. “I could’ve kept a few dollars of my paycheck. Tell (Ainge), ‘You owe me some money.'”

Doc Rivers didn’t want to rebuild, so he left Boston for the Clippers. Now he’s watching summer league games and facing a reconstruction project in Los Angeles as the Celtics seek to clear the final hurdle with new faces. The Celts had hopes of making The Finals this past season, but injuries to Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward got in the way — though it still took a Game 7 stinker against Cleveland to knock them off the flight to the title series. Most teams have five-year plans, but rarely does one make it from tear-down to contendership in that frame. “That’s Danny (Ainge) and Brad (Stevens) and those guys — and, I mean, obviously the players, too,” Rivers told the Herald. “But they’ve done it as well as it’s ever been done, because all these other teams, including us now, everybody has a plan, but the plan has to work. And if it doesn’t work, then you have to start over again with another plan. And Danny and them have been able to run their plan.
3 years ago via ESPN

This is one kind of scenario the Houston Rockets envisioned in April, when they proposed before the NBA’s competition committee that the league should start free agency at least a week — and likely more — before the draft. The Rockets are not the first team to contemplate that notion; Mike Zarren, Boston’s assistant general manager, used his very first tweet as a plea to flip the order of the draft and free agency. (The concept is popular across Boston’s brain trust; Zarren noted in his tweet that Austin Ainge, Boston’s director of player personnel, sold him on the idea.) Other leagues, including the National Football League, schedule free agency first.

The Celtics didn’t get Durant, but they got the next best prizes available in successive years. And Ainge’s biggest, boldest acquisition, of course, was getting Brad Stevens out of Butler and watching him blossom into one of the NBA’s top three or four coaches seemingly overnight. “Boston having lottery picks without bottoming out and selecting the right players and having a high performing culture driving veteran with Horford has been critical to their success,” the Western Conference executive said. “The Brooklyn trade is the gift that keeps giving. The fact that Boston is winning with such young players in high pressure situations gives young teams hope.”

Pagliuca said Stevens voiced his love for the team and its extensive basketball history, as well as his confidence that he could make a difference for the organization. But there was also a specific stipulation should he accept the job. “The one thing he wouldn’t do going forward was try to lose a game, or you know, ‘tank,’” Pagliuca said. “So if we were going to have a strategy, maybe like ‘The Process,’ he was not going to participate in that.”

“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.”
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August 1, 2021 | 4:16 am EDT Update
And there’s actually a runaway No. 1 as far as the club with the most male basketball players participating: Real Madrid, the team that produced a certain Luka Doncic, who just tied the record for second-most points ever scored in an Olympic basketball contest. The storied Spanish club leads the way with eight players taking part in the Olympic Games this summer, followed by Fenerbahce out of the Turkish League, Australia’s Melbourne United, the Miami Heat (the NBA team with most male basketball representatives in Tokyo), Olimpia Milano (Italy) and Union Olimpija (Slovenia), all of whom have four players at the Games.