Blakely: Dealing No. 3 pick quickest path to get Celtics to next level

Blakely: Dealing No. 3 pick quickest path to get Celtics to next level

BOSTON – For a brief moment Tuesday night, Danny Ainge dared to dream the way Celtics Nation does all the time.
There were three teams left in the draft lottery, one of whom would wind up with the No. 1 overall pick and the Celtics made the cut.
Ainge acknowledged after the draft that, in that moment, for the first time, he gave serious thought to potentially landing the top overall pick.
But truth be told, making the final three cut was a victory of sorts in itself for Boston.
The history of Celtics disappointment on lottery night is a long, forgettable one for most Celtics fans.
Losing out on Tim Duncan in 1997.
Failing to secure one of the top two picks in 2007 despite having the second-best odds of any non-playoff team to do so, only to fall to the No. 5 spot.
More telling to me was this balance that Ainge and company have been for the most part, able to strike: building quality assets for the future while improving at the same time.
Look at the final three teams that were left standing last night.
You had the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been in Tank-a-palooza mode for years. They have lots of high draft picks, but no semblance of a team on the rise.
And then there’s the Los Angeles Lakers, who have no idea how the AK – After Kobe – era is going to play out. They have financial flexibility to upgrade their roster quickly. But as we saw last summer, the best free agents are looking for the best situations in which they can get paid, play big minutes and play a season that extends beyond April or early May.
Then you have the Celtics, who were the only team in the trio to have been in the playoffs this season, have a roster full of financially manageable contracts, a rock-solid front office, good ownership and a coach who is considered one of the better up-and-coming coaches in the league.
So, there’s a lot to like about the Celtics’ situation, which can only be enhanced by having the third overall pick.
But here’s the issue.
Those other lottery teams would deem a trip to the postseason next season as a success.
Not here in Boston.
We’ve seen this team’s growth under Brad Stevens in three seasons, going from a 25-win team his first season to a team that finished in a four-way tie for the third-best record in the East this past season.
But fans want more.
The front office, ownership and Stevens all want more as well.
Which is why having a high draft pick is so vital to this Celtics team, at this particular point in their development.
Free agency has not been good to the Celtics historically. And while they have more flexibility to spend this summer than they’ve ever had, there’s no guarantee they will go out and add the difference-making, high-impact player they want.
A more likely upgrade for Boston will come through trade and if it involves hauling in the kind of upper-echelon talent that they are seeking, you can bank on their No. 3 pick somehow being involved in the transaction.
While it’s not as enticing as the No. 1 or 2 overall pick, Ainge can expect to get a few inquiries from teams asking as to what it would take to get that pick off his hands.
Of course, Ainge is going to ask for a lot and there will be reports that he’s seeking a “king’s ransom.”
Well, that’s what he’s supposed to do, especially when it involves a top 3 draft pick.
The blueprint for getting the Celtics back in the title hunt is pretty clear.
Boston has to re-invent another Big Three.
Getting Isaiah Thomas was a nice start.
Now, comes the challenge of landing that second big piece which presumably will position Boston to go and get the final piece in the summer of 2017 or potentially sooner.
Not getting one of the top two picks makes the rebuilding process for Boston a little bit more time-consuming, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The Celtics aren’t looking to build for a title run.
They’re trying to develop a foundation that will keep them in the chase for many years to come, and slowly but surely they are on pace to do just that.
Finding a home for the No. 3 pick and getting an All-Star talent in return like Jimmy Butler?
Yeah. That’ll help … a lot.
And that can lead to dreams of Celtics Nation – and Danny Ainge for that matter – coming to fruition.

Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

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Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

Isaiah Thomas back in green? Maybe there's a chance after all.

The former Celtics guard, now with the Lakers, started a Q&A session on Twitter and was asked whether he'd consider returning to Boston this offseason. This was his answer...

That's not a no.

Thomas has had a rough go of it since leaving the Celtics. His brief tenure in Cleveland didn't go according to plan, and things haven't gotten a whole lot better out in L.A. The 29-year-old is averaging 15.3 points per game just a year after averaging 28.9 with Boston.

Let the speculation begin.


Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Al Horford understands that there’s plenty of blame pie to go around following Boston’s 108-89 loss to New Orleans. 

Considering how Pelicans stud Anthony Davis dominated the game on so many levels Sunday night, Horford was quick to acknowledge his role in the loss. 

“[Davis] was able to get behind our defense a lot,” Horford told reporters after the loss. “Some mistakes on my end; gotta give him credit. He dominated tonight. I’ll definitely take the blame for that.”

Davis finished with a double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds, a total that would have been higher if not for the game being so lopsided which allowed Davis to head to the bench early in the fourth. 

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from C's-Pelicans

And Horford’s struggles defensively were just as problematic on offense as the five-time All-Star tallied just six points on 3-for-11 shooting to go with four rebounds and three assists. 

Boston has been a team whose collective sums have fueled their success. 

But Horford understands he has to be a high impact performer, a job that’s even more vital when key starters like Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) and Jaylen Brown (concussion) are out as well as top reserves Marcus Smart (right thumb) and Daniel Theis (torn meniscus). 

And by Horford’s own admission, he just didn’t bring it on Sunday at a level to give him and the Celtics a legit shot at winning the game.

“Defensively we had too many breakdowns,” Horford said. “And the game got away from us in the second half. So there’s no excuses. I didn’t give us a chance, either; missing a lot of looks offensively. I just need to be better.”

And he’ll have to be if Boston (47-23) is to get back on track with a win on Tuesday against a talented Oklahoma City squad led by Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. 

At full strength, the Thunder would be a significant challenge for the Celtics. 

But having a roster with a number of key players out with injuries, it becomes even more imperative for Boston’s top players to elevate their play. 

And as you scan this Celtics roster and examine those who are healthy enough to play, it’s clear that Horford more than any other Boston player, has to find a way to become more impactful.

Certainly, more points and rebounds would help. 

But as we’ve seen time and time again with Horford, often his greatest contributions to winning games don’t necessarily show up in the final box score. 

That being said, a six-point, four-rebound game doesn’t cut it. 

Horford has to be better, something he knows better than anyone. 

“I’ll definitely look at the film and see how I can be better individually,” Horford said. “The good thing about the NBA, is we have a chance to play on Tuesday. Hopefully we’ll learn from this game and be ready to go Tuesday at home.”