BOSTON -- Danny Ainge has been involved in the NBA in some capacity for four decades. If there’s one thing he has learned over the years, is you can never stop learning.
And this past season for the Boston Celtics was full of teachable moments for all, himself included.
“We all need to learn from this past year,” Ainge told reporters.
That acquired knowledge should come in handy this summer when Ainge, the team’s president of basketball operations, looks to re-tool this roster.
The process begins in earnest with the June 20 NBA draft and soon after, free agency.
For Ainge, this past season was “a unique situation” that presented challenges that frankly, he and the rest of the Celtics didn’t think would be as problematic as they eventually proved to be.
And it all goes back to the team’s 2018 playoff run that in retrospect was both a blessing and a burden of expectations for the franchise this past season.
“We overachieved to such an extent the year before with young players,” Ainge said.
And that experience, coupled with the success that comes with advancing to the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, provided a heightened level of confidence based upon the results of strong play and winning.
Doing so without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward and later trying to re-integrate them into the mix the following season, would be far more challenging than anyone anticipated.
But that’s in the past now.
Irving’s future in Boston is very much up in the air, with him set to hit unrestricted free agency and the Celtics being seen by many as a long shot at re-signing the perennial All-Star guard.
Hayward has been a regular at the team’s practice facility this summer, putting in the work that both he and the Celtics hope will result in him regaining the form he showed prior to arriving in Boston in 2017.
But the lessons Ainge alluded to have little to do with Hayward or Irving, and more to do with the kind of talent Ainge surrounds them with going forward.
Boston had a youthful core that they brought along that on many levels, exceeded expectations in terms of being able to make an impact at a high level.
That worked to some extent, but became an issue when those young players wanted more than the role that they were being asked to play.
And just like that, agendas kicked in, which led to this team’s demise coming sooner than anticipated.
Look for Ainge to bring in more seasoned veterans this offseason, players who have been around the league long enough to know who they are, what they can do and not have an agenda or plans to try and prove their worth.
Because as previously stated, Boston needs more players who have been around the NBA long enough to know who they are and aren’t trying to do anything they haven’t done before.
This past Celtics team had players whose intent was to play within the role they were expected to play, but so many of Boston’s most important players are still learning their way through the NBA, still seeking to establish who they are and where they stand in the NBA.
When you examine the rosters of the last two teams standing in the NBA now, it’s clear that they have elite talent. But what also stands out is the fact that Golden State and Toronto have a number of players who are stars in the role they’re asked to play, and tend to not deviate from whatever their strengths are on the floor.
Because most of them have been in the NBA long enough to where they know what they do well, and so they stick with that.
Ainge’s other big takeaway was not having as good a read on whether the way the team was constructed last season, would actually work.
Chemistry is often one of those intangibles that doesn’t become a topic of discussion until it becomes clear that it’s not there.
But knowing the talent he had assembled, it just made sense that they were too good to not figure out how to be effective for sustained periods of time.
Ainge was wrong.
“We knew there would be some challenges,” Ainge said. “And we all knew that going in, but I even underestimated how long it would take. It didn’t really ever take where we had 100 percent buy-in from 100 percent of our players; I did not anticipate that. I thought through the course of the year, everyone would figure out their roles.”
So going forward, don’t be surprised if Boston’s roster for this upcoming season consists of players who aren’t quite as similar in terms of skills and experience as we’ve seen the past couple seasons.
After getting to the Conference Finals in 2017 and 2018 only to have their season end in the second round last month, everyone within the organization knows that change is going to come.
And it is that lesson, maybe more than any other, that will drive Ainge to do all he can to better position the Celtics for what’s the ultimate goal every year — winning it all.
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