Ainge using lessons learned from last season when re-tooling Celtics roster

Ainge using lessons learned from last season when re-tooling Celtics roster

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. 

And why?

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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Kemba Walker sheds light on decision to sign with Celtics over Knicks

Kemba Walker sheds light on decision to sign with Celtics over Knicks

Kemba Walker was this close to becoming a New York Knick instead of a Boston Celtic last summer.

Before signing a four-year, $141 million contract with the C's, Walker considered the Knicks in free agency. The 30-year-old said last fall he believed Boston was "just a better fit" for him despite New York being his hometown team.

Walker shed more light on whether he had serious interest in joining the Knicks during this week's episode of The Ringer's "R2C2" podcast.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

“To be honest, yes. Yes. Very serious, very,” Walker said ... "Before Boston actually came along, the Knicks were one of my top priorities, actually, because I was thinking they were gonna get another player. But it didn’t work out.”

Watch below:

New York was rumored to be in the running to sign Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Durant, but both stars chose the Brooklyn Nets instead. It was a rough offseason for the Knicks, to say the least.

In his first year as a Celtic, Walker is averaging 20.8 points and 4.8 assists per game. The four-time All-Star has dealt with a nagging knee injury over the last several months but is encouraged by the progress he's made in the Orlando bubble.

"For me to feel like myself again, it definitely feels good. Just gives me a lot of confidence heading into those games," Walker said on the "R2C2" podcast.

The C's will need a healthy Walker if they're to have a shot at Banner 18.

To listen to the full episode, go here.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Romeo Langford, Robert Williams shine vs. Raptors?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Romeo Langford, Robert Williams shine vs. Raptors?

The Boston Celtics gave their best performance of the NBA's restart in Wednesday night's blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, and a boost from two of their most recent first-round picks played a key role in the victory.

Boston's bench scoring has been hit or miss in the seeding games so far, but the second unit didn't disappoint against the Nets. Second-year center Robert Williams scored a career-high 18 points with five rebounds and three blocks. Rookie guard Romeo Langford didn't make a huge impact offensively with only four points, but his defense was fantastic. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The Nets are one of the worst teams in the Orlando bubble, so while the performances of Williams and Langford are no doubt encouraging, the Celtics need these guys to make a similar impact versus the top teams in the Eastern Conference, too. 

On a new episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast, our C's insider Chris Forsberg gives his take on Williams' and Langford's play so far, and what the future holds for them with the playoffs approaching.

"Here's what I think Brad will take away. He'll sit back and he'll say, none of these guys have really stepped up and grasped their opportunity through the scrimmage games and early seeding games, and with a chance because Kemba (Walker) was out and the starters didn't play a lot of minutes (against the Nets), (the young guys) finally sort of grasped the opportunity," Forsberg said. "But again, it's what you do from there. ... It's not like you have one good game and (Celtics coach Brad Stevens) just throws you in there. If I had to guess which rookie is still most likely to have the biggest impact, I'm starting to lean toward Langford because he has shown defensively that you can put him in there and even in small bursts of minutes be able to give you something, and to be a steady presence. I think that's important.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Rob Williams, Langford help C's carry momentum vs Raptors? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"It's nice to see Rob Williams out there, and there were still a good amount of defenses lapses -- a lot of which he makes up for because he's so athletic. But when I convene the Robert Williams fan club for our weekly meeting tonight, I'm going to tell the congregation, look, let's not get too high or too low, we have to see Rob come back and build off (Wednesday night). My hope is that Rob is the first guy in the gym, even on an off day after two games. That he's in there working, busting his butt and showing that he's ready for that opportunity. If he does that, he's got a better chance to get some minutes. If he got a DNP (against the Raptors), I wouldn't be shocked because that's how Brad operates. But Grant (Williams), Romeo -- one of those guys is going to get a chance in the playoffs and they have to be ready for that opportunity."

Robert Williams could see some action versus the Raptors for the simple fact that Toronto is a pretty big team. He would be a good matchup against Raptors center Marc Gasol or power forward Serge Ibaka. Grant Williams also has good size and a high defensive IQ, so he could match up against those Raptors big men as well. 

Coaches typically shorten their rotations in the playoffs and only give minutes to players they can trust. But there are plenty of scenarios, including foul trouble, injuries, etc., that force guys at the end of the bench to play a role. For the Celtics to make a deep playoff run, they'll need young players such as Langford and both Williams' to give them some good minutes against contending teams. 

One of the best ways to find out which players are capable of handling that burden is actually giving them minutes before the playoffs, and Friday's game against the Raptors is a good opportunity to see how these young guys respond.

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast on your favorite podcast app or watch it on YouTube below.