Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge held an end-of-the-season Zoom conference on Thursday morning, and while he admitted the Celtics missed a golden opportunity in falling short in the Eastern Conference finals this year, he also acknowledged that the team has a lot of work ahead if it's going to take another step next season.
“We've got some work to do,” said Ainge. "No question about it.”
Here’s five things that jumped out about what’s ahead for Boston:
KEMBA WALKER WON’T NEED SURGERY
While Kemba Walker was clearly hindered by a balky left knee for much of the 2020 calendar year, Ainge said that he does not expect the All-Star point guard will need surgery and that the team is putting together a plan to combat the ailment.
"Probably over the next week to two weeks we will have a full plan for Kemba in the offseason, regardless of what the medical tests come back and everything else,” said Ainge. "There’s no surgery needed or anything else that I'm aware of at this time. I wasn't there, I was watching from here, but I could see, even when he was here before the bubble started, which is why he was shut down a little bit and doing strength training and trying to prepare himself for the playoff run and the intensity of the playoff run, but he was definitely not himself.
"In fairness to Kemba, he doesn't want to say that. He doesn't say that to our coaches, he doesn't say that to you, the media, he doesn't say that to me. I haven't heard one excuse from him. But watching the games, even the games we won, even the games where he played well, I could tell he wasn't the same, physically, as he was in October, November, December. So we're going to try to get that Kemba back.”
AINGE EXPECTS TATUM IN GREEN FOR A LONG TIME
While Ainge noted he can’t yet have conversations with any of Boston’s players with options for next season — Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter — or those eligible for extensions like Jayson Tatum, he expressed optimism in being able to lock up 22-year-old Tatum when that time comes.
“Jayson knows how much we like him,” said Ainge. "We have a good relationship. Jayson likes it here so I’m confident that we’ll be able to work something out this summer -- this offseason, I should say.”
Tatum is in line to sign the biggest contract in Celtics history as part of his rookie extension. The only question is just how much the total value will be and there will certainly be language in there for Tatum to increase his total earnings based on whether he earns another All-NBA spot next season and before his pact kicks in for the 2021-22 season.
THIS DRAFT COULD BE A BIT DIFFERENT
Ainge and the Celtics have long subscribed to the notion of drafting the best player available during their turn on the clock. But with an already young roster and very specific needs to supplement the core of this team, Ainge admitted this year’s pick-a-palooza could be a little different.
"Typically you want to draft the best player and not worry about positions, but we’ve all heard the rhetoric before and that’s true. But there are times when you need to draft for specific needs, especially when we’re drafting in the positions that we’re drafting this year and with the draft that we have this year,” said Ainge.
“We’ll take into consideration all of the above, all of the players on our roster and what our needs are, who the best players are, and players that can help us more immediately. Obviously we’d take a chance on a player that was a younger player who needed some development in the G-League before he was ready to play for us, we have the luxury of doing that as well. So all of those things are considerations.”
The Celtics are set to have three first-round picks in this year’s draft at Nos. 14, 26, and 30.
THE BUBBLE WAS GOOD FOR TIMELORD
Asked about Boston’s center-by-committee approach this season, Ainge offered high praise for Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter, all while noting positive glimpses from Grant Williams and Robert Williams inside the bubble.
Could Timelord be even more of an impact player next season?
"I think that this is Robert’s second year and he spent a lot of time injured, which has limited his development, unfortunately,” said Ainge. "Feel like he’s getting healthy, we feel that his time in the bubble was huge. Just being around the coaches and having fewer distractions, he was really improving. I thought he played really well in a lot of the games. So, yeah, we’re very excited about Robert’s future and what he can be.
"But, yeah, it is hard to find franchise bigs. That’s always been the case. There’s a lot of big guys, and a lot of big guys that can play. Daniel, Robert, and Enes outplayed opposing big men often throughout the course of this year. I’m grateful for them. But Adebayo was good. Adebayo might have been the biggest difference in this playoff series. He’s a terrific player.”
THE CELTICS EXPECT TO BE A TAXPAYER
With Hayward almost certain to opt into his $34.2 million option, the Celtics project as a taxpayer next season. And Ainge said the team has planned for that.
"We’re anticipating being in the tax next year,” said Ainge. "We’re prepared for that for the last couple of years as we’ve built this team, so we’re prepared to do that.”
The Celtics have routinely been OK with spending to field a championship-caliber team. The COVID-impacted financials could steepen that burden next year. As long as the Celtics position themselves to compete, they can run it back with this core and seek help on the margins.
More difficult roster decisions loom if the Celtics get into next season and, for whatever reason, they do not show the makings of a contender, particularly in a souped-up East.