Celtics

Still-defiant Danny Ainge ready to see what Celtics can do in free agency

Still-defiant Danny Ainge ready to see what Celtics can do in free agency

BOSTON — Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge scoffed at the notion that players might be leery of playing in Boston given the fallout from last season and said his staff will spend this week coming up with a plan for how to aggressively attack Sunday's start of free agency. 

After the draft on Thursday, a defiant Ainge insisted players were “dying” to be in Boston, even as the team braces for the likelihood that All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford will walk away this summer. After introducing the team’s four new draftees on Monday at the Auerbach Center, Ainge was emphatic again when asked if players would be leery of coming to Boston give the circumstances of last season.

"I don't think so at all,” said Ainge. “No.”

The bigger challenge for Ainge and his front office pals is simply trying to get ready for the frenetic start of free agency given that it seemed unlikely until recently that Boston would have potential cap space to work with.

If Irving and Horford walk away, and the Celtics renounce the rights to their other free agents, Boston can generate nearly $34 million in cap room to start the summer. That number drops to closer to $26 million if the team extends a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Terry Rozier while waiting to see what sort of market develops for the point guard.

That unexpected cap space leaves Boston with a variety of avenues it could travel at the start of free agency. The Celtics could try to elbow their way into the conversation with a big-ticket free agent, or pursue a lower-tier and leave some flexibility with building out the rest of the roster. Boston could also use that space to seek talent in trades, or simply eat a bad contract in exchange for future assets that might aid the quest for a star talent further down the road.

The question that Boston brass must figure out is what’s feasible at the start of free agency. Can they get meetings with top players now, or would their time and energy be better spent on lower-tier targets?

"I like the fact that we have different opportunities,” said Ainge. "And we have some flexibility but I don’t really know what is realistic yet. That’s what we’ll spend the rest of this week trying to figure out is what even do we have a chance to do and where should be our priorities? But I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m excited about the flexibility that we have. I’m excited about the youth that we have and some of our returning players. I think it’s going to be a really fun year. Looking forward to it.”

Ainge said that his staff will be prepared for all potential avenues.

“We have a really good feel for all the players in the league, who they are and how they might fit with us and our needs and so forth,” said Ainge. "I wouldn't say a lot more homework but we will have a lot of conversation. That's probably the biggest thing, just to get organized as we possibly can for all the possible scenarios in free agency."

A few more notes from Ainge’s eight-minute session with reporters: 

* Ainge confirmed an ESPN report that the Celtics plan to hire Fairmont State coach Joe Mazzulla for their assistant coaching vacancy. Said Ainge: "I think we’re a little ahead of ourselves but, yeah, we’re moving in that direction. It’s not been finalized yet but we’re moving in that direction. We’ve had Joe here with us [with the Maine Red Claws] before and he’s well-liked by everybody.”

* In the same vein, Ainge admitted the team plans to bring in undrafted big man Tacko Fall to be part of the team’s summer squad. "So, again, those things aren’t final final so I can’t really make comments on them,” said Ainge. "But we do have intentions of having Tacko play with us in the summer league and coming to [summer league] camp next week.”

* Ainge remains incredibly bullish on what’s ahead next season for Gordon Hayward: "I think Gordon is going to have a great year. He's putting in as much work as anybody and we get to see it. I mean, he's here a lot. I'm very excited for Gordon's upcoming year."

Why C's should feel good about their future>>>>

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Enes Kanter shows big support for 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall in latest tweet

Enes Kanter shows big support for 7-foot-7 Tacko Fall in latest tweet

Enes Kanter seems to be a fan of Boston Celtics' 7-foot-7 rookie Tacko Fall.

Kanter posted a video to Twitter of Fall practicing at Auerbach Center, and he took time to praise Fall's efforts on Twitter.

The Celtics' signed Kanter to a two-year $10 million deal back in July, while Fall entered Boston's system as an undrafted free agent but he impressed in the Las Vegas Summer League. Kanter is the replacement for Al Horford, who left the Celtics over the summer for the Philadelphia 76ers.

The two should be a great duo for the Celtics, as both have the height and skill to be something special this coming season.

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Record predictions for the 2019-20 campaign

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Countdown to Celtics Camp: Record predictions for the 2019-20 campaign

Entering training camp a year ago, expectations were sky-high for the Celtics. Most pundits considered them the team to beat in the East. Vegas fancied Boston as a 59-win team, the second-highest win total behind only Golden State. And a Finals matchup between those two teams was far from a pipe dream.

Fast forward a year and expectations have been tempered. The Celtics lost a pair of All-Stars this summer in Kyrie Irving and Al Horford and, despite signing another in Kemba Walker, the team finds itself widely considered a Tier 2 team in the East behind projection darlings Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

So what happens this year? Do the Celtics go back to being the sort of overachievers that have defined Brad Stevens’ coaching career? Will a younger roster struggle to simply meet even the lowered expectations of this season?

To wrap up Week 1 of our Countdown to Camp series, we asked our NBC Sports Boston panel to look into their crystal balls and predict not only Boston’s final win-loss record but how far they’d advance in the playoffs.

The  Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook projects Boston at 49.5 wins this season. The Bucks (58) and Sixers (55) top the Westgate projections and the next five teams all reside in the west. 

The Celtics went 49-33 last season, settling for the fourth seed in the East. They swept the Victor Oladipo-less Pacers in Round 1 but bowed to the top-seeded Bucks in five games in Round 2.

When you consider that Westgate’s four lowest win totals reside in the East (Knicks, Wizards, Cavaliers, Hornets) and seven East teams sit below 40 wins, it feels like the Celtics should reasonably win 50+ games despite the roster changes.

So we’ll put the Celtics at 52 wins and a spot in the East semifinals. That seeding would likely mean a second-round matchup jousting with either Giannis’ Bucks or Embiid’s Sixers and Boston’s frontcourt development might dictate just how competitive those series could be. Remember, too, Stevens tends to produce his best magic when you least expect it.

The irony, of course, is that the Celtics could win 49 games this season and get bounced in Round 2 again but if they develop chemistry and are more enjoyable to watch then last year’s gang, then Celtics fans will be far more OK with that script playing out a second time — well, so long as players make the sort of strides that suggest more is possible in the coming years.

Abby Chin: 50-32 Eastern Conference Finals

I think purely based on better chemistry and grit, this team will improve on last year’s win total. And, I’ll bank on some luck in the playoff bracket. Maybe with injuries, or regular season Al Horford, Philly and Milwaukee fall to the 2 and 3 seed so the Celtics could avoid them in the first couple rounds.

 

A. Sherrod Blakely: 50-32, East Finals

I'm gonna keep the cookies on the bottom shelf with this one. They are a better team (team not individuals) than they're going to get credit for, and they have a roster that's full of talent with a huge chip on their shoulders from the coach on down. This group will play harder, smarter and win a lot of games they probably shouldn't and by doing so, keep Celtics fans extremely happy all season.

Max Lederman: 51-31, lose in 2nd round

Before last season the Celtics have always overachieved under Brad Stevens. I expect a return to that with lowered expectations this season. The Celtics also had their worst record vs winning teams last year since Brad's 2nd season. They should put up a better fight this season.

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