WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Thursday that the team is digging in for another busy summer with a goal of acquiring the sort of talent that can help Boston further elevate back toward legitimate contender status.
"I feel like we need to have a busy summer, and we will have a busy summer," Ainge said. "Hopefully we can get some things accomplished that we need to. I think we need to upgrade our talent level on our team, and at the same time I'm very excited about a lot of the individuals that we have. Actually, all the individuals, I thought, played the best basketball of their careers in a lot of cases. So I'm excited about the players that we have, and at the same time I feel like we're not at the same level as a team like Cleveland. We found that out."
Ainge reflected on the 2014-15 season and looked ahead to the draft and free agency during a 33-minute chat with reporters on Thursday afternoon at the team's training facility. Here are some of the headlines from the sprawling Q&A session:
We want you back?
The Celtics will have four free agents this summer, most notably swingman Jae Crowder, a player acquired in December's deal that delivered Rajon Rondo to Dallas. Ainge said it was a no-brainer that the team will extend the $1.2 million qualifying offer before July 1, making Crowder a restricted free agent. Boston will then have the ability to match any offer Crowder receives on the open market with hopes of keeping him in green.
"Rather than going individual by individual, I would just say that we like all of them to some degree," Ainge said. "Some of it's going to be dependent on numbers and roster spots and draft and trades and everything else. So you just can’t emphatically say anything about anybody, other than I can emphatically say that we will definitely qualify Jae Crowder, which I think is pretty obvious. But other than that, the unrestricted free agents, it's uncertain. But we do like each one of them and would welcome any one of them back at the right price and in the right role."
Ainge was later asked about the #SignTheSwede hashtag circulating on social media in hopes that Boston will bring back Jerebko.
"The Swedish Larry Bird, you mean?" cracked Ainge. "I’m ready to take Jonas out to play some golf here; he’s supposed to be a good golfer. We’ll have that talk. But I was impressed with Jonas, and I know that [coach] Brad [Stevens] liked Jonas, and his teammates respected him. He plays very hard, and he’s a versatile defender and a guy that can spread the floor. Yeah, we like what he brought to the table. I think I would sign off on the #SignTheSwede hashtag. Again, in free agency, and with our current roster, it all depends. So we have to just see how those negotiations are and how they go and what we end up with in the draft and what our needs are at the end of the day. But Jonas is someone that we’re very high on and that we like very much."
Positives from the playoffs
Despite enduring a four-game sweep at the hands of the Cavaliers, Ainge is certain the experience will help Boston moving forward.
"I think the playoff experience helps us, because Cleveland's a team that we're going to have to deal with for years to come, and I think it gives our guys some confidence," Ainge said. "I think they feel like they're not maybe as far away as the world thinks. I think that they feel more confident today after playing four straight games against them than they might have been before the series. I think that it's also a reality check of how good those guys are for us organizationally. But following a game plan and playing against the best team in the East I think is great experience because the playoffs are a different level of intensity. You know, the first quarters are like fourth quarters of regular-season games, and I think it's important for our guys to see how hard it is to win."
Hand on Olynyk's shoulder
Ainge stood up for Kelly Olynyk amid suggestions from Cleveland's Kevin Love that the second-year forward intentionally injured him during Sunday's Game 4 loss that ended Boston's season. Love underwent surgery and is out for the remainder of the Cavaliers' season.
"I think that that's a little bit over the top," Ainge said of Love's comments. "It's understandable in the heat of the battle. I feel bad for Kevin Love, because he's waited a long time to get where their team is right now, and now he doesn’t get a chance to play. But I certainly don’t think that Kelly did it on purpose."
Ainge hinted that he doesn't think the one-game suspension Olynyk received was warranted. Olynyk is expected to miss the regular-season opener for the 2015-16 season.
"I don’t even think that that play would have been reviewed more than a foul had Kevin not gotten hurt," Ainge said. "But because Kevin did get hurt, the league does evaluate those situations, and I understand a little bit why they did it. There was a lot of pressure on Cleveland. They were losing J.R. Smith in the first couple of games of the next round, and they have Kevin out for the playoffs now. So I'm sure there was a lot of frustration in Cleveland and they wanted some justice and they scrutinized it and felt like Kelly gave a little bit too much at the very end of that arm tangling. When someone gets hurt, you're just under a little bit more scrutiny. But I thought it was just a foul -- two guys going for a loose ball."
Sullinger's summer shape-up
The Celtics sent Jared Sullinger into the offseason with all the resources necessary to return in top form. While Ainge declined to elaborate on specifics, the team has encouraged the third-year big man to return in shape after two of his first three seasons were cut short by injury.
"We’ve talked about this before; I hate harping on it. Jared wants to be in great shape," Ainge said. "Jared puts his work in. I think he’s in the process of trying to change his habits and get in the best shape of his career. I’m hopeful that he’ll see the light. I know that’s what he wants and I know that he does work at it. I’m a big fan of Jared’s and I think he has a very very bright future."
Sullinger, who missed 24 games late in the year due to a foot fracture, then made a surprising late-season return, had an excellent postseason showing. That included a 21-point, 11-rebound effort in Boston's Game 4 elimination.
Summer League plans
Ainge confirmed the Celtics will compete in both the Utah Jazz Summer League (July 6-9 with the 76ers, Spurs, and Jazz) then head up to Las Vegas for a week of games.
The Celtics are still finalizing roster plans but Marcus Smart and James Young, coming off their rookie campaigns, will be part of the summer squad. Olynyk is not expected to play as he'll spend part of August competing with the Canadian national team.
Ainge said the Celtics are also uncertain how much Phil Pressey would play, so as to ensure point guard minutes for Smart. Pressey is on a non-guaranteed contract that becomes guaranteed if not released by July 15 -- the end of summer league play.
Free throws: Rondo, health
• Ainge reaffirmed that he's surprised at the way things unfolded with Rondo in Dallas. "I am very surprised, yeah," Ainge said. "I really don't know what happened, other than media reports, so I probably shouldn’t comment any further on that. I like both individuals [Rondo and Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle] and I'm very surprised that it didn’t work out better." The Mavericks did not give Rondo a playoff share after his awkward divorce from the team.
• The Celtics appear healthy headed to the offseason. Said Ainge: "There's no offseason surgeries planned." Then he cracked, "That I'm aware of."
• Ainge talked at length about whether he views Isaiah Thomas as a starter and stressed that the team believes it is maximizing Thomas' minutes and abilities by keeping him in that sixth man role. He still called Thomas, "one of the top point guards in the league," and understands his desire to be a starter.