The Boston Celtics are set to enter next month's NBA draft armed with eight picks, including five selections in the first 35 spots. And while much of the offseason focus has been on what the Celtics will do with this year's picks -- especially three first-round selections at Nos. 3, 16 and 23 -- president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is quick to point out that the team is pretty high on the players it snagged in last year's draft.
During a recent sitdown with WBZ-TV, Ainge pointed to some of Boston's youngest players while discussing the sort of talent that could blossom with bigger roles.
"I really believe it’s an opportunity league. There are many players that are sitting on benches on other teams that are stacked with talent that just don't get an opportunity. We have some on our team," Ainge said on "Sports Final." "We think [2015 second-round pick] Jordan Mickey has a bright future and [2015 first-round pick] Terry Rozier has a bright future and we’ve gotten calls from other teams about them that say, ‘Those guys aren’t getting an opportunity in Boston, we want to get those guys to come play for us.’ But we’re going to try to be patient with them as well, and other young guys."
The Celtics utilized three picks in the top 33 last year to land Rozier (16),R.J. Hunter (28) and Mickey (33). That trio spent much of the year ping-ponging between Boston and the team's Development League affiliate in Maine, but both Rozier and Hunter were called upon to fill playoff minutes due to injuries.
Rozier, in particular, showed intriguing growth, both late in the regular season and into the playoffs. Is Ainge just hyping up young players that might be trade fodder as Boston examines ways to bring in more established talent? The Celtics seem genuinely intrigued about how some of their younger players will progress this summer.
During a recent interview with WBZ News Radio, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked if he regretted not getting those younger players more regular-season reps to expedite their development.
"No, because it’s earned. I mean, who are you sitting?" Stevens said. "This is professional basketball and I think that we had five good [guards/small forwards]. Marcus [Smart] is obviously young, but otherwise guys that have been in the league for a while and earned that time at those spots, when you start talking about the 1 through 3. ... Usually we stayed with those five guys when we were healthy.
"And certainly, when we weren’t, that’s when those guys got their greatest opportunity. That’s when R.J. played a lot at the start of the year, [2014 first-round pick] James Young had a run there in December where he played more. And then Terry, as Terry got better, was ready.
"But I think there’s a process of growth that has to happen to be ready to play and you also -- from the point of a team, you've got to play who earns that time. It was pretty clear early on with those five guys, when you start talking about Evan [Turner], Marcus, Isaiah [Thomas], Avery [Bradley] and Jae [Crowder]."
The Celtics are hoping to add established talent this summer, the sort that could help the team quickly take another step forward in their building process. But Ainge stressed recently that the team might have to be patient while developing drafted players.
With a goal of progress, Ainge said the team will continue to target underutilized talent around the league.
"It really is an opportunity league and I think the last couple of years -- the Jae Crowders of the world, Isaiah Thomas, guys that we’ve acquired via trade like Jonas Jerebko -- they love the fact that they’re getting an opportunity to play and with that opportunity they’ve shined," Ainge said on WBZ-TV.
Asked about the way he's maximized the talent of those sort of players, especially guys like Turner and Jordan Crawford, Stevens admitted that he's got a soft spot for players that might be overlooked or forgotten.
"I think I have a spot in me that, like anyone else, that roots for the guy that’s been knocked down. Or roots for the underdog in a way, a guy that, for whatever reason ... he’s not good enough or not the right fit for this league or doesn’t translate to this league or whatever the case may be," Stevens told WBZ News Radio. "Because each one of these guys has a great strength. They have a great ability to impact the game. And I think my job is to find those strengths and to put those all together.
"I do think, generally, coaches get a lot of talk or praise or whatever the case may be when guys 'develop' or 'enhance.' It’s the guys. It’s there. They have to make the decision that they really want to get better. They have to make the decision that they are going to work on their strengths and manage their weaknesses.
"And they have to have the self-awareness of what those things are. I think that’s something where, I think once you have that self-awareness, once you understand who you are and how you best impact a basketball game, then you choose to soar with what got you there."