SALT LAKE CITY -- Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was preparing to catch a flight home Thursday night to put the finishing touches on the largest free-agent contract the Celtics have ever inked when Al Horford puts his signature on a four-year, $113 million pact Friday.
Before he traversed the country, and with the league's free-agent moratorium lifted, Ainge took some time to reflect on Boston's buzzworthy start to the summer, including the much-ballyhooed trips to recruit Horford and Kevin Durant, along with his thoughts on what's left to do to put the finishing touches on the roster for the 2016-17 season.
"I think we’re not done," Ainge said while clutching his iPhone in one hand, seemingly waiting for the next call that might lead to a deal.
Ainge didn't want to talk too much about Horford until the team finalized his deal and introduced him to the media (though snapshots from back in Boston appeared to show Horford's No. 42 jersey arriving in the team's pro shop at TD Garden). Ainge did open up about the two-day recruiting trip in which his team -- armed with copious salary-cap space for the first time in two decades -- tried to sell their situation to Horford and Durant.
"This was an unique experience," Ainge said. "This was a good experience for us to go to pitch to Al, then pitch to KD. I think we all learned something from it. I think we got better from Al to the KD one -- even though we didn’t land KD. I think it was a fun process. It was good for our team. And it was good for team-building with the players and the coach. I think it was good experience for all of us."
A small Celtics contingent visited Horford last Friday night, then a larger pack that included New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Ainge, coach Brad Stevens, co-owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca and players Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk convened in the Hamptons to pitch Durant.
Reflecting on Brady's presence, Ainge said, "I just thought it would be a good idea. We would like to get a lot of guys to come, but Tom was available. I reached out to him and he thought about it for a day and said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ And in a very short turnaround, he wanted to go. He had met KD one time before. I told him how much of a fan KD was of his. It was a fun time for all of us to have Tom down there with us."
Celtics players snapped Instagram photos with Brady then gushed to teammates about getting to meet him as part of the Durant pitch.
Ainge, Stevens, Grousbeck and Pagliuca were traveling back separately from the players shortly after leaving Durant when they got word that Horford had agreed to sign. Grousbeck said they had to ask the pilot to stop taxiing out to the runway at the East Hampton, New York, airport so they could celebrate the big-splash signing before takeoff.
Ainge said he left the Hamptons feeling confident in how Boston's presentation had gone and assured the Celtics had at least given Durant something to ponder -- particularly after the Horford signing.
"I felt that we did what we went out to do," Ainge said. "And it was in their hands. There’s a lot of different factors in their decisions, and we respect that."
The Celtics pulled out all the stops, including Ainge wearing a pair of Durant's signature shoes, which Durant noticed. Ultimately, Boston's pitch wasn't enough to sway Durant from creating a super team with the Golden State Warriors out West, but Grousbeck told Boston sports radio WBZ-FM 98.5 the Sports Hub on Thursday that he felt the Celtics were the runner-up in the Durant sweepstakes, maybe even more so than the incumbent Oklahoma City Thunder.
Asked how Golden State's collection of talent changes the landscape of the NBA, Ainge said it wouldn't alter Boston's plans to continue building a team capable of contending for a title.
"Listen, they are an outstanding team. And nobody can deny the great talent that they have," Ainge said. "But we’re not going to just lay down and die, I’ll tell you that."
Ainge touched all the bases while addressing the team's busy summer:
Shopping list: Asked what he might seek for his team before finalizing roster construction, Ainge said: "We need more shooting. We have some guys who are versatile and can play center and 4 [power forward]. We can use a stronger center, and those are the two biggest things. Maybe another ball-handler as well."
Give it a guarantee: The contracts for both Amir Johnson ($12 million) and Jonas Jerebko ($5 million) were set to become guaranteed if the players were not waived before the end of the day Thursday. While keeping both players will present a hurdle if Boston desires to add another monster contract, Ainge noted that the pair would be retained through the deadline. "Amir and Jonas are two of Coach's favorite guys," he said. "They play hard. They are loved by their teammates and they had terrific years last year for us. We are excited to have them back."
International intrigue: The Celtics drafted both Guerschon Yabusele (16th overall) and Ante Zizic (23) last month. Ainge said Zizic will remain overseas next season but that the team was still deciding on Yabusele, who is with the Celtics' summer squads in Utah and Las Vegas this month.
Restricted area: The Celtics have decisions to make on two other young big men in Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller. Both players are restricted free agents after Boston tendered qualifying offers in late June. The Celtics are unlikely to sign either to the sort of long-term, big-money deal that might compromise their salary flexibility, but they'd certainly consider short-term deals (particularly if neither received an offer sheet and settled for the qualifying offer). "I've talked with both those guys and we'll continue to see how it all plays out," Ainge said. "We are still looking at doing deals and we're certainly not finished for the summer. Those are two very good players and we'll continue talking with them as the summer goes along."
ET's big payday: Ainge said he was happy for Evan Turner, who inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. Asked if there had been any chance of retaining the shooting guard, Ainge said, "Some of it was timing. He had an offer out of the gate that blew his socks off and he had to take it. We knew that was a possibility."
Young's future: Watching 2014 draftee James Young compete in summer league, Ainge hinted it was time to see him make a leap forward, particularly with Boston flush with recent draftees after making 12 selections (including seven in the first round) over the past three drafts. "Listen, you have to earn a roster spot," Ainge said of the shooting guard. "There are some exceptions, like James Young is an exception. He was drafted at 18 years old, and we have to be patient with him, but now it’s time. But competition is a good thing. It brings out the best in these guys."