Celtics president preaches optimism

BOSTON -- Boston Celtics team president Rich Gotham still shudders when he reflects on sitting in the lottery war room in late May when the team's draft fate was determined and dreams of a top pick were dashed. While pleading for patience as part of the team's current rebuilding process, he's not bashful in admitting that he hopes both he and the team can avoid the lottery process again for the foreseeable future.

And three months after the pingpong balls defied Boston, and a couple of months since the Celtics plucked Marcus Smart (sixth) and James Young (17th) in the 2014 draft, Gotham expressed an excitement about the team's youngest players and their future potential.

"I've been loving Marcus Smart's play, because he's just tough," said Gotham, admitting he often peeks at the on-court offseason action whenever he's at the team's training facility in Waltham this summer. "He goes out there and he competes. I saw James Young for the first time the other day, and I saw him stroke a couple of lefty 3-pointers from a couple feet beyond the arc and I was like, 'Hmmm, we could use that.'

"It's exciting. I'm a hoops junkie. I love watching the young guys, I love watching their development, I love thinking about what these guys could become. I watched our draft workouts, but the best workout I saw all summer was Kelly Olynyk putting on a shooting clinic hitting 3s. We bring in all these guys, but we've got great guys on our team. It's exciting to think about how these guys will develop over time.

"The franchise, we're committed to being patient as we need to be to get the team to where it needs to go. What you want, most importantly, is to have options. Whether it's developing your young guys and utilizing those draft picks -- and utilizing them well -- and getting guys that can help you hang that next banner. Or it's using those picks and cap space as assets to acquire other players, whether it's via trade or free agency. I think we have all those options available to us, and they'll continue to be available to us for the foreseeable future. And that's really all that you can ask for. You can't be too hasty in trying to make things happen just for the sake of trying to make it happen in order to appease any sense of impatience. You gotta stay true to the process."

Gotham, a pair of gardening gloves sprouting from his back pocket after he joined members of the Celtics' organization, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and City Year to revitalize the grounds at Hennigan Elementary School in Jamaica Plain on Friday, thinks this season's team is ready to roll up its sleeves and do the dirty work necessary to take the next step in its development.

"I think the expectation for this year's team is that the future will come a little bit more into focus," said Gotham. "Some of the guys who showed promise last year, guys that took a step last year like Jared [Sullinger] and Avery [Bradley] and [Olynyk], I think their continued development is a great reason to be optimistic. The addition of Tyler Zeller helps us a lot as we have a pure center on the roster now. I think a healthy [Rajon] Rondo is a huge difference-maker for us. And so I think, while we were very competitive last year, in a lot of these games ... I think we have a better shot to take some of those games that come down to the last two minutes. Guys will have another year in [coach] Brad [Stevens'] system, I think we have great depth on this team, we have quality depth. We just look forward to taking the next step in our progression."

Gotham also goes out of his way to stress his excitement about one of Boston's most veteran players in Rondo, who will be further removed from the ACL surgery that limited him in each of the past two seasons. Celtics brass have maintained that Rondo is poised for the best season of his career, and they seem to wonder if the rest of the league has forgotten about his true potential when healthy.

Asked about how team executives react whenever Rondo's name bubbles up in the rumor mill, Gotham kept the focus on what Rondo can accomplish in a Celtics uniform.

"When we talk about Rondo, we talk about his development and recovery from his ACL [surgery]," said Gotham. "So we talk about getting him ready to perform this season and we're excited about having the old Rondo back. That's what we talk about. The stuff that gets reported in the media, it's out of our control. Sometimes you laugh a little bit, sometimes you shake your head a little bit, sometimes you say, 'Geez, I haven't heard that, I wonder if there's anything there?' But we can't allow ourselves to pay too much attention to that. What's important to us is getting the team ready, and paying attention to media rumors doesn't help us get the team ready."

Gotham knows that most pundits have the Celtics pegged for another trying season coming off a 25-win campaign in Stevens' first season at the helm. But he said most Celtics fans seem to understand the team is headed in the right direction.

"Our fans understand what we're doing. They've seen us go through this before. They've seen the end result -- which was pretty good," said Gotham, referencing the team's 2008 title. "I don't hear fans questioning our direction. Everyone wants to win. We always say we're lucky, it's the name on the front not the name on the back [of the jersey]. So we haven't had to sell fans on our direction, but ultimately fans want to win and we want to win, too. We're not going into this year thinking that we're not going to win any games. Our fans know that they are going to get an A-plus effort out of our guys, because that's what Brad Stevens' teams do."