Boston Celtics: 2014Draft

Marcus SmartNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
After the Boston Celtics selected Marcus Smart with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 draft, he opened his blue suit jacket to reveal a series of logos on the lining that detail his NBA journey.

On one side was a picture of his home state of Texas with a block letter "M" and the word "Marcus" -- both his given name and that of his high school in Flower Mound. On the opposite side, there was an Oklahoma State logo with his college jersey number 33 and below that was a basketball bearing No. 3 with "R.I.P. Todd" inscribed around it in honor of the older brother he lost to cancer.

The story of Smart's journey to the NBA is truly remarkable. First a glimpse, from Grantland.com:
He wanted to have a childhood, he said. He was 19 and maybe he deserved one. The first time through, he’d been too angry, too scared, too hurt; it was something else, not childhood. He grew up in South Dallas, in a neighborhood he called a war zone, where he’d been shot at before he turned 13. He watched one brother die from cancer and another almost die from cocaine. He got in fights where he was so overcome with rage that he’d smash the other kid’s head against the pavement. He felt like he had a broken arm inside him. There were nights when he thought he might kill someone. There were nights when he thought he would die.

Now, on the cusp of adulthood, he’d finally found a place where he could be a kid. So on April 17, less than a month after his 5th-seeded Cowboys lost to Oregon in the first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Marcus Smart announced that he’d be returning for his sophomore season at Oklahoma State.1 The news sent little lightning-jabs of shock flying around basketball. Smart, the Cowboys’ leading scorer and the Big 12 Player of the Year, was a consensus top-three pick on pundits’ NBA draft boards, partly because the 2013 class was seen as weak. But by 2014, a stocked pack of ultra-freshmen — Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, et al. — would have come howling in, and OSU’s star point guard couldn’t even be sure of a spot in the top 10. Staying in school would therefore be likely to cost him millions of dollars twice: once when he forfeited the salary he might have made right away, and again when a lower draft slot led to a smaller rookie contract the next year.

[Grantland: Smart's choice]

And from a stellar profile from USA Today:
Six years before Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart became one of the nation's most respected college basketball players, he threw rocks at people's heads.

How he blossomed into one of the sport's most humble stars, an unassuming 18-year-old potential NBA lottery pick, was through a journey defined by deep personal loss and self-discovery.

Rage burned inside him after seeing cancer overtake one older brother and cocaine nearly destroy another. Anger boiled while confronting a neighborhood south of Dallas he called a war zone amid duplexes. He desperately sought to inflict others with the pain that incessantly gnawed at his 12-year-old heart.

One night near his home in Lancaster began like so many others, with Marcus and a friend stuffing their pants pockets with rocks and positioning themselves on the second floor of the apartment complex they called The Pinks, looking for a target with a pulse. Little did Marcus know this would be such a pivotal night in his life.

[USA Today: Smart went from 'dead or in jail' to selfless general]

BOSTON -- A couple hours after the Boston Celtics made him the sixth pick in the 2014 NBA draft, Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart was asked to describe the moment he heard his name called.

Marcus Smart and James Young
Getty Images
"It felt like fireworks on the Fourth of July," he said.

OK, so that wasn't quite the fireworks that many Celtics fans were pining for on this night. Those who dreamed of a draft-night swap for Minnesota All-Star forward Kevin Love, or even watching Kansas center Joel Embiid slide to No. 6, were left yearning for a bigger bang.

The Celtics elected to keep picks Nos. 6 and 17, selecting Smart and Kentucky swingman James Young, adding two players who are regarded as, well, smart and young.

Both Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge hinted that the team examined potential moves, maybe more so in the days leading up to the draft, but ultimately the Celtics stuck with their picks. All in all, it was a rather quiet draft night, at least by Trader Danny's standards. Grousbeck suggested it wasn't for a lack of trying.

"We wanted to make other trades in recent days and we've been on the phone quite a bit with other teams about other ideas," Grousbeck said. "Nothing just ever really seemed close to fruition, no matter how hard we tried."

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And Grousbeck quickly cautioned: "I remember trading for Kevin Garnett in 2007 and I got a phone call about that from Minnesota on July 30 or 31. The trade season is not over yet."

Grousbeck is the one who originally coined the buzzword "fireworks" a couple months back when he suggested Boston had potential to accelerate the rebuilding process with its treasure trove of assets, including two picks in the first round on Thursday.

Are fireworks still a possibility with free agency looming?

"I always said fireworks were a possibility," Grousbeck said. "It takes two to tango around here. There just hasn't been that much movement tonight. Typically on draft day, we make at least two trades, if not three. It's just sort of the way we roll [with] Trader Danny.

"We like to be aggressive about rebuilding this team. We like to try to become contenders as quickly as possible. We'll keep working the phones, but it takes two partners to make a trade."

[Read full story]

Celtics select Young at No. 17

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
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James YoungJeyhoun Allebaugh/NBAE/Getty Images
BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics selected Kentucky swingman James Young with the 17th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

Young is a 6-foot-7 wing (with a 7-foot wingspan). He's regarded as a scoring wing after averaging 14.3 points per game in his freshman season at Kentucky. Young is also only 18 years old, suggesting his game is still developing.

"[Young has] got a stroke that -- he’s just going to get better and better," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "He’s a young guy. We felt like he was a very, very undervalued scoring wing in this draft. Everybody in this room had him ranked a lot higher than 17, so we were surprised he was available at 17. And thrilled that he was available at 17."

Young had been dubbed a potential lottery candidate. The left-handed shooter must improve his 3-point stroke at the NBA level (he shot 34.9 percent beyond the college arc last season), but offers versatility with his size on the wing.

[+] EnlargeJames Young
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesThe Celtics are banking on James Young to bring a scoring touch to Boston.
"I've always looked and tried to say, OK, if we have a primary ball handler on the floor, 2 and 3 are pretty interchangeable in regards to actions," said Stevens. "Depending on who we are playing, we can kinda mix and match. I think he can play some 2, I think he can play some 3 against certain teams. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But he’s a player. And anybody that’s a player, who can put the ball on the floor and put the ball in the basket -- we’ve talked about our struggles to score -- he’s a guy that can create offense."

On a conference call with the Boston media, Young said, "My strength is my ability to score in a lot of ways, not just shooting."

Asked what he's been working on, he noted, "Really, just working on my right hand. That’s what I’ve been doing these past few weeks. It’s a lot better than it was when I started my college career. That’s about it. Just working on my ballhandling, and I’ve been working on my footwork as well."

Young did not work out for the Celtics after being involved in a minor car accident. That didn't hurt his stock and Stevens suggested he ranked 11th on the coach's list of draft prospects this year.

Asked about coming to Boston, Young said: "Coming to this great organization, I’m going to be myself and really just attack the program and just give it my all. Every practice, every workout, really just help the team out, make myself better in the process."

Young said he roomed with Boston's other first-round pick, Marcus Smart, at the NBA draft combine in Chicago last month.

"The way he plays is just tough. That’s how Boston players are," said Young. "I feel like he fits in great with them. I’m tough like that, too. So I feel like me and him can bring that toughness together in the backcourt, it can create a lot of problems for the other team. He sees the floor well, he can score, and he’s just a great player overall."

Celtics select Smart at No. 6

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
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Marcus Smart, Adam SilverAP Photo/Jason DeCrow
BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics selected Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-3, 227 pounds, Smart owns an NBA-ready body and is known for being a physical presence at both ends of the floor. He can play off the ball, but spent his sophomore season at Oklahoma State establishing himself as a point guard.

At the NBA Draft combine in Chicago last month, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said he liked Smart's fire, even after he was suspended three games for a fan-shoving incident.

"I sorta like Marcus Smart. I like his fire," Ainge said. Later he added: "I think he’s a great kid, a great player and I think he’ll have a bright future."

Boston worked Smart out twice, including as part of a guard-heavy workout earlier this month. He was brought back this week to audition again.

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck said there was applause in the team's draft war room when it became clear Smart would be available at No. 6.

"Our war room is very happy with our pick," said Grousbeck. "My job is to be part of that and to be supportive. Our basketball guys are very excited and have been focusing on Marcus for several weeks. We really liked the top six or seven kids in the draft quite a bit, but I really thought he’s pretty exceptional in a couple of ways and am really looking forward to having him."

Later Grousbeck added: "We think that this kid really has some special attributes. We like the fact that he’s an instigator, back to Red [Auerbach]. As Red told me personally when I came in, 'You need instigators, not retaliators.' This kid is energetic. He’s a bull. He’s a force. When I met him, he filled the doorway. He’s got that physique and that drive and that attitude that we really like around the Celtics."

The Celtics used pick No. 17, acquired as part of last year's blockbuster swap with the Brooklyn Nets, to select Kentucky swingman James Young. The Celtics finished the 2013-14 season at 25-57 overall, tied with Utah Jazz for the fifth-worst record in basketball, but lost a random drawing as a tie-breaker and landed at No. 6.

Ainge said before the draft that the team's decision to keep the picks did not necessary suggest they are not trying to accelerate the rebuilding process.

"I think our initial goal when the season ended was to expedite a rebuilding process," said Ainge. "I don’t think by taking 6 and 17 that that has ended. We’ve always been comfortable with 6 and 17 and knew that was the most likely scenario. But we can’t rush something that’s not there. We’ve made efforts to expedite and will continue to throughout the summer and just see what opportunities are there, but we’ll try to remain opportunistic."

In the days leading up to the draft, much of the buzz around Boston was whether Kansas center Joel Embiid might slide within the team's reach. That hope ended when the Philadelphia 76ers selected Embiid at No. 3. Andrew Wiggins (Cleveland at No. 1) and Jabari Parker (Milwaukee at No. 2) rounded out the top three selections.

There were groans from the Celtics' draft party at TD Garden when Aaron Gordon went fourth to the Orlando Magic, while Australian point guard Dante Exum landed in Utah at No. 5. The Smart pick was met with some cheers as it was displayed inside the arena.

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Ainge sets table for draft

June, 26, 2014
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BOSTON -- Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge met with the media 90 minutes before the start of the 2014 NBA Draft. Walking to the podium, Ainge humorously announced, "Anyone have any questions that I probably won't answer? Fire away."

He dutifully fielded seven minutes worth of questions without tipping the team's draft hand. Since much of this will be outdated shortly, here's some highlights from the Q&A:

Do you still feel like picking at Nos. 6 and 17 is the most likely scenario?

A: "I do."

Has there been any talk of movement with those picks?

A: "There’s been a lot of conversation over the last month, and a lot of discussions regarding trades and trading of the picks. Trading up, trading back, trading for players; Big deals, little deals. We’re ready for some different scenarios... I think, probably, it looks most likely we’ll keep [the picks]."

Has the medical staff had a chance to review information on Joel Embiid?

A: "We have processed the information and I believe in my medical staff. And that’s all."

You said before that this draft is overhyped? Do you still feel that way?

A: "I think, early in the year, I said it’s a little bit overtyped. I think midway through the year, I thought it was still overhyped. Part of that is just maybe the player in me, where, ‘C’mon, let these kids be kids.’ None of these guys are franchise-turners, and I still believe that. I think everything I said about the draft, I still believe. I think that, I’ve always believed that, just like in every draft, there’s going to be players that are good, guys that can start, guys that can play in rotations on championship teams. And there will be a couple of them, two or three or four maybe that become NBA All-Stars -- I wish I knew which one of those [the draft hopefuls] would be. I think when we start making the comparisons of LeBron James and Kevin Durant, with kids before they even played a game in college, that’s sorta unfair. And that was what the hype was that I was referring to as overtyped. Let’s let them prove it before we start making the comparisons, but I do feel like we’re going to get a good player at 6, a player that I think can be a starter in the NBA. How good they become, time will tell. But players that we will be excited about adding to our roster, but players that I’m not expected to turn us into an immediate winner -- by themselves."

Have you formed a consensus about what you guys might take at No. 6?

A: "I think we have a consensus. Over the last couple weeks, I make it my job to know everybody’s perspective on players and what they think and how they rank players. So I meet with them individually, we go through film, we talk through their opinions. We meet collectively. But, yes, I do believe at this point, today, for sure, with our first pick we have a consensus order and it’s really close calls. There’s been different opinions that we’ve come together on. And at 17, it’s probably a little bit more not as much of a consensus. There’s just so much uncertainty."

Is it a really close call between players at No. 6?

A: "I think we’ve gone through whatever scenario, and whatever scenario comes forward, we’re prepared for it with a consensus is what I’m saying."

W2W4: Draft Day

June, 26, 2014
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The Boston Celtics owns picks Nos. 6 and 17 in Thursday's NBA Draft (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.) Here's a recap of some of our draft coverage to set the table for the event:

Winslow Townson/USA Today SportsDanny Ainge and the Celtics are well-prepped for the 2014 NBA Draft.

What you need to know


Celtics must consider all options: The Boston Celtics are set to embark on what they hope is a franchise-altering week. But how exactly that transformation will occur, just how seismic the moves they make will be, and how fast they'll see results from this part of the rebuilding process is anyone's guess.

Celtics Mailbag: Lots of balls in the air: Draft night is entirely unpredictable. Just look at last year when Anthony Bennett was a surprise No. 1 and the Celtics shook up their roster by dealing Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn. What will happen this year? Nobody can know for sure. But let's make a few educated guesses while opening your letters.

Where does Rondo fit for C's?: Rajon Rondo has stressed that he wants to win and win now. He's also said that he's not content to just get back to the playoffs; he wants to compete for titles. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is most certainly efforting that process, but he must balance the need to build correctly, not quickly.

Setting the draft board: By the time the NBA Draft arrives Thursday, the Boston Celtics will have brought in just about every available draft prospect -- at least those willing to work out for the team -- in what's essentially the final evaluation in a tireless college scouting process.

Group workout list: A look at the nearly 60 names that Boston brought in as part of group workouts since the start of the month.

SportsNation

Which do you think is more likely Thursday night for the Celtics in the draft?

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Lack of late pick doesn't deter C's prep: The Boston Celtics do not own a second-round pick in the 2014 NBA draft, but that hasn't stopped them from examining players that might available after their two first-round selections, particularly players projected to be second-round picks or go undrafted.

Boston's top 15 picks since 1978 | Top 5 busts  

AP Photo/Gregory BullCould Marcus Smart be Boston's choice at No. 6?

Top options at No. 6


Joel Embiid: Like the rest of the league, the Boston Celtics are attempting to obtain as much information as possible about Joel Embiid's medical issues, particularly the fractured right foot he recently had two screws inserted in, all with the goal of making an informed decision should Embiid become available to the team in next week's draft. [C's weigh risks with Embiid]

Marcus Smart: Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart had just completed a workout for the Boston Celtics that featured some of the other top guards in this year's draft class and he was asked if he had a chance to chat with Rajon Rondo. Smart's eyes lit up and you couldn't be sure if he wanted to say hello to Boston's All-Star point guard or challenge him to a game of 1-on-1. [Get Smart? An intriguing guard option]

Aaron Gordon: Before Kevin Love stole the spotlight, Aaron Gordon was Boston's most famous visiting hoopster. Gordon, in town last month for his sister's graduation from Harvard University, got caught napping -- ball in hand -- on a red line train after a local workout. The cell phone photo went viral, as did speculation that he was here to meet with a potential future employer in the Boston Celtics. [No sleeping on this visit to C's]

Noah Vonleh: When Wednesday's workout for his hometown Boston Celtics was complete, Noah Vonleh wandered to one corner of the practice gymnasium and plopped down next to assistant coach Walter McCarty. Now, Vonleh was only 2 when McCarty got traded to Boston in 1995, but like anyone raised on late-'90s/early-2000s hoops in these parts, Vonleh is plenty familiar with the "I love Waltah!" era of Celtics basketball. [Vonleh right at home with C's]

Julius Randle: The 6-foot-9 Randle is one of the draft's most intriguing players. Back at the start of the college season, he was in the conversation with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker as potential top picks, but soon saw Kansas big man Joel Embiid take his spot. Now Randle seems to project as more of a mid-lottery guy and you can't help but wonder if the concerns about his foot might leave prospective teams even more hesitant. [Randle's solo dance for C's]

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Celtics must consider all options

June, 22, 2014
Jun 22
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The Boston Celtics are set to embark on what they hope is a franchise-altering week. But how exactly that transformation will occur, just how seismic the moves they make will be, and how fast they'll see results from this part of the rebuilding process is anyone's guess.

AP Photo/Michael DwyerDanny Ainge and the Celtics have big decisions to make this week.
It's draft week and the Celtics own picks Nos. 6 and 17. The team's front office staff has relentlessly scouted an intriguing pool of incoming talent and will spend the days leading up to the draft trying to map out all the potential avenues the team might travel this week.

Of course, it's impossible to know exactly how the draft will play out or the domino effect that each pick will create for Boston.

The buzzword this week remains "fireworks," the term that Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck used earlier this year to describe the potential for big-splash moves the team could make this summer to thrust it back into contender status after enduring a 57-loss season.

With that in mind, here's a look at five possible scenarios, each listed on a scale of 1 to 5 booms, that could play out on draft night:

KEEP THE PICKS (Fireworks scale: 1 boom)

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With nine first-round picks over the next five drafts, the Celtics are positioned to pick their spots. While the team certainly desires to win sooner than later, it doesn't necessarily have to mortgage its future to land the first available superstar. There's value in patience.

So let's say that no draft-night trades materialize, either for established NBA talent or to move around the draft board. The Celtics might determine that it's their best play to simply trust their scouting process and pick the two best players available when they are on the clock.

In that scenario, Boston could walk away with someone like Marcus Smart or Aaron Gordon at No. 6, and Zach LaVine or T.J. Warren at No. 17 (and maybe even adding another roster hopeful by buying a second-round pick).

Boston would add those players to its young core and look to add more established talent down the road with its stash of assets still largely intact. This is the sparkler on a night when most want M80s.

[Read full story]
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2014Draft

Glimpse into setting C's draft board

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
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WALTHAM, Mass. -- By the time the NBA Draft arrives next Thursday, the Boston Celtics will have brought in just about every available draft prospect -- at least those willing to work out for the team -- in what's essentially the final evaluation in a tireless college scouting process.

Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesAs this draft board fills up, the Celtics rely on their pre-draft rankings to help guide them.
Now comes the hard part: Positioning all the players on a draft board to be able to best react when the pick-a-palooza begins.

While Boston has one of the smaller front offices in the league, there's still plenty of cooks in the kitchen, all likely with unique opinions on what ingredients are best for this rebuilding stew. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will take advice from his staff -- helmed by assistant general manager Mike Zarren and director of player personnel Austin Ainge -- as well as head coach Brad Stevens and team staffers. But determining how to best arrange those names on the team's board in advance of the draft is an inexact science.

"I say we do lists, kind of informally, all the time throughout the year," explained Austin Ainge. "We’ll just be sitting there, saying, ‘Well, all right. Let’s put them in order.’ I think it’s easiest for us to do it right now by position. It’s hard to compare across positions. This week, as we get closer to the draft, we start [focusing on one overall ranking] because sometimes the fifth-best point guard is better than the second-best shooting guard. But it’s easier by position for us. I think it’s harder when you start doing a total list."

The Celtics have utilized many different methods and models in trying to arrange players, including something as simple as having each staffer submit a numerical ranking and determining the average. As Austin Ainge notes, "We’ve done a million different things. But in the end, it’s Danny’s final call and we all offer opinions."

The Celtics' front office staff spends much of the year spanning the globe to see draft hopefuls in action. The draft board conversation never stops, but names don't really start getting organized until late June.

"We don’t have up-or-down [discussions] early in the year, but basically we argue about which players we like constantly, just like you do with your buddies at home," said Austin Ainge. "It’s what we do every day. So, yeah, that’s a constant battle. At the same time, we try to make it where, whoever is the best arguer doesn’t win. We try to have some substance to it and keep emotion out of it. There’s been some studies done that when you argue for a person, you start to like them more, and when you argue against them, you start to dislike them. We try to remove those things and so sometimes we take turns arguing for and against different guys to try to balance guys a little bit."

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2014Draft

(Mid-)Major chip on Payton's shoulder

June, 15, 2014
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WALTHAM, Mass. -- Louisiana Lafayette's Elfrid Payton seems to have steadily climbed draft boards recently, but that's done nothing to diminish the chip on his shoulder. Every workout is a chance for the mid-major point guard to prove himself and he seemed particularly focused on Friday's session with the Boston Celtics.

Boston's six-man workout that day featured six guards all vying to be lottery picks in this month's draft. For Payton, it was a chance to prove himself alongside some of the draft's more notable names, including Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart, Michigan State's Gary Harris, Michigan's Nik Stauskas, Creighton's Doug McDermott and UCLA's Zach LaVine.

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesLouisiana Lafayette's Elfrid Payton is eager to prove himself at the NBA level.
While Payton has climbed to No. 13 on Chad Ford's big board, he's maybe the most unheralded of that group, especially considering the attention that LaVine and his near-four-foot vertical has drawn in the pre-draft process. Meeting with reporters after the session, most of Payton's answers resolve back to trying to "prove himself" and hoping to "show he can play at this level."

Mid-major guards are drawing more attention recently, thanks in part to the exploits of players such as Damian Lillard (Weber State) and C.J. McCollum (Lehigh), both lottery picks of the Portland Trail Blazers the past two years.

Payton is long and lanky (6-foot-4, 185 pounds; 6-foot-8 wingspan) and uses his size to irritate opposing guards. He's averaged better than two steals per game the past two seasons and took home the Lefty Driesell Award, given to the best defender in Division 1 basketball.

Payton couples that defensive tenacity with an ability to attack the basket with his speed. He averaged 19.2 points, 6 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game during his junior season while leading the Ragin' Cajuns to the NCAA tournament this past season.

Initially pegged as a late first-rounder when he declared for the draft in April, Payton has seen his stock climb toward the lottery. If Payton stays on the board, the Celtics might have a chance to grab him at No. 17, the second of the team's first-round selections.

"He was good; very physical defending the ball," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Payton after his workout on Friday. "He can get where he wants to go with the ball. He’s a guy that was highly thought of coming out, especially out of USA basketball stuff last summer. And the coaches that he had raved about him. He lived up to that [Friday]."

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Blind side: Austin sees NBA opportunity

June, 14, 2014
Jun 14
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video

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Draft prospects who arrive early in town typically elect to visit the Boston Celtics' training facility to get up shots in advance of the next day's audition. For Isaiah Austin, getting to a new gym early is a necessity, particularly in his quest to play at the NBA level.

Austin, a 7-foot-1 center out of Baylor University, revealed earlier this year that he is blind in his right eye, the result of a torn retina sustained before high school. As he visits NBA teams this month trying to boost his draft stock, Austin finds it helpful to test his depth perception in new gyms before his formal workouts.

Austin, once one of the nation's top high school players, managed to keep his eye ailment a secret for more than five years, but now he's embracing the chance to share his story as part of his journey to the NBA.

Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsIsaiah Austin hasn't let right-eye blindness deter his NBA dreams.
"Sometimes because people get so caught up, thinking that basketball is life, but there’s so many more aspects to it," said Austin. "I want to be able to use basketball as a stepping stone to touch people around the world with my story."

Austin's story deserves to be heard. A baseball injury loosened his retina in junior high school and, two years later, after sprouting to 6-foot-7 by the eighth grade, his vision disappeared completely in his right eye after attempting a routine pregame dunk. Four major surgeries followed, his vision returning briefly each time before fading again.

Fearing he would not be able to continue his basketball career, his mother, Lisa Green, told Austin that he could make the ailment an excuse, or he could make it his story. He chose the latter.

Austin soon returned to competitive basketball and ended up being one of the nation's top recruits. A native of Arlington, Texas, he elected to stay close to home and play at Baylor. A solid freshman season left him pegged as a first-round draft prospect and many thought he'd jump immediately to the NBA, but a shoulder injury encouraged Austin to return for his sophomore season.

It might have been a blessing. Austin's stats dipped a bit this past year, but no metric can quite measure his maturation, which aided him in finding the courage to reveal his eye ailment publicly in January.

"I really needed that extra year at Baylor to help me [tell my story]," said Austin. "To have the coaching staff and my teammates behind me, them supporting me, and really sitting down to help me mature as a man -- that was a great experience for me. I wouldn't change it for the world."

Now, only the more optimistic projections have Austin pegged as a second-round prospect, though a draft devoid of pure size should enhance his chance of hearing his name called among the 60 selections later this month. Austin hopes that the exposure of playing at the NBA level will motivate others with disabilities, but he's already an inspiration to many.

"First of all, I’m a big fan of him. I think his story is inspirational," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "And him coming out and sharing his story was inspirational. I’ve got a good friend of mine who has gone through some issues with his eye, and that was one of the first stories that I shared with him. He’s a really neat kid."

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Randle's solo dance for C's

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
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WALTHAM, Mass. -- Kentucky's Julius Randle was being peppered with questions about whether his right foot will require surgery after the draft when the conversation swung to his just-completed workout with the Boston Celtics.

Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Julius Randle averaged 15.0 points per game and 10.4 rebounds in his only season at Kentucky.
Randle still bristled a bit, particularly when asked why he chose to work out alone rather than with the talent-loaded six-man group that was still going through drills while he met with reporters.

"Less risk of injury," said Randle. "There’s no me being afraid of competing. I think guys know that competing is what I do."

The 6-foot-9 Randle is one of the draft's most intriguing players. Back at the start of the college season, he was in the conversation with Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker as potential top picks, but soon saw Kansas big man Joel Embiid take his spot. Now Randle seems to project as more of a mid-lottery guy and you can't help but wonder if the concerns about his foot might leave prospective teams even more hesitant.

So what was Randle trying to show during his morning workout with the Celtics, who own picks Nos. 6 and 17 in this year's draft?

"Just that, if I come here, I’m going to give my all," he said. "I’m going to compete and do the best I can. Especially with these guys. They know what you can do, they know the type of player you can be. But I just try to be myself. I think off the court, them seeing what kind of person you are. The character that you have is the most important thing. They’ve done their job all year, scouting what type of player you are."

Randle's visit comes at the tail end of a week in which the Celtics auditioned many of the top names expected to be available at No. 6. Both Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon, two of the other power forward types that could be in the mix when Boston is first on the clock, elected to go through group workouts. Friday's six-man session featured six first-rounders, including five players with lottery potential in Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Michigan's Nik Stauskas, Michigan State's Gary Harris, UCLA's Zach LaVine, and Louisiana-Lafayette's Elfrid Payton. Randle worked out before the group took the floor.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has led the team's pre-draft workouts, said it can actually be a little tougher on players to go through an individual session.

"I think it’s harder for the player because everybody is just sitting around watching one guy instead of six, [when in a group] at least there’s somebody else out there with you," said Stevens. "But I thought he did a good job. Julius -- and I sat with him in Chicago as well -- he’s a very mature kid and works the right way. He’s maybe a guy that’s going to be good for a long time. He did a good job today."

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Randle: 'My foot is fine'

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
2:35
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WALTHAM, Mass. -- Kentucky forward Julius Randle downplayed reports that his right foot might require surgery after this month's draft, stressing that his foot is fine and he's pain-free.

After going through an individual workout for the Boston Celtics on Friday, Randle said no team or doctor has told him that he would require surgery to replace a pin that was inserted after breaking the foot in high school.

"My foot is fine," said Randle. "Everybody has their opinion on what they should do. But I'm pain-free. No pain before, during, or after. I'm fine."

Added Randle: "[Surgery has] never been considered. I've met with my own doctor and talked to specialists, some of the best doctors in the world, and they said they wouldn't do anything with it. "

Randle didn't close the door on the possibility of surgery should the team that drafted him ask him to undergo a procedure, but he stressed that it was likely a short timeline for recovery (though he'd miss summer league) and stressed that there's no long-term concerns with the injury.

"It won't be an issue," said Randle.

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Vonleh right at home with C's

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
8:35
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WALTHAM, Mass. -- When Wednesday's workout for his hometown Boston Celtics was complete, Noah Vonleh wandered to one corner of the practice gymnasium and plopped down next to assistant coach Walter McCarty.

AP Photo/Kiichiro SatoNoah Vonleh uses his long reach and huge hands (11.25 inches wide) to block shots -- like this one during the Big Ten Conference tournament in March.
Now, Vonleh was only 2 when McCarty got traded to Boston in 1995, but like anyone raised on late-'90s/early-2000s hoops in these parts, Vonleh is plenty familiar with the "I love Waltah!" era of Celtics basketball.

The two 6-foot-10 hoopsters engaged in some small talk, maybe some Indiana chatter considering the Hoosier State is where McCarty grew up and where Vonleh played his college ball. With the possibility that Boston might target Vonleh with the No. 6 pick in this month's draft, McCarty dispensed some advice about where Vonleh might live if he played for the Celtics.

"All the workouts were pretty good, but this one just had a little bit more meaning to it because it's my hometown," said Vonleh, a native of Haverhill, Mass., who played two seasons of high school ball for his hometown Hillies before prepping at New Hampton in New Hampshire.

"Not everybody gets a chance to work out for their hometown team. This is a great opportunity," he said.

Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge remembers watching Vonleh compete against his younger brother, Crew, in high school and knew Vonleh would be at the NBA level sooner than later. Now, here's Vonleh, just 18 years old with a gargantuan wingspan (7-foot-5), monster vertical (37 inches), and freakish hands (11.25 inches wide), ready to hear his name called in the high lottery.

"Obviously, being local here, we've heard about him for a long time," said Ainge. "He played in my little brother Crew's high school conference. I saw him play there a few times. He's a very intriguing player, a lot of physical tools, but very young."

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To serve and rim protect

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
4:00
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"Rim protector" seems like a fairly recent entry into the NBA lexicon, though it's certainly made up for lost time, particularly in these parts.

Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsIndiana's Noah Vonleh tries to swat a shot during the Big Ten tournament.
Rim protector has become the buzzword associated with the Boston Celtics' glaring need to find someone who can replace what Kevin Garnett provided during six seasons navigating the team's back line. After Boston endured a 57-loss season without an established veteran capable of consistently deterring shots near the basket, rim protector has become the most popular answer when someone asks what Boston's biggest need is this offseason.

How poor was Boston's rim protection? The NBA utilizes player tracking data to define "rim protection" as "the defender being within five feet of the basket and within five feet of the offensive player attempting the shot." Crunch the numbers for opponent field goal percentage for every player in the NBA that appeared in at least half (41) of their team's games and the first Celtics player doesn't appear until No. 116 in Kris Humphries, who limited opponents to 50.8 percent shooting near the rim.

Boston's other bigs? Jared Sullinger lands at 198th (53.9), Brandon Bass spots at 202nd (54.1), and Kelly Olynyk finished 257th (56.3). Rookie Vitor Faverani actually had the best number (46.1) over 37 appearances, which would have ranked him 31st overall (albeit in limited per-game reps).

The optimistic Celtics fan hopes that Faverani can bounce back from the knee surgery that shortened his rookie campaign and provide a steadying presence as he settles and develops at the NBA level. Colton Iverson, last year's second-round pick who spent a year in Turkey, has the length and physicality to help the back line, too.

Can the Celtics find a rim protector in the draft? It certainly would have been a lot easier if the ping-pong balls had given them the chance at picking Joel Embiid. But since that's not happening, Boston will have to examine what's left of a big-man class that -- much like the team's roster last season -- isn't overflowing with pure size.

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Before one game late in the 2013-14 season, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens had been talking glowingly about the intangibles of a player when the conversation swung to a more general question about the best qualities an individual could bring.

Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesNorth Carolina State's T.J. Warren was third in the nation with 24.8 points per game.
Stevens pondered the inquiry for a moment, then smiled while noting that being able to score 35 points per game wouldn't be a bad thing for a player.

Yes, even a coach who puts a high value on the intangibles knows that scoring comes at a premium in the NBA. Those who can do it consistently often are some of the most valued players in the league, even if they lag in other areas.

As the 2014 NBA draft approaches, the Celtics clearly are intrigued by those who can score the basketball.

"We struggled to score this year and that matters," Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge said. "We’re going to have to address it, and that might be through the draft, it might be through free agency, it might be via trade. That’s an issue."

Ainge was quick to note that the Celtics "need to get better on both ends of the court," but the defensive regression at the end of the season further exposed Boston's inability to generate sustained offense.

The Celtics were not a good offensive team by any metric last season. Boston ranked 27th in offensive rating (99.7 points per 100 possessions) while averaging 96.2 points per game (26th) and shooting 43.5 percent from the floor (28th). The Celtics didn't get to the free throw line very often, turned the ball over at a high rate and had one of the lowest effective field goal percentages in the league (which adjusts for value of 3-point shots).

One glance at Boston's anemic late-game numbers in clutch situations further highlights a team desperate for go-to options that can consistently generate points.

Picking at Nos. 6 and 17 in the draft, it's unlikely that Boston is going to find the sort of presence that will immediately remedy their offensive woes, but there is talent available that can help steady the offensive roller coaster.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
16.9 1.7 0.7 34.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.1
AssistsR. Rondo 9.8
StealsR. Rondo 1.3
BlocksB. Bass 0.9