- Peter May, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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This could be one of the more important drafts in Danny Ainge's decade with the Boston Celtics. He has two first-round picks and another in the second. They might even develop into real keepers.
But right now? Who cares? The draft is merely a prelude to a historic time for Ainge and the Celtics: a rare venture into free agency with money to spend and options aplenty.
Maybe that's why this particular draft isn't really resonating in Boston (outside of the Celtics' war room, that is.) The issues with the C's own free agents so dominate the landscape in Boston that they have relegated Thursday night's affair to almost an afterthought, regardless of how important it might be in the long run.
Perhaps we'd be more interested if the Celtics had higher picks; Nos. 21 and 22 just don't get the blood boiling, do they? Both lads undoubtedly will make the team, but will they be able to make any more of an impact next season than JaJuan Johnson did this past season?
We don't know all that much about Andrew Nicholson, Royce White, Arnett Moultrie or pretty much any of the names and faces we are seeing in the mock drafts for the two Boston picks. (Fab Melo probably comes the closest to being an actual known commodity, although not necessarily for the right reasons.) So we'll slog through the night and then wait until summer league to see the kids play.
On the other hand, we most certainly know the slew of free agents, not only from the Celtics, but from other teams as well. That is where the real intrigue and excitement lies.
They are only 48 hours apart, but July 1, not June 28, is the real D-Day for the Celtics. We face the possibility that two of the linchpins of the past five years, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, will not be back. Hard as it might be to envision a Celtics team without either one, Ainge said recently that he can't afford to be remotely sentimental in dealing with either player, both of whom will be free agents.
"I feel like I'm over the sentimental for two reasons," he said. "First, as an organization, we have given these guys everything we've had to try and give them opportunities for success. I feel the players have given us everything they had. They don't owe us anything. And we don't owe them anything. It's just business."
He then acknowledged that it nonetheless would be hard to part ways because the two have been so important to the team's culture and its leadership, and "still have great value to a franchise with what they provide on the court."
Count me as one who believes Garnett will play at least one more year. Why shouldn't he? He was terrific over the second half of the season, he loves playing for Doc Rivers and, well, what else is he going to do? He's only 36. Look at it this way: The good folks of Concord, Mass., have had Garnett in their fair town for the past five years and have rarely laid eyes on him. What's another year of going incognito?
Allen already has said he plans on playing, and Ainge added, "He has a lot of basketball left in him." That's different from Garnett, for whom the issue is to play or not to play.
Everything hinges on what KG decides. Well, everything important in the here and now, that is. The draft isn't affected by Garnett's impending decision. I love reading all these scouting reports that say so-and-so is leaving and such-and-such a team has a hole to fill and Mr. X from State U represents the perfect candidate. Suppose the Celtics draft Vanderbilt's John Jenkins, a shooter supreme. Think he's going to replace Allen? He might have trouble replacing E'Twaun Moore.
This is not to suggest in any way, shape or form that the Celtics won't get contributors Thursday night. Ainge got Tony Allen and Delonte West with two lower picks in 2004. Kendrick Perkins was a late first-rounder. Rajon Rondo went 21st in 2006. Avery Bradley went 19th in 2010, and needed two years to make a dent due to injuries and the lockout.
Garnett has promised the Celtics a decision by Saturday. Then Ainge can start the process of reconfiguring the team and allotting the vast millions that could be at his disposal. Will Allen stay? What about Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus? And then there's Jeff Green, who pretty much has to be signed lest the Perkins trade go down as Ainge's worst decision ever (some would say it already is regardless of what happens to Green).
Ainge admitted Wednesday that he'd love to have the same team back for another season. But he then also stated the obvious: "Our team is unsettled." He has four players under contract: Rondo, Paul Pierce, Bradley and Johnson. He could have more than $25 million to spend on free agents.
He's been looking forward to this day for some time. So have we all. We'll have to wait and see whether the draftees amount to anything. It's what happens to the others that should -- and will -- command our immediate and undivided attention.
The NBA draft matters for Boston, but free agency promises a bigger, more immediate impact.