Commentary

Celtics' short-term strategy telling

Desire to trade draft pick indicative of a damn-the-torpedoes approach to next season

Updated: June 23, 2010, 5:32 PM ET
By Peter May | Special to ESPNBoston.com

Boston Celtics hoops boss Danny Ainge has a Usain Bolt-like track record on draft night -- when the Celtics are picking late and all the so-called "Big Names" have shaken David Stern's hand, donned their new cap and celebrated with friends and family.

He faces a similar situation in 2010, with the Celtics holding the 19th pick in Thursday night's NBA draft. But according to a league source, the Celtics and Ainge are seriously considering trading the pick for a future first-rounder.

[+] EnlargeDanny Ainge
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonDanny Ainge and the Celtics would rather spend their money on a veteran player than a draft pick, according to a source, in order to make a championship run in 2010-11 more likely.

The reasoning behind such a move, according to the source, would be to take the money that would be guaranteed to a first-rounder and spend it elsewhere, likely on a veteran free agent. That would be in keeping with the current mission statement of the Celtics, which is to try and make one more serious run at an NBA title before impending economic doom, a.k.a. The Lockout of 2011, ascends on July 1, 2011.

While the Celtics like a lot of players at No. 19, they don't see any such player in the group they are considering as being able to make an impact as a rookie. And the team's mindset is to not use the pick on a developmental player when adding a free agent who can contribute immediately would improve their chances next season. And they could get a future asset to help with the rebuilding program post-lockout.

"Right now, it's all about how do you address the next 12 months,'' the source said.

Of course, there are a number of other balls in the air that could impact 2010-11 that have nothing to do with the NBA draft. There is the uncertain status of coach Doc Rivers. There is Ray Allen entering free agency, along with a number of his teammates. There is Paul Pierce possibly entering free agency, although he'd have to surrender $21 million out of the gate to do so. There is Rasheed Wallace's likely retirement.

Rivers has been at work this week -- although the draft is not in his job description -- and the sense in the Celtics' organization is that he won't keep them hanging, that he will let them know soon of his decision, possibly by summer league in early July.Free agency officially starts July 1 although, for free agents like Allen and LeBron James, nothing can be formally signed until July 8 because of the annual moratorium.

Which brings us back to the here and now of the 2010 NBA daft. You will hear names like Jordan Crawford of Xavier, Damion James of Texas, Trevor Booker of Clemson, Larry Sanders of Virginia Commonwealth and James Anderson of Oklahoma State as possible Celtics picks. Don't look for them to take Florida State's Solomon Alabi, as many mock drafts have projected. The Celtics never even brought him in for a workout.

Ainge has had good luck with post-lottery first-rounders starting with Kendrick Perkins, the 27th pick in 2003. Perk was officially taken by Memphis, but it was part of a pre-arranged deal. There also was the three-man haul in 2004 (Al Jefferson, Delonte West and Tony Allen) and Gerald Green in 2005, who was a disappointment but remained alluring enough to be included in the Kevin Garnett deal and later get a look-see from Dallas. The gold standard was in 2006, when Ainge traded to get Rajon Rondo with the 21st pick. There also have been some keepers in the second round (Ryan Gomes, Leon Powe and Glen Davis).

None of these players played on title-contending teams as rookies. A couple of them (Perkins, for instance), rarely played at all as a rookie. Davis played only 14-plus minutes in the 2008 NBA Finals as a rookie and that was in the blowout win in Game 6.

So rookies, especially ones drafted where the Celtics are picking, need time. And the Celtics' focus is on 2010, a one-year, damn-the-torpedoes run.

The Celtics don't see anyone in the Eastern Conference as being appreciably better, provided they bring back the same core group and make the necessary additions. There is the LeBron Question and if he goes to Miami, then the Heat become next year's Cleveland (i.e., the proverbial team to beat. Orlando will still be good. But who else in the East poses an immediate threat next season? Possibly the Bulls, depending on who they get in free agency. But no team jumps out as unbeatable.

And the prospect of a lockout next summer is getting more and more credible. Stern is determined to forge a new economic union complete with shorter contracts, smaller raises and, essentially, saving the owners from themselves.

The last lockout almost wiped out the 1998-99 season and did force the cancellation of the All-Star Game. This one might last even longer and most consider it an inevitability. The Celtics are preparing for one. But there is still a season left to play -- and what they do Thursday night should give us a clue as to how they intend to play it.

Longtime Celtics reporter Peter May is a frequent ESPNBoston.com contributor.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE