BOSTON — The third-worst season in Boston Celtics history is over, leaving Danny Ainge with plenty of problems as he continues to rebuild the team.
Rookie Coach Brad Stevens isn’t one of them.
“I have no worries about Brad,” said Ainge, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations. “Brad is maybe the only thing in this whole organization I’m not concerned about.”
Stevens will lead more rebuilding that began even before the season when the Celtics traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets. That and other deals brought numerous draft choices.
Yet the Celtics started surprisingly strong, going 12-14. But they were 13-43 the rest of the way as they traded veterans Jordan Crawford and Courtney Lee, lost Gerald Wallace to a season-ending knee injury and gave point guard Rajon Rondo, their only star, plenty of days off after he missed the first 40 games following knee surgery.
They didn’t deliberately lose games to get a better chance for a high draft pick, but they weren’t as concerned with winning now as they were about winning in the future.
“All the way up to the trade deadline we looked at opportunities to make our team better,” Ainge said, “but we wouldn’t sacrifice draft picks to make us better for just this year. We look for opportunities to make our team better in the long term.”
The Celtics tied Utah for the fourth-worst record and have a 33.7 percent chance of getting one of the top three draft picks and a 10.4 percent chance to get the No. 1 pick. Their first pick is guaranteed to be no lower than eighth. They also have a pick obtained in the Nets trade, the 17th or 18th depending on a coin flip.
Might Ainge package some of his picks with current players in a blockbuster trade? After all, he gave up youth after the Celtics went 24-58 in 2006-07 and obtained Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Boston won the NBA championship the next season.
Does Ainge expect more offseason “fireworks,” a word co-owner Wyc Grousbeck recently used in looking ahead?
“I think the Fourth of July we’ll have some fireworks,” Ainge said. “We’re hopeful. I have some ideas and some plans that I’d like to do, but there’s just no guarantee that we can do it. We need to find good trading partners. We always are trying to make fireworks every summer. We try to do something that’s unique and special, and we will definitely try this summer.”
Trading Rondo, entering the last year of his contract, would fit that description.
Asked after Boston’s 118-102 loss to the Washington Wizards in the season finale Wednesday night if he’d like to return, Rondo said, “next question.”
He can work out diligently this summer, something he couldn’t do following his knee surgery, and Ainge expects him to have “the best year of his career.”
But will it be with another team?
Ainge wouldn’t rule it out.
“There’s no one person that’s more important than the whole organization,” he said.
Stevens may be the most important one.
With no pro experience after being hired from Butler, he endured a trying season with calm and determination.
“Things like this can splinter you pretty easily,” said Stevens, who has five years left on his contract. “They stayed together pretty well as far as standing up for one another and being a team, and not pointing blame.”
The Celtics had no true center for most of the season and struggled defensively with different player combinations as injuries mounted and personnel changed. They let games slip away in the fourth quarter.
But many of this season’s players won’t be back.
Second-year forward Jared Sullinger and rookie forward Kelly Olynyk have potential. Guard Avery Bradley has developed from a defensive specialist to an all-around player. Forwards Brandon Bass and Jeff Green had productive seasons, although Green was inconsistent.
Rondo described the team as “a lot of great guys, a lot of young guys just trying to be better.”
They have quite a way to go. At least they have the coach to lead them.
“I think Brad did a great job this year,” Ainge said. “He’s earned the respect of the team in a really difficult situation this year and I know he’s going to get better. He’ll be better next year and he’ll be better the next year.”