The NBA Draft is just about a month away on June 26.
It's the ultimate brain-teaser.
On the other, it's a wasted effort. History shows there's no way Ainge is keeping the pick -- and that's probably a good thing.
Since signing on with the Celts in 2003, Ainge has captivated observers with a number of impressive mid-to-late first-round selections who have gone on to be impactful pro talents. As a result, he's been anointed a great drafter; a man with a deft eye for talent.
It's easy to see where this reputation came from when rattling off names like Rajon Rondo (21st, 2006), Al Jefferson (15th, 2004), Jared Sullinger (21st, 2012), Tony Allen (25th, 2004), Avery Bradley (19th, 2010), or Kendrick Perkins (27th, 2003), but it's also a bit overblown.
Ainge is a good drafter, perhaps very good. But, great? Afraid not.
You want great drafting? How about the Thunder landing Kevin Durant (2nd, 2007), Russell Westbrook (4th, 2008), Serge Ibaka (24th, 2008), and James Harden (3rd, 2009) in a span of three years? Sure, you could argue a team has to stink to achieve picks and prospects of that magnitude, but the powers that be still have to make the right selections. Yes, I realize OKC should be sending annual gift baskets to Portland for its preference of Greg Oden in '07.
If you'd prefer, consider Oklahoma City's Western Conference Finals opponent from San Antonio. Since stealing Boston's dreams and obtaining Tim Duncan with the top pick in 1997, the Spurs have also welcomed in now established players like Manu Ginobili (57th, 1999), Tony Parker (28th, 2001), Luis Scola (55th, 2002), Beno Udrih (28th, 2004), Tiago Splitter (28th, 2007), George Hill (26th, 2008), Goran Dragic (45th, 2008), DeJuan Blair (37th, 2009), and Kawhi Leonard (15th, 2011). They also drafted and subsequently traded John Salmons (26th, 2002) and Leandro Barbosa (28th, 2003) -- yes, that Leandro Barbosa. The list is so impressive, it's borderline embarrassing.
Ainge, meanwhile, has been spotty. The only bona fide star on his resume is Rondo, the captain and dazzling-when-he-wants-to-be point guard. But, as the pass-happy magician approaches free agency, he's still not a max contract caliber player and no one is clamoring for his spot in Springfield just yet.
The jury remains out on guys like Sullinger, the injury-prone Bradley, and soon-to-be sophomore Kelly Olynyk (13th, 2013), while Allen, Perkins, Delonte West (24th, 2004), Leon Powe (49th, 2006), Glen Davis (35th, 2007) were/are little more than role players.
The acrobatic, ridiculously athletic Gerald Green (18th, 2005) emerged with the Suns in his seventh NBA season this past year, but it took far too long and about 463 teams to reach that point.
Then, of course, you have spectacular busts like Marcus Banks (13th, 2003), J.R. Giddens (30th, 2008), JaJuan Johnson (27th, 2011), and Fab Melo (22nd, 2012). The latter three combined to play 80 NBA games. In a what-could-have-been fantasy, imagine if the C's had taken David West (18th, 2003), DeAndre Jordan (35th, 2008), Chandler Parsons (38th, 2011), or well, anyone, other than the not so fab Melo.
No, not all of the aforementioned players were specifically drafted by the Celtics but, if they weren't, they were shipped to Boston on Draft Night which, for all intents and purposes, makes them glorified Ainge picks. It's why, for better or worse, I'm leaving out others like Randy Foye (7th, 2006), Troy Bell (16th, 2003), MarShon Brooks (25th, 2011), Lucas Nogueria (16th, 20013) and even, yes, Jeff Green (5th, 2007).
More hits than misses? Of course, though mostly in the last third of the opening round.
In his 11 years in the war room, Ainge has only selected in the top-15 three times (Olynyk, Banks, Jefferson) and never higher than 13th. In his only two previous opportunities in the lottery (2006, 2007), he's traded out.
So, what does all of this tell us about next month's draft?
For starters, again, that No. 6 pick is as good as gone (hopefully in a package for Timberwolves star Kevin Love, depending on the asking price). But, if the Celtics elect to hang on to No. 17, there's a better than decent chance Ainge will hit his mark again -- as long as you ignore that, save for Sullinger and Bradley -- it's been nearly a decade since his last substantial choice (Rondo).
Either way, it will be exciting to watch it unfold. On the plus side, there are better odds of Ainge having another good draft than his team had of garnering a top-three pick. That was only 33.4 percent and Ainge has been significantly more efficient, even if he hasn't been great.
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