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Running the option

Draft finds Celtics in good position, for present and future

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / June 28, 2012
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WALTHAM — The Celtics have picked the most appropriate draft to have negotiating power.

Team president of basketball operations Danny Ainge discussed the Celtics’ draft potential at the team’s practice facility and wouldn’t commit to anything — nor should he. Ainge has no idea what’s going to occur today in New York, where several teams ahead of the Celtics in the draft have interesting agendas.

The Lakers are trying to trade up, and have Pau Gasol to offer. The Rockets are collecting first-round picks like Easter eggs to acquire Dwight Howard from Orlando while college players such as Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones III are dropping because of various issues.

There is the potential for the Celtics to improve quickly, to acquire a future cornerstone player without sacrificing one of their core players. And, finally, the Celtics will see some payoff from the Kendrick Perkins trade, which is how they acquired the 21st pick.

Ainge has decided not to blow up the team and rebuild — right now. Kevin Garnett is undecided about returning, but the consensus is that he will. Ray Allen may not return, but the club is looking into an option such as Jamal Crawford, who would be interested in the Celtics.

With Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley providing a capable backcourt for the future, and Paul Pierce having two years left on his contract, the Celtics have the opportunity to draft for now and the future, meaning they can select NBA-ready players but are not in desperate need of immediate help through the draft.

Ainge has learned that younger projects such as Perkins and Al Jefferson can turn into gems while players such as Gerald Green and J.R. Giddens may never develop. With the depth of this current draft and two first-round picks, Ainge has several options Thursday, including taking the best two players available — and at least one of those players is likely to be a lottery-caliber pick who has slipped.

“I’ve said from the beginning that this is a deep draft,” Ainge said. “This draft is not necessarily as top-heavy as a lot of people think, but there are some good players at the top of this draft and I think that we’re going to be able to find some good players to fill a role and contribute to our team.”

The Celtics are one of league’s most mysterious teams when it comes to the draft. While many teams release a list of those who work out and offer media availability, the Celtics do not. But they can be trusted with their late-round picks, considering their selections of Bradley, Rondo (through draft-day trade), and Perkins (also draft-day trade).

But don’t expect Ainge to stand pat and use those 21st and 22d picks until all of his efforts to move up or down are exhausted. Ainge is never satisfied with his draft position. Take last year, when he swapped picks with the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets to drop two slots and take JaJuan Johnson in exchange for a second-round pick in 2014.

Ainge was coy Wednesday when discussing Boston’s possibilities. The Celtics want to squeeze every drop of potential out of every draft, which is one of the reasons they filed a grievance with the NBA to acquire a second-round pick in 2013 from the Oklahoma City Thunder, part of the fallout from the Jeff Green trade.

Expect Ainge to get something out of Thursday that we don’t expect, but then again maybe we should.

“I think it’s worth trading up, but it all depends on the price,” Ainge said. “So we’re continuing to have discussions, and we will all the way up as the draft goes on.”

When asked if this is exciting or tiring, Ainge said, “It’s exciting. It’s fun. It’s tiring. We’re here until midnight every night this week in preparation, sort of cramming for the test, but there’s been a lot of work that’s gone in in preparation for this. This is game time, so this is fun.”

This should also be a fun time for Celtics fans, who get a chance to watch Ainge rebuild with some rare assets: multiple first-round draft picks and salary cap space. This gives him a chance to maximize the benefits for his patience.

While Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic didn’t work out as returns on Perkins, the No. 21 pick could make up for that regrettable trade — to a point. And resisting signing players such as Glen Davis and Perkins to long-term contracts has enabled Ainge to invest money in free agency beginning Sunday, when he hopes the first one he signs is Garnett.

It is a very delicate process to attempt to reload and rebuild at the same time, but Ainge is capable of such a feat. And he can be expected to spend every moment as he attempts to come out of Thursday with more assets than expected.

This is the perfect year to flip his current dividends into more resources for now and the future.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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