Touching All the Bases

Seventeen Thoughts On Marcus Smart, James Young, The Stand-Pat Celtics, And The NBA Draft

Why 17? Because as Celtics fans were reminded Thursday night, a shot at No. 18 is still out of range ...

1. So no fireworks, at least for now. Given the wide-ranging expectations of what the Celtics might have done in this draft, ending up with Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart at No. 6 and Kentucky kid James Young at No. 17 felt like rain on the Fourth of July. But if you were realistic about what might have been possible -- and recognized a long time ago that the Celtics damaged the odds on hitting a draft jackpot by winning a few too many games -- you might start to feel pretty good about how it all played out. Smart is going to be a valuable NBA player -- he's tough, can get to the hoop, and plays tireless defense, and that's someone a coach will want on the floor -- and he may be much more than that. Celtics fans will love his attitude. If he's proven anything in his life, it's that underestimating him only fuels his fire. And Young is a basketball baby, but he has the raw talent to become a future star whom Brad Stevens should be able to develop. It wasn't the sexiest draft, but Danny Ainge knows talent, and you have to trust that he acquired two more promising players. Smart and Young should be part of the franchise's future. Or maybe they'll be part of a deal to bring a more established potential cornerstone to Boston. There's still so much to play out. This is part of the process, and it's a step forward, perhaps two, toward better days. Can't ask for much more than that.

Continue Reading Below

2. Considering I never expected Embiid to fall all the way to No. 6, at least without rumors that his injuries and ailments also included being blind in one eye or needing Tommy John surgery or something. But I got my hopes up enough that when Philly took him -- just as I figured -- I still reacted in a way only Zach LaVine might appreciate. The frustrating thing is that when he returns to health and develops into a game-changing center, we won't be able to ignore it because he's in the same division. (The Sixers, who also added Dario Saric, had the draft I'd hoped the Celtics would.) That Embiid/Nerlens Noel tandem won't be Hakeem Olajuwon/Ralph Sampson, but it is one to envy going forward. And we're going to have to watch it happen from close range.

3. To put it another way, What Bob Said:

4. The notion that Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart can't play together is silly. Rondo can play with anyone -- he's a pass-first point guard. Even if Smart can't shoot yet, he's going to have value defensively and make an impact with his varied skill-set. If he reaches his ceiling he could end up reminding us of Joe Dumars someday.

5. Of course, I'm not naive enough to believe that Rondo and Smart will play together. Unless the Celtics still think a deal for Love or another established star is attainable, it makes little sense to keep Rondo around in a contract year when a rebuild is obvious. I've loved watching the guy play here -- yeah, he's enigmatic, but he's such a unique talent that the frustrations are easily suffered. But I can also admit it's time to move on if a full rebuild really is the route Danny Ainge is taking.

6.You know when Celtics fans will come around on Marcus Smart if they don't like him right now? When he buries Dwyane Wade into the parquet at some point next season when Wade tries flopping like an honorary Ronaldo. Now that is something he has in common with Rondo -- he won't back down from anyone.

7. I suppose it does feel like a worst-case scenario based on the heightened expectations of what happened. Even Aaron Gordon, the presumed fallback plan if Embiid wasn't there and a Kevin Love trade didn't materialize, was off the board to Orlando two picks before the Celtics were on the clock. Did anyone have Gordon going to Orlando? The lesson here: Mock drafts are great fun, and we shouldn't believe a word of them. It's all misdirection.

8. Once Gordon was picked, I was hoping Dante Exum would slip one more pick to the Celtics. (Ainge probably would have taken him over Smart, right?) But the Jazz, who apparently couldn't find a 7-foot Adam Keefe lookalike from the West Coast Conference to their liking this year, ruined that plan. From a Basketball Science Experiment angle, I would have liked to have seen Exum end up in Orlando alongside fellow multi-skilled guard Victor Oladipo.

9. Of course, Exum remains perhaps the prime mystery of the top half of the draft because he hasn't faced much top-level competition. We don't know if he can play -- but we do know what sneakers he'll be wearing when he does. Thought the adidas/Foot Locker "Live After The Draft" commercials were clever, especially this one:

His defeated mumbling of "I'm a point guard" made me laugh out loud.

10. Love the James Young pick at 17. He's a creative scorer -- aren't all lefty wings creative scorers? -- who has a fundamentally sound shot, is smooth around the hoop, plays hard defense, and delivered in Kentucky's biggest games as a freshman ... and he's just 18. Had he stayed in school, I'd venture to guess he'd have been in line to be a top-five pick next season.

11. Great trade by LeBron James to acquire Shabazz Napier for the Heat. In all seriousness, if Pat Riley believes acquiring LeBron's acknowledged favorite college player might help keep him Miami, they'd better clear a roster spot for Maverick Carter too, just in case.

12. I don't know if the credit goes to America's Favorite Commissioner, Adam Silver, or some smart people he has working for him. But the decision to have the league "draft" Isaiah Austin just a few days after the Baylor big-man had his NBA dream taken from him just as it was about to become a reality was a remarkably classy and tone-perfect gesture. And Austin ... man, what a well-spoken kid. The thoughtfulness of it all reminded me in a small way of the Celtics' decision to draft paralyzed former Indiana star forward Landon Turner in the 10th round in 1982.

13. I'm on record as saying I liked Wichita State's Cleanthony Early as a sleeper in this draft, so I suppose I have to give Phil Jackson begrudging credit for getting him with the 34th pick.

14. I loved the Spurs' pick of UCLA's Kyle Anderson to close the first round. He's flawed, an incredibly poor defender, but he's 6-foot-9 and passes better than anyone in the draft. Yeah, he'll fit there. The funny thing, though, is that while he is a great pick, the Spurs have such cachet right now in terms of identifying talent that fits their style that we pretty much would applaud any selection they made.

15. I was watching the draft with my 10-year-old daughter, and when Minnesota took LaVine, she picked up on it before I did: "Shouldn't he look happier?" I explained that he looked upset only because it was an emotional moment and he was trying to hold back tears of joy. Two muttered words later ...

... and LaVine proved this old man hilariously wrong. Haven't seen a player more ticked off at his destination since Steve Francis wept about having to go to Vancouver back in '99. The difference between his predicament and LaVine's is that Vancouver is a hell of a city. No truth to the rumor LaVine is planning a weekend visit to Boston to see if he might like to play here.

16. Thought it was interesting that the Celtics worked out Arizona's Nick (Nephew of DJ) Johnson before the draft, and I was hoping Ainge might trade into the second round to get the undersized but athletic shooting guard. Houston took him at No. 42, and I bet he ends up as one of several high-quality players chosen in the second round.

17. As for today's Completely Random Basketball Card:


Jabari's dad -- he looks more like he could be Charlie Villanueva's dad -- and an amusingly detached interview subject last night. Sonny Parker was the 17th pick in the 1976 NBA Draft, and the Warriors' second choice. They took a big stoic fella from Centenary at No. 8 and thoughtfully traded Robert Parish to the Celtics four seasons later. Another prime '80s Celtic went in that draft. Twelve picks after the Warriors took Parker, the Sonics chose Pepperdine guard/live-wire Dennis Johnson.