Celtics president of basketball ops Danny Ainge joined Toucher & Rich on Thursday for his first call of the 2018-19 season. Check back every Thursday morning to hear Ainge talk all things Celtics.
Ainge wouldn’t comment on whether he’s the man behind the @isjanosnba Twitter account. But he did talk plenty of basketball and Celtics topics, chief among them Kyrie Irving’s future in Boston. There have been all kinds of rumors about Kyrie looking to join the Knicks or Nets as a free agent, or form a team with Jimmy Butler somewhere other than the Celtics.
Ainge does his best to ignore the noise, but he still felt he had to dispute the idea that Kyrie isn’t happy in Boston or wants to play elsewhere. He told T&R he’s only ever heard the positive tone that Kyrie exuded at Celtics Media Day and in recent interviews.
“I’ve never heard anything but positivity out of Kyrie,” said Ainge. “I don’t know where all the other stuff comes from, or pay that much attention to it, really. But in my conversations with him, he’s loved every minute he’s had in Boston. And we hope he still feels the same way at this end of this year.”
Rookie Robert Williams also came up. The first-round pick got off to a rocky start with the Celtics, but Ainge said his recent inactivity has been more due to managing his issue with tendinitis.
“Robert is capable of playing right now, but we’re really trying to build the muscle and make sure that his tendinitis is a lot less,” said Ainge, who compared Williams’ early-season health management to Terry Rozier’s rookie season. “It’s already a lot less than when we drafted him. We’re just being cautious with his health right now, but he’s been diligent with his workouts and we’re excited about his future.”
Williams moved close to the Celtics’ impressive new training facility, which Ainge said he thought was a “good idea”. The facilities should be great for the team, but Ainge said he also might want head coach Brad Stevens to hold a practice in the team’s ’80s practice arena at Hellenic College. A place which, to put it kindly, is not exactly state-of-the-art.
“I told Brad about a month ago, ‘You know, we should really have our first training camp practice at Hellenic College, just so those guys can see where three banners were won’,” said Ainge. “Brad said ‘No, maybe I’ll save that for a losing streak or something.'”
It wouldn’t be a T&R interview with Danny Ainge if Gordon Hayward didn’t come up. This time, the Celtics forward is expected to actually play when they kick off the season. No more questions about that. The question, now, is what fans can expect when Hayward finally plays a full game in a C’s uniform. Ainge says fans are going to love the scoring and all-around game that Hayward will bring to the Celtics, but also that there will be a period of working off the rust.
“He’s our perimeter Al Horford, in that he’s very versatile, he can do a little bit of everything,” Ainge said of Hayward. “With all the weapons, he’s gonna make everyone better. Because he can shoot, he can pass, he can create, he can score on his own, he can create his own shot and he can create shots for others. I’m really excited about having Gordon.
“It’s going to take a little bit of time, just because the guy missed an entire year, to become what he will be … I’m really excited about what he looks like right now. He’s worked really hard this offseason, it’s been very impressive.”
What about the expectations for Jayson Tatum in his second year? He looks to have bulked up, based on recent photos. But Ainge poked a little fun at the rising star about Rich’s assessment that he’s “jacked” now.
“He’s not jacked!” Ainge retorted on Tatum. Asked again, Ainge quipped “He’s not a freak athlete, he’s got like a 30-inch waist!”
But as Ainge explained, Tatum just needed to add some upper-body strength and will never have to rely on freak athleticism to be a great player.
“We don’t want him to bulk up too much, because he is thin in his lower body and you don’t want him to just get upper-body heavy,” said Ainge. “But Jayson has worked hard in the offseason and he is definitely stronger and his hands are stronger. Last year I thought he lost a lot of balls going to the rim; so far in September, he looks to have improved in that area much better.”
Perhaps the more important thing for Tatum is that he’s taking a step forward in terms of his swagger.
“He’s just playing with more confidence,” Ainge said of Tatum. “He’s always had confidence for a young kid, but now he doesn’t look like a young kid anymore, he looks like a veteran player.”
Ainge also talks about his general expectations for the Celtics in the 2018-19 season, and shares some insight into how he handles trade rumors with players. Listen to the full interview above!
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