Another reminder Danny Ainge deserves a pat on the back

Rob Bradford
December 28, 2019 - 9:25 am

The first reminder of how Danny Ainge has usually led the Celtics down the right path when it comes to the NBA Draft appeared Friday afternoon when Brad Stevens waxed poetic about the merits of Cleveland's newest acquisition Dante Exum.

Exum is the 6-foot-6 point guard who was being identified by some six years ago as the answer to the Celtics' post-Rajon Rondo days. The Australian was just 19 years old but seemed like the kind of upside pick Ainge coveted in the 2014 Draft with the Celtics owning the sixth overall pick. 

In that case, Ainge didn't have a choice. Utah picked up Exum with Pick No. 5, paving the way for Ainge to take Marcus Smart. More than five years later, the two players have experienced dramatically different careers, with Exum still having to rely on what might be -- scoring nine points in 15 minutes during the Cavs' 129-117 loss to the Celtics -- while we firmly know what Smart is. (For a complete recap, click here.)

Needless to say, whether because of good fortune or good planning that NBA Draft worked out for the Celtics.

The Exum recollection was just the beginning when it came to how important Ainge's Draft Day decisions have been to what is one of the better Celtics teams in recent memory. That was thanks to Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

Against Cleveland it seemed like the duo could operate at will, a reality that should be appreciated no matter who the opposition is. Tatum scored 30 points in 32 minutes while Brown netted 34 in 29 minutes. Both are averaging over 20 points per game and both have proven to be legitimate All-Stars.

They also are both making Ainge look very, very good.

It's hard to say that a re-do of their respective drafts would put Brown and Tatum in the top spot, but they are certainly in the conversation. 

In 2016 Brown was taken No. 3 overall behind Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram. Some screamed that the Celtics were missing out on the likes of Dragan Bender, Kris Dunn, Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray. OK. We just rattled off six names. Is there one that the current Celtic can't at least make a case for being on par with? We know what Simmons is which is a very, very good player who doesn't have an outside game in an NBA that is trending toward perimeter players. Ingram is right there as well, scoring like crazy with New Orleans while also hauling in seven rebounds a game.

But when it comes to the options Ainge was presented with after Simmons and Ingram, he hit the nail on the head ... and then he locked up Brown through the 2023-24 season just for good measure.

Then there is Tatum. If not for Donovan Mitchell there would be zero conversation regarding who the best player in that 2017 Draft was. Once again, Ainge had plenty of options, all of them in fact, thanks to owning the No. 1 pick. But he passed on the likes of Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson (ugh), De'Aaron Fox (he's pretty good), Jonathan Isaac and Dennis Smith.

It seems like an easy decision now, but go back and listen to the draftnicks and there were plenty of opinions not prioritizing Tatum being surfaced.

It wasn't the first time or the last time Brown and Tatum will be offering this feel-good vibe for Celtics followers. But it's probably a worthwhile exercise on days like this to give Ainge credit where credit is due.