Celtics Mailbag: Getting to the Bottom of Ainge’s Mysterious Departure

Ex-Celtics boss Danny Ainge

Getty Ex-Celtics boss Danny Ainge

Welcome to the latest installment of Heavy Sports’ Celtics mailbag.

Insider Steve Bulpett will answer your questions — those pertaining to current league issues and even some off-beat perspective and opinion from his 37 years covering the NBA. (Want to know what former league city he misses most? Want to know about the Celtics’ first-ever trip to Sacramento?)

We’ll try to tackle it all here in the Heavy mailbag.

Leave your questions in the comments section below or email them to sean.deveney@heavy.com. We look forward to hearing from you.


White’s Shooting, Ainge’s Departure

What really happened with Danny Ainge? He is going to rebuild the Jazz. Everyone said it was all mutual with him and Brad Stevens and the Celtics owners. But that can’t be true, is it?

Ryan A.

Salt Lake City

Your first question is one I asked many times to many people. Certainly it looked a bit odd that Ainge steps away from the Celtics for a quieter lifestyle and soon winds up with the Jazz.

Piecing it together, here’s what I’ve found:

The move probably had its beginnings when Ainge friend Ryan Smith took over ownership of the Jazz. Danny had wanted to back away a bit from the front lines and maybe work more on the business side with a franchise. There were also family matters — getting to see his grandchildren and having more of a normal life — and health concerns (two heart incidents).

With Utah, Ainge can really come and go as he likes. He gets to look at the bigger picture without having the day-to-day tasks he did with the Celtics. So he’s more the architect of the Jazz reconstruction than a contractor.

And once the project is further toward completion, you’ll probably see him fade even deeper from view and be involved with planning in Smith’s growing sports operation. Smith Entertainment Group has an ownership interest in Real Salt Lake of MLS, and he has spoken in positive terms recently about the viability of bringing another pro franchise to the area.

The goal for Ainge, it appears, is to be involved but avoid the grind.

Derrick White has been really good shooting the ball. It is only a few games but does he look better with that? Is he doing anything different or he will go back to being below average with his shooting?

Meg B.

Brooklyn

I recently tweeted that I was more surprised that White was missing his shots last season than I am surprised he’s making them now. His mechanics have always looked good to me, but you could sense his confidence wasn’t fully where it needed to be when he arrived from San Antonio last year. It’s hard to join a club mid-stream, and it looked like White was more trying to fit in than simply PLAY.

Shooters get confidence through work, and he’s said he put in a ton of time in the gym in the offseason. I therefore think there’s a good chance he’ll be better overall from long distance this time around.

It also helps that White has the kind of talent around him on the Celtics that will ensure he gets good looks. And he’s been making quicker decisions on when to go to the hoop, which keeps the defense even more honest.

But slumps can always happen — even to the best of marksmen. You may recall Ray Allen once getting a case of the yips and Doc Rivers taking him out golfing to get his mind off it.


Joe Mazzulla’s Rotation

They [the Celtics] have to see what they have in the whole roster. The Warriors do that and the Heat. They know what they can do when the last guy on the bench has to play. Mazzulla has not done that yet but do you think he is different from Ime Udoka that way?

Jon N.

Plymouth, NH

With Joe Mazzulla having worked with these guys as an assistant, I’m sure he is sensitive to the issues of players not getting enough in-game reps to be productive. It does appear he’s leaning on his core rotation a little more in the early going, but it’s likely that’s to allow that group to establish a collective instinct and flow.

It’s important that shooters like Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard get their opportunities and touches, and I fully expect Mazzulla to get them into the mix more as the season progresses. And the Celts need to see how much a Blake Griffin can contribute.

It’s inevitable that injuries and simple fatigue will impact the Celtics at points along the way. Having talented players to plug in is one thing… having talented players who are ready to impact the game is another. It may be uncomfortable now for a new coach to veer to far from his regulars — as it was for Udoka early last season — but no doubt Mazzulla knows it’s going to be necessary.

 

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