Celtics GM Brad Stevens on NBA Draft, Kristaps Porziņģis' surgery and more

BOSTON — Brad Stevens has lived in Boston for just over a decade. The city has seen several championships over that time, but he’s never had a chance to make it to a parade.

He always figured it would be fun, which he started to recognize when planning a team meeting in 2015. Players aren’t allowed to skip practices or team gatherings just because they feel like it. But Stevens recalled Tuesday the time he made a special exception.

“Gerald Wallace was a huge Patriots fan and he was like, ‘I’m going to the parade,’” Stevens said. “He looked at me like, ‘This is what I’m doing.’”

Stevens went on to lead several teams both as coach and GM that got close to a parade, but never quite got there. It taught him to value the relationships and journeys he and his teams went on together, so the Celtics’ president of basketball operations didn’t feel any more proud of this team than some in years past.

“You’ll have (those relationships) forever and the only difference (this time) is it’ll be etched in a banner,” Stevens said. “So when we’re dead, 60, 70, 80 years from now, people can try to figure out with whatever search engine they’re using at that time who was on the team.”

Even going back to Butler, many of his teams made the Final Four or Conference Finals, but didn’t quite achieve the greatness you sew into fabric and hang from the rafters. Yet when he finally won a title, he found there was one experience he couldn’t anticipate.

“The parade is the part that is pretty darn unique. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I think my wife would say the same,” Stevens said. “Turning that duck boat onto Causeway and seeing all the people smiling, all wearing Celtics gear, all different ages. Just really a cool moment and so very appreciative that we’ve got to be a part of that.”

Now Stevens’ challenge is to make sure the franchise operates the same way it did before Banner 18.

“The adulation means nothing, in all sincerity. The scrutiny doesn’t mean much either,” Stevens said. “We got to realize we live in this world of instant reaction. And if you hang a banner, everybody’s going to talk about how great you are and if you don’t, they’re going to talk about how much you stink. At the end of the day, if you tie your spirit to that, if you tie the way you work to that, if you tie your approach to that, then you’re just going to ride a roller coaster that’s not worth the journey.”

As the players and coaches spent the week celebrating leading up to the parade, Stevens was back at the Auerbach Center, working out dozens of prospects they could select in the draft this week. They have the 30th and 54th picks and are over the second apron, so they have to nail it on draft night to help build a sustainable team over the coming years.

That’s why after an evening of popping champagne bottles, the front office was back in the early afternoon to get ready for the future.

“The day after, as much as we were excited and celebratory and everything else, you’re always thinking about what this means for what’s next,” Stevens said. “I think that’s just maybe the coach in me or maybe that’s just my age.”

Stevens made a stir last year when the Celtics traded down multiple times on draft night to accumulate a bevy of future second-round picks while selecting Jordan Walsh with the 38th pick. That is not necessarily going to be the norm for this franchise, particularly since bigger deals for Payton Pritchard and potentially Sam Hauser mean the Celtics need to draft more players who have a chance at making the rotation while they are still on their rookie-scale contracts.

Their long-term depth at center is dubious, considering Al Horford’s age and Kristaps Porziņģis’ forthcoming ankle surgery, expected to happen in the next few weeks.

“Kristaps is still in the middle of consulting with some different doctors and specialists, but we anticipate surgery will be soon,” he said.

Because the second apron takes away most of their roster-building tools beyond signing free agents to minimum contracts, getting a center who can develop into a starter down the road most likely would come through the draft. Xavier Tillman and Luke Kornet are both free agents, while Neemias Queta is still under contract, but those players are all far along in their development track.

That’s why Stevens said they made so many trades last season, since they no longer can aggregate salaries in a trade.

“It’ll be interesting to see how it affects the league,” Stevens said. “Are there a lot less trades? That will be interesting to follow and look back and study over the next couple of years. As far as the picks go, if the right person is available at 30, we will take him.”

He anticipates making “a couple of picks” in the draft, which starts with the first round on Wednesday and then the second round on Thursday. There is a need for a center, especially after drafting wings and guards over the past few years.

Whoever it is, it’s unlikely they’ll crack coach Joe Mazzulla’s rotation right away. A Celtics draft pick hasn’t seen the floor regularly as a rookie since Pritchard. With Porziņģis’ surgery potentially keeping him off the floor heading into next season, there will be plenty of competition for those backup center minutes. It might be the first challenge  Mazzulla has to solve next year, but he’s likely getting ahead of that already.

Stevens joked that Mazzulla probably has his practice plan already mapped out for the first week of training camp. Mazzulla said after they clinched the title that he was upset that they are behind the rest of the league on getting started for next season, so Stevens may not be off. The coaching staff and front office need to have that mentality since the league will approach each game as a chance to knock off the champs.

“Human nature is going to be another huge opponent,” he said. “When you win, the other 29 teams target you and it’s a different thing to come back from to then be great again. But that’s a fun challenge too.”

The franchise got a jolt last offseason with the Porziņģis and Jrue Holiday trades. One of the hardest parts of repeating is trying to stay a step ahead of the league when almost everyone else spent the summer evolving.

“I think we would be crazy not to say the character and the foundation of this team is right and let’s see if we can be and let’s see if we can be as consistent as we can,” Stevens said. “Try some new things on both ends of the floor to add some juice and jolt that way and see if we can pick up where we left off.

“So, to answer your question, I don’t anticipate major changes, at least early on, because I think this team deserves that.”

(Photo: Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

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