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Danny Ainge Talks Celtics' Offseason Balancing Act On Sports Final

BOSTON (CBS) -- The Boston Celtics have an extremely important offseason ahead of them.

It's a summer in which Danny Ainge will try to make the team a title contender once again, but he won't do it at the expense of the extended future. He knows a quick fix may yield a longer postseason run next year than the team's last two first-round exits, but he doesn't want to risk the chance at extended success for just a few years of possible glory.

It's a delicate balancing act the president of basketball operations finds himself performing every day.

"Right now, we're trying to become a better team as fast as we can without selling out. We want to become a more significant team this upcoming year, and at the same time we want to build something that is sustainable for a long period of time," Ainge told WBZ-TV's Dan Roche on Sunday night's Sports Final.

Ainge added that while ownership and fans would prefer an instant turnaround, it's his job to preach patience and make sure the team doesn't do something rash that will set the organization back in the long-run.

"Ownership would like to see something happen faster and I know my coaches and players want to see something faster. I've been in their positions and I get it, I want to see something faster too. But I have to protect us from doing something irrational from doing something that gets us a little bit better. If it's something that gets us to being a true championship contender faster, we're all for it. As long as it's a sustainable formula and not a one-year quick hit, sacrificing future assets," he said. "Everything depends on how much money a player wants, how many assets you have to give up to get that person. There are a lot of what ifs, and that's what we'll be doing the next six weeks, trying to figure out what's available to us. The things we like to do we still have to find partners for, which is very challenging."

With that, Ainge's phone rang during the interview. Unfortunately he let it go to voicemail, and it's unlikely it was a trade partner calling.

But that doesn't mean someone won't come calling (or return Ainge's calls) at some point; "Trader Danny" has had success in the past at cashing in all his chips and turning the Celtics into a title-worthy team. In 2007, he pulled off separate deals that brought Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to Boston, leading to a championship in 2008 and a five-year stint as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Ainge doesn't think the lopsided nature of the Kevin Garnett swap with the Timberwolves will deter other GMs from giving him a call this summer.

"Listen, the partners we did business with [in 2007], in Seattle we found someone who was moving in a different direction. They were a team in the lottery drafting young players, they had new management, so it was a win-win. The same for Minnesota; they had been in the lottery two years in a row and they got a really good young asset in Al Jefferson," explained Ainge. "Al was the best young player being offered to them at the time, so it was a win-win for both situations. Typically, I don't think it's someone pulling something over on someone. It's finding someone who is looking to make a change, and we have a lot of assets for a team looking to take a step back and get some good young players, to give us a player that is more ready."

Third Overall Pick

The Celtics came out of last week's NBA Draft Lottery with the third overall selection on June 23, courtesy of a 2013 trade with the Nets that sent Paul Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn for a handful of future first-round selections. It's not the top two pick many were hoping for, but Ainge still believes he has plenty to work with.

"I'm excited about the No. 3 pick. I would have been excited that night if you had told me before the night started that's the pick we were getting. For a minute, I let my mind drift to getting the one or two. It certainly doesn't have the same cachet in trade conversations of trying to get better quicker, so it sets that back or we would have to give up more than the No. 1 or 2 overall pick," he said. "But there are good players if we end up using that pick. We're excited about the potential players."

While he couldn't talk about individual players that will be available when it's their turn to pick (if they don't trade the pick), Ainge did say they'd be open to taking a project pick if they determine it's best for the organization.

"I can't talk about any players in particular, but a player that is going to take time to develop or a player who may not come to the NBA for a year or two, if we feel he's the best player we have to take him. We can't let a player slip by us just because it doesn't fulfill our immediate satisfaction, or the objective for the fans to see someone exciting," he said. "We have to pick the best player under any circumstance. There are too many examples of really good players that fans haven't been excited about. When Kristaps Porzingis was drafted by New York, fans were booing all over the place and we didn't understand. When I was in Phoenix and we drafted Steve Nash, we were booed.

"You can't base your decisions on what the public thinks and what other people think you should do. You just really have to use your experience, your work and eyes, and we communicate all the time the best road for us to go," said Ainge.

Free Agency

Ainge also believes Boston should be seen as a viable option for free agents, but cautions that most teams have just as much money to spend in what should be a wild offseason around the league.

"There is a lot of money out there because of the new TV contract that is kicking it. It's going to be challenge and is sort of a new territory for the NBA. I think two-thirds of the league can offer at least one max contract, which has never happened before. We're a team that can offer two max contracts, but there aren't that many max contract players on the market. The competition is going to be fierce," said Ainge. "We have plans that we would like to do and what we'll do everything we can to try and do, but there are no guarantees in any of that. It's my job to pull the brakes back and make sure we don't do something stupid that will hurt our team in the long run."

The Current Roster

"There are a lot of things that excite me [about this team]. I love our good, young core," Ainge said of the players currently on the roster. "Our guards played fantastic and I think the strength of our team was our perimeter defense. I love working with Stevens and his staff. Those are some of the bright spots. We have a lot of young draft assets and good, young players with good contracts. I think that is a good formula going forward."

Ainge did admit the team could use a rim protector this offseason, but it won't be as simple as adding just one piece.

"I'm always leery of saying what we need because you don't just go find a good rim protector, because you lose something. We were the fourth-best defense in the NBA without a rim protector," he said of the 2015-16 team. "Sometimes you get a rim protector and it hurts your offense. We have some good players, but I think we have to add a few more."

Tune in to Sports Final at 11:35 p.m. every Sunday night on WBZ-TV!

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