BOSTON — Celtics president Danny Ainge broke into a big grin and said of the Celtics’ first-round draft pick Kelly Olynyk from Gonzaga, “He’s a 7-footer who played quarterback in high school.”
He meant it as a compliment but it hit me like a ton of bricks. And unlike Ainge, I’m not smiling.
I’ve seen Kelly Olynyk before. He’s Michael Smith, the Celtic bust from the 1989 draft (10 career starts) who Red Auerbach lamentably compared to Larry Bird.
The similarities are uncanny.
Both were drafted 13th overall ... Boston traded it’s No. 16 pick, 7-foot Brazilian Lucas Nogueira, and two second-round picks to Dallas last night for Olynyk.
Both are lanky finesse big men with Smith 6-10, 225 lbs and Olynyk 7-0, 234 lbs.
Both are white in a league dominated by black players.
Both are old for their drafts. Smith was 24 (2nd oldest first-rounder in 1989) and Olynyk is 22 (5th oldest first-rounder this year).
Both sat out awhile in college. Smith on a Mormon mission. Olynyk redshirted in the 2011-12 season.
Both were quarterbacks with Smith, who is one of Ainge’s closest friends, actually a high school All-American. Smith quarterbacked South Kamloops High in British Columbia.
Both played at West Coast schools ... Olynyk at Gonzaga and Smith BYU.
Both are brainy. Smith was the GTE Academic All-American of the Year. Olynyk is a Capital One All-Academic First Team selection. He graduated a semester early and is already in grad school.
With a pick in the middle of the first round, it’s not fair to expect greatness. Ainge did use the word complementary about 30 times. And the word complementary isn’t complimentary.
You hate to lump him with other recent Gonzaga greats but the Zags have a reputation for underachieving. Former No. 3 overall pick Adam Morrison is one of the most disappointing players in recent NBA history and Dan Dickau and Austin Daye are/were nothing to write home about. Well, there was John Stockton and Bing Crosby!
Any draft story has to be taken with a grain of salt. We’re sportswriters, not general managers.
The classic example was the contrarian Boston writer who killed the Patriots’ Bill Belichick for his horribly misguided picks.
Ron Borges killed Belichick for taking two marginal at best talents. His crime was taking Richard Seymour and Matt Light over future Hall of Famers David Terrell, Koren Robinson, Robert Ferguson and Kenyatta Walker.
But in their current state, the Celtics can’t afford to swing and miss too often. Few professional teams are in this state of flux with Doc Rivers bolting for the Clippers and Boston reportedly about to complete a blockbuster deal with the Brooklyn Nets. It would send Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry for five players (Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph) and three future first-round draft picks.
Ainge said Olynyk “can shoot, pass and think. He’s a very good complementary player.”
Let’s hope he’s right. And Ainge does have a stellar draft record with picks and draft-day acquisitions. As play-by-play man Sean Grande noted, Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, Al Jefferson, Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, Kendrick Perkins, Big Baby Davis and Ryan Gomes all were non-lottery picks.
Let’s hope he got this one right. If not, it will be doubly painful when Boston plays the Clippers.
Their coach? Doc Rivers. Their TV play-by-play man? Michael Smith.