BOSTON — Danny Ainge stockpiled draft choices for his big rebuilding project with the Boston Celtics.
Now the decision-maker who won three NBA championships as a player with the Celtics and one as their general manager gets to use them after the third worst season in team history.
They have 10 first-round picks in the next five drafts, starting with two Thursday night when they pick sixth and 17th.
Arizona forward Aaron Gordon and Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart should be available for the Celtics’ first pick with a slim possibility that Kansas center Joel Embiid will drop that far following foot surgery that is expected to sideline him four to six months.
Injuries “are always concerns, especially when it’s a player like that, that we won’t be able to have in to evaluate to really get the risks from our medical staff,” Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge said. “There’s a lot of guesswork involved, but you’re always trying to weigh short term and long term.
“We try to think long term that if a guy has to miss a couple months, that shouldn’t deter us from taking him if he’s going to be the best player long term.”
The Celtics are more likely to draft Smart, who can play both guard positions, or Gordon.
The 6-foot-3, 227-pound Smart, who averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists as a sophomore last season, could team up with point guard Rajon Rondo, entering the final year of his contract, or could make Rondo expendable in a major trade.
Gordon, 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, averaged 12.4 points, eight rebounds and two assists as a freshman and turns 19 on Sept. 16.
Danny Ainge, now the team’s president of basketball operations, hasn’t ruled out a trade. And team owner Wyc Grousbeck has said “there could be some fireworks” this month.
The Celtics have been linked to Minnesota forward Kevin Love, who recently watched a game at Fenway Park and talked with Rondo.
But the Celtics apparently don’t have the talented veterans to package in a deal for the forward who is set to opt out of his contract with the Timberwolves when his contract expires after the upcoming season.
“We want to win. We want to be good,” Austin Ainge said. “The decision comes when you’re cashing in future assets, if it’s time to push all your chips to the middle of the table or if it’s to be as good as you can without sacrificing the future. Those are case-by-case decisions and it depends how good we can get now.”
The Celtics could add two first-round picks to a core that includes two forwards chosen in the last two first rounds, Jared Sullinger in 2012 and Kelly Olynyk in 2013. They have no second-rounder this year.
But they have three first-rounders in 2015 – their own plus one obtained from the Los Angeles Clippers for allowing them to sign coach Doc Rivers and another from Philadelphia. They have two in 2016, one in 2017 and two in 2018.
The extra picks this year and in 2016 and 2018 came in a trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, key players on the 2007-08 championship team, to the Brooklyn Nets on July 12.
The Celtics were 25-57 last season under new coach Brad Stevens. They opened at a respectable 12-14 then went 13-43 the rest of the way.
Rondo missed the first 40 games recovering from major knee surgery that hindered his preseason workouts but made it through the season without a significant setback.
Stevens was coaching at Butler when Danny Ainge signed him to a six-year deal for his first pro job. That was a major step in the long-term reconstruction of the team.
Now the Celtics can add two more youngsters to that project.