“Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
While it seems trite to apply such daunting words to the world of professional basketball, such an approach will be necessary next year for Boston Celtics fans, players, and front-office personnel. After a summer of being effectively squeezed out of the Kevin Love sweepstakes and missing out on a top-3 draft pick, the cold truth of a rebuild has settled in for the majority of those who bleed green. We have seen teams in the past attempt to re-build only to make personnel decisions that end up limiting what the front office can later do to help the team get better. However, many times over effective use of free agency with solid draft selection can turn a team into a winner.
Some may argue the Celtics made their FA mistake with the recent signing of Avery Bradley to a 4-yr/$32M contract while drafting Marcus Smart #6 overall, which both look like moves to shore up the SG position. A Rondo trade could certainly open up minutes for the tandem but that’s a lot of concentration, both asset and dollar wise, on a single position.
The addition of Tyler Zeller has provided good potential and depth to C, at least when considering a platoon position with Vitor Faverani and a smattering of minutes from the PF rotation – and count me as one of those considering Olynyk and Sullinger PFs, though I understand they can support limited minutes at the 5. While I do not expect Brandon Bass to be a member of the Celtics by year’s end, there are quality options available (and cheap) on the roster now.
SF is a position of concern this year. While Jeff Green provides solid numbers, his inconsistency and hesitancy can frustrate one as a fan. I see Green and Gerald Wallace taking the majority of the early-season minutes by default, while hoping the coaching staff can utilize James Young as an aggressive wing in a small-ball scenario. There just are not enough minutes in the crowded backcourt (Rondo, Smart, Bradley, Pressey, and Thornton) for Young to see minutes there. In the world of NBA assets, the #17 pick is not going to get run over the #6 and a $32M player.
While neither Green nor Wallace (combined $19M salary) come off the books until 2016, Green seems an option for a trade. Most seem to consider Wallace to be a true albatross while Green seems to have suitors – those that do not see him as an expensive enigma.
Given the contract and positions as standing, the Celtics will need to address the C and SF positions. Doing so will allow PF growth to continue and the backcourt situation to work itself out, depending primarily on Rondo’s jersey in 2015/16.
Quality rim protectors are hard to find. For the Celtics to be able to put themselves in a position for wins in today’s NBA, a defensive anchor should be their focus. Faverani/Zeller will make about a combined $6M for each of the next three years. Zeller is an offensive threat and comfortable in the up-tempo game the Celtics will hope to run and his rebounding can be supplemented by a strong rebounder at the four (Sullinger?) when playing. Faverani has shown flashes, but a question remains on his ability to provide consistent play at a high level.
More expensive options – such as Tyson Chandler or Marc Gasol – are not realistic in my eyes. They will demand too high of a salary and will more likely would rather play for a contender in their last years. In addition, I would rather not derail the rebuild with the presence on a grizzled vet. In fact, I would like to use the approximate salary of an expiring vet (Joel Anthony) to look at a body in the middle. Biyombo may be due for a raise pending his play this year, so Boston may be priced out, but he is only 23, defensive-minded, and does not look for his shot. That may be a positive if our backcourt and wings have people who can make the ball go in the basket. Asik offers elite level defense and while making $8.5M this season, a disappointing 2014-15 and lack of poison pill contract may allow him to be accessible at a lower rate. Perkins coming back home would make my heart warm and he could provide grit and aggressiveness to the position, likely at a hometown discount, while his play would not necessary take away from growth of the C position. Kanter could be an option if the young Turk registers another disappointing year. The focus should be a relatively good player at a relatively low expense – there is enough depth to offset the lack of a true star.
The end of the 2014/15 will also take Marcus Thornton off the books, who I do not expect would re-sign with Boston. When Boston executed their trade to assist with the moving of LBJ to Cleveland, they absorbed a nearly $9M salary position for Thornton. I would prefer that money be allocated towards forward depth, particularly a potential SF/PF with the ability to defend and stretch the floor as a shooter.
Not a pretty list, is it? I do not think Butler will leave Chicago, Rose, and Thibs. It is just too perfect of a situation. However, if the Bulls decide he is not part of their future and leave him dangling, his defensive prowess will be something that is desirable, though the dollars would be a concern. I love the potential of Wilson Chandler, who is actually a year younger than Jeff Green and shows a level of aggression Green fails to always show. Dudley is actually a player who seemingly disappears when he is on an NBA court, but he may be open to a cheap hometown return (played at Boston College) and could work as a stopgap.
Given the choices, the free-agent period of 2015 should be as exciting as 2014, which needless to say, was not very exciting. However, the Boston Celtics of the mid 2010s will have to be one built through the draft. The current roster with its holes and questions marks should provide fans with at least an opportunity to grab another young potential star (I will take Jahil Okafor or Karl Towns if I had to pick today).
As fans, we may have to wait until 2105-16 (Green/Wallace off the books) to truly make a free-agent splash.
Tags: Boston Celtics