The Boston Celtics are entering year two of their rebuild and features a roster that quite frankly puts the team between a rock and a hard place. As currently constructed, the Celtics are far from a championship contender but are better than those who dwell in the NBA’s basement. ESPN’s summer forecast has Boston finishing the season with a 28 and 54 record, missing the playoffs by a significant margin but finishing ahead of five teams, including three in the East. Their word is not gospel but this figures to be an accurate assessment of how the upcoming season will shake out for Boston.
Reaching the postseason should never be viewed as a bad thing, but doing so will be a tall task for the Celtics. Even if they do get in, it is likely as an eighth seed, maybe a seven. That could potentially spell a match up against LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the player who could have revived the Celtics, Kevin Love. Regardless of opponent, it would likely be a short-lived trip to the playoffs, should Boston get in. So, while getting playoff experience for the team’s younger players would be valuable, it likely would not be worth moving back significantly in the draft.
A sizable number of Celtics fans would like to see the team bottom out and once again be in the mix for a top pick. Though Boston did not come away with Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker in June’s draft, it was able to land Marcus Smart, who played well in both summer league and at Team USA camp, as a member of the select team. Perhaps this strategy could result in adding another piece to the team’s future core or be used in a trade to help acquire that player.
However, those advocating for the team to go in this direction, need to remember that the Celtics have not had a great deal of success when it comes to the lottery. Boston thought it was getting Tim Duncan, only to watch him go on to achieve greatness as a member of the San Antonio Spurs. It thought one of Kevin Durant or Greg Oden would be calling Causeway Street home, only to see the team end up with the fifth pick in that draft. No complaints on how that worked out though. Still, relying on the ping pong balls to bounce in your favor, especially when they typically have not, is a risky proposition.
That is why the key to this season is placing an emphasis on developing the talent that the team already has. Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk have the chance to become valuable parts of the Celtics future, or at the very least, prove to be quality trade assets. Smart and fellow rookie James Young are brimming with potential, and when the season arrives it will be time to translate that potential into results.
The 2014-15 campaign also represents the chance for a now acclimated Brad Stevens to take a significant step forward as head coach. One of Stevens’ strong suites is his ability to develop talent. Whether that be with some of the younger players, such as those mentioned above. Or when it comes to veterans such as Jerry’d Bayless, Kris Humphries and Jordan Crawford. Now, Stevens has a new reclamation project in Evan Turner. After averaging just 7.1 points and 3.2 rebounds in a 27 game stint with the Pacers, failing to help them overtake the Miami Heat in the East, Turner is looking for a fresh start in Boston. This low risk, high reward signing could pay off nicely for Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The elephant in the room for the Celtics is Rajon Rondo. Despite the video of Jackie MacMullan telling her fellow Around the Horn panelists that the all star point guard wants out of Boston, it all comes down to how much the team is willing to pay Rondo. That number may have taken a hit when the team selected Smart with the sixth overall pick in the draft. If the Celtics do end up trading Rondo, it might motivate the team to also move Jeff Green, who is scheduled to make $9.2 million over each of the next two years, per spotrac.com. Depending on what the Celtics get in return in such trades, this could put them right in the thick of the race for the number one pick, while creating more minutes for both of the team’s rookies.
When it comes to the draft, there are no guarantees – save for a select few, whose careers still could have been negatively impacted by bad coaching and poor management. However, if Rondo isn’t in the fold, the Celtics are not the most attractive destination for free agents and it is hard to say who the next all star – that’s not currently on the team – to be traded will be.
Despite the patience that it will require, building through the draft may prove to be Boston’s best option. While it will take longer to build a championship contender this way, if done correctly, it will allow for more sustainable success than what has been produced by the Miami Heat and yes, these very Celtics. Neither franchise is complaining about the championships they won using this formula, but both are searching for ways to get back into title contention. For Boston, that starts with developing what it has.