As with before, I've been working on my writing and came at it with another piece on the Celtics. I found this one interesting because I started it before the trade deadline in January, forgot to finish, and picked it back up in May after all the fireworks were over.
Celtics Rebuild (January 2017)
With the recent success of the current Celtics team, its hard to resist doubling down on this roster and cashing in and consolidating our young assets for 1 or 2 win now type players. Lets pause for a second, though, and evaluate. How do we skate where the puck is going?
If the new CBA hints at anything, we may be nearing the end of the super team era. It won’t go away completely, (where is the fun in that?) but the days where Durant and Lebron are courted for years leading up their free agency will soon be beyond us. The Celtics turning a war chest of prospects into KG and Ray Allen in 2007 and winning the title that same year gave way to teams like the 2013 Heat, the 2015 Cavs, and the 2017 Warriors. As much as rival fanbases may hate it, these teams will go down in history as juggernauts without any debate.
Now, embedded in that rundown is a great deal of generosity toward some current and former GMs. Not every “superteam” has enjoyed the success those 4 teams enjoyed. Among those success stories, we’ve also witnessed the Billups-Melo-Chandler Knicks Big 3, the Nash-Kobe-Gasol-Dwight Lakers Big 4, and the D-Will-Joe Johnson-Paul Pierce-Andrei Kirilenko-KG Big Mistake. This tactic has not only jumped the shark, its gone full 2017 Bulls.
Super teams have worked before, but aren’t automatic- and they have short shelf lives. This Celtics team has been regularly deemed “one piece away.” You know who has always been one piece away? The Clippers. The Clippers have managed to develop Deandre Jordan into a Top 5 center and they are still in roughly the same place as the day they traded for Chris Paul.
We’ve kind of fallen into serious playoff contention because of 2 trades turning out better than expected.
Suns 2016 2nd round pick, Timberwolves 2017 2nd round pick (for Brandan Wright)
—>Suns 2nd round pick was packaged with a 2nd round pick from the Gerald Wallace deal to acquire the 2019 Memphis 1st round draft pick
Cavs 1st round pick (Skal Labissiere)
To sum it up, the Celts flipped Rondo & Jeff Green, the core of a middling team for IT4, Crowder, Jerebko, the core of a playoff hopeful.
And then theres the picks. So far they’ve netted Yabusele and Jackson, two future rotation players, with 2 more second rounders due in 2017 and the Memphis first in 2019.
All of this coming from the activity of one years trade deadline. Thats straight up intoxicating. They remodeled the team without giving up valued pieces Bradley and Smart.
The moves they’ve made since then:
- Sign Amir Johnson
- Sign Evan Turner
- Sign Gerald Green
- Sign Al Horford
- Get a meeting with Kevin Durant
Horford was a huge validation of this team’s ability to compete, but Turner is already gone and Johnson & Green are both expiring contracts with age taking a toll on their games. The addition of Horford has led to some confusing moments. We added an All-Star caliber big man who fits Brad Steven’s system like a glove, but we pose little threat as a championship contender. We have arguably 4 players in their respective prime years, but we are (so far) unwilling to part with young prospects.
Bluntly, The contracts lined up perfectly for a win now team headlined by Durant, but that didn’t happen. And now we are left with a front office still figuring out where we go from here and if we just ride it out and run it back next summer.
The cap will be there, but the pieces won’t necessarily be. Once Amir, Jerebko, and Gerald Green hit UFA, we waive Zeller’s non guaranteed 2nd year- the only players left on the Celts roster that they haven’t drafted are IT, Crowder, and Horford. And in order to sign a player like Durant, with Horford now on the books, all of those guys above are gone.
We likely replace Amir with Zizic, and the defense may suffer, but the rebounding and PnR upside probably evens that out. We could replace Jerebko with Yabusele, but we theres no indication he won’t be stashed for a 2nd year, which paints enough of the picture there. Adding another max contract or not, the team, and even the rotation, is slated to get younger and a little less experienced.
This is the least invasive plan for the future of the Celts and the one that seems most likely. You hope that you use it wisely enough before you are forced to cap yourself out extending guys like IT, Bradley and Smart.
This disregards the wishes of the Win-Now crowd for the most part. You have high upside pieces like Jaylen Brown, Smart, the 2017 & 2018 Brooklyn picks that in some combination could hypothetically net the Celts another proven All-Star in a trade. The difficult part of trading these guys, is how do you trade for an All-Star without filling up your cap space for free agency in the summer. You don’t want to trade too much talent, but if you trade all of your expiring contracts, you are, again, capping yourself out.
In most scenarios, there’s no avoiding being capped out by the end of next season.
Why not use the draft picks? Why not have 2 lottery picks at 5M cap hold over 4 years? By the 2019-2020 season, you’ll be paying 15M for 3 lottery picks- one with 4 years of experience, one with 3, one with 2. You aren’t talking rookie level production at that figure. Smart, by the end of his 2nd season as the 6th pick, already asserted himself as the teams most versatile defender on a team with Crowder and Bradley, the former with the ability to comfortably guard three positions and the latter with 1st Team All-Defense honors to his name.
There’s an all too apparent lack of trust in the draft. We landed Pierce in the draft, we were able to build around him enough to get us to the conference finals. We landed Rondo in the draft and we are still benefitting from his value. We landed Bradley in the draft and he has been the only enduring part of the Celtics identity since the Big 3.
Continuation (May 2017)
We may never hit on any of our picks like we did with these guys, but for all the flack Ainge catches on his draft record, he has a clear history of drafting proven NBA rotation players. Since 2003, when he was hired, (and ending at 2014 to avoid snap judgments) Ainge has hit on the following with 1st round picks:
- Dahntay Jones
- Tony Allen
- Delonte West
- Al Jefferson
- Randy Foye
- Jeff Green
- Avery Bradley
- Jared Sullinger
- Kelly Olynyk
- Marcus Smart
With the 1st round misses being:
- Hometown hero Troy Bell
- Gerald Green
- JR Giddens
- Marshon Brooks
- Fab Melo
- James Young
Most of these guys were late first rounders, and if you look at Ainge’s 2nd round history, you’ll see thats where he (and many others) miss like nobody’s business. In fact, lets make some corrections. Giddens was the last pick of the first round, so he doesn’t count. Brooks was traded away. And we will mercifully excuse the Fab Melo pick because it was clearly a desperate attempt to get an aging contender some front court help. When you need to choose between Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins, or Brandon Bass off the bench, its time to throw shit at the wall and see what sticks.
So the corrected list goes like this:
- Troy Bell
- Gerald Green
- James Young
Look at those odds and tell me you don’t want Ainge to pick with our potential 6 first round picks in the next 3 years. If he only hits on half of them, you have 5 rotation players on the roster on rookie scale deals and only one, Jaylen Brown, due a raise in 2020- a year where the Celts clear 30 mil in cap from Horford’s contract alone. All this with a cap rising to 102 in 2018.
Think that over. 5 rotation players making an absolute max of 6 mil per year in an era where Miles Plumlee makes 12 mil per year to do nothing but high-fives teammates during timeouts and wear cardigans. That’s almost as good of a deal as having a two-time All Star at 6 mil per.
I am, however, not blind to the fact that the clock will eventually strike 12 on this team. We can’t float by on theoreticals and promises of low cap holds forever. We have one more full season until some very large, very consequential decisions are made and that likely won’t be enough time to evaluate return we’ll get from the young talent.
The real play here is always having the flexibility to back out of something thats not working. Lets call that the Anti-Clippers.
(You remember them from earlier in the article, right? If you look hard enough, you can find three All-Stars among the band-aids, but no serious chance of contending. They were so busy grasping at straws, they were forced to pay Austin Rivers 12 mil over three years simply because they didn’t have Bird Rights on anybody else.)
If you look at the current Celtics roster, you’ll see that everything orbits around this offseason. It’s the same exact play as last offseason, blown to larger proportions: overachieve as a team, add proven talent in free agency, add young talent in the draft, repeat.
Over the past two years, the front office has successfully made it a no-brainer for impending free agents to consider joining the team- it offers all the promise of playing with vets in their prime, with none of the roster lock-in that usually accompanies that opportunity. Now, the player decision making is out of their control, but just about everything else is well in hand. Even if they come up empty, they still have a convincing, albeit less sexy, direction to go in.
So let me repeat this for the win-now crowd, not just Celtics win-now, but for anyone that was standing at the gates of the Garden near the deadline, pitchfork in hand, screaming “how dare you not trade ‘fair value’ for Paul George?”
Look at the Clippers.
The trades that you wanted- that would launch the Celts suddenly into contention- they have already happened.