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Doc's thrown the gauntlet down, Ainge is doing damage control, and the team has regressed back to its losing ways. Trade season is heating up and a Boston fan base reeling from Patriots losses and Red Sox scandals seem to thirst for another controversy.
Perhaps in the fit of this humor, a little perspective may be wise. This team might need a shake up. The team direction could change in a number of impactful ways. The future of this team's direction is unclear at the midpoint of this season. This year may be different, but isn't unlike the past couple seasons in many ways.
With that in mind, there is one truism that can't be ignored: You absolutely cannot trade down in base talent.
There is often a prevailing sentiment that any type of change is positive in some way. When the theories have run dry on proof and the details get fuzzy, there is nothing left but to speculate. However, no matter what the fate and direction of this team may be it cannot afford to worsen its options when it comes to choosing a direction. The worst franchises waffle in the midst of short-sighted, panicked decision-making. This organization has been patient and singular in focus throughout the "Green 17 tenure". Not always right, but at least well-prepared.
Each of the deals for Green, Terry, Lee, and Bass were investments deemed worthy of their contracts for mid-length deals. This speaks to a vision of a performance level requisite to the average track histories of each player. Terry is the only case where one could reasonably expect a downturn. Lee has started to round into form, Green is unlikely to move for value in year one of his deal, and Bass needs to course correct in order to improve his liquidity.
With that in mind, there is absolutely no excuse for dumping commodities for "bench or role players" who don't have similar stories or foreseeable paths to superior performance themselves. The organization invests quite heavily in the infrastructure and expertise of its personnel. They give smart people the tools they need to do their homework at the level of the heaviest hitters. That doesn't ensure success, but it does ensure that they have a hand at the biggest table with their competitors. Not every front office supports the other levels of the organization as well. Many run at odds with one another.
What the team must do is find a trade that upgrades and area of need with a reasonable exchange of performing talent. If Boston is willing to take on salary they can likely do a few things as the deadline nears. But, it'd be preferable not to wait that long. The ideal is waiting out the market on expiring guys and wheeling and dealing when their market bottoms out. The risk here is that someone preempts your "better offer" and you end up with nothing.
Boston is certainly willing to move anyone, but the idea of them dumping salary with their ancillary players is highly unlikely. If they are going to go for cost-saving moves you'll see the cornerstone players involved. This team wasn't built for going backwards. If it begins to, that'll be that.
It's more likely that Ainge will try to find a trading partner he can sweeten with something other than the best assets he has to use. Terry and Bass come with 2 more years on their deals respectively. The exchange there would have to be some sort of cost savings to the receiving team or a substantial talent incentive. This is where Bradley, Sullinger, and Lee will probably draw the most interest. Keeping them out of that equation is the task. The team really only has an undercooked Fab Melo, a few expiring deals, and the promise of a first round pick to use as ballast.
If Ainge isn't interested in moving the prospective "core" of this future team, then you won't see Bradley or Sullinger included in anything. Recent history suggests that his primary focus shifted to the future well before this season and he's built for the "now" in a manner he thought would open up "go-forward" opportunities with that in mind.
This is where the Pierce rumblings come from. He does only have 5 million guaranteed - a heavy incentive for an organization looking to immediately restructure payroll - Memphis' Rudy Gay, for instance. But doing that virtually guarantees that KG follows. How he'd stay on with just "kid brother" Rondo as a confidant is hard to figure.
So here we sit, assessing the assets on the team and the trade market spreading out quickly in the month ahead of us. There is one thing certain - the direction of the team will be fairly clear if/when the first "shot" is fired. Rivers'comments spelled that out despite Ainge's diplomatic hedge.
Careful management of assets in order to maintain long term viability is a must no matter what happens. A trade for the "now" must come with some fringe benefit. Its an extremely bold gamble to do anything else. It would take a singular talent of magnitude to risk damaging flexibility down the road. The past eight years have shown far more about what it takes to run a successful organization than the previous twenty had shown us.
If the team can't figure out a rhythm to play at together this season, there is more than enough of a base of talent to work with going forward. The golden rule of any trade situation is ensure that you're better off in some manner after the deal. Call it, "leaving yourself an out", if you will.
The organization has been pretty good at managing its player resources. If anything, it seems the hindsight criticism from some has been about who to spend money on. The "bad moves" argued incessantly over stem from the root of this team's willingness to be aggressive and spend to build a winner..that's for the good.
There is a whole half a season to play. But there is no denying that only a month left to determine a definitive direction. Maybe they ride it out - if so, it will be due diligence that stays the executioners hand. If there is a personnel move, it'll be one that has a number of plausible outcomes that help the team now and in the future.
Nothing is certain, but its good to step back sometimes and appreciate that the team is in a position to choose a direction at all. Everyone wants another championship, but many organizations have trouble even positioning themselves to rebuild.
The remainder of the season should offer something very interesting to watch for. Remembering that is the hardest part of tempering expectations.