The consistent message that we've heard from players, coaches, and especially management is that the Boston Celtics are not tanking this year. So why do the fans and media keep bringing it up? Well, because it is an interesting subject.
Danny Ainge pulled the trigger two huge trades that sent away some huge names and netted us a lot of future draft picks. That's a tanking move. It sends a very strong signal that wins this year aren't very important and in fact might be detrimental to the larger cause. Still, just because he made a move that a tanking team would make doesn't mean he's actually tanking. We've been over this before, but I have a feeling that I'll go over it again a few times.
It boils down to a question of semantics. I really believe that the Celtics are really NOT tanking. Really. I do think that everyone from the top on down admits that this is a "rebuilding" process. What direction you take that rebuilding is totally up to the results you get.
In one scenario, if we got a sweetheart offer for Rondo that we couldn't refuse, then I think Ainge would absolutely pull the trigger. I find it hard to imagine that scenario playing out, but it could happen. That's something that could lead to a "tanking" strategy within the overall rebuilding framework.
In another scenario, if Rondo comes back to full health and all the players develop the way we'd like to think they can and Jeff Green in particular takes a big step up into an expanded role, then the team could actually win a lot more games than people are thinking - and I don't think anyone in the Celtics would be upset about that. They would still have plenty of later draft picks to use and they could build upon the success of this year to better the team going forward. That's pretty much the opposite of tanking and that seems to be the most desirable option for this group.
Still, Ainge himself points out that things don't always go as planned and ...well, you never know.
"If all of a sudden Rondo's out for the year and a couple other key guys, and maybe goals change over the course of the year," said Ainge, and then he stopped the dark thoughts there. "But starting the season out," he carried on brightly, "we're starting out full blazes. And see what we can do."
Allow me to paint another picture somewhere in between. Say that Rondo misses the first month and eases his way back into playing shape sometime in December. The rough first month schedule and young squad produces few wins but shows signs of progress. Some players are stepping up their game while others are struggling to find a rhythm because there are only so many minutes that Coach Stevens can dole out. Courtney Lee, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries have moderate success in bounce-back type years. Jeff Green is solid but not an All Star.
The team starts picking up more wins with Rondo back on the court. The bottom of the Eastern Conference is littered with teams that are either openly tanking (76ers) or simply too inept to figure out how to get over the hump and win (Bobcats?). If the Celtics keep on winning, they'll find themselves backing into the 8th seed with a losing record.
February roles around and Ainge keeps beating back offers for Rondo but starts to get some interest in Humphries, Bass, Lee, and others. Does he pull the trigger and take a step back on the positive momentum the team was generating? Does he make a move that ensures that they'll miss the playoffs? And would that be the right move?
Words are all well and good, but actions speak louder. That, I think, will be the most interesting subplot to watch with this whole "rebuilding" effort.