From game to game I don’t know if wins or losses should make me happy or sad. I don’t know if I should feel hopeful about this team or be filled with dread. But after the Celtics win in Atlanta, I have to wonder. Are we Celtics fans about to experience exactly what every NBA fan base wants to avoid?
Fifteen games into this season there are certain things we can say about this team. One, the Celtics do possess a certain amount of talent, enough to keep them competitive against most opponents. Two, on most nights, the team plays hard and sees a modicum of success on the defensive end. Three, when Rajon Rondo comes back, (no offense intended toward the admirable job Jordan Crawford has done in his absence) the team is likely to see a reasonable amount of improvement at the point guard position.
This team has a 5-10 record, which is not good, but anyone who has watched the games knows positive competitive strides have been made. The abysmal ball-handling situation that spawned the first four losses was greatly improved by the insertion of Jordan Crawford. Avery Bradley’s offensive role has become more prominent and consistent. Jared Sullinger has seen an increased role and done quite well. There is a feeling that this is a better team than the current record suggests. Pair that with the Celtics next five opponents having a combined winning percentage of .338 and we could be looking at a team closer to the .500 mark after 20 games than most expected.
With the impending return of Rajon Rondo on the horizon, it is not unthinkable that this team could be a winning team for the 2013-14 campaign. Dare I say a playoff team? Right now a .500 record would be good enough for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. Slightly above that might win the Atlantic Division.
So things are really looking better than expected, right?... not so fast.
When reality sets in, the implications of being a slightly better than .500 team this year are less than palatable and sure to give Danny Ainge a migraine headache.
Whatever success the Celtics see this season, the roster we currently have can’t compete with the league’s finest. No matter how much of an optimist one might be, it’s unfathomable to think the Celtics could do any more damage than reaching the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now this may be nirvana for a starving-for-success Bobcats or Bucks fan, but we Celtics fans have higher aspirations. We’re willing to suffer a bad season or two for a future banner, as long as we don’t become mired in mediocrity for years. But that is exactly what the Celtics could do to themselves by making the playoffs this season.
We’ve all been hearing what treasures await the teams who are in the next draft lottery. The 2014 draft being touted as one of the greatest in years. Obviously, making the playoffs would take the Celtics out of the draft lottery. The Nets pick we have will likely go to the Atlanta Hawks, which will leave us with the Hawks pick. Making the playoffs could leave us with one first round pick in the late-teens and one in the early-twenties. That’s hardly going to change the talent level of the Celtics roster in any meaningful way.
So, is a trade for a game-changing star in order? I’m not exactly sure those trades are out there for Danny Ainge to make. Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge are currently seeing success with their teams. If that trend continues, it would negate any possibility of their teams looking to move them for future assets. Those are really the only two big-time players anyone thought might be available in trades this year. Rudy Gay isn’t getting you a banner, Omer Asik isn’t getting you a banner.
So, what about next year’s free agent class? Well… there’s really not any major players looking for a change of scenery, at least no one who I could see making the Celtics a legitimate contender. Feel free to peruse the list sometime. HoopsHype is a great website to use.
So, where does that leave a good, but not good enough, Celtics team? It leaves Danny in a situation where he needs to get rid of some talent. It puts Danny in a situation where he has to trade good players for whatever someone is willing to give up. It leaves this Celtics team with a strange reality.
If Danny Ainge doesn’t actively look to make the Celtics worse through trades for this year, it could drastically hinder his ability to make the Celtics a contender again sooner, rather than later. If Danny can’t dump some talent, we may experience a "worst-case scenario" for the 2013-14 season. A team that was just good enough to lose its only chance at getting better.