Coach Brad Stevens has indicated that he's not a goal oriented person. He wants his team to strive for continue improvement day after day, game after game. That's all well and good for the coach, but I think Ainge and the rest of the team have some long term goals they should be focused on.
Contrary to popular opinion, losing as many games as possible is not (and should not) be on this list. Next year is about acquiring and building assets for the future. Every thing else is secondary. If they happen to win more games than the experts expect, great. They build upon that success and use that experience for the future. If they end up in the lottery, great. They get yet another great asset in a lottery pick.
Here's my To Do list for the Celtics next year:
- Trim salary: They need to get under the luxury tax. Not because I fear for Wyc's pocket book, but because there are legit penalties for tax payers that make it harder to make trades and sign free agents in the future. They only need to shave less than a million off the books to get under the tax line and they have until the trade deadline to get it done. It may not happen by the start of camp, but sooner or later I'm sure they'll get something done.
- Make sure that Rondo gets back to full speed, no matter how long that takes. If the team has to lock him in a padded room with 100 Connect 4 games to keep him off the court before he's ready, then do it. If he starts playing and he can't produce at the same level that he's used to, the team (and fans) have to be patient with him as he gets back to full speed. Everyone recovers differently and not everyone is Adrian Peterson.
- Restore value to Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries: Nobody is all that excited about these two guys on the Celtics because they are overpaid based on their most recent production and they are too old to be part of the long term future (more so Wallace on that second point). However, those two guys have been really good in this league in the past and neither one is too old to regain their footing. Given some playing time in a situation without the pressure to produce results immediately, they might be able to locate their mojo. If they do that, some playoff team might see them as being a final piece of the puzzle and give us some assets in return for them.
- Restore and/or build up the value of Courtney Lee and Brandon Bass: Same general idea as Wallace and Humphries, but with more experience in Boston. Lee in particular is young enough to be part of the core going forward if he can get back on track this year. Bass is a little older but he's got value and could be a valuable veteran rotation guy for us or for someone else in a trade.
- Develop young players and younger veterans: Avery Bradley barely qualifies as a young, developing player anymore, but he still needs to work on his offense to be a better rounded player. Sullinger needs to get healthy and keep adding to his game. Kelly Olynyk needs to build on his summer league success and round out his game - in particular on defense. Jeff Green has to build upon his success at the end of last year and maintain consistency.
- Separate the diamonds from the rocks: Fab Melo, Vitor Faverani, Phil Pressey, and MarShon Brooks. These guys could go either way. Odds are, one of them will be better than we are expecting now and one will be a complete bust. Who will surprise and who will shake off the roster at some point? Next year will separate the wheat from the chaff.
- Make trades that maximize value while maintaining future flexibility: That's a mouthful, but what I mean is that if you can get a huge upgrade for the assets that we have, fine, make that trade. But more likely we need to keep adding assets and shedding salary until next summer where we might be able to make a huge splash like we did in 2007.
That's the list. There are rumors out there that if the Celtics are winning "too many" games that they'll make a trade to ensure a lottery position. I don't necessarily buy that. I think they'll make trades that produce the end goal, and if they end up in the lottery, that's fine. Otherwise, the goal (once again) is to build assets.
Next summer is where we could very well see the bigtime fireworks.