The Boston Celtics roster looks the same today as it did yesterday. That's not necessarily a bad thing. If I had told you before the season that we would get a future draft pick and some additional cap flexibility for Courtney Lee and Jordan Crawford, you'd consider that a pretty good trade season wouldn't you?
We still don't have a very good roster right now, but at least part of that is by design. Some of the redundancy was taken care of by offloading our shooting guard surplus. We've got no center and maybe one too many power forwards, but that's a common enough problem. Whatever deals that Ainge passed up today will likely be there in the summer and we'll know where we'll be drafting by then.
There will be plenty of time to talk about the summer later, but for the moment I wanted to ask... what do we do right now? What do we focus on for the rest of this season? This team isn't all-out-tanking the way that the Sixers are but they aren't exactly targeting the playoffs either.
There's a fine line here. Once again, I can't bring myself to root for the team to lose but I know that every win hurts our lottery chances. I have to admit, I was kind of hoping that Danny would make things easier by making the team noticeably worse on the court in the short term (in exchange for future assets). Then I could say to myself "see, they aren't even supposed to be good."
That didn't happen though, so now we've got the sweet and sour prospect of having a team that has some elements of a good basketball team. We've got an all star caliber point guard, a future stud power forward, and a combination of solid veterans and young talent around them.
I think what it boils down to is the fact that wins and losses aren't the highest priority (either way). You always play to win the game but the end result of a game against the Kings in February 2014 isn't going to mean a lot in the grand scheme of things. So what does matter?
I'd say that it boils down to development, chemistry, and culture.
Development: Jared Sullinger barely has a year of NBA experience under his belt at this point. Kelly Olynyk, Phil Pressey, and Vitor Faverani are rookies. Chris Johnson was in the D-League a month ago. The kids can play but they need more seasoning before they'll be solid, reliable NBA players on a consistent basis. The veterans can each work on aspects of their games that could be improved as well.
Chemistry: The clock is officially ticking on Rajon Rondo's free agency. For another year he's seen his name in trade rumors and he knows as well as anyone that the team's loyalty to him reaches only as far as the next trade offer. So loyalty alone isn't going to make Rondo stay in Boston long term. He has to believe that the team is building a long term contender. Ainge can't make any major moves between now and the summer so the rest of the season has to be (in part) a process of seeing who fits with Rondo and Sullinger. Does Jeff Green make sense as a 3rd option down the line? Is Avery Bradley good enough to pair with Rondo (and pay what it takes to lock him up this summer)? Is Kris Humphries worth bringing back under a more reasonable contract? How do all these piece fit together in Brad Stevens' rotations and with Rondo on the court?
Culture: On some level you have to tip your hat to Hinkie for his ultimate tank job in Philly. On the other hand, that team is a train wreck and I'm not sure what the young players on that team are learning (aside from the fact that the NBA is a business). There's no winning culture there, there's no sense of purpose other than tanking, and in truth, there's probably not much of a long term plan for anyone other than Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel.
Contrast that with the Celtics who have Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger in place for the long haul. Then there's any number of players (Bradley, Green, Bass, Olynyk, etc.) that could very well be solid pieces of whatever the next era looks like. In short, this isn't a "tanking" roster. Some of those guys might just end up being trade chips in the summer, but some could be here long term and developing winning habits (especially in the rookies) could be critical long term. Brad Stevens built winning programs at Butler in part because he understood how to develop the right culture. He's already building that kind of culture in Boston and that's important in the long term.
I think it is important not to lose sight of the human element here. Sullinger needed a kick in the butt from his father to have the right attitude despite the losses piling up. Keith Bogans couldn't handle being a walking trade filler and trade chip, so he was sent home. Progress isn't always measured with wins and losses and lottery odds.
It might be a bit harder to identify, but if you watch closely enough you'll be able to see trends developing over the rest of the year that will tell us a lot about what the future holds.