My original working title for this article was "What's the worst that could happen?" Then I realized that the absolute worst thing would be for someone to get hurt and/or to trade for someone who then got hurt, leaving us stuck with an albatross contract. In fact, if you are in a particularly morose mood, I'm sure you could concoct any number of doomsday scenarios that would top mine.
But at the present, the Celtics are in a very good position looking forward. There are options and windows of opportunity to get better. It may be a quick turnaround or it may be a longer one, but the pieces appear to be in place. Now it is up to luck and Danny Ainge's negotiating skill to make it happen.
The first event that has to happen is obviously the NBA Draft Lottery. Everything is on hold until we find out what that has in store for us. Winning the lottery and getting one of the top 3 picks would give us a major asset. As Ainge has said, it might not be a franchise altering guy, but he'll likely be very, very good. Regardless of what we do with that pick, winning the Lottery would be the best thing for the team on that day, so we'll call that "Plan A."
Of course there's nothing more we can do about that. It is now left completely up to chance. If we win, great, if not, then we have to move onto Plan B. Based on the comments from Wyc, Danny, and just about anyone else in the organization, it sounds like the Celtics would love to make a big trade or two this offseason. Call it "fireworks" or call it the 2007 plan. If the Celtics don't win the Lottery (or perhaps even if they do), I think they'd very much like to acquire a star player or two to put around Rondo and whomever else is left over.
The trick is, that's not easy. Not at all. Ainge seems excited for this offseason and he's even said something along the lines of "laying groundwork" for deals. But nothing is for certain and any number of things can derail a plan along the way.
"Listen, I’m grateful we were able to do that deal," he said, "but that deal was unique in so many ways. In one way [we were] getting quality players that still had a lot left in the tank in Ray and KG — as they’ve proven — [along with] keeping Paul. But the fact [is] that they complemented each other so well. Their games, they all needed each other. You had Ray, who was a catch-and-shoot guy. You had Paul, who was sort of a go-to guy. You had KG, who was defense, rebound, unselfish, the consummate team guy. The pieces fit so perfectly. That’s a big part of it, too. It’s not just talent."
We sometimes fail to appreciate just how rare that 2007 summer was. It is not easy to duplicate something that special. In fact, Kevin Garnett was pretty close to being a Laker if my memory serves. What an odd, horrible alternative universe that would have been.
So what happens if lottery luck fails us and no big deals materialize? What's Plan C?
It sounds like Ainge and company will do what they can to be patient and wait for the right deal to come along. That could mean another year wallowing in lottery land and tank-watch lists. Running it back with the current core group plus a couple of rookies probably isn't going to be a contending team.
We would have a fully healthy Rajon Rondo with a full training camp under Brad Stevens (more on that in a minute). Sullinger and Olynyk would be a year older and more experienced. Assuming Avery Bradley returned, he would be another on-the-court asset. Jeff Green could be back doing Jeff Green things. The rookies could be brought up to speed pretty quickly and contribute at least to the bench unit, if not starting by the end of the year. In the Eastern Conference, that team could very well make the playoffs.
Of course the 800 lb. gorilla in the room is Rajon Rondo's contract year. Is he going to be content waiting another season for Danny's plan to work out? Is going to be able to handle a year of rookie mistakes, losing, and daily rumors and questions about his long term plans from the media?
And what about Danny Ainge? If he can't land a big fish this year, would he start putting out feelers to see what he could land in terms of assets for his own marlin? Without assurances that Rondo will re-sign, Danny could trade him for even more draft picks and talented young players and our rebuilding plan would stretch out another year or two (at least). The Presti-plan would go into effect and it would all hinge on Danny's skills as a drafter and trader. (Note: Even if we win the lottery, the option to trade Rondo might still be on the table if the pick can't help in his first year or two)
You have to think as well that there are other options in between the extremes I've laid out. Maybe Ainge can't find a home run deal, but can use some assets to land a solid contributor like Omer Asik (the rim protector Stevens wants/needs). We could still make another smaller move and bring in a lower level free agent and be more competitive next year without giving up all of our trade chip assets. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe this is the most likely outcome.
Next season would be entertaining and a step in the right direction and 2015 would become the 3rd consecutive HUGE offseason for this franchise. Rondo would be left with a choice: Stay with the only team and city he's ever known as a professional and buy into the progress being made. Or jump the fence to another situation where the grass may or may not be a darker shade of green.
Of course I'd rather get back to being a title contender right now, but lightning has this thing about rarely striking in the same place twice. There are many forks left in the road ahead and the best route to the destination has yet to be fully mapped out. It is going to be a very interesting summer, no matter what happens.