Let's all take a deep breath and count to three here.
Breath in through your nose.
Breath out of your mouth.
The draft order has been set and we're all a little disappointed. There's a number of guys that the Celtics can target with their draft picks or they could trade the pick for Love. The fan base has been pretty dormant since the playoffs started, but we're now all spinning our wheels and trying to figure out how to get back to the post-season. But let's take another breath.
I didn't think so. Let's talk it out.
Outside of that top-4, nobody really excites the fan base in this year's draft and Ainge dampened enthusiasm last night after the bounce of the ping pong balls. This morning on the Sports Hub, he told Toucher & Rich that "we haven't really found out from other teams how much they want the pick, but I think it's valuable. It's valuable for us to use the pick, but it's important for us to see what other teams value it as." Comments like that point directly at the possibility of bringing in Kevin Love.
He's a double-double machine and could be the final piece for a team on the brink of a championship. But keep this in mind: in his time in Minnesota, he's never been to the playoffs. After Love's representatives made it known that he wouldn't sign a new deal with the Timberwolves, Ricky Rubio had some tough words about his future ex-teammate: "he is a special player, the numbers that he puts up are incredible, but still the leader has to be somebody else (...) He leads in scoring, in other things, but in voice he is not the type of player that wants to be or that can be, no?" A lot of people are fond of comparing a potential deal for Love for the 2007 trade that brought Kevin Garnett to Boston, but KG was much more of a complete player, even on the back side of his prime.
There's an argument to be made that if a deal could be made for Love, one in the hand is worth two in the bush. A Rondo-Love tandem would make Boston an attractive destination for free agents, Jeff Green would slide into a more comfortable third option, and we're on our way.
But let's not forget the two in the bush.
Most armchair GM's that have cobbled together what they think it'll take Flip Saunders to give up Love have included Jared Sullinger or Kelly Olynyk in Minnesota's haul of Celtics' assets and in some cases, both. Ironically, both players have been compared to Love just like Al Jefferson was KG 2.0 seven years ago, but my hope is that this time around, Danny opts for the long play rather than a quick fix.
Let's talk money. By reaching outright free agency, Love is looking at a contract that could pay him $100M over five years. There are enough suitors out there that someone will offer him that $$$. Should the Celtics? Certainly not at max money.
Sullinger and Olynyk are entering their junior and sophomore seasons of their five-year deals with Boston. Their combined cap number is a fart in the wind and they could have three more years to develop together. That's three years of cost-controlled talent where either player or ideally both could become legit starters and Danny would have oodles of cap space to bring in players to join them. That's what flexibility in a rebuild is all about: draft young talent, develop young talent, and keep young talent. If they were traded, we'd be giving the Timberwolves three years of cheap incubation time. By comparison, when Al Jefferson was shipped to Minnesota, he was in the final year of his rookie contract.
Haters will point out the flaws in Sullynyk. Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger need to be more like Jared from Subway and lose 20 pounds over the summer (a transformation that Love made himself). Sullinger shot a dismal 26.9% from behind the line last season; Love is a career 36.2% three-point shooter. Olynyk pulled down double digit rebounds in only five games in his rookie campaign; Love averaged 12.5 boards a game in a down year. Statistically, neither players can match Love's fantasy numbers. He's a beast. But:
Kevin Love per 36 minutes
Jared Sullinger per 36 minutes
Kelly Olynyk per 36 minutes
At a glance, both Sullinger and Olynyk are pacing comparably with Love and even if the numbers are telling a little bit of a white lie, there's the underlying fact that Love is just one guy. I'll take my chances with Sully, Olynyk, whoever we get at #6, and whatever draft pick we'd probably have to give up, too. Plus, last season's negative numbers are a little deceiving because it was clear that Stevens asked both players to expand their game. Even when he was missing shots, Brad make Sully shoot above the break. Olynyk's college game was predominantly focused in the paint; Brad Stevens forced him to play at the free throw line and by season's end, had him putting the ball on the floor and driving. After another off-season of evaluating talent, I can't wait to see how Stevens utilizes these guys next year.
* * *
I mentioned this in my championship blueprint post a few months ago:
We remember how it felt when there was this renewed hope when we got Kevin Garnett. The Celtics went from worst-to-first in one season and made several deep playoff runs after that championship season in 2008. But let's take a breath here. The Celtics have never been a favorite landing spot for free agents and they'll be in competition with some of the largest markets in the league. Even if Danny has the opportunity to make a big deal, he needs to be very cautious. Building a super team in the current CBA climate can be very risky. Large contracts are much more difficult to get out of and could handcuff teams with long term commitments. Ideally, you want to draft smart, spend smarter, and control your destiny by managing your homegrown talent.
So maybe next summer, nothing happens. Maybe the team is doing well enough that they won't need that marquee name to push them over the top. So far, Oklahoma City hasn't brought in a closer. The Spurs have maintained a very high and prolonged level of excellence by drafting smart and finding the perfect role players that fit their system. Brooklyn could soon be heading into a nose dive and their picks could all be lottery bound over the next few years. Likening the rebuilding process to putting up a house may not even be the best analogy; it's probably more apt to compare it to a self-sustaining farmer who plants his seeds and patiently waits until they bear fruit.
Wyc Grousbeck had promised "fireworks" this summer but his comments this afternoon seem a little more reserved. Let's remember that fireworks, although bright and pretty in the moment, are fast and fleeting. When the Danny tapped Brad Stevens to a six-year contract, I think he envisioned a young team growing with its rookie coach not just for a chance at a championship, but long long term for success over an entire career for both Stevens and all his players. Think Gregg Popovich with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.
It's possible that Kevin Love could be part of the puzzle. He's only 25 and bringing him to Boston could be the first domino to fall that eventually raises Banner 18 to the rafters. I don't know. Nobody knows. What if the Spurs had packaged Manu and Parker for Tracy McGrady in 2003? Is San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals in 2014? It's all hypothetical. All I'm saying is, maybe we stay the course and take a breath.