All right, this is it. It's do or die time. The Celtics need to choose a course of action, and they need to stand by it. Either they commit to being good right now, or they veer in the other direction, pronto. There's no more in between.
There's a common misconception that if you want to build a successful NBA franchise, you must avoid at all costs falling into mediocrity. This idea has already been talked about extensively everywhere from talk radio shows to Bill Simmons columns, so I don't need to belabor the point too much, but here's a one-sentence summary: Mediocre is bad because it breeds more mediocrity, since you're not good enough to win anything and you're not bad enough to get the high draft picks that will help you out of the vicious cycle.
This concept has been discussed to death, but I still think it's a bit misunderstood. The word "mediocre" gets misused a lot. It's from the Latin words "medius" meaning middle and "ocris" meaning mountain or height, so it quite literally means reaching a middling height, but the word has taken on such a negative connotation that people conflate "mediocre" with "bad." There's a difference. The Celtics, you surely know, finished tied for the fourth-worst record in the entire NBA this past season. That's not a middling year - that's a flat-out bad one.
Which I'd argue is even worse than being mediocre. Ask a smart fan whether they'd rather root for the future No. 6-picking team in a given season or the No. 14, and I think they choose the 14 every time. At least then, you get to flirt with a possible playoff berth until March or April and witness a few games that actually matter. And it's not like that No. 6 draft pick would offer any guarantee of striking gold, anyway. For every Damian Lillard, there are a whole bunch of Jan Veselys and Ekpe Udohs and Jonny Flynns.
Yeah, being mediocre stinks. But I'd say being mediocre-to-bad-ish - one rung below the playoff also-rans, but a cut above the worst of the worst - is what reeks even worse.
Which brings us to today. The Celtics have less than 24 hours left to decide their future. Tonight is the 2014 NBA Draft, and before long, we'll know their fate. Do they make their currently slated picks at Nos. 6 and 17, and if so, do they take talent that's ready to be deployed right away? Do they deal the picks for veteran players? Do they ship out their existing guys to acquire even more picks?
It's impossible for any of us outsiders to choose the best tactical approach, since we aren't privy to the particulars of every potential deal that rings out on Danny Ainge's phone line. But what we can do is define one general rule - that one way or the other, it's time to take a stand.
We've seen what this Celtics team can do with Rajon Rondo and a patchwork group of supporting non-star players. That combination yields a losing season and a No. 6 draft position. Boston is too proud and too impatient to allow another year like that - so it's time either to step up or bottom out.
Obviously, the dream scenario tonight is to swap the picks at the last minute and reel in Kevin Love, but we should all know better at this point than to hold our breath. The interest in Boston's assets from Flip Saunders appears lukewarm at best, and the Timberwolves are considering a wealth of other offers from teams loaded with trade chips.
So if you don't get Love, what do you do?
The total rebuild may well be the way to go. It may be time to give up on Love, move Rondo for additional lottery picks and even invest in "long-term rebuild" players like Joel Embiid and Dario Saric.
Trading Rondo would obviously be difficult, with a fan base that's grown so attached to the player over the last eight years, but that's the business. No one will take it personally on either side if a Rondo trade went down - just like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett before him, he'd be missed for a long time and praised when he returns to the Garden. Rondo himself won't be too sentimental about a deal if it happens, and you can believe neither will Ainge.
This is Boston, where we've come to expect duck boat parades at the rate of about one per year, and there's no patience for a continued string of No. 6 draft picks. The Celtics have a massive TV audience and a building that routinely sells out. All those fans want to see a winner, and it's hard to be patient about giving them one.
We know that Ainge - not unlike Rondo, or Pierce back in the day - is unafraid of making the ballsy play. He's willing to gamble if he thinks it can make him a big winner. And as the sixth-worst team in the NBA, the Celtics are in the perfect position to take such a gamble.
We're just hours away from finding out Danny's master plan. At this point, he'd better have one.