For those of you who live in New England our 4th of July left a little to be desired, much like the Celtics off season. It rained on the 4th, so no fireworks, and there were some on the 5th, but were disappointing and not the same as a real 4th of July fireworks show. This has been the common perception of the Celtics off season. No big fireworks, but some smaller ground stuff the next day. Although, the big splash (Kevin Love) most people expected hasn't really materialized (and may never now with the Cavaliers involved), the trade that Danny Ainge did make with the Cavaliers was significant for the future, but disappointing like those July 5th fireworks.
Call it a consolation prize if you want, but Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton, and a 1st rounder for basically a 2nd round pick is a steal and a half. Some people will blame Ainge if the Cavaliers get Kevin Love, because of how the trade helped them get LeBron and has now "intrigued" Love about going there. How can anyone blame Ainge for robbing the Cavaliers just so they could make cap space by using the Celtics trade exception that was about to expire regardless, another team would have certainly jumped in. Not to mention, the Celtics actually got a natural center on the roster who's young and belongs in the NBA. He's not some super raw prospect like all of the Celtics bigs right now. Also, a very underrated part of this trade is Marcus Thornton. His contract expires after one year, but more importantly he can actually play and can score off the bench. The Celtics don't need this at all, but during the season many playoff contenders will be calling about Thornton and Brandon Bass. Both are veteran role players who can help out a contender and both have expiring contracts, so even if they stay it could help the Celtics next off season.
Like the disappointing July 5th fireworks, this trade doesn't wow anyone, but was simply getting the best out of a tough situation. On July 4th it rained and as people were trying to hurry and change dates, so the quality of the fireworks suffered. The Celtics weren't in the best situation this off season, so a splash wasn't as likely to happen as everyone thought. The Celtics were right below the cap after this year, so free agency really wasn't an option, except for a sign a trade. The free agent class was also a lot worse after the top few names than it seems. After Lebron, Bosh, Carmelo, and Wade there were/are names like Ariza, Deng, Gasol, Stephenson, Monroe, Gortat, and Thomas. Most of these names haven't even considered the Celtics, so they weren't really set up to be free agent spenders this year. Over paying one of these old or unproven players and giving up some assets for them as well would have only set this team back. Getting stuck into bad contracts with old players and unproven young guys is bad business, just ask the Brooklyn Nets. Although Lance Stephenson is intriguing, I think the Celitcs reached out to him, Isaiah Thomas and now Evan Turner to gauge the guard market and maybe even turnaround and trade one of them to the Timeberwolves for Love. Also, this gave the team some leverage over Avery Bradley, which didn't really work, but his contract isn't too bad considering how the cap is expected to rise a lot in coming years, due to a new TV deal.
So this year’s fireworks were set up to fail from the start. The Celtic's have all these assets, but not a lot of flexibility. The assets immediately brings the Timberwolves to mind, but they aren't looking to blow up everything and rebuild, like we were so quick to do, so right now there simply just isn't a mutually beneficial trade to be made here. Flip Saunders has been pretty quite with trading Love, so that story still has a lot to unfold, but even if he is traded Love could hit free agency next season along with some others like Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert, David West, Luis Scola, Robin Lopez to name a few bigs. The Celtics could be in a similar position next year as the Cavaliers were this year, but with a potentially better free agent class. A young team with an established pg and cap space, that is an attractive landing spot for a free agent, I'm not trying to say we are gonna get Lebron, but some max type player nonetheless. No free agent is trying to go to 76er's, because they have assets, players want to play with players and right now the Celtics have a young core as well as a bunch of assets, so if they don't trade away anyone any good their chances of attracting a free agent are great.
Here's where I defend keeping Rondo. If he is traded, no big name free agent will come here in the next 5 years. If he is traded then it is obvious that the Celtics are in complete rebuild and no free agent will come here. Rondo is our biggest part of attracting someone else to come here. Rondo's game is to distribute the ball and although his personality sucks, his game is perfect for another star to play. Trading him away doesn't add to the Celtics talent level or chances of adding to it. He's not going to be traded for a bunch established NBA players. If he's traded it's going to be for more picks and prospects and the Celtics already have plenty of those, so by trading him the team doesn't improve at all and this is already an improving team, so why go back to tanking when we've already been there and don't have to go back. I believe this team will be competitive in the near future and it won't get any closer to that by trading away it's best player.
People are going to point to Marcus Smart and he may very well be Rondo's successor, but I see more combo guard than pg in him. Also, the Celtics lost all of their guard depth after trading Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks, so I think drafting Smart was more about depth and establishing a good back court rotation like the Spurs have shown is successful, with Parker, Ginobli, Mills, and Green, and other teams have followed, the Suns adding Isaiah Thomas to Bledsoe and Dragic comes to mind. Allowing Smart to come in behind Rondo and Bradley will take some pressure off of him of being the guy running the offense, but also make him work on his shot like Bradley has done. Smart was drafted to become a good combo guard. Not to specifically take anyone's spot. If he learns both spots it only adds to his versatility, but he is too far away offensively right now to be a starter let alone fill Rondo's role on the team. Not to mention with Avery Bradley staying around he's going to get hurt at some point and Smart could step right in for him too, so it's being a little narrow minded to view Smart solely as a Rondo replacement, because he can be so much more than that.
Rondo's contract also expires after this season and if he makes it past the trade deadline this only adds to the Celtics flexibility next off season. He could do similar to what Dwayne Wade has done this off season and become a free agent, but allow the team to maneuver pieces before resigning. If he doesn't sign then he doesn't sign and the Celtics have a ton of cap room and a ton picks anyway, so we don't have to be so urgent to trade him just for the sake of getting something in return. With all those future picks the Celtics may just need the cap room and if we lose him then so be it, but I don't think it will even get to that point, because both sides want to make it work unlike Kevin Love who said he's not coming back at all. Also, Gerald Wallace's awful contract may be easier to move next off season with one year left or the Celtics could use the stretch provision to make the last year of his contract 3 years rather than 1, but at about $3 million per year rather than $10 million it currently is. Going into to next year the Celtics have some salaries coming off the books, as well as a lot of un-guaranteed contracts, so they can maximize their flexibility like they were unable to do this year and make some real fireworks in free agency.
Even with little fireworks it isn't as if the roster hasn't improved from within. This coming year will huge for Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger. I am not a fan of Olynyk, didn't like him coming out of college at all, but Ainge has set the bar low for him indicating that he sees Olynyk as a sixth man type player, which is the perfect role for him. If he can come on and add some offense off the bench then he can be a contributor on a good team, but he needs to improve on the defensive end dramatically. Sullinger on the other hand has a much higher ceiling than people give him credit for. Ya, he's fat and out of shape. I heard he's getting in better shape and has slimmed down to play against more pf's than centers, but I'll believe it when I see it. That being said, people don't remember he was freshman of the year in 2011 and many considered him the #1 overall pick over Kyrie Irving. Injuries caused him to fall in the 2012 draft and have hurt him early in his NBA career, but if he can put it all together this year, watch out. This is a guy who carried Ohio State to a #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, as a freshman. His injuries have overshadowed his pedrigee and maybe it has been fair, but his accomplishments should not be forgotten, because he's improving and will continue to improve with a full pre-season and regular season with Rondo, Bradley, Green, and an actual center on the roster, something he's never had since being drafted.
Again I'll go back to those disappointing July 5th fireworks. They weren't fun to watch or exciting at all, but they did come with a promise from my town about better ones next year. The crappy ones this year freed up some money for better ones next year. The Celtics can't guarantee good fireworks next year (neither can my town), but they are in a much better position going into to next year for some fireworks than they were this year. Not to mention we have the entire season to unfold, so let's not be so quick to blow up the team again or trade everything but the kitchen sink to contend for a year or two. The Celtics have tons of first round picks over the next few years and a young core already in place. Whatever happens this year or next year the Celtics have the flexibility and assets to capitalize on any opportunities that may present themselves, but also have a plan to build with the current team. So, let's stop worrying about the fireworks that didn't happen, but the one's we will see on the court this year.