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What If We Don’t Win The Lottery?

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Every hope we have is now built upon the NBA Draft Lottery. The trade deadline came and passed, but the team elected to not tinker with a losing team and take their chances with the ping-pong balls. As I’m sure all of you are well aware, if we end up with the worst record, which looks more likely every day, we’ll have roughly a 50-50 chance at getting the top pick. Said another way, that’s a coin flip. That’s betting on red in roulette. That’s enie-menie-miney-mo. That’s what our season boils down to.

I’ve been trying to keep the positive karma going by focusing on the “hey, if we get a top 2 pick, then…” angle. In fact, I’m actually very hopeful that Lady Luck will smile down upon us and reverse the fortune that befell us 10 years ago. Basically, I like our odds. However, it is still a gamble, and inherent in gambling is the chance to lose.

So what happens if we don’t get a top 2 pick?

The way I see it, everything boils down to how we want to handle Paul Pierce. If you chose to build around Pierce, like we’ve been trying to do for years, then you need to move some younger players for more experienced ones. If you believe in the potential of these young players and are committed to seeing them shine in a Celtics uniform, then you need to trade Pierce for cap room and more young-ish players. It is one way or the other. The status quo will simply not do.

Today I’m going to focus on what’s behind door number one, keeping Pierce. In my next article I’ll look at what could happen if we don’t get a top pick and decide to trade Pierce.

Building Around Paul

paul2.jpg Every indication from ownership on down is that Paul Pierce is the face of the franchise and we are committed to building around him. That is good because saying anything else would be mind numbingly stupid. After years of hearing his name in trade rumors, there is no good reason to let Paul believe that he is anything but the very foundation upon which the team intends to build upon. Of course if someone offered Danny slightly higher than equal value for Paul, we all know he’d drop the “untouchable” label faster than you can say “Wyc, may I?”

But let’s assume that they are serious about their stated goals and intentions. Pierce isn’t old by any means. Most players play well into their 30’s and many get better and better with age. Of course, like a good truck, Paul has got a lot of tough miles behind him. He has always been a durable player, despite a style of play that often has him bouncing off the trees like Vladamir Radmanovic on a snowboard. However, in the last couple of years that has started catching up to him. His elbow might never go back to 100%. His foot will have to be monitored. Who knows what other bumps and bruises he hasn’t told us about yet. You just can’t just assume he’ll go back to being the 42 minutes a night for 82 games kind of guy for the rest of his career.

He will get more and more intelligent about the game as he gets older, but the trade-off is that we won’t have him on the for as long as we once did. So while he’s not really “old” per-se, the timeframe of when you can build a championship around him is starting to wind down.

As a result, we can’t keep waiting for the younger players around him to mature. Future stars or not, they won’t be any use to use for the next couple of seasons. If you can get reasonable value for some of them, you need to do that to give Paul an opportunity to win now. That means we can’t use the draft pick (in the 3 to 5 range) on a guy like Julian Wright and wait two years for him to develop. We can’t count on Gerald make The Leap just because it is year 3 and that is when it is supposed to happen. We can’t count on a 3-headed point guard rotation of Delonte, Rondo, and Bassy. We can’t assume that Perk is going to be 100% next year (or any year for that matter). I’m not saying you have to get rid of all these guys and replace them with overpaid mid level exception guys and greybeards. I am saying that sticking with Pierce means tough decisions have to be made now.

Trading Young Talent

The biggest problem I see with this is that you simply will never get “equal value” for these guys. The market price for any player can be expressed in an equation. The other team will decide what they think a player’s ceiling (C) is, and discount the amount they are willing to pay for him by the amount of time (T) they think it will take for that player to reach that ceiling as well as the probability (P) that the player might end up never reaching that ceiling. V = C â€" T â€" P

Holding on to players means you have to deal with the factors of time (T) and chance (P), but at least you have the ability to see their full value if everything works out right. Trading them now means never getting that full ceiling. However, building around Pierce requires that because we are running out of time.

Here’s the good news. Several other teams may have decided by the time the offseason rolls around that they are not willing to gamble on their own stars’ diminishing timeframes. This offseason you could see a major buyer’s market for stars players. {styleboxjp width=300px,float=left,color=black,textcolor=white,echo=yes}Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Vince Carter (if he doesn’t opt out), Jermaine O’Neal, and Shawn Marion are all potentially up for grabs.{/styleboxjp} With the cornucopia of options, the chances of a bidding war happening on any one of them decreases significantly. In addition, every lottery team that doesn’t win the lottery will be looking to get young talent now. The Celtics have perhaps the most valuable expiring contract of the summer and can offer multiple young players. Perfect for any team that has decided to blow it up and start over.

Say for example the Grizzlies don’t win the lottery either. They would have no reason to keep Gasol around any longer. What if Rashard Lewis bolts Seattle? Can the Sonics keep wasting Ray Allen’s time? We already know the Nets are building for Brooklyn, why keep Kidd around for the death rattle? You can already hear KG laying the groundwork for a trade demand by threatening to opt out after next season.

Even if they can’t obtain a star for a reasonable price, the least the team can do is make some moves for the second tier players on the market. Rashard Lewis, Corey Maggette, Mike Bibby, and others could be had for relatively cheap. None of them individually is going to “put us over the top” but the right mix of them might make for a solid nucleus. Personally, I don’t think that is enough and you have to get a star, but you never know.

Who’s Pulling The Strings?

Complicating matters is the man working the cell phone. Danny Ainge assures us that he’s had some great preliminary talks that could lead to something in the summer. {styleboxjp width=300px,float=right,color=black,textcolor=white,echo=yes}But how much can we trust the man that brought us Raef LaFrentz, Wally Szczerbiak, and Theo Ratliff?{/styleboxjp} (I really don’t want to think about how much money we paid those three guys to NOT play basketball) You mean all of a sudden he’s going to hoodwink another GM and make a fantastic trade? I’ve been on board with most of the moves he’s made because I thought I could see the method to his madness. However, I’m perfectly willing to admit that I could have been wrong to trust Danny.

As has been well documented, Danny started off with no young talent and several large, nearly unmovable contracts. Now he has a roster of too much young talent, one nearly unmovable contract (Wally) and one very movable contract (Theo). That is progress, but is it enough progress? Danny has been able to acquire trade assets, but why hasn’t he been able to make that one big trade? You have to start wondering, “Can he really can pull it off?” He hasn’t yet, but in his defense some of the available stars (Artest for example) would not have been the right solutions. Still, one has to wonder if Danny just needs more time or if he’s already run out of it.

I would suggest that if ownership has any hesitation regarding Danny, that they quietly look into the possibility of replacing him. A top notch GM would love to come into a situation where he has a fresh slate, tradable assets, and nowhere to go but up. It seems to have worked for Toronto and Colangelo. On the other hand, it didn’t work for us when Rick Pitino took over 10 years ago. Obviously this summer is just as important for Wyc and the owners to get right as it is for Danny. (And yes, I’m not even mentioning Doc because I’m working under the assumption that he’s gone. I’ll get to potential replacements some other time)

It won’t be Danny’s fault if we don’t win the lottery, but his fate might end up being tied to it anyway.

Wyc, Pierce, and Who Else?

This is what it boils down to at the end of the season: If we don’t get a top 2 pick and Wyc is as adamant about keeping Pierce as has been rumored, then they are the only two people on the team that are sure to be in town at the beginning of next year. Every other person is available or on the hot seat.

In the coming days (as time permits), I’d like to continue this look at the team’s options heading into the summer.  There is the option of trading Pierce, what happens if the team gets Oden, and what happens if the team gets Durant.  Kinda seems like the offseason has already started in a way, doesn't it?