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Sizing Up the Team: Short and Long Term

Now that the trade has gone down it’s time to take stock in where this team is. The press conference was certainly exciting for all ardent followers of this team. Seeing three prime time performers grinning like kids in a candy store should melt the ice around the hearts of the most pessimistic Celtic fans. It was truly a special day for this franchise and should symbolize a re-birth for the organization if management continues to work.

With all the talk of "relevance" going around it is important to point out what might be the most relevant bit of commentary from recent press conference. With all the back-patting going on about the three players present, it was Danny Ainge’s insistence that the team was not a finished product that rang loudest. It may have been somewhat lost on those who were still caught star-gazing, but it is quite poignant that Ainge stated implicitly that "this team is not a championship team, yet."

Read more after the jump.

A simple surf of the message boards will show you two distinct things:

1.       Almost every Celtics fan knows this team needs to address the bench needs

2.       Virtually every other team’s fans are trying to convince themselves that Boston won’t do so

The amount of denial going on around the rest of the league right now is quite satisfying for those who have flown their flag high over the past two decades of embarrassment. There has been impatience and a growing negativity amongst the ranks of this team’s fandom over the past couple of seasons, but most have kept their faith and focus.

 Perhaps the biggest fan of all, co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, should be commended for the staunch belief and level-headedness he has kept during the team’s rebuilding plan. There has been heavy pressure and intense scrutiny on the national level whenever the Celtics were mentioned, (which was seldom.) But management and ownership stuck to their belief that asset acquisition, talent cultivation, and patience would prevail.

Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers have done a masterful job at absorbing the heat and remaining focused on their roles in this equation. Ainge was roundly criticized from day one for his hand in driving the popular Jim O’Brien out of town. O’Brien was beloved because he had captained the first successful Celtics ship in quite some time. But O’Brien was unwilling to buy into the design that Ainge desired to pursue. His love for his veterans and adamancy about winning every game possible was in direct conflict with Ainge’s need to develop younger players and increase their market value.

This line of thinking can be thought of as a conflict between old school basketball and new school corporate planning. To work in this new school environment Ainge needed a coach who was willing to buck conventional coaching wisdom; enter Doc Rivers. Rivers knew when he entered this pact that he was going to be the public fall guy for looking inept and ineffective at times. The more talent this team accrued the harder the job got. Every game that Rivers played 12-14 men in a miss-mash lineup became another bullet in the gun being held against his head by a fan base waiting for some semblance of sense and traditional gamesmanship.

While Rivers, Ainge and Grousbeck certainly aren’t free from fault over the past four years, they are certainly not deserved of the level of criticism they’ve endured during their tenure. Each has imperfections that have led to poor decisions in the past; Rivers isn’t the best X’s and O’s coach, Ainge hasn’t been masterful with every trade, and Grousbeck hasn’t freely spent every offseason. Everyone knows the knocks on these guys.

But looking back at all the events that have led the team to this day, it may just be that the rest of us should alter our perspective just a bit and realize that this team has been building in a way that may be unconventional and unproven, but has yielded substantial results. Until a title is in the books no one can say for sure if it will have worked, but the organization has shown that it can operate outside the box and make moves. With the expectations of more moves to come, let’s take a look at things going forward and speculate a bit on the future.

Short Term Needs

The team needs some additional veteran depth for this team to move forward into full-fledged contender status. The loss of Ryan Gomes in the Garnett trade was significant because it signified the loss of the one sure-fire offensive contributor off the bench. Some may say that the The Trio will provide enough offense for this club, but it certainly would benefit the team to have a reliable sub who can fill it up on the nights that one or two of the three studs is having an off night.

The forward position itself may not be the most pressing need, (though Pierce and Allen could use a breather sometimes.) Point guard seems to be the most pressing concern for Boston now. Rajon Rondo might be the most significant of the youth who were retained, but he will need some help. Rondo finds himself in a very similar situation to a young Tony Parker.

Parker stepped onto a veteran team and was able to provide slashing speed and playmaking as a complementary player to a far more veteran title team in San Antonio. But Parker had aged veteran Terry Porter to support him and Parkers minutes were matched by young veteran Antonio Daniels during that season. It could be argued that Parker only really finally arrived with this season’s dominant playoff run. Rondo could really shine playing off The Trio  if he sticks to his strengths and doesn’t hesitate when he finds the ball in his hands. But Rondo needs his Terry Porter, someone who’s played his position and can show him the way.

A similar tale can be told for Kendrick Perkins. The sizable big man may not posses the same skill level as Rondo, but he also plays a position that is talent poor in the NBA. Perkins’ greatest strengths are his rebounding and his defense, which perfectly complement a team that isn’t looking for offense out of it’s center. But Perkins is the soul center on the team. Young talents Leon Powe should be able to give some quality minutes off the bench, but asking the 6’8" forward to man the pivot just isn’t acceptable for a title team. The Celtics need a veteran big who can legitimately man the pivot and provide some relief for Perkins, who hasn’t made it through a whole season to date.

If the team can address these three need areas, they should be in a strong position to contend for the NBA title this season. Chemistry still must be established, but veteran depth will go a long way toward solidifying this club’s short-term future.

Long Term Needs

The real question is "where does this team go over the long haul?" The biggest fear the naysayers have is a return to irrelevance after The Trio  moves past the parquet and into retirement. The trades that brought Garnett and Allen cost this team a significant amount of quality young talent that looked to have a bright future. Coupled with the ages of the team’s three new studs, it seems to many that an uncertain future awaits on the horizon.

There is no doubt that the Celtics have de-stabilized their long-term future in terms of young talent currently with the club. Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe, Brandon Wallace, Tony Allen, and Rajon Rondo certainly don’t look like a star-studded group. Glen Davis and Gabe Pruitt have even more to prove as rookies. The common theme from the doomsday crowd has been to mention that in 3-4 years the team will be right back into the lottery and faced with another decades long disappearing act.

While there are no guarantees in life, the Celtics have quite a few things going for them in this regard:  

1. The Celtics will be contending for a title

2. National interest in the team will increase

3. The Celtics will have an easier time attracting Free Agents

4. The team will have a lot of room under the cap when KG/PP/RA deals expire

5. KG/PP/RA could easily be contributing members of a rotation until their LATE 30's (37-38)

6. With Bird rights and team success, the Celtics should be able to attract a big name Free Agent or two to "take over" for the aging stars

7. Rondo/TA/Wallace/Powe/Perk/Davis is not chopped liver, they may not be super stars, but they can certainly be a solid veteran core while the team looks to add star talent to them

8. It won't take "10 years" to rebuild when KG/PP/RA retire if there is a solid core of role players still with the team.

9. If the team doesn't lure a star Free Agent while KG/PP/RA are here, they'll have the money to shop when they're gone and a young veteran core with a lot of playoff experience.

10. If the team does lure a young star FA while KG/PP/RA are here, then the team is looking at LONG-TERM competitiveness at a championship level

The Bottom line is that titles are hard to come by no matter what. While Al Jefferson was surely the team's best prospect, the Celtics would still be left with a nice group of young role-player types who have talent and will improve as well. Glen Davis and Tony Allen are very good offensive players and Rajon Rondo is a excellent young PG prospect. Perkins and Powe are solid rebounding/defensive types in the frontcourt.

The reputation of the team and the flexibility that having Bird Rights on The Trio gives the club should allow them to add players and avoid any major meltdown. Management has clearly shown that it applies long-term business planning to their player personnel decisions. If recent history is any indication, the organization will be taking the long-view as it moves into the future as well. Expect Ainge and company to continue thinking 3 or 4 years ahead in order to avoid a colossal collapse when their current foundations begin to erode.

The leadership and management has done what no other group has been able to do for this franchise over the past 20 years. It took a team with very little talent and a uncertain future and has put the Celtics into title contention in a relatively short time frame.

For a legion of fans who have suffered and sought for solutions, it may be best to simply sit back and enjoy the ride.

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