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Withholding judgment on the Boston Celtics rebuild-in-process

Back from the beach with thoughts on the rebuilding or tanking or whatever-you-want-to-call-it.


You may or my not have noticed, but I took a week off to go on vacation. The blog was in great hands and I needed the break. Had a great time at the beach, but it is time to shake the sand off my sandals and get back to writing. I can't really say that the week off has given me any particular clarity and vision for the future, but perhaps I'm a bit more relaxed about it now.

I'm not sure how anyone can say "the Celtics are tanking" or "the Celtics will (or won't) be a playoff team next year." I don't understand how someone can say with any authority that "this is a good plan" or "it is a bad plan." I say this because it is far from over - both in the near and long term.

The big pieces have moved in the early free agency period, but the Celtics were never going to be active in that market. Ainge made the decision to move on from the Pierce/KG/Doc era and turned those stars into assets. So what we're left with is a mismatched roster of assets. This isn't really a team yet and Ainge has said as much.

In the short term, the team has to find a way to pare down the roster while trying to find additional assets and/or cap flexibility in the process. Now that the big pieces have landed in new towns, teams are going to have to fill in around them or replace them or turn the page on their own teams. That hopefully gives the Celtics an opportunity to make another move or two or more.

The Celtics would love to deal Gerald Wallace because of his long term deal. On the flipside, Kris Humphries has a large expiring deal that could represent a long term cost cutting move for someone - perhaps the Celtics if they choose to hang onto him. The thing is, both guys can still play too. Not enough to consider the Celtics "good" next year, but enough to help some team looking to upgrade their rotation.

So I fully expect both of those guys to be shopped around the league and I wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of them moved. Add in Brandon Bass and perhaps even Courtney Lee and you've got a lot of assets that don't make sense for a rebuilding team but might be worth enough to other teams to give us more future assets.

If the team can't get picks and/or young players in return, they'd probably be happy to take back cap flexibility instead. I could see any of them being traded to a team with cap room in exchange for 2nd rounders and a trade exception. The Celtics would shed salary (pushing them below the tax threshold) and have the exception(s) to use for a full year. If a deal that makes sense comes up at the deadline or next year at this time, then they can pull the trigger. Otherwise they can just let it expire and maintain the cap flexibility.

Of course if Ainge can't get anything for those guys, he always has the option to simply hold onto them until someone comes calling for them. The roster doesn't make sense but it isn't like winning is priority one next year anyway.

Which leads us to this whole "tanking" discussion that is already getting old. I tend to agree with those that say "players don't tank, front offices do." At the same time, I'm not even sure that's what this front office is doing. Losing and gaining draft position might be PART of the plan or even a byproduct of the plan. But as others have noted, it can't be the entire plan. It isn't like they'll be running Melo out there and telling him to brick three pointers for half the game.

But developing young players is absolutely part of the plan. The NBA is not kind to young teams in terms of wins and losses. Good young players can develop in that atmosphere (remember Durant as a Sonic?) but it sometimes gets too far ingrained into the culture (remember the Baby Bulls?). Still, the youth movement is still just another part of the plan. Maybe we'll strike it rich in the draft and bring along a bunch of young players to create the next Presti-plan team. Or maybe not.

We don't have to look far into our own team's past to see that there are other directions a team could take. Had the team won the top pick in the Oden/Durant draft, there's a chance that Ainge would have drafted one of those two and kept the likes of Al Jefferson, Delonte West, and Gerald Green to go with Rajon Rondo. You can see the number of different directions that could have gone depending on which guy the C's picked. Instead they got the 5th pick and used that and a bunch of assets they build up over the years to begin the Big 3 era.

It is impossible to tell what the team is going to do in February or next summer or the year after that because a lot can change in a year. What Ainge is doing right now is building assets and giving himself options.

Speaking of assets, Rajon Rondo is a huge asset, but I still don't buy that he's on the block. He has the ability to be one of the top 10 players in the league and you don't sell short on that kind of guy just because you are in "a different era." I don't agree with discarding a top tier talent just to increase your odds at adding another top tier talent and another package of assets. But I guess everyone is welcome to their opinions.

Are the Celtics with Rondo "too good" to secure a lottery pick? I don't know, maybe. It depends on a lot of things that we can't answer right now. It has been a looong time since we haven't had Paul Pierce to do whatever it takes to win basketball games. Remember all those incredible plus/minus stats reflecting how important Kevin Garnett was to the team? Now project that out to an entire season (and try not to loose your lunch).

Our newly minted head coach wunderkind Stevens is going to have zero pressure to win games right away, but he's going to have to show us something. He needs to get the players to buy in and play hard and try to win regardless of the long term implications. He needs to learn the NBA game on the job and develop himself as well as the players around him. How many games will he cost the team due to inexperience? How many will he win because of his creativity and forward thinking analysis? Who can tell? Especially since a lot depends on what kind of talented players he has to work with.

Which brings me back to my main point. We don't know what kind of team we'll have next because Ainge isn't done. He could go the easy route and cut a couple of non-guaranteed guys and call it a year. He could trade off all the guys over 30 and put up a sign that says "Danny's Day Care." Or he could package together all the young assets and go out and add some big name star in his prime and build around him and Rondo. And that's just what could happen this summer.

This could all take some time, but not necessarily as long as it took last time. When Ainge took over he had a dysfunctional playoff team with few-if-any assets. There were a number of moves that seemed odd a the time (Gary Payton? Ricky Davis? Wally?) but all the while he was building assets and picking up picks. He's sitting in Waltham today with a bushel of picks and kiddie corp of young talents that a lot of GMs would like to dip into. So hopefully this isn't another 5 or 6 years of pain.

Next year will likely be difficult. But the next move will determine how difficult and the moves after that could determine how long it will last. So are we tanking or rebuilding or rebooting or whatever? I don't know. Frankly it doesn't matter exactly what you call it, as long as it works.

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