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The Bridge Year - looking at a potential gameplan for next year

Maybe they aren't tanking after all.


Right now, Danny Ainge is doing a lot of "selling." He's trying to sell the fact that the team will try to win games (even if the plan was to tank you can't come out and say that). He's trying to sell the fact that Rondo is not being shopped (but that's semantics because he'll always listen to offers and this could simply be a way of driving up the price). He's trying to sell that The Trade was a good deal and a necessary next step (which is really just a matter of opinion).

I've said it before and I'll say it again: we don't really know what Ainge is up to and there's a good chance that what he's up to has so many variables that even he doesn't know which course he'll ultimately take as of yet. I tend to not take too much of what he says at face value because of the aforementioned selling mode he's in.

Everyone has a strong opinion of what the Celtics "should" do and a good deal of folks are banging the table for them to "tank" (regardless of how you sell it or package it) for a lottery pick. Yet, from Ainge to the coach and down to the players (both the remaining ones and the newcomers) the common refrain is "we're not tanking."

Ok, for the sake of conversation, let us take that at face value. Let us assume that the organization is committed to winning basketball games. The GM is in the process of gathering assets and planning for the future, but that process does not necessitate bottoming out. This team does have talent and the players and coaching staff have a lot of pride. I don't blame any of them for wanting to win basketball games, regardless of future lottery pick position.

So where does that leave us? With an average basketball team. More trades are likely to be made, but if they can't find value, the simplest thing for the Celtics to do is to cut a couple of guys at the end of training camp and roll the dice with what you've got.

I've said before that the roster is unbalanced and mismatched. So that's a challenge. Pressy might make for a decent backup point guard, and in theory Rondo will play a lot of minutes anyway, but if he gets hurt or takes longer than expected to rehab this summer, then we're stuck with another year of Bradley and Lee playing out of position. The team also has too many power forwards and not enough NBA ready centers. Still, with some creative Stevens lineups, we could work with it.

Rondo (when healthy) is a star. Jeff Green sure looked like a 2nd tier star in the 2nd half of last year. Bradley, Lee, and Gerald Wallace are all known for their defense (something assistant Ron Adams will enjoy working with). Sullinger and Olynyk could combine to provide a nice inside-out pair in the frontcourt. Brooks provides scoring off the bench. Bass, Humphries, and Bogans are all legit rotation guys with NBA experience.

In theory, on paper, that's a decent team. They won't contend for a Championship or even a Division title, but they don't sound like a woeful team destined to win just 20 games. Maybe I'm a homer, but that team sounds like they would be right in the mix for the not-so-coveted 8th playoff seed. Said another way, even if they miss the playoffs, the chances of winning the lottery and getting a top 3 pick seem pretty slim.

But again, the team's stated goal is to win, not to tank. So forget draft position for a moment. What's the plan if it isn't to tank? My ventured guess is that plan A is a "bridge year." What's a bridge year? Glad you asked.

Ideally, in a bridge year, you tear down the existing structure, live with a mismatched or sometimes over matched roster, develop talent, and get a better understanding of where you are and what you have by the end of the year. If you are really lucky, the team starts to gel late in the season and puts some winning streaks together. You might even get some valuable playoff experience before all is said and done. Then by the next summer you've got guys who have either solidified their position on the team, increased their trade value, or fallen completely out of the team's plans.

Translating that to this team, I could see the Celtics using this year as one big experiment. Can Rondo be a true leader and captain as the face of the franchise? Is Jeff Green legit (and consistently legit)? Can Bradley stay healthy and improve his offense? Can Lee find his jumper on a consistent basis? How good are Sully and Olynyk? Can the trio of Bass, Humphries, and Wallace play closer to the career years they got just before signing the deals they are currently on? Will anyone step up from the grab bag of young guys that fill out the roster (Pressy, Brooks, Melo, Iverson, Vitor, etc.)?

Once all that is sorted out, you'll have a better feel for who to keep and who to discard at either the trade deadline or after the season. As we've already gone over ad nauseam, the team has tradable pieces. Future picks, guys with expiring deals, traded player exceptions. We can use those assets to add to the core that we've developed during the bridge year. Or you can move some of those guys you've developed to get a really big star or two like Ainge did in 2007.

Ainge got Garnett and Ray Allen despite not getting the top pick in the draft. Maybe he could do it again. The team didn't set out to tank in 2006-07 either (at least by my recollection). But when Pierce missed an extended period of time and a lot of other things went against them, they definitely "played it safe" with Pierce's injuries late in the year. Same thing could happen this year. The team could set out to compete, but if things fall apart, they can console themselves by looking on the "hey, at least our draft position will be better" side of things.

So that's my quick take on where the team might just be headed. Or at least one option of where the team might be headed if things fall in a particular way. Is it the best plan or even a good plan? That's for you to discuss.

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