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CelticsBlog Readers' Roundtable: in the second year of the rebuild, what's the plan?

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With Kevin Love getting traded to the Cavaliers tomorrow, Celtics fans might have to wait until next summer for fireworks. Until then, Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have a stable of young talent, productive veterans, expiring contracts, and draft picks to work with. The question is: how should they move forward in the 2014-2015 season?

Alex Trautwig

We saw how one scenario could have played out this summer.  There were persistent rumors that Ainge was willing to trade some of his young talent and first rounders to land Kevin Love in a blockbuster deal.  Instead, Boston kept both picks this summer, re-signed Avery Bradley, added Evan Turner and Tyler Zeller, and picked up Marcus Thornton.  Stevens will go into his second season as head coach of a roster still made up of Doc holdovers, rookies & sophomores, and incoming vets.

Is there a plan to maximize trade assets?  Do Ainge and Stevens look at the big picture together and map out a strategy?  I took those questions to CelticsBlog's most active readers, commenters, and FanPosters and asked them to play armchair GM/coach.

CelticsBlog: Something that's really interested me during the rebuild is how Ainge and Stevens approached last year's roster. Guys that weren't exactly the future of the franchise (Jordan Crawford, Courtney Lee, Kris Humphries) played big minutes, increased their value, and were eventually traded and turned into future assets. Let's remember that Ainge signed Stevens to an unprecedented six-year contract and with the Kevin Love door presumably closed, it could take that long until the franchise takes the shape of its head coach's vision and even longer to be in contention. In Year 2, the team is still consisted of players from Doc's regime, dead weight from the Pierce/Garnett trade, and young talent. How should coach and GM approach the year?

dangercart: The secret key to Danny's big move in 2007 was player development. As much as anything, the reason we got KG was because at 22, in his third season, Al Jefferson took a big step forward and made himself the type of player that other teams really want. Jared Sullinger is 22 and entering his third season and is our best chance at building an asset base that doesn't involve 2016 draft picks. My hope is that Brad starts Sully and gives him every opportunity to be a 36 minute 18/10 guy every night (and he should keep shooting, too). Similarly, Marcus Smart needs to be part of a three man primary back-court rotation because that's the only way for him to develop into either someone worth building around or an attractive trade piece.

Eric M VAN: Steven's own experience during his College years shows us that tenure with a team leading to more playing time is not the environment he's been brought up in. Jackie MacMullen wrote last November about Stevens being a starter on his college team and was pushed to the bench late in his career because it was the right thing to do for the team. Though he consistently kicked butt on the players who started ahead of him but he came to realize that the better future for his team lay in his taking a secondary role even though it was "counter-intuitive to everything we had ever been taught as athletes."

old_leprechaun: Play the youth. Assets you're looking to keep are more important than assets you're looking to spend.

Ted Andrews: I think it is valuable for young developing players to taste success and playoff basketball. I think playoffs are attainable this year in the east. If I were the Celtics' brain trust, I would be playing a mixture of vets and younger players, shading more towards the vets. Not necessarily to showcase the vets for trades, but because vets help you win.

If it was apparent that the season was not ending in a playoff berth, I would then transition to more young guy minutes and try to trade the useful vets by the deadline.

CelticsBlog: That's a good point. If the team becomes a playoff contender early--albeit a low seed--should Stevens and Ainge make every effort to push for the post-season? It might be far-fetched, but anything is possible (KG yell), right? Is a possible first round exit worth more than playing the young guys?

old_leprechaun: This is a scenario that only an optimist would think of. The rest of us are just going to be happy with the team winning 35. Yes, playoff experience is hugely important but if the vets are absorbing the meaningful minutes you're minimizing the experience.

dangercart: I don't think the playoffs are particularly likely in any scenario but if we get there it won't be by riding the veterans. Bass and Humphries and Crawford all played plenty last year and we won 25 games. Brandon Bass could have a career year and it wouldn't make a real difference in terms of wins because the best Bass can be is "valuable role player." If we have any shot at the playoffs it's in Rondo returning to a legitimate all-star level and the young players taking major steps forward. Marcus Smart challenging for ROY and Sullinger (or AB or Olynyk but they seems less likely) making a run at MIP is the potential path to a series with Cleveland.

If you disagree with that theory and just give me the option of "play the veterans and have a 50/50 chance at the playoffs on April 1st" or "play the kids and be eliminated in March" I'd still play the kids. I just don't see much long-term value in Marcus Smart watching Marcus Thornton get torched for a few playoff games. I'd rather have the on-court development. If the kids aren't performing or not receptive to coaching then it changes the equation for who deserves to be on the court but to start I lean heavily towards the younger players.

old_leprechaun: But look at this team. How many vets are there? How many of these Celtics can you say are NOT still in the development stage? Rondo, Green, Bass, Wallace, Anthony and Thornton. Of those, Rondo and Green are starters. They might throw a few extra minutes off to Smart/Pressey and Turner but if you're not deliberately throwing games, you play your best people. So the question becomes how much do the other four play?

Bass is not a large upgrade over Sullinger/Olynyk. He outperforms them in some situations but I just don't see how playing him over them would get the team into the playoffs. Same can be said for Anthony vs Zeller/(90% of)Faverani.

That leaves Wallace vs Turner/Young and Thornton vs Smart/Turner/Young. To me, the Turner signing seems like a cheap gamble. I think we'll see him early in the season over Wallace but if he doesn't work out, then he'll be on the bench and gone before next season (a la MarShon Brooks). If he does work out, super, he's in the rotation. Young will probably do some time in Maine so unless he develops quickly Turner/Wallace/Thornton aren't really taking time away from him.

So my bottom line on this issue is that if anyone gets the team into the playoffs it's just as likely to be the youth because if they can't do it, the vets won't get us there either.

Eric M VAN: There's are a couple of odd themes (to me anyway) I'm seeing in many of the regular web discussions and now I'm seeing it touched on here. One is the idea that playing the young guys and making the playoffs are mutually exclusive. Somehow people are of a notion that the only way this team could approach playoff level play or having a better record involves having the veterans have the most playing time. I reject that outright. The Celtics had plenty of veteran play last year and they won 25 games. The Celts also offloaded through attrition Humphries, Crawford, Bayless, Brooks, Lee,you can throw Wallace & Bogans in there. None of these guys were exactly world beaters. So who are we actually talking about when folks say play the vets if the playoffs are in site? Bass,Green, Rondo, Thornton, Wallace & Anthony. Is there some mix of these guys that people would consider making a starting lineup out of that would charge towards a playoff run?

The rest of this team I would consider "the younger guys" and that includes Bradley due to his youth...(he's the same age or younger than Olynyk) and, through injury, relative inexperience compared to the first tier. When you look at the current roster, besides Rondo & Green, the only Vet guy people seem to consider starting or giving more minutes to than on of the younger guys is Bass, Certainly from a talent/Production standpoint, there's no on in that vet list beyond Rondo & Green that deserves more minutesby position than Sullinger. Olynyk, Faverani, Zeller,or even Smart, Etc etc. So is that the real crux here? If the playoffs are in site, Bass needs the most minutes, Or Thornton over whoever the 3rd guard is? I'm saying no.... especially if we believe any of the second hand "Bass is on the Block" rumors we've gotten wind of through Zach Lowe, The veteran presence on this team beyond Green & Rondo is pretty limited in talent and in numbers.

The second notion is that somehow playoff experience is some magical panacea to all this teams ills. I also reject that and reject that the playoffs should even be a goal. That doesn't mean "tank" it means "if it happens, groovy, if not, so what?" This team should be about developing the Stevens system and the younger assets it currently has to either see if they're going to valuable parts moving forward or attractive commodities to other teams to swing a trade. Playoffs are gravy and an unnecessary goal for this season. If they were to sneak in with youth movement, I'd applaud them, if they were to limit the growth of a younger player to Attempt make them, Thumbs down from me.

Ted Andrews: If I'm Ainge and Stevens, I don't make every effort. I trade vets if I can get anything for them and I'm not bringing in any additional vets no matter how well the team plays. That being said, I'd also give playing time to whomever was playing the best, irregardless of age.

I don't see this as too much of a problem. There aren't that many spots on the court with a good vet and a youngster that could steal minutes. Our best young players seem to either have a void or a star at their position. Rondo is obviously playing over Smart. Same likely for AB. Jeff Green doesn't have a serious threat for his PT, Young is a long term project. Sullinger and Olynyk only really have Brandon Bass (and I see Kelly playing a decent amount of 5, with Bass getting some run as back up 3 as well as 4, so I don't think it is a real problem). There isn't a veteran center worth discussing.

CelticsBlog: Playoffs or not, I still think from Ainge's perspective, he has to think about asset management. He may not get in the way of Stevens' coaching or rotations, but I'm wondering if there's any plan between them to eek out the last remaining value in their expiring contracts and wait until after the trade deadline to give all the young guys all the minutes.

dangercart: Expiring deals have value in trades because there are teams out there that need to clear salary. You know who needs to clear salary? The Celtics. I would like to move Bass and Thornton (and others) but it's not the worst idea to let them just expire with us. Brandon Bass will find some minutes and the league knows what he is; there's no need to give much time to Thornton or Anthony. I'm not willing to give up on-court development time for Sullinger, Olynyk, Zeller, Smart and Young just to try to pump that trade value a bit higher for the vets.

Eric M VAN: I'm in sync with dangercart here except for the idea that expiring contracts are particularly attractive to other teams.That time seems to have passed in the league. There may be a injury out there that occurs at some point that would make a Bass attractive or even Green, but , for the most part, expirings are just dead roster weight if it's a player you don't really have future plans for. I think they may be during the Free Agency period but, for instance, no one found Humphries expiring particularly attractive during the past season. I agree, letting them just expire isn't the worst thing in the world. I also agree sitting a Bass down doesn't really lessen his value. Teams already know what he can do....,his value doesn't have to be artificially pumped up by more or any minutes, especially if he's a road block to Olynyk or Zeller or Sullinger.

dangercart: Not to go on too much of a tangent but I'll disagree slightly with Eric M VAN on the value of expiring contracts. Their value is a fraction of what it was two CBAs ago but they are still attractive in some circumstances. We got the Philly pseudo-first because we were willing to flip an expiring (Toney Douglas via Jordan Crawford) to Miami for Joel Anthony and his player option. Miami wanted to clear the decks for their effort to keep LeBron so they made the swap. No one is moving fringe all-stars for expirings any more but an average veteran on a multi-year contract takes a sweetener to move while a veteran on an expiring has a chance to bring something in return. That may not be much value but it's something.

old_leprechaun: Which side of the table to place your bet? Which one gives the best odds of a payoff? To me, that's developing the youth, unless you're talking about a project player and fortunately we don't have one of those to debate about at the moment. Faverani and Young might be close to falling into that category but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

I also don't think you can make the argument that last season's success guarantees a repetition this year. Lee had value when he joined the Celtics and didn't really increase it while a part of the team. Humphries had value but lost it on the Nets bench and found it again by working on the aspects of his game that Stevens wanted and having to earn his way into the rotation. Crawford's success was the biggest case of showcasing that anyone could hope for. And in return we got Anthony and some second round picks. Nothing from that deal is likely to put the team closer to a title.

Bottom line: Showcasing is nice, but the return value is less than you get from how much a young player can gain through getting meaningful minutes.

But Stevens makes all of this speculation moot. He doesn't dole out minutes based on salaries or contracts. He makes players earn their time on the floor and matches players with the one or two others that they perform with the best. If Sully/Olynyk is an effective efficient pair and KO gets in foul trouble you might see Zeller/Bass brought in and Sullinger sitting despite the fact that he was playing well. I think Danny has given Brad the green light to play whoever he wants whenever he wants for whatever reason he wants.

  • Rondo vs Smart/Pressey: This is the hardest one. Smart has such an upside that you want to give him lots of minutes to develop. I expect him to be on the floor with Rondo often because you don't take the minutes away from RR. Playing Rondo is not only giving the team the best chance to win but also showcases him in case you think you want to move him.
  • Bass vs Sullinger/Olynyk: So much about what happens here depends on how many minutes Sullinger/Olynyk are given at the center. If they each end up playing half their minutes under the basket, then Bass will have plenty of time to showcase what he's got. The conflict comes if the center position is solid enough that Stevens can focus the time of the two young men at power forward. If that's the case, I think you gain more by development than by showcasing. Bass is a known commodity and he's consistent. Unless he manages to somehow extend his range he will never be a starter on a team that's in contention for a banner. Sullinger or Olynyk? Still unknown. Danny has undoubtedly tried to move Brandon for a year or two. You're not going to raise his value. He's probably the best player in the league that nobody wants. I think he'll only find the floor when either Sullinger or Olynyk is playing center.
  • Thornton vs Bradley/Turner/Young: Stevens might be able to work his magic here and turn Thornton into a more credible backup shooting guard than he ever was. If there's any player that Danny would like to showcase it might be Thornton. The book on Thornton is that he can fill up the bucket but is inconsistent, streaky and takes bad shots. Just the kind of thing that Stevens can help with or create a style of play that masks it. Still, I'd give the minutes to Bradley/Turner/Young. If you want to start thinking playoff next year one or two of those are going to be the ones to help get you there. A trade deal of Thornton alone won't.
  • Anthony vs Zeller/(90% of)Faverani: "You know, I think that Joel Anthony is the piece we're missing to get to the next level." This is probably not something you're going to hear around the locker room unless you're playing on a team in the Montreal Lunch Hour Men's League. Not that he's a bad player but he isn't going to crack a winning team's rotation with or without minutes. He's the kind of player you can put in and trust to do no harm. He doesn't make bad passes, doesn't miss many defensive rotations, and grabs a few rebounds. He can give you defense and energy if you need it but you're not going to call his number in any offensive sets. His best talent is that he's big and strong. You're not going to add appreciable value by giving him extra minutes. Zeller on the other hand...

CelticsBlog: But let's fast forward to February's trade deadline and say that Danny has the option to make a deal like Bass plus a first for Greg Monroe or sending Marcus Thornton out to a contender looking for scoring punch of their bench. What are some options?

dangercart: To me, the crux of the vets vs kids argument is Marcus Thornton because he's actually not a bad player. He's got a career PER of 16 with a league average 3P% and he doesn't turn the ball over. On merit, Marcus Smart should have to win minutes away from him but that's where I'd rather just go with the kids. All that being said and with how bad the SG position is around the league, someone should actually want him even at a high single season salary. How about Thornton, Anthony and our 2nd to OKC for Perkins, Perry Jones III and their first? We all swap expirings and they get Thornton to replace Thabo and Anthony is probably a better emergency big against the ball-moving West than Perk. We take a flyer on PJ3, I guess. We move up a few spots in a draft and they once again bail out on paying a guaranteed salary to a first round pick. We'd have to think about Fab Melo again if we trade for Jones which I guess is a negative. We may be able to eek out a bit more by showcasing Thornton but again that marginal value is probably less than what we get by just giving minutes to Smart.

Bass (and Thornton) would have made some sense going to Houston but they moved Lin and Asik and their salaries would have been helpful in making a contract match. I'm not sure if they would take Bass and his mid-range game but they need to get out of the first round soon or Dwight is going to be a 30 year old free agent and their window might shut before it ever opened. Bass for Montiejunas, Gee (waivable) and any minimum salary guy would help them in the short term and give us another young player who may have some future. Morey may still turn it down but if they're scuffling at the deadline they'll need to make a change.

Jeff Green could help a lot of teams but his option makes it tough for some teams to commit to him. I think he's probably opting out with the way contracts are going. I'd flip him for Bismack Biyombo and his Ben Wallace-esque defensive potential (seriously, look at his defensive numbers last season) plus Gary Neal to make the salaries work. That seems like a small return for any team's top scorer but that's the Jeff Green experience for you.

Trading for Monroe makes little sense for a team in our cap position. Bird Rights don't transfer for players on one year contracts so we'd almost certainly just lose him next summer. It's hard to come up with a "get better now" trade at the moment.

Ted Andrews: I agree with most of dangercart's trade thoughts.

I think that is far too little for Jeff Green, which I think reflects that it is almost impossible to trade Green with that player option looming, which dangercart mentions. If that's what I'm getting for Jeff Green, I'd frankly rather have Jeff Green. As frustrating as watching Green is, it sure as heck beats watching Wallace pretend he can still play basketball. If we had a good young option behind him, or if Young comes out looking like a world beater, I would probably change my mind there.

I just don't think we will be able to trade Bass. The league really undervalues undersized PF's who can't shoot threes (great article by Zach Lowe about this not that long ago).

I'd happily trade Thornton for something approximating dangercart's deal, I agree that he should have value and is actually a decent NBA talent. Monroe isn't going anywhere until next year's free agency.

I disagree with the notion that the Celtics have to trade away some of the picks that Danny has accumulated. I think he will, and I think it was never his intention to use all of those picks... but I think it is absolutely a viable (and in my opinion a good) strategy to use them all. By the time you are using picks 2-3 years from now, Young, Smart, Olynyk or Sully could be gone. They could be traded off after not realizing their potential, they could leave as a FA or they could have a career ending injury. It is impossible to know. What you can say with a certainty is that not every single one of them will become a star. I'd be perfectly happy with Danny making a lot of picks and trading off the players that don't work out for serviceable short term veterans and/or picks. Danny has a very good track record for draft picks. His record for trading is... spotty. I have heard all over the place that Danny could not possibly use all of those picks. Could you add 10 rookies to the roster at one time? Certainly not. Can you do that same thing over four years? You absolutely can. Players selected as rookies in year 1 might not even still be there in year 4.

Eric M VAN: I'd first comment that any decision to make a trade isn't going to happen in a vacuum that won't take Free Agency & upcoming drafts into account. Obviously, with the draft lagging the Trade deadline by X months and not knowing where the team is going to pick, any analysis of "who" gets picked is hazy. By February it'll be clearer where the team will fall in the draft so I think we can guess with some amount of clarity the Celtics will have one of the top 10 picks so that will be taken into account. The Free Agency market is going to be clearer at that point but we have a good idea of who will be available through that route. So how do we tie in potential "gets" in the trade market taking the other 2 avenues for player/asset acquisition into account?

I find it easier to think about who or what we shouldn't be looking at. No "oldsters" (Gerald Wallace types), No salary albatrosses (again, those "Wallace" types. So what's the generic type of asset I think would be of value? Bigs/Rim Protectors, Draft Picks, Roster Clearing moves (potential draft Picks & Players). We have to keep in mind that there's the potential for this team adding 7-9 players through the draft in the next 2 years. I don't think that it's a realistic scenario to keep all those picks. Ainge's hand will be forced and some of those picks have to go elsewhere.

So what does that mean (he wrote continuing to avoid offering specific trade scenario?). It means any type of player acquisition will involve more than just a body(ies) for body(ies) deal. A Rondo trade is probably going to involve X amount of picks going out. Same for Green, etc. so the return better/should be high quality wise.

Given all that. I'd be targeting trading for potential FA's or players that may have a falling out with their current management. LaMarcus Aldredge? Marc Gasol, Nikola Vucevic, DeAndre Jordan, Al (Gasp) Jefferson, Can Ricky Rubio be turned around and Gorgui Dieng be freed up? Potential problem children like Larry Sanders? Boogie Cousins?

I'm just of a mind that any trade won't be a lateral talent for talent swap and that some Player + many Assets would go for a better asset (Much higher draft pick). I'd "overpay" at the trade deadline for a shot at one of the big 4 coming out in the 2015 draft Okafor, Townes Mudiay or Alexander.

CelticsBlog: The scenario Eriv M VAN points out is something I like to call Unhappiness Watch. This summer, it was Kevin Love, but I don't think anybody you mentioned (particularly Gasol, Aldridge, Jordan, or Jefferson) will want to leave their current situations. Larry Sanders and DeMarcus Cousins are possibilities though. I like the idea of trading up to get a top five pick because I think ultimately, the Celtics will have to build via the draft.

Eric M VAN: I agree that Gasol, Aldridge, Jordan, or Jefferson wishlist is probably unrealistic but the point is that the Celtics can afford to overpay for any potential acquisition because they currently have so many to offer. Also in that list of potential FA bigs are Roy Hibbert, Omer Asik, Tyson Chandler and Robin Lopez, Brook Lopez and Enes Kanter. A tier down perhaps but still some attractive options.

CelticsBlog: There are some names in that second tier I'd consider, but the idea of overpaying a big scares me. We've got two project big in Sullinger and Olynyk, potentially another coming in the 2015 draft, and with the league moving to a more wing-dominated game, I'm not the biggest fan of bringing in a max or near max contract big.

old_leprechaun: I usually try to avoid trade speculation and so much of this depends on who has a hole in their roster. But I really don't think it will make a difference and the team that finishes the season will be the team that starts the season. Here's why:

We all know that Danny will pull the plug on anyone if the price is right but in February teams aren't looking to swap starter for starter and Ainge isn't going to sell low so it's very unlikely that any starters are going to be moved. Likewise, the price tags on major prospects are likely to be high. Also, mostteams that want to buy in February are usually looking to pay with future assets. But Danny has so many developing players and draft picks that I'm not sure that acquiring more assets has the same priority it once had. That leaves only players that Ainge doesn't consider a prospect or possible piece of the rebuild. The ones that he might be willing to move at bargain prices. At this point that is slim pickings: Anthony, Bass, Thornton, Wallace and maybe Turner. Three of those (Anthony, Bass, Thornton) have expiring contracts which give them a little extra value but how much non-expiring salary is Danny willing to take in return? Their three contracts are worth almost $19.5M! How are you going to make the money work out without the Celtics taking a big hit in the pocket and not gaining significant talent? Ainge is counting on that money if he's going to have any chance of landing a free agent in the summer. He also doesn't have any room to absorb extra bodies that could make the salaries work out. While there might be some good fits out there for these three but it's unlikely that any prospective teams can offer anything of value to Boston in return. Of the other two, Wallace's contract is going to make it very difficult to move him this year and Turner has a red flag next to his name that would take an exceptional showing by him to remove by February. I think the odds of a February trade are rather long.

It's not like Danny has incentive to move anyone by February. I also don't see him spending assets on players like Monroe who only averaged 2pts and 1reb more than Sullinger while playing worse defense and will be a UFA next season. I think he'll sit on what he has unless someone truly worthwhile is shopped but proven winners are rarely up for sale.