For a lot of the NBA, it's been a summer of near misses. Houston almost put together a super team by adding Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, and retaining Chandler Parsons. The Lakers tried to woo Melo and LeBron to join Kobe in his swan song and instead added Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer. Instead, the predictable happened: Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich signed extensions to stay in San Antonio and Brian Scalabrine is back in Boston!
The Celtics were close on something. Kevin Love visited Fenway and shook hands with Rajon Rondo, but in the end, LeBron James happened and it looks like the biggest trade of the summer will shift power from South Beach to the Cuyahoga. Although efforts for a quick rebuild sputtered out, Ainge and company did what they could. "Did what they could" isn't exactly a rallying cry for a fan base used to hanging banners, but to the astute fan and discerning writer, "did what they could" is a step towards Banner 18.
Ainge couldn't engage the Wolves in Kevin Love talk, but he managed to add numerous assets without dealing Rajon Rondo. Yet. With Smart the obvious heir apparent for Boston at the point, Ainge can now take his time and make the best deal for Rondo he can. The Celtics will likely have to move one of their surplus of guards before the season starts, but they'll be dealing from a position of strength. Bradley may have been a little overpaid considering the team's standing, but he's a terrific defender and certainly worth retaining. Most important to Boston's future, the Cs got another future first in the three-team deal that brought Thornton from Brooklyn; Boston has at least seven first-round picks outright in the next four years. Combined with the significant cap room that's just around the corner, Boston could rebuild in a hurry -- especially with the potential of a Smart-Young backcourt developing in the coming years.
And SI's Chris Mannix gave Ainge a "B" for a productive last two months:
The ping pong balls didn't fall Boston's way on lottery night, preventing the team from landing a sure-fire franchise player on draft night. But in Year 2 of the rebuild, the Celtics are well positioned. Rookies Marcus Smart and James Young fortify a treasure trove of assets at GM Danny Ainge's disposal, including eight first-round picks over the next four years. Ainge has not abandoned the pursuit of Kevin Love, but even if, as it appears, Minnesota ships Love elsewhere, the Celtics have the pieces to appeal to a team that may be looking to deal a star midseason.
The decision not to force a trade for free-agent-to-be Rajon Rondo was smart; Rondo's value will increase early in the season when, presumably, he looks more like the four-time All-Star than the player rebounding from a knee injury the second half of last season. The addition of Smart, a burly, bulldozing playmaker, gives Boston the freedom to explore deals for Rondo before the February trade deadline. Zeller is a decent young center to plug alongside Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk and Thornton's $8.6 million salary comes off the books next summer, when Boston has a better chance of being players in free agency.
A Smart draft, patience with their star player, and turning older players into younger and more affordable assets with upside. It sounds like a ho hum summer, but the team is better positioned for the future and Ainge "did what he could" with an expiring trade exception and a productive vet (Humphries) that the team couldn't afford for themselves.
So, what happens if the trade deadline comes and goes next February and Danny isn't able to strike gold with another big deal? Well, there's always next year's draft. The Celtics will have at least two picks (their own and the Clippers'with the potential of adding Philly's, too) and it's not too early to scout some prospects. ESPN posted an early mock draftand has Boston selecting a promising big and wing:
#4 Karl Towns Jr., center, Kentucky
Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, James Young and Joel Anthony aren't likely to increase the Celtics' win total too much this season. The good news for Celtics fans is that this might be the year they finally get a big to build around. Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller are nice, but Towns has much more potential. He's huge, highly skilled and can stretch the floor. The biggest question mark around Towns will be how much playing time he gets on a loaded Kentucky team. If he gets minutes, he'll likely go very high in the draft.
#27 Caris LeVert, small forward, Michigan
LeVert was a revelation last year and scouts are still trying to get their arms around him as a prospect. If he can continue the improvement as a junior and shoot the ball as well as he did last year, he could end up going much higher than this. For the Celtics, another shooter could never hurt.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Ainge still has his work cut out for him as he tries to cut down the roster from 18 to 15 in the next couple of weeks. And there's of course the matter of an entire season to play out. The team could be better than expected or maybe worse and the ping pong balls could fall in our favor and we land a #1 pick. For now, we stay the course, because ultimately, it's not about lighting fireworks. It's about lighting cigars and every move, large or small, has the franchise pointed in that direction.