After trading away Rajon Rondo, the course seemed clear: Boston was on a path for a long rebuild and the fire sale was on. In less than a week, Danny completed four trades that further whittled the roster down to flotsam and future draft picks. And then a funny thing happened. The team unpredictably started winning. After the team got its bearings, they set sail on a six-game road trip out west and have a real chance of coming home 4-2.
As Sean outlined yesterday, the team is suddenly on the rise. With Charlotte and Detroit losing their star point guards to injury and Brooklyn in collapse, Boston could easily sneak into the playoffs as an 8th or even a 7th seed. On the other hand, they're also in a tankathon for ping pong balls where they could finish anywhere between 5th and 12th in the draft lottery.
But there is a middle ground.
Conventional wisdom says that this isn't a team that's going to hang Banner 18. They're gutty and they play hard, but this is still a rebuild. You can't dissuade them from winning and developing a winning culture in a losing season will have its benefits down the road, but if Ainge is going to do his due diligence as a GM, there's still work to be done. With the expiring contracts of Marcus Thornton, the surprisingly effective Tayshaun Prince, and Brandon Bass (who I've argued should be re-signed this summer regardless of where he finishes the season), Danny can still fetch a few draft picks for his remaining vets.
There's a belief that Ainge shouldn't add payroll to next year's cap and use the space to attract a big free agent or two. However, the current NBA landscape suggests that most of the big fish will stay in their current teams and others will be hesitant to sign long term with a new CBA and an influx of TV money on the horizon. It could be another year of frugal spending for Boston and Wyc et. al. won't really have to open up their wallets until the summer of 2016. With that in mind, the team could afford to target players before the February 19th deadline with the intent of bringing them back for next season. Up until now, Ainge has been hesitant to make any commitments to the future, but he could bring in a few players this year on a look-see basis while maintaining the team's current competitive standing in the Eastern Conference and keep them around next season as potential trade chips:
Chase Budinger ($5M 2015 player option): the 26-year-old has been hampered by injury in his three seasons with the Timberwolves, but he's finally healthy. With Minnesota in their own youth movement, he's expendable to Flip. He's the type of versatile player that could thrive in Brad Stevens' offense and doesn't need to be relied on too much defensively.
Thaddeus Young ($9.9M 2015 player option): Another Timberwolf who apparently is also on the market. Even in his seventh year, Young still seems raw, but his 6'8 frame and freak athleticism is something lacking on the Celtics roster. Jae Crowd-pleaser has been a pleasant surprise from the Rondo trade, but he doesn't have the explosiveness and potential of Young.
Ersan Ilyasova ($7.9M in 2015, $8.4M non-guaranteed in 2016): After steady improvement during his rookie contract, the Milwaukee Bucks rewarded Ilyasova with a 5-year, $40M contract and he's underperformed since then. Like Budinger, he's been hampered by injuries since signing a big contract, but there's still potential here. Milwaukee might be ready to give up on him, but his inside-outside game could easily find a home in Boston.
Arron Afflalo ($7.5M 2015 player option): He plays defense, he can score the ball, and he plays defense. That's not a typo. The journeyman is probably an unlikely target for the Celtics and should be courted by contenders that need a solid shooting guard to push them over the top, but if Denver can't find a trade partner and would rather save money next season, Afflalo would be a perfect fit next to perimeter pitbulls Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley.
Not every trade can bring in a Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen. Sometimes, you have to make the lateral move, zig zag, and acquire Michael Olowokandi, Wally Szczerbiak, Theo Ratliff, and Sebastian Telfair first. Armchair GM's, can you think of anybody else?