"In Danny We Trust!"
This has become a thing. In fact, this has been a thing since the summer of 2007. A master-stroke summer that leads directly to an NBA Championship tends to have that effect. In truth I've been one of Danny's biggest supporters. I don't think of it as "blind faith" but I've probably given him the benefit of the doubt on more than one occasion. At the very least, I've either agreed with or talked myself into most of the moves he's made over the last several years.
However, even as a "Danny guy" I have to raise my hand and say that I'm a bit concerned with where we are headed and how the rebuild process is going. Let's do a quick review of the standard rebuilding checklist.
Step 1: Acquire assets - Check.
Ainge started the rebuild process with a bang by landing boatloads of picks in exchange for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Not to mention Doc Rivers. It took a while, but he completed the tear-down by jettisoning Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green for even more picks. He also worked some salary cap and trade exception magic to gather more picks (and Tyler Zeller). Danny's got more picks than Dion Sanders.
Step 2: Lose games to improve draft position - Half credit.
Year 1 was a standard tank-fest. They ended up with the 6th pick in the draft and used it on Marcus Smart. In year 2 the Celtics were just coached up too well to tank. They also got a boost in mid-year acquisition Isaiah Thomas. (Yes, I'm still in favor of gunning for the playoffs, but based on the standard rebuild criteria, this was a step-back and it is legit to question why Ainge made that move when he did.)
Step 3: Build through the draft and/or trades - TBD
So far the draft has produced solid NBA players but no stars. Smart probably has the highest upside but I'm not sure if he has a "best guy on the court of a championship team" potential. At some point we have to turn all of these singles into a home run. Obviously Ainge did just that in 2007 but that also took years to pull off.
Prior to 2007 there were a lot of head scratching, treading water, what-are-they-doing moves. Ricky Davis, Gary Payton, and Antoine Walker 2.0 come to mind. Ainge admitted recently that the Walker deal was done in part to pacify fans.
In short that is my fear right now. I can see the theory behind what he's trying to do, but I don't see the results yet. He and Wyc have set our expectations high with talk of "fireworks" and "stay tuned." That does a great job of getting me geeked up and excited for the next step. But everyone in the league knows what Ainge is trying to do and the plan is 100% reliant upon getting another team to dance with us. If we strike out with the top targets, are we going to settle for the next level down and become a perpetual 6th or 7th seed in the East? Are we going to become the Josh Smith/Joe Johnson Hawks?
Other random conversations with my inner voice:
"Why won't they take all our picks?" Well, probably for the same reason we don't want to keep all our picks. Quality beats quantity just about every time. To cash in our chips for a game-changer, we need a team with a game changer they want to move and is willing to settle for chips. Doesn't happen very often and when it does there are other teams with chips ready to make similar offers (see Cleveland last year getting Love).
"But we've got free agent money though!" Money can't buy me love and money alone can't bring in Kevin Love (or any particular top tier free agent). I'm not going to feed you that old line about the Celtics not being able to lure free agents. Free agents are looking for fit and opportunities to win. KG could have blocked the trade to the Celtics but he saw what Danny was doing when Ray Allen was added via trade. The Celtics don't have that Ray Allen piece yet, so don't expect a Kevin Garnett to come knocking just yet either.
"Just trust the process!" Wait, why? Is there a law somewhere that says that being a Celtics fan means buying in to all their moves? (no) Am I not a "real fan" if I question transactions and show skepticism? (no) Am I doing the readers of my blog a disservice by asking leading questions designed to spark a conversation? (no - in fact, I'd say that leading questions is a primary job objective for a blogger)
"Ok, enough rambling, get to the point." I guess for me the bottom line is what do we have to show for 2 years of rebuilding? Right now we've got a bunch of guys that would be the 5th, 6th, 7th, or 8th best guys on a decent playoff team. We've got more point guards than we know what to do with (in a league saturated with PGs) and a gaping hole in the painted area. We're too good to tank and not good enough to contend so we're currently stuck in limbo. It will take luck and fireworks to move this team into the next phase and that's what worries me.
Of course all of this could be made moot in a few days and weeks as we see Danny's plan unfold. I'll happily admit that I was worried about nothing if the fireworks boom over Waltham. But I've been waiting for those pyrotechnics for so long that I'm starting to wonder if the wick (or Wyc?) got covered in too much snow.