With the Celtics trading Gerald Wallace for David Lee, many fans are now waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. After an underwhelming draft and an even more underwhelming start to free agency, the swapping of journeymen was a step in the right direction, but the move only raises more questions. It's a savvy move by Danny to bring in someone that will actually contribute on the floor, but at some point, it becomes an issue of quality over quantity. At some point, assets need to be cashed in. The front office promised fireworks last summer and after a promising close to last season, fans thought this might be the July where Ainge and company finally popped off a few deals.
So far, nothing much has happened.
However, as frustrating as this summer has been, we're still not the Lakers or the Knicks. It's so easy to forget the leaps and bounds this team has taken in the last two years, especially after the February trade deadline last season. The team finished 20-11 down the stretch after acquiring Isaiah Thomas and Jonas Jerebko. Brandon Bass is on the only major contributor not returning next season and in his place, Ainge has armed Brad Stevens with more weapons.
Check out Forsberg's article from last week. It'll cheer you up about what Danny has done this summer. Here's my favorite snippet:
The buzzword we often hear around the Celtics is the "culture" the team is trying to instill under third-year head coach Brad Stevens. Assistant coach Jay Larranaga, while detailing what the team is emphasizing to the young players that comprise its summer league roster in practices this week, noted, "We're trying to adapt them to the culture that Coach Stevens has established with the Celtics. That's a defensive-first mentality, a team-first mentality. So everything that we are doing, it's reinforcing and trying to demonstrate to them that this is how we do things here."
Make no mistake, the Celtics would love to add a superstar or two to their roster. That's the most surefire way to build a true contender. While patiently waiting for an opportunity to land that sort of centerpiece, the team seems content to build around a blue-collar core that might help the team achieve beyond what it's obvious talent level suggests.
From drafting Rozier, Mickey, and Hunter, signing Johnson, and trading for Lee, the team has put an emphasis on character in its off season additions, particularly finding players with a defensive mindset. They've addressed areas of weakness (ball penetration, rebounding, rim protection) where the team was soft. They'll be better defensively where they ranked 14th in the league in defensive rating (9th after February 21st, mind you), but most of the concern that people have is on the offensive side of the ball.
First, let's address this idea of roster imbalance. As it stands, the depth chart looks a little like this:
PG: Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier
SG: Avery Bradley, R.J. Hunter, James Young
SF: Evan Turner, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko
PF: Jared Sullinger, David Lee, Kelly Olynyk
C: Tyler Zeller, Amir Johnson
So, for those thinking that the glass is half empty, there's a glut at point guard especially with ball pounder Evan Turner still on the roster, the team lacks a pure scorer at the small forward position (or any position really), and while the depth at big man is something we haven't seen since even pre-Doc, it creates a log jam of possible one-and-doners and two guys up for rookie extensions. It's certainly not the most ideal depth chart, but there are worse things than being too deep. Danny seemed to scoff at the idea:
"Yeah, we have good players. We have 15 players and there are five positions, so that means there is going to be a crowd. I'm excited with the fact that we have great depth at every position and there's going to be some guys that play more than maybe some expect and some guys that will play less. I don't know who's that going to be, but it'll make for an exciting training camp. I think we're a team that, because we don't have a superstar on our team, that we're going to have to be a team that has to use depth to get through the season and be a consistent team."
Say nothing else happens. Say there isn't a trade in the works for that elusive wing scorer, a guy that can consistently go out and get you 20 points a night (Danillo Gallinari has been a popular name in the Twitterverse recently). What is this roster? Pessimists see a bunch of role players where everybody could again average 25+ mediocre minutes and no stars particularly shine on the parquet, but if you watched this team at all during the final two months of last season, you know that Brad Stevens worked wonders with this roster and all they've done this off season has gotten more flexible, more versatile, and a little nastier.
Last season, the Celtics lead the league in shot attempts at 87.5 per game but only shot 44.3% from the field, good for 20th in the NBA. Ramping up their offense helped them finish in the top half of teams in points scored per game and while pace hid some of their shooting deficiencies, this is still an all-for-one-and-one-for-all team that shares the ball and beats you with movement.
Without a superstar to generate offense, Brad Stevens read-and-react offense relies heavily on ball moment. The team ranked 9th in passes per game according to SportsVU. The Celtics were fourth in assists, behind the conference leading Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors (and Los Angeles Clippers). According to NBA.com's Synergy stats, they were fifth in the NBA in generating spot up opportunities for shooters and first in the league in creating open shots.
And from what we've seen in summer league, the team will be even better next season. Marcus Smart has matured nicely since the season ended in April. His ankle is fully healed and we're finally seeing his penetration game in full effect. He was a beast in Utah. In two games, he averaged 24 points and more importantly, 7.5 assists. His rookie teammate, Terry Rozier, has shown flashes as well. He's clearly got NBA level quickness and as soon as he figures out how change speeds in the pick and roll game, he'll become a factor. Outside of Isaiah Thomas, these were elements lacking in Boston's arsenal.
There's also the additions of Amir Johnson and David Lee to consider. Justin outlined Johnson's proficiency as a roll man paired with a stretch big (see Olynyk, Kelly and Sullinger, Jared), but let's not forget newly acquired David Lee. He took a back seat to Draymond Green last year, but let's not forget how good he was two years ago and how his versatility helped the Warriors in the Finals when Kerr opted to play him over Andrew Bogut. John Schuhmann over at NBA.com has two great film reviews of Lee's work in the PnR here and here. Tyler Zeller and Brandon Bass helped the Celtics become one of the most efficienct PnR teams in the league (7th in PPP, 4th in frequency), but Johnson and Lee should be considerable upgrades.
But those are just a bunch of numbers, right? A bunch of numbers, ifs, and maybes. Analytics doubters will say that the numbers tell a story, but they can't tell the future. There's some truth to that, but finally in year #3 of the rebuild, there's some consistency with the roster and the additions they've made will make them better. Some fans will chalk up the 2015-2016 campaign as just another asset management season as the team looks to capitalize on its financial flexibility next year in search of another star turn like the one that generated The Big Three in 2007, but don't be surprised (again) if this team is considerably better next season. Danny has preserved the team's cap in order to be versatile enough to pounce on an opportunity further down the road, but he's also simultaneously increased the versatility of this team on the floor on day one of training camp.