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Too much of a good thing?

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Danny Ainge has become a master at stockpiling assets, but could there be downsides to that approach?

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Over the past few years, Danny Ainge has done a masterful job of acquiring both talent and draft picks.  From fleecing the Brooklyn Nets in the Pierce-Garnett trade, to using a combination of two separate deals to essentially acquire Isaiah Thomas and Tyler Zeller for cap space, Ainge has set the bar for stockpiling assets.  However, we are now starting to see some downsides to this strategy.  There can only be 15 players on a roster, and only so many minutes doled out among those players.  When you remind yourself that all assets eventually are players, either in the present or in the future, that makes the size of the stockpile much less imposing.  We're already starting to see the effects; rotation-caliber players are logging DNPs, rotations have only started to gain consistency, and rookies are not receiving playing time.  What is the real cost, though?  Could Danny Ainge's asset acquisition actually hurt this team?  The staff at CelticsBlog took a look into the idea.

Wes Howard: For me, it has to start with rookie development.  The other night, we saw firsthand the rise of Kristaps Porzingis.  Just as Kevin O'Connor predicted, the kid is good, and is a fast-rising star in the league.  However, as I watched the game, I couldn't help but wonder how much of that had to do with him playing for the Knicks.  He has been a starter in every game he has played in, and has been put in a great position to succeed.  Would he have had the same success if we had been able to trade up to acquire him?  He would have been in a very loaded front-court, and may not have been given the same opportunities to be successful.  I understand the idea that players need to prove their worth in practice before getting minutes, but that idea is certainly more valid in college, where there are many more practices, and far fewer games.  Has Boston become an atmosphere that could stifle the rise of a young star, even if we acquired an unproven player with the talent to become one?

Jeff Clark: I would say that Porzingis is thriving in part due to the opportunities he's given, but he's also clearly a lottery level talent.  Aside from Marcus Smart (who is thriving on defense at least), the Celtics simply don't have guys that were picked in the top of the lottery.  You can find stars later in the first round and even in the 2nd round, but it takes Powerball level luck to happen.  Ainge did his best to trade up in the last draft but to no avail.  He's absolutely got a problem of too many good-not-great assets but it does take two to tango.  From a pure valuation perspective it doesn't make sense to make a move when you can't optimize your asset's value.  But I think what you are getting at here is the fact that the situation is diminishing the value of the assets.  So at some point there's a legitimate question of "should we make a move to consolidate, even if you aren't necessarily maximizing the value of your assets?"  Or said another way, is it worth it to make a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 deal if it is a lateral move or one that could reduce flexibility in the future?

Bill Sy: I've seen many versions of this conversation in the comments and forum threads.  My first thought is always, "The Knicks were bad.  Really bad.  Sure, Porzingis has talent, but he's the product of team that's been scuffling for the better part of a decade.  I don't ever want to be New York."  Ainge has too many good-not-great assets and this is a problem?  A lateral move just to consolidate talent?  Come on.  With 15 players on the roster, there's always going to be issues of playing time and anybody you acquire is going to want to see the floor.  Danny has done an incredible job to create opportunity for this franchise and it's only taken two seasons to do it.  More so, he's put together a team that has chemistry and doesn't clamor for PT or a trade.  I get that we're losing.  On the micro level, we're right there in all of these games.  All these losses can be fixed with the roster we already have.  It's just a slump and we'll get ourselves out of it.  On the macro level, there's a pipeline of talent that we haven't tapped yet and more to come in the next three years.

Sean Penney: Ainge has done a masterful job of assembling an impressive collection of assets with the hope of accelerating the rebuilding process. His plan looks good on paper and is exactly what he should be doing, but even the best plans need a bit of luck in order to come to fruition. The Brooklyn trade looks like a heist of epic proportions, but we are at the mercy of the lottery odds when it comes to turning one of those draft picks we received into a franchise cornerstone. If a star player ends up on the trading block then Boston is positioned as well as anyone to put together a package that could entice a trade, but it takes two to tango. Even if the Celtics were willing to overpay in the minds of most analysts, as they were on draft day, that doesn't mean the other team will bite. Trader Danny has set himself up in a great position to make a deal, but he can't help it if GMs (or owners - looking at you MJ) foolishly turn him down.

Jeff Clark: Let me explain my "lateral move" comment better.  If we can't find a star worthy of trading our assets for, then I don't want to simply stand pat with an overloaded roster.  I think you do run the risk of stunting some guys' growth and lowering the overall value of some of your assets. For fun, let's take names out of it and use my dollars and cents analogy. We're looking for a dollar and we're willing to give up 4 quarters for it but nobody has paper money they want to part with.  All I'm saying is that you could turn a nickel and 2 dimes into a quarter and not lose any value.  In fact, some of the remaining dimes could turn into quarters.

Kevin O'Connor: To Jeff's last point: with a bazillion upcoming draft picks, those nickels and dimes will be replenished, anyway. Consolidating is a key goal.

Wes Howard: That's a great point, Jeff, and it's one that I think gets lost in the conversation sometimes.  Obviously, we don't want to make lateral moves for the sake of making lateral moves.  But as Kevin mentioned, we have a ton of draft picks coming up this year - 8, if I'm not mistaken.  It seems like a mistake that we can often forget that while we may have a whole bunch of dimes and quarters, we only have a pocket big enough to hold 15 coins at once.

Bill Sy: I get it, but this is where patience comes in.  Let the investment mature.  They're quarters now, but they all could be dollars later.  We haven't even seen the class of 2015 play much and only are we now seeing Olynyk and Smart getting big minutes. Historically, it's very rare that a team is built and successful after these types of consolidating moves (the 2008 championship team notwithstanding).  Rebuilds are slow.  You have to draft and sign players with a playing style in mind.  Is there even a superstar or star out there that is available AND more importantly, a good fit?

Wes Howard: True, but how often do rebuilds have the quantity of good players already on a roster that we do?  It is important to develop the younger players to see how they grow, and to draft and acquire players based on how they fit with the team identity.  However, if we don't do some sort of consolidating deal, are we just going to cut ties with every player we have on an expiring deal to make room for our plethora of incoming rookies?

Bill Sy: What expiring players would you like to keep?  If we're talking consolidation, I'd much rather Ainge consolidate picks and move up in the draft or trade them away for future consideration.

Tim MacLean: One of my biggest concerns is whether or not GMs want to deal with Danny. The guy has a track record for fleecing guys -- which isn't his fault by any means -- but I wonder if other team's decision makers are second-guessing themselves. "What am I missing here? Is there something that can come back to bite me in the butt?" Rather than take the chance, are GMs just saying to heck with it, I'll deal with someone else because I don't want Danny to pull the wool over my eyes? Again, it's not Danny's fault he's such a good negotiator. But I do worry that other executives around the league are wary when dealing with him, which hurts our chance of moving these assets.

Bill Sy: But I think a lot of GM's want to outsmart the great Danny Ainge, too.

Jeff Clark: I think we might be overstating how much Ainge has "fleeced" other GMs.  Everyone knows Billy King was pushed into agreeing to the trade with the Celtics.  The Cavs needed cap space to sign LeBron so they were more than happy to dump Zeller on us.  The Suns probably overreacted on the deadline last year by moving Isaiah Thomas.  All trades have a backstory and two sides to it.  Ainge has proven that he can take advantage of situations but he still needs things to fall right to open up another opportunity.  Which brings us right back to that luck factor. I was going to save this for a full article but I can summarize it thusly.  All great teams were built with a mix of smart moves and luck.  We've made a lot of smart moves, now we need some luck.  Be it in the trade market, the lottery, or the draft itself.  We just need some good old fashioned Red Auerbach smiling on us luck.

Bill Sy: I know it's fortune cookie wisdom, but I think in the NBA, you make your own luck and Ainge has been masterful at that.  He may have "fleeced" Billy King, but he also had the foresight and patience to know that the Nets would be in dire straights for the next three seasons.  He's had similar vision in making deals with Dallas (who has overachieved for the first half of this season) and Memphis (who should be trending down by 2018).  You can call it Celtic luck when Red made the moves to put together those mid-80's teams, but I think it has everything to do with scouting and intuition.  I have this argument with my Laker fan friends who think a lot of it is luck.  Sure, it's lucky that the ping pong balls came up the way they did for them to come up with the #2 pick last season, but my guess is that many Lakers fans would much rather have Jahlil Okafor or Porzingis right now.  Ainge hasn't been as lucky in the lottery, but if you look at the players he's drafted, he's gone after defense first and team minded players and not necessarily star talent.

There's a plan in place.  Let's stay on the path.