Sam Hinkie generated quite a buzz with his rallying cry to "Trust the Process" in Philadelphia. He took tanking to a new level and it will be years before we will get a final judgement on how successful his plan was. Will the talented players they got in the draft be worth the negative impact that came with all the losing? We'll see in the coming years as they start to pivot toward building a contender.
However, to quote the Bard: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't."
If you want a top tier player in the league, one of the easiest ways to do that is through the draft. The odds of getting a top tier player increase exponentially the higher up the draft board you go. There are outliers, but the overwhelming number of stars come from the high lottery.
Allow me to borrow a chart from Hoopshype to make the point graphically.
Now imagine if you could get that top-end lottery talent without all the losing. That would pretty much be ideal, right? Well, as it turns out, the Celtics have an opportunity to do just that with the Nets picks over the next few years.
As it stands now, the Celtics are thick in the mix of the Eastern Conference Playoffs chase. If they finish out strong, they could be fighting for home court advantage in the first round (or longer). And they would still have a top 5 pick coming from Brooklyn.
Oh yeah, and this same scenario could play itself out the next couple of years as well (baring some remarkable turnaround for the Nets without the aid of their draft picks).
"But wait Jeff," you say "you can't keep all the picks, you'd run out of roster spots and you'd have a team full of kids." That is true and the solution may be more complicated than "just package some picks together to trade up the draft board."
The draft and the war chest of picks present a few different avenues and conundrums to navigate. There’s no way the Celtics can use all their picks, and in the upcoming draft they are slated to have eight. We already saw the position this puts the Celtics’ management in, as they reportedly tried to trade four picks for Charlotte’s ninth pick in the 2015 draft to take Justise Winslow. Now, everyone knows what the Celtics are willing to do to turn multiple assets into one better one. And the better one doesn’t necessarily have to be that much better. Expect to see similar attempts next summer. The Celtics have to trade some of their picks, or risk losing those players since they have no available roster spots.
Let's look at the current roster and assume no trades at the deadline. The Celtics could open up 4 roster spots this summer simply by declining team options (Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko) and not re-signing current free agents (David Lee, Evan Turner). Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller are both restricted free agents who are likely to get healthy offers from around the league. If the Celtics don't like the pricetags on them, they have the option of letting them both walk. It would be a shame to lose them for nothing, but overpaying (even under the new CBA) is a danger as well.
So that's 6 potential roster spots you could play with without losing anyone from what I consider the core of this team (Thomas, Bradley, Smart, Crowder, Olynyk). If you believe in Sully (or Tyler) enough to pay him the market rate, that still leaves 5.
It would be hard to back-fill the intangibles that veterans like Johnson, Jerebko, and Turner bring to the table by replacing them with rookies. In particular rookies picked in the 20's and in the 2nd round. However, that wouldn't be necessary if the current core continues to improve.
Smart is already a game changer on defense and if his offense continues to improve, there's less need for a fill-in guy like Turner. Olynyk is bombing away and as he gets more and more confident, his usage could rise and there's less need for Jerebko. Amir is on borrowed time anyway, so the team will either have to come up with another veteran big man rim-protector or count on Jordan Mickey to fulfill some of his promise in the next year or two. Also, if Sully is still around, he could get an uptick in his role as well. Sprinkle in some shooting from R.J. Hunter (or James Young) and you can reduce the impact of losing the vets.
Plus, we haven't even talked about how the top 5 pick from the Nets will fit in. In theory, he could be nurtured effectively in a winning environment and added to the rotation as a core piece of the puzzle.
The Celtics pick and the Dallas pick could be used on guys with high upside that may or may not be ready to contribute right away. As we found out this year, someone has to sit at the end of the bench. It might as well be a young guy that could grow into something later. The 2nd rounders could be used on draft-n-stash players or traded for future picks. Keep on banking assets for the future until you can use them or turn them into serviceable players.
So the roster looks like this:
Starters: Thomas, Bradley, Crowder, Olynyk, Sullinger
Rotation guys: Smart, Hunter, Mickey, Draft Pick 1 (Nets pick)
Deep Bench: Young, Rozier, Draft Pick 2 (Dallas pick), Draft Pick 3 (Boston pick)
Flexibility: 2 roster spots left for free agents, trades, or 2nd rounders
"Ok Jeff, now your green-goggled optimism has gone too far," you say. Right you are. I can pretty well guarantee you that the above scenario will not play out exactly in this way because somewhere along the line something will go wrong. Multiple things in fact. Someone will regress. Someone will get hurt. Perhaps someone will simply become a bad fit for our system. So be it.
Just like any good offense has to be able to read-and-react to what the defense gives you, this plan has to be able to shift and adjust based on the outcomes. There's still the option of retaining Jerebko and/or Amir. Zeller and/or Turner could re-sign.
In addition, you can use current or future draft picks to fill in the holes and/or make upgrades. We dealt away guys like Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo for low first round draft picks. It stands to reason that we could go out and use picks to add guys with that level of talent (and limitations or baggage) to fill holes on the roster.
In addition, this plan does not take away the ability to add pieces via free agency. Granted, if you add or retain too many free agents, you do run into the aforementioned roster space quandary. But you cross that bridge when you come to it. The draft comes and goes before free agency so you'll know how many spots you've got to fill by July.
I should also note that if the Celtics don't add much salary this offseason, they'll fail to meet the salary floor next year. But that doesn't mean they have to throw that money around just to spend it. They have the option of distributing the difference among the players on the roster (a nice bonus that would make up for the fact that some of our players are vastly underpaid in relation to their market value).
"That team sux. I guess this is what passes for news these days. Your on crack!!!!1"
Come on now, you are better than that. Let's clean that up shall we?
"Respectfully disagree. The team you laid out is simply not good enough to compete seriously in the NBA. Even if everyone improves, that's still just a 4 seed in the East at best. Is that really the goal?"
That's better. Good points, but here is where I preach patience like a Hinkie-lite. The goal is a Championship (or several) and unless you think you can land a couple of guys that can take you to that goal next year, you're going to need to be patient anyway.
What I'm banking on with this plan is that we can draft and/or develop the next big star. Most likely with one of the Nets picks or Marcus Smart. But possibly with a lower pick or player currently on the roster that wasn't expected to rise to those levels. As the graph above points out, those situations seldom arise, but they do happen. If you have enough picks, it increases your odds of striking the proverbial gold.
But it is going to take time and in the mean time, we'll be developing the youth and still winning more often than not under the tutelage of one of the best coaches in the game.
Oh yeah, and if at some future time a star player becomes available, guess who still has the young players and future draft picks to bid on him? This plan has flexibility and can take advantage of whatever market conditions arise.
Trust the Process, Boston style.