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Mailbag answers - Spring cleaning

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Cleaning out the junk drawers and gearing up for summer.

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It might not feel like Spring yet for many of you, but the calendar says it is here.  So I figured it was a good enough time to do a mailbag.  Turns out a few of you are are interested in the playoffs but a lot of you are interested in the offseason.  For organizational purposes, I've split the questions into sections.

Playoffs

Jomme: "Very simple question: will the Celtics find themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals this year? No 'if' or 'maybe'. Just yes or no!"

Jeff: Well, if I say "yes" I'm a hopeless homer.  If I say "no" then I just don't believe.  When in doubt, I'll go with homer.  So my only answer to your question is this.  Why are you limiting this to just the ECF?  Finals win all the way baby!

Mahcus: Is it better for us to not have a top 4 seed? I know we want home court and all, but imagine if we're the 3 seed and we lose to the 6 seed. That sets a bad image for any possible FA. I still have doubts about our ability to win a playoff series, so I'd rather set expectations low and take a lower seed; maybe we will pull off an upset. That way, it looks better to an FA, no?

I'm not sure how much the seeds matter at this point.  3 through 6 is so close in the standings and evenly matched that I think the final seeds are just numbers.  I do agree that winning a 1st round series does help our free agent pitch, but I couldn't tell you who we match up better with than others.  Bottom line is that I like our chances against anyone in the first round, and if it doesn't work out, then maybe we aren't as ready for prime time as we'd like to think.

Tellitlikeitmightbe: Gentlemen, these Celtics give 110% every night on the court, which has translated to wins (for the most part) during the regular season. When all the other teams turn up the effort level in the playoffs, do you believe this team can still be successful?

The playoffs is a bit of a different game.  Rotations get shortened, the pace typically slows down, and in-game adjustments by coaches mean more.  The Celtics have already shortened their rotation from earlier in the season. I trust Brad Stevens to make the right adjustments (though it is notable that there are other good coaches out there (Budenholzer, Clifford, Spolestra).  The pace will be interesting.  The Celtics get a lot of points off of transition.  Their defense will create break opportunities but perhaps not as much as happens during the regular season.  So they have to move the ball in the half court and make the right reads.

Player Evaluation

kob213: How far should the Celtics go to retain Jared Sullinger? I don't think he'll be worth the amount of money and term he might get, but am I overvaluing him to think at least a 3/45 offer sheet could be thrown his way? I wouldn't match that.

I've heard that he'll get $15M per year, so that's not out of the question.  Of course, with the cap going up, everything gets skewed up from what we've been accustomed to.  $10M could be the new $5M.  $15M could be the new $8M. It is all about opportunity cost and percentage of your cap.  The Celtics have a few impact guys on bargain contracts, so they may be willing to pay the market price on a few guys.

With that said, this summer should be all about the stars, and if they have any chance at landing a star, then Sullinger will be a secondary priority at best.

2LTRN: Which current player do you think is in for the biggest jump in performance next year? It seems like we have a lot of guys who may be near their ceiling, and a lot who have yet to get off the floor.

If any of the rookies (or James Young) gets regular rotation minutes next year, that's a huge jump.  But I'd argue that it is easier to go from nothing to something than it is to go from good to great.  So I'm looking at Kelly Olynyk or Marcus Smart to make a jump next season. Olynyk could become a legitimate elite stretch 4. Smart, if he gets any kind of consistency to his jumper, could be an All Star.

Rakulp: Our MVP so far this year is probably IT, with Crowder a close second. Who else on the team has shown the most improvement this year, and deserves to continue to be with the Celtics as we look towards a high draft pick, and possible free agent signings in the off season. Who would YOU keep as GM?

He doesn't get a lot of fanfare, but Avery Bradley has made his own little mini-leap this season.  His defense seemed to take a half step back last season as his offense improved.  He's back to being elite on defense this season to the point where some in the NBA are calling him the best perimeter defender in the league.  Plus he can hit jumpers and provide instant offense with his quickness and anticipation.

Bradley might not be a star, but he's exactly the kind of guy that gives a team that extra push that Championship teams need.

Footey: Jeff, Which of the current rookies will be the guy who sticks?

The funny thing is that I think all three will stick around. If we make trades, I think teams are going to be asking for rotation guys or draft picks. With that said, if I could keep any of them over the others, I guess I'd pick Jordan Mickey simply because he's got a unique skillset.  If he pans out, he could be a wonderful paint protector.  On the other hand, Hunter could be a great 3 point threat and Rozier could be a mix of Bradley and Smart.  So we'll see.

Angry Ranga: Heya What are we going to do with James Young really? Can he hang in this league? Is he worth anything in a trade or will he just one day quietly be waived/not picked up?

I suspect he'll be gone one way or another. I just don't think he's shown enough to stick around.  No team is giving up a 1st rounder for him, but he could be a throw-in as part of a bigger deal if a team wants to take a flier on him.  Otherwise, he might just get cut in training camp.  Oddly enough, the best chance he has for sticking around is also the situation that could give him the fewest minutes.  If the Celtics use a lot of their rotation players to trade for a star player, they could have a number of roster spots open.  In that case, Young could stick around as the 11th or 12th man.

Draft

Sajond: #1 Pick do you take Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram or Other (Including Trade) and Explain in detail, extensive detail, so much detail it makes my head spin and by the time it stops it's time for the draft to begin.

Sure, no problem, ...just buy Kevin's draft guide. (It really is good, trust me)

Footey: Jeff, Who are you taking with the 3rd pick (Ingram and Simmons are off the board, and no good trade deals are to be had). Would you take Buddy? "

Buddy has a lot of buzz right now because of the tournament, but I generally trust the player rankings before the tournament and most still have Dragan Bender as the 3rd best prospect in the draft.  He would be awfully hard to pass on if we had number 3.

badax33: How do you see the Celts handing the draft and all the choices? We know they can't possibly select and bring in 8 players. In fact, I really can't see them even bringing in 3 1st round picks.

bradleyboy: With seven picks in this years draft, isnt the pressure getting greater for Danny Ainge to make a move? I mean, there just isnt room on the roster for all these bodies is there?

Trades, trades, trades.  Look for the Celtics to try to trade up in the draft.  Look for them to try to package picks for star-level players.  Look for them to draft stash-in-Europe players (in particular with the 2nd round picks).  You might even see the team trade current picks for future picks.  Just don't expect the team to pick 8 rookies and add them all to the roster next season.

Offseason

ghostofantoine: EVERY TEAM will be a buyer in the summer of 2016. Almost every team will have a lot of cap space. So can we start setting the expectation now that if the Celts can't get a first or second tier free agent or two to sign when free agency begins, they should absorb the contract of another team that wants cap space, in exchange for (prepare to throw tomatoes at the screen) yet another first round pick? Sorry, but supply and demand reveals this to be the smartest strategy: if they can't get a first or second tier free agent this summer, don't spend for the sake of spending, don't freak out, keep cap space for two max contracts when way fewer teams will have cap space in the summer of 2017.

I get what you are saying, but let me ask this.  If everyone has cap space, is anyone going to even need to dump salary - especially at the cost of a cost-controlled draft pick?  I think the ballooning cap already made expiring contracts worthless at the last trade deadline.

I will say this.  If you can't find quality to spend your money on, don't just spend money to spend it.  The Celtics very well could just decide to not spend all their money, but rather maintain their flexibility into the next trade deadline or offseason.  That wouldn't be ideal, but it would be better than overspending and wasting the cap space that Ainge has worked hard to maintain.

butt_fumble: Assuming the Celtics sign a top free agent this summer, do the Celtics use the top pick on another young player or trade the top pick for another established star to match with the FA acquisition?

Well, remember first that the draft happens before free agency.  So they have to make their picks and/or trade picks before free agents even happen.  So if they were to make a move for a Jimmy Butler or Kevin Love, they would be hoping that Kevin Durant sees that move as the tipping point that makes Boston the best possible landing spot for him.  That's a long shot, of course, but the Celtics have to be in the business of adding talent for Brad Stevens to win with.

BJAMN: What if no major trades come about and nothing much comes out of free agency and the team is forced to comprise the roster of our current talent and draft picks, what does that team look like. Best case scenario how far away could that team potentially be away from serious contention, because that is the option I am hoping for?

The Celtics could strike out in free agency and trades and mostly "run it back" with the current squad plus draft picks.  On the plus side, there would be continuity and progression within the system.  A few extra rookies would be added to the mix and one of them might actually be the long term star that this team has been waiting for.  But they wouldn't be immediately ready and there's a pretty good chance that the team as a whole could take a step back next season.

In that scenario, I'm not sure if we'd have Amir Johnson around anymore and I'm not sure if Jerebko would be back either.  The team might end up overpaying Sullinger and Turner just to keep them around.  Or they could bring in another lower-tier free agent, and do what they can with what they have.

This is where I would start to worry about that "treadmill of mediocrity" stuff.  If the team can't cash in on some of their assets and cap space to get a star-level player, then the assets start losing their buying power and who knows when we'll get a chance for a franchise-altering player again?

educatedfools: What are your thoughts on chasing Nic Batum in free agency? Would he be a good fit alongside Jae Crowder in the starting lineup where they can alternate between 3/4 or are they both too small to make that work over significant minutes?

Batum is one that I haven't done a lot of research into (which of course means he'll be the guy that Ainge targets). I have some degree of skepticism in him because this is the first time in his career he's reached these levels, but that could just be a result of my unfamiliarity with him.  In theory, I don't mind at all putting Crowder at the 4 and adding a top-level 3 next to him.  Jae could still see some time at the 3 in certain lineups as well.

Fun

Alex111: Okay, So if you were stuck on an island, which 3 current celtics players would you choose to be stuck with you. Please consider likability AND survival skills when picking your island-mates.

Great question. I think I'd have to have Evan Turner around, just because he's the funniest guy on the team (at least based on what I've seen).  Amir Johnson is another guy that everyone seems to love.  Plus, he's been around the block a few times and I could see him knowing where to find the best coconuts and how to catch the most fish.  Finally, I'd have to go with Isaiah Thomas because he's always smiling and I'd have to imagine his quickness would come in handy at some point.

I thought about picking Kelly Olynyk just because he looks like a surfer-dude, but then I remembered that he's Canadian so I have to assume he'd be useless on a tropical island.  Smart would be great if we had an enemy tribe attacking us, but I'm not sure I'd want to risk getting on his bad side.  Avery Bradley would probably be the hardest one to leave off, because he could tell me some great KG, Pierce, and Rondo stories.

Great questions folks.  We'll have to do this again in the offseason.