Most people are rightly focused on getting elite talent into a Celtics uniform, either via the draft, trade, or free agency (or some combination of the above). With the assets, cap room, and the sheer determination of a creative GM, many fans have high hopes that this summer is the year when we land a big fish.
But what happens if all the biggest fish swim away and leave us with nothing but a boat full of bait? It isn't a big leap to imagine guys like Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, and DeMarcus Cousins all staying with their current teams. When you get past some of those big names, you really have to think long and hard before committing assets and cap room to the second-tier stars or big names on the downside of their careers.
The fallback option would be the slow and steady plan of building through the draft. Regardless of how the ping-pong balls bounce on Tuesday, the Celtics will have a high lottery draft pick and two other first-rounders to go with a handful of seconds.
They probably can't use all those picks on players that will be on the roster next year, but a few draft-'n-stash picks and some minor trades could make things much more manageable.
The plan would still be to find a star or superstar, and it is possible that one is in this year's draft class, waiting to be selected and developed by the Celtics--regardless of what selection they are picked at.
If that means adding another three or more rookies to the roster just to see if any of them work out, then maybe that's the best plan after all. One of these days we'll happen upon a transcendent talent just by sheer volume of picks.
The trick would be figuring out how to integrate them all into a young roster that has already tasted playoff success and doesn't want to take the presumptive step back that an even younger roster would seem to dictate.
In theory, Ainge could replace Amir Johnson, Evan Turner, Jonas Jerebko, Jared Sullinger, and Tyler Zeller in the rotation with Terry Rozier, RJ Hunter, Jordan Mickey and one or two of the rookies. Depending on what strides each of those youngsters makes this summer, that could even be a better rotation.
In fact, it is worth noting that the next great star could already be on the roster. Marcus Smart, Rozier, Hunter, or Mickey could (theoretically) make "the leap" at some point. After all, Isaiah Thomas was picked 60th and became an All Star in his 5th season. One of our guys could have a similar progression. You just can't count on that as your only plan.
Also, don't plan on a super-young roster making their way back to the playoffs (never mind getting past the first round). Young players take time to develop, and some of them simply don't pan out. The NBA tends to chew up and spit out young rosters.
Look no further than the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have a roster of future stars but still only managed 29 wins this year. Would Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and most importantly Brad Stevens be satisfied with dipping back below .500 and missing the playoffs just for the outside shot of developing one of our kiddies for future stardom?
Even if the Celtics land a top-2 pick and have the chance to select one of the anointed future stars (Simmons or Ingram), they'll still have to decide if they have the patience to wait on that talent to mature into wins.
Of course it is never that simple. Teams outside of Philly seldom pick one specific plan and throw the rest to the wind. The Celtics will look at a mix of young players and veterans. Some veterans will be back, and some young players will be in other cities by the fall. But picking the right ones will make all the difference going forward. We don't want to jettison the next Joe Johnson while hanging onto the next Kedrick Brown.
As it has ever been, everything depends on how Danny Ainge navigates the next few months. He has to make the right picks, agree on the right trades, and negotiate the right contracts for free agents. If he can't make a franchise-altering trade or signing, then we may be seeing a few more peach-fuzz-faced kids in Waltham for training camp.