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It's a matter of how and when - not if - the Boston Celtics capitalize on their assets

The Ping-Pong balls are done bouncing. Now it’s time to play ball.

Michael Zagaris / Getty Images

After receiving the third pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics are at the plate with no outs, a 3-0 count, and the bases are loaded. Danny Ainge is prepared to take a grand slam swing.

But as history shows, there's no guarantee they'll set off the fireworks that have lay dormant for years. The Celtics missed on Kevin Love in 2014, failed to trade up in the 2015 draft, and elected to not pull the trigger at the 2016 trade deadline.

But the Celtics haven't struck out. They're patiently working the count.

A walk drives in one run. A base hit drives in a few. That's a realistic outcome this summer, since they didn't end up with a top-two pick. But if a pitch is thrown down the center of the plate they still have enough asset equity to take a swing for the fences.

Sports talk radio hosts claimed after the trade deadline the Celtics would be "held over a barrel" on draft night because they kept all their picks. But their visions of doom and gloom are unfounded. By standing pat the Celtics retained their leverage to make a push for a transcendent player, and ultimately that's what matters most.

The importance of winning the lottery wasn't exactly to have the chance at selecting Brandon Ingram or Ben Simmons. It was to have control of the draft and the trade market. But they still can put together a strong enough package for a star like DeMarcus Cousins or Jimmy Butler. And there's always Blake Griffin or the unexpected star.

The Sixers and Lakers have the more appealing pick to dangle, but the Celtics could still cobble together enough pieces to compensate for the difference. There are no guarantees any of those superstars become available anyway.

Even if they do, their approach at the plate remains unchanged. There will be a sense of urgency, but it isn't necessarily in their best interest to blow up their treasure trove of assets unless a cornerstone makes his way back to Boston. That might mean keeping the pick and staying patient is the best road to take.

There's also the thought of acquiring one of these players to increase Boston's chances of signing Kevin Durant. There are still playoff games to be played, but here's the reality: the chances are Durant re-signs with the Thunder to a one-year deal with a player option for the second season.

That would take him off the table this summer, but it would effectively make him a free agent again in 2017 so get ready for another year of "Durant-to-Boston."

The focus shouldn't be on just Durant though. Even if the Celtics can make an acquisition that propels them forward this year, it's important they remain flexible enough to be in a position to pursue the elite free agents next summer, in addition to any trades.

The 2017 free-agent class is stacked compared to this year, with players like Blake Griffin, Russell Westbrook, Gordon Hayward, and Serge Ibaka. Retaining cap space to sign at least one max free agent next year should take priority over handing a max contract to a second-tier player this summer.

The Celtics front office is packed with big thinkers with the vision and guts to make colossal moves. That's how they assembled the Big 3 in 2007. That's how they broke it up and hired Brad Stevens in 2013. That's how today they're armed with more assets than arguably every team in the NBA.

It's a matter of how and when—not if—the Boston Celtics start driving in runs.

Contact me on Facebook and Twitter @KevinOConnorNBA. My 2016 NBA Draft Guide can be ordered by clicking here.

Click here to check out Kevin O'Connor's 2016 NBA Draft Guide

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