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The Celtics and the fine art of having your cake and eating it too

The Celtics are making a habit of challenging NBA conventional wisdom.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

NBA conventional wisdom #1: “You can’t rebuild and win at the same time.”

Danny Ainge: “Why not?”

With a little (okay, a lot of) help from the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics were able to spend just one short year in the lottery before being competitive again. This wasn’t a quick-fix, sacrifice the future for some playoff ticket sales thing either. This was a sustainable, long term growth pattern that developed right along with the short term success on the court. That’s nearly unheard of but it is also the holy grail of all team executives.

NBA conventional wisdom #2: “Young teams are bad teams.”

Brad Stevens: “I respectfully disagree.”

With five rookies and 12 players 25 years old or younger, the Celtics have a roster. Not just at the end of the bench either. They have two starters (Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum) that would have to add their ages together to match Tom Brady’s. Yet here we stand in early February and the team is still in first place.

This team has had their ups and downs, but the fight has always been there. The determination to never give up, regardless of the opponent or the score, is there. Great defense and solid three point shooting keep the team in any game.

Besides, there are enough veteran leaders to keep this group focused and even keeled, much like their coach.

NBA conventional wisdom #3: “Competitive teams have to ‘go for it’ by sacrificing future assets for short term results.”

Mike Zarren: “Yeah, about that...”

Really, really hard to call a season-threatening injury to an All-Star player lucky, but the Disabled Player Exception worked exactly as it was intended when the Celtics were able to sign Greg Monroe for the rest of the year. Boston has far exceeded expectations by rallying around each other despite the key missing ingredient to their title hopes.

Now, with a chance at a deep run into the playoffs, they have added a potentially valuable piece to their rotation without giving up any assets.

Note that this doesn’t mean they are done dealing. In fact they will still pursue other deals, but only if they are for a good value. There’s always an urgency to make the roster better, but never a desperation to overpay.

Which brings us to...

NBA conventional wisdom #4: “The Cavs are still the favorites to come out of the East because of LeBron James.”

Jaylen Brown: “Says who?”

Look, I get it. LeBron James is amazing. All respect and credit to him for what he has done and what he can certainly keep doing for however long his superhuman body can hold up. If there’s any player in the league that can carry a bad team to the Finals on sheer willpower, it’s that man.

But man, oh man, Cleveland has some issues. Defensive issues that won’t be solved by one or two moves made at the deadline. Motivation issues that even the great King James might not be able to solve. You can’t count them out, but all is not well in The Land at the moment. The Cavs appear to be doing their best to leave the Eastern Conference title race wide open.

All of which brings us to the Celtics and their storybook season despite the huge early setback of Gordon Hayward’s injury. Nobody outside that locker room would have blamed them if they accepted a fifth seed and a wait-till-next-year mentality. After all, next year LeBron could be playing in the Western Conference.

Instead, this team is focused on the here and now and aiming high to win a Championship in 2018. Not at the expense of the future, but by bolstering the future in the present. Jaylen and Jayson are getting valuable experience carrying a heavy load and all of that could prove essential when the postseason rolls around.

NBA conventional wisdom #5: “Even if Boston wins the East, they’ll be steamrolled in the Finals by the Warriors.”

Kyrie Irving: (grins)

Denver Nuggets v Boston Celtics Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

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