The Celtics have dipped their toe in some choppy waters since the 2017-2018 season ended. They were rumored to be moving up on Draft Night to get into the top-5. They’ve been “fully engaged” with the San Antonio Spurs on a possible Kawhi Leonard deal this week. Now with July 1st less than 48 hours away, Danny Ainge and his treasure trove of assets could look to light more fireworks with Independence Day on the horizon or stand pat with his Eastern Conference Finalist squad from last season.
In summers past, we might be concerned with how players might fit into Brad Stevens’ system or whether or not they should be included in the long term outlook of the rebuild. Those days are gone. Here are a few misconceptions on what could eventually be a pretty uneventful off season for the Celtics:
Players need to fit
There are a lot of buzz words that describe how the Celtics play: read-and-react, versatility, switchability, etc. Yes, ideally, there is a perfect player for Brad Stevens. Guys like Al Horford and Gordon Hayward are good examples. They can produce out of all avenues of the triple threat and defend 3+ positions on the other side of the ball. In a perfect world, Stevens could hand pick players from all over the NBA, but his success has been defined by turning misfit toys into productive players.
Don’t get hung up on fit when it comes to free agency and the draft. Since last season, Danny Ainge has added two players to the roster. Brad Wanamaker projects as a do-it-all wing that can handle some point but also play on the wings. While the move came out of left field, Wanaker’s player profile fits Boston’s template.
However last Thursday, he uncharacteristically picked Robert Williams III with the 27th pick. Williams isn’t exactly the prototypical big, but he’s a freak athlete that excels above the rim and protecting it. Stevens will make Williams’ skill set work. Just remember that Stevens took a team that relied heavily on players like Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass to the playoffs.
If there is a common thread, it’s defense. It’s how Semi Ojeleye and Shane Larkin earned consistent minutes by the end of the season. It's how Marcus Smart has been a mainstay in his four seasons in Boston despite statistical deficiencies on the offensive end. Do your part on defense and Stevens will figure out your niche on offense.
The Celtics are one of the youngest teams in the league (weighted by age, minutes, and points produced) and yet, were a game away from the NBA Finals last season. With two definitive cores centered around its All Stars (Irving, Hayward, Horford) and its budding stars (Brown, Tatum, Rozier, Smart, and potentially it’s cadre of future first round picks), there isn’t a need--right now, at least--to choose one to build around.
There are those that think that with the championship window open, Ainge should do everything to he can to raise the ceiling of this roster to accommodate the veterans in order to raise Banner 18. That could include packaging the youth in a deal for Kawhi Leonard. Others see the long view of the rebuild and consider their youth as a lifeline to a more sustainable success. If Kyrie won’t commit or Horford gets long in the teeth, they should be recycled like Pierce, Garnett, and Terry.
There are pros and cons for both, but for this upcoming season (and maybe next), the focuse should be on the now. What does this team need to win? What is this team missing? We can get a little lost in the weeds when it comes to prophesying what coulda woulda shoulda, but right now, with both cores signed and committed, this is a rare two-year window where the Celtics can have their cake and eat it, too.
If picking up a veteran shooter like Jamal Crawford or Kyle Korver makes sense, they’ll take him. If a player is coming off his rookie contract and they recognize his potential and promise, they’ll take him. Ainge is in win now mode.
Change for change’s sake
This time of year, everybody wants to be an armchair GM. Amateur capologists will fire up NBA2K or the Trade Machine to tinker with the roster just to see if they can create Basketball Frankenstein in their basement.
But really, nothing needs to happen.
In Brad Stevens’ first three years in Boston, he coached with more player turnover than any coach in recent history and yet made the playoffs in just his second season. More so, when the roster didn’t change too much between 2016 and 2017, he catapulted the Celtics from the first round of the post-season to the Eastern Conference Finals.
We’ve made this “run it back” case a few times at CelticsBlog already, but it bears repeating: we don’t know how good this team is yet. If you’re still obsessed with tinkering with the rotation, consider that “run it back” isn’t even an accurate statement. Outside of five minutes in the first game, we don’t know what a healthy Gordon Hayward brings to the table. We don’t know what Playoff Kyrie can do in the Garden. If you loved last year’s team, we’re adding two All-Stars to that mix and a solid big in Daniel Theis.
Plus, the NBA life cycle is very different now than it was in previous CBA’s. Contracts are shorter. Players leave money on the table, actively recruit one another, and bounce from city to city. In a way, it’s forced GM’s to take more micro views of their rosters rather than count on players staying with the same team for their entire career. If you’re a transaction junkie and you just want to see moves, just wait. Whether it’s economics or just the transient nature of today’s millenial NBA player, dynasties are no longer measured by a decade. If you can get everything lined up for three to five years, you’re lucky.