Summer League is an incongruous experience. It’s part showcase, part dog fight. On one end of the spectrum, it’s a walking ring for lottery teams to drum up hype and enthusiasm for their newly acquired young talent. How they play has no real consequence, but a hot start could help get them out of the blocks strong in October. For others--your second rounders with no guarantee of money, journeymen toiling away on yearly deals in Europe, or undrafted players on the outside looking in at a professional basketball career--Vegas is a cattle call. While a handful of peacocks flare their feathers for the press, these gym rats are in a rat race, scratching and clawing for camp invites and two-way contracts.
This is not NBA basketball at its best, but some might argue that next season won’t be any different. The stars will be out and hardcore fans will eat up all 82 games, but with the Warriors prohibitive favorites to lift another Larry O’Brien next June, there’s a sense of inevitability that has permeated throughout the league. The regular season and even the playoffs are just pomp and circumstance for another parade through Oakland.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke in Las Vegas about competitive balance, saying, “we’re not trying to create some sort of forced parity. What we are really focused on is parity of opportunity.” Since the last CBA, the Warriors have crushed the league. Max contracts and supermax contracts were supposed to help small market teams keep their homegrown players; they haven’t. Instead, superstars have taken the reigns of their futures and free agency has become an exercise in self-determination. The luxury tax was supposed to dissuade even big market teams from being big spenders. Unfortunately, teams on the coasts have found lucrative revenue streams in new stadiums and television. Silver acknowledged that the system could use changes, but frankly, teams just need to work smarter, not harder to stay competitive.
Fans can bemoan how the NBA has turned into a players’ league, but well run front offices don’t get enough credit for courting this generation of millenial millionaires. Sure, the Warriors have seemingly cornered the market on all-NBA players, but don’t forget that they scouted and drafted Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green out of college. Neither Curry or Thompson were top-5 picks and Green was a second-rounder at #35. Together, they revolutionized the game with a selfless, positionless style that would later attract players like Andre Iguodala and eventually, Kevin Durant.
Silicon Valley has its advantages, but the true attraction of playing at Oracle is their brand of basketball and more importantly, their winning. Now, with the rich getting richer with the aquisition of DeMarcus Cousins, they seemed poised to solidify their dynasty with the rare feat of a threepeat. Opposing teams can waive the white flag, kick the can down the road, and shrug their shoulders. What’s the point?
Answer: knocking off the Warriors.
For Danny Ainge and the Celtics, they’re not just looking to get participation trophies in next year’s Finals. Talking heads scoffed at Danny’s comments about not being concerned with LeBron moving out west and clearing the path in the confernce because he’s focused on raising banners, not celebrating East titles. It may have come off as hyperbole or GM-speak, but Ainge rarely minces words or his intentions. This is Boston’s time. He knows it. Championship windows are difficult to open and maybe even more difficult to keep open. Ainge knows this from years as a player and a GM. After already losing a year to injury and bad fortune, the Celtics will gear up again for another run at Banner 18, come hell, high water, or the Warriors.
While supporting the Summer Celtics in Vegas, Jaylen Brown said that he was mad at LeBron for joining the Lakers because he “wanted to be the team to go through him.” I’m sure a lot of people in the organization, particularly Ainge, feel the same way about the Warriors and the road to an NBA championship. Danny has been very deliberate with his decisions since the summer of 2013.
After trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn and before any of those Nets’ picks materialized, he hired Brad Stevens to replace Doc Rivers. Since his time at Butler, Stevens has always been considered a wunderkind on the whiteboard, but it’s his unwavering commitment to growth mindset that’s put the Celtics in the position they are in today. It’s come out that Stevens accepted the position under the stipulation that he wouldn’t tank. Ainge would have total control over personnel, but Stevens approached every game to win.
That mentality materialized into a ragtag team that made the playoffs in Stevens’ second season, bolstered a chip-on-your-shoulder culture and identity, and now, coupled with artfully timed trades and drafts by Ainge, produced the best roster to challenge the defending champs.
Harry Truman once said that, “actions are the seed of fate; deeds grow into destiny.” The Celtics have certainly put their actions into motion over the last five years. Ainge’s transaction log coupled with Stevens’ guidance of player development have seeded the rebuild for next season’s blossoming. And as fate would have it, Boston is on the precipice of what could be a long run with one of the greatest teams of all time standing in their way. “Deeds grow into destiny.” What’s left now for the Celtics is the doing, the deeds. Next season can’t start soon enough.