Danny Ainge built a championship team in 2008 by pushing all his chips to the table to trade for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Part of the reason he did that was because he missed his chance to pick Kevin Durant. In taking Jayson Tatum a decade later, he got his superstar through the draft. Now can he build a championship team around him?
Now that Tatum has signed his max extension, the clock is officially ticking. Perhaps that’s a bit melodramatic, but we have seen how much of a star driven league this has become. If the Celtics can’t deliver what Tatum is looking for (winning, one would assume) he could simply seek that elsewhere. I’d rather not wait another generation hoping for the next guy.
So what does that tangibly mean? Should the Celtics go “all-in?” That kind of depends on what you think “all-in” means.
There’s a danger in going after big name stars to pair with Tatum. For example, one version of going all-in could be James Harden (note that rumors indicate that the Celtics are not interested at the moment). A trade of Jaylen Brown and filler plus picks for Harden would certainly grab headlines. It might even result in an interesting season or two. But it could also flame out horribly, souring Jayson on the Celtics, ultimately costing us the primes of both Brown and Tatum.
What about keeping the powder dry and waiting for the next star to become available? I’m thinking specifically about the Bradley Beal situation here. We could waste the next year hoping that he becomes disenfranchised enough to force a trade to Boston so he can play with his good buddy. And when the OKC Thunder overwhelm the Wizards with picks and cap relief, we’ll be left high and dry again.
On the flipside there are certainly dangers in doing “nothing” or maintaining the status quo. If the Celtics simply add supporting pieces through the draft and lower level free agents then we could see a slow bleed of talent and assets. There’s at least one scenario where Kemba gets hurt and/or becomes the 4th max player to leave as a free agent. That puts a lot of pressure on Ainge to hit on his draft picks (and assuming full health, we don’t have any lottery projected picks to look forward to in the near future).
Then there’s the danger of the middle ground. Some teams make win-now moves that intend to push a good team into being a great team, but end up settling for very good. Kevin Garnett’s teams in Minnesota are one example. LeBron James’ first stint in Cleveland is another. In fact, the Brooklyn Nets trading for Garnett and Pierce is perhaps the ultimate example. Emptying the cupboard of future picks and young talent in exchange for solid vets would be a mistake if it doesn’t result in a title right away and it could end up proving crippling in the future.
So, I think I’ve exhausted enough energy pointing out the pitfalls and traps that are around every corner. I think it speaks to my current state of mind. Losing Hayward for nothing (so far) and seeing Tatum get a player option in the fifth year of his new contract has me a little bit spooked.
With all of that said, perhaps the most obvious answer is sitting right in front of us. If Jayson Tatum develops into a top-5 player in the league and if Jalen Brown elevates to All Star level, all of this might be moot. Surround those two with solid role players and a mix of veterans and young talent, and great and wonderful things could happen.
I don’t think Ainge has been perfect the last few years. I don’t know why he never consolidated picks at some point. But perhaps guys like Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Robert Williams, and Aaron Nesmith could turn into serviceable complimentary pieces. I think sometimes Ainge holds out for great trades and misses out on good ones as a result. But perhaps that’s just my perception based on the rumors that swirl (hard to know definitively without knowing the full details of negotiations that likely won’t be made public).
All in all I’m just hoping that Danny Ainge can pull the right strings and push the right buttons in the next few years. This feels like a critical path and I just want the team to maximize this opportunity.