The stockpile of picks that Danny Ainge once had is gone. Many of those picks were used to select players for Boston and now the Celtics have one of the youngest teams in the league. They have two foundational stars from those picks, as well as several support pieces in various forms of development.
Theoretically the team could simply play the patient approach and wait for as many of them as possible to pan out. I reject that notion and favor a more aggressive approach of flipping some of these younger players into solid veterans that can help us win now.
I don’t say this lightly. I lived through the aftermath of trading away future stars like Chauncey Billups and Joe Johnson. There’s always a chance a guy could become the “one that got away.” That is a risk, but there’s also a risk of holding on to too many “maybe somedays” at the expense of a more certain today.
To me that means being willing to move on from guys like Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard, and maybe even Robert Williams III (for the right deal).
In a perfect world the Celtics would compete in the here and now and still allow time for these guys to develop into perfect compliments to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown throughout their primes. The trick is competing in the here and now with a team that’s greener than their uniforms.
Make no mistake, this is about keeping Tatum and Brown happy. Those guys are downright spoiled by getting to the Eastern Conference Finals more times in the last four years than some franchises have ever been. Once you taste that level of success (and fall short of the ultimate prize) you don’t want to hear about “bridge years” or “development periods.” Sure Jayson and Jaylen just signed new contracts, but the clock is already ticking on those deals and if you miss this window you might not get another one.
Those big contracts kicking in also takes the team out of the running for major free agents, too. So the only other ways to improve this team are through the draft and through trades. The picks this team owns will (hopefully) not be very high for the next few years, so your primary assets are going to be the ones wearing jerseys now.
The four-game winning streak heading into the break has given us some hope that things are turning around for this team, but we’re still at least one missing piece away from being a legit contender. Unless you think one or more of those young guys is going to quickly develop into a piece that puts us over the top, you have to at least seriously consider moving some of them for a guy or two that will.
Maybe Romeo Langford will return to full health, pick up where he left off on defense, and develop his shooting to the point where he’s a legit 4th option. Or maybe he will be injury-prone and struggle with his shot for the rest of his rookie deal. Maybe Nesmith will play consistent enough defense to find his stroke enough to be a floor stretcher. Or maybe he’ll be just another shooter that can’t stay on the court. Or maybe both of them will develop into exactly the players we want them to be ...2 or 3 years from now.
I put Pritchard in a different category because he’s already proven that he has a very high floor. Robert Williams III has both a high floor and a high ceiling at this point as well. But neither can be considered untouchable if the right deal came along.
Zooming out to the big picture, the departure of Gordon Hayward left this team scrambling a bit. To me, it feels like Danny Ainge was banking on a few things to break right this season. After some tough sledding early on, he was hoping Kemba Walker could come back and be himself (eventually he did). The next step is to use the TPE to fill the Gordon-sized hole at the deadline. In order to get something out of that TPE, we have to be willing to send out value in return.
The East is wide open right now, and the right move could spark this team to great things. I love the “kids” as much as anyone, but this team needs a few more adults in the room.