(This is part three of a three part series.)
So now that we’ve covered how we got here and what we are at this point, the burning question on everyone’s mind is “where do we go from here?”
It seems clear that this team is more than just one player away from being a contender. They essentially need a bench overhaul (or for several players to get fully healthy and fully actualized all at once - which isn’t happening). Barring a sweetheart deal where the Celtics find someone to give them 3 or 4 quality players in exchange for our not-yet-quality players and (hopefully) low draft picks, that doesn’t seem like a strategy to bet on. In fact, for weeks Danny Ainge and Wyc Grousbeck have been hinting that they won’t be using the TPE till the offseason. So Ainge clearly can’t pick the wine in front of me! (Yup, back to the Princess Bride quotes)
If you aren’t going to be buyers at the deadline, logic would dictate that you should at least consider being sellers (as was covered in detail here and here). However, the team isn’t giving up Tatum, Brown, or likely Smart or Rob Williams. Nobody is going to buy Kemba (though some would consider taking picks to dump him but that’s no longer “selling”). So who exactly is going to give us value for the guys that can’t put us over the top? Perhaps we could find a buyer for Theis or Thompson, but given our glut of centers and Theis’ upcoming free agency, we should be considering that even if we’re buyers. In addition, if we just started sending out players for nothing but draft compensation and expiring deals, I’m not sure what kind of message that tells Tatum and Brown. So Ainge clearly can’t pick the wine in front of him!
You see the dizzying logic here. Ainge needs to pick a lane, but the lane options both stink. So chances are he’s going to keep riding down that median and hoping to jump into the contender lane eventually.
But what does that mean exactly? I think it still means that Ainge has to look for upgrades. Not short term fixes, not half year rentals, not panic moves. Legit upgrades, using either the TPE and/or a combination of picks, young players, and one of the centers.
In my mind Harrison Barnes still fits that description. Even if you think it “won’t matter” because the team won’t win this year, he’s a value guy that is going to be around the next couple of years (or is a trade chip if a bigger name comes along). I think the need here is urgent enough to overpay if you need to. Ainge is famous for having a price and sticking to it, but at some point you have to push more chips into the pot to get the guy you need. Of course there’s a limit to that as well. If the asking price for Barnes is simply too high, then explore upgrade options elsewhere.
I find it hard to believe that there aren’t at least some upgrade options that will be available on deadline day. Ainge went out of his way to say that we don’t want to do sideways deals and sometimes adding in incremental upgrades isn’t worth it because they have to learn the system. My response to that is that the guys here know the system and fail. So what do we have to lose?
So to me the bottom line is still the same as it was a few weeks and months ago. We have to be buyers and we need to make good, long-term deals. Just making a trade for Barnes doesn’t make us a contender, but it is a step in the right direction. It can’t stop there (though that might be all we can do at the deadline).
The only thing that has changed for me is the expectations of this season. We’ve gone from “the East is wide open” to “I hope we don’t fall down to the play-in games range.” That is very frustrating and very unfortunate, but it doesn’t change the team building calculus. We can’t keep draining assets and counting on kids to fill in the gaps. This team needs to move forward with real talent and the trade deadline is a good time to make a step in that direction.