We all have plans. Childhood dreams of becoming a megastar, or for the more grounded people, a surgeon or pilot. Perhaps it’s a house you have your eye on that will take just a little more saving to afford or an engagement ring you’re working double shifts to acquire before popping the big question. Plans. We all have them. And oftentimes, we see them through to fruition.
But not every time. Those workout routines you start but don’t finish, or the latest dieting trend. That vacation to Maui you’ve been talking about forever, but just never booked the plane ticket. Life gets in the way; it throws twists and turns at you that catch you from the blindside.
Even the best-made plans get laid to rest - an adage as old as time, it would seem. Yet, never have truer words been spoken - especially in the case of the Boston Celtics.
First, it was Danny Ainge, the trader who fleeced teams with a friendly smile and devilish intentions. The same man who sent aging stars to Brooklyn in return for part of their soul, Ainge’s plan was clear: acquire a mountain of draft picks, and then wait patiently, wait until a superstar was disgruntled, and then pounce.
It’s hard to imagine Ainge envisioned hitting on multiple picks the way he did. Marcus Smart, while not a superstar, is one of the best complementary players in the league. Jaylen Brown developing from a raw athletic slasher into one of the most promising two-way wings in the league. Jayson Tatum may possibly be the next great Celtic.
Plans. Sometimes they go better than we could have ever hoped.
And then, Isaiah Thomas, the journeyman point guard, became an MVP candidate who captivated the city with his larger-than-life style of play. Suddenly, the elusive superstar Ainge had been waiting for became available, and Kyrie Irving was suiting up for the Boston Celtics. Time for phase two: Leverage Irving, Brown, and Tatum’s presence to find one final star.
We know how that story goes. And despite the plan essentially working, the train derailed before it even got out of the station. Eighteen months later, Kemba Walker is the latest big name to join the team.
You see, even when a blueprint is followed to perfection, the result can be a catastrophe. And that’s all a plan is, a blueprint. The harsh reality is that until your goal has become a reality, there’s no telling how the next chapter plays out.
Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Kemba Walker - 0 NBA Finals appearances. Construction of the blueprint = success; what came next was not.
And now we find ourselves here, with a new President of Basketball Operation in Brad Stevens. He may not have spoken of a plan, but it’s clear he’s up to something. Trading away a fully guaranteed Kemba Walker for Al Horford and his partially guaranteed 2022-23 contract, moving on from Tristan Thompson for expendable role players. Stevens is lining up cap room for next summer.
Financial flexibility. That’s the buzzword of the summer. And with players such as Bradley Beal, James Harden, and even Zach Lavine all possibly hitting the open market, it’s easy to understand why Stevens is prioritizing next summer.
Look at the moves the Washington Wizards have made these last few weeks. It’s clear they’re entering a competitive rebuild in an attempt to placate the disgruntled Beal. There’s also the matter of a supermax contract the Wizards can extend to their talismanic scoring machine that could give him a few million reasons to stay.
Or perhaps, Stevens is amassing these short-term deals to package in a trade, using the financial freedom those deals bring as the carrot to dangle in front of another team eager to hit the reset button.
The thing is, having cap space is only 50% of the battle. You still need to entice players to join your franchise. All this is to say that should Stevens be waiting for the likes of Damian Lillard to officially request a trade, future cap space and picks are not going to be enough to get the job done. And that any hope of drawing the next superstar to Boston is not a forgone conclusion, regardless of their relationship with Tatum or any other roster member.
Stevens has a blueprint. Ainge did, too. Building the structure and watching it become a success are two very different things. I hope Stevens has the one thing Ainge did not: a Plan B,C, and D. Otherwise, should Stevens strike out next summer, there will be some incredibly difficult decisions to make if the Celtics wish to avoid following in the footsteps of teams like the New York Knicks, that have previously bounce from season to season waiting for their next superstar, and losing their core because of it.