“Perfect is the enemy of good.” - Voltaire
Close your eyes and you can just hear Brad Stevens saying something like this: “Forget about the home run. Hit singles and doubles. Don’t get too high or too low. Focus on the gameplan and make the next right move.” Brad the coach has taken that same philosophy and applied it to his new role as President of Basketball Operations.
In my humble opinion, Danny Ainge was a fantastic PoBO for this team over the years. He delivered a championship and rebuilt the team after that era with a core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Robert Williams. He deserves all the credit in the world for those things (and more).
With that said, I was very frustrated in the last several years with how he managed his assets. Specifically, he always seemed to be holding out for the ideal trade. To borrow the baseball analogy, if he didn’t get a pitch he could hit out of the park, he laid off. Each individual deal he passed on may not have been a home run, but if you let enough of those pitches pass by, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll simply strike out.
Draft picks are currency in the NBA and Danny Ainge was able to accumulate a lot of them over the years. However, he just wasn’t able to convert them into impact veterans, so he was forced to use them to select players. The draft itself is a roll of the dice and, as expected, the results have been mixed at best. For every Robert Williams and Grant Williams ,there’s 3 or 4 misses.
Which brings me to Brad Stevens. Most would say that having to use a first rounder to get off of a big contract is a bad deal. However, on a team with several recent first round picks riding the bench, giving up a pick in last year’s draft to convert Kemba Walker’s contract into Al Horford and a lot more financial flexibility is a solid move. Some would also say that upgrading from Josh Richardson to Derrick White isn’t worth giving up a first rounder and the right to swap picks in 2028. However, this team needs more impact veterans who fit with the Jays more than they need future picks. Remember too that Stevens was able to pick up Richardson in a salary dump deal using one of our TPEs.
There is a danger in this philosophy if you take it too far. If you keep giving up the future for the present, you might find a brick wall at the end of the road. Too many coaches that took on GM duties have fallen victim to this trap in the past. But Brad Stevens is enough of a student of the game to know this, too. Having Mike Zarren around to help with the details and lending his experience to the mix helps as well.
The Celtics accomplished their goal of adding pieces that help in the present and the future. Remember that the Celtics have a large stack of TPE’s available to them this offseason that they can use in trades or to pick up free agents in a sign-and-trade. They have a number of reasonable mid-sized contracts and Al Horford’s partially guaranteed contract they can use if they really want to go big game hunting. Or they can continue to add pieces that fit around the Jays and expand on their defense and ball movement identity.
Put another way, Brad Stevens has more pitches coming up and he can either continue to seek out singles and doubles, or if he sees the right pitch, he can reach back and try to knock it out of the park. A month or so ago, I advocated for trading for a 3rd star because putting together a perfect team around two stars is hard to do. I think what we’re learning from the Nets is that three-star teams can be a difficult needle to thread as well. Turns out the job of running a basketball team is really hard. I’m glad to know that the guy running our team is a little less emotional and a lot smarter than I am.