On draft day in 2013, Danny Ainge made the decision to ship out one of the best 5 Celtics of all-time and one of the best 20 players of all-time to Brooklyn. In return, he got enough draft picks and spare parts to set the Celtics up for the next decade, while kicking off a rebuilding process that would someday hopefully lift them back up into the contender bracket of the NBA.
Three short years on and the most important part of that rebuilding process is about to hit Danny Ainge and his front office square in the face.
After all the hard work, acquisition of more draft picks than Sam Hinkie could possible dream of, development of young hopefuls into budding stars and the progression into the four team 48 win club, the Celtics are ready to take that aforementioned leap into contender-vile. The only thing is, that even with all of those assets, the Celtics are still miles away from constructing the type of team that can compete with the big dogs like Cleveland and Golden State.
Luckily enough, those assets, along with our monstrous amount of cap space (although everyone has cap space this summer) gives us the potential to create that type of team in the blink of an eye, kind of how Ainge did it in 2007 when he pulled off both the Kevin Garnett fleece and Ray Allen deal without anyone really noticing what the hell was actually going on. Over the next three years (including tonight's draft), the Celtics have 6 first rounders and at most, 8 second round picks and to add to this, they have a host of extremely affordable contracts, young players and quality veterans that are all enticing to other teams. That's a lot of assets to wheel and deal.
In other words, instead of owning all of the puzzle pieces to become contenders in the NBA, the Celtics have enough pieces to create all of the puzzle pieces. Getting those puzzle pieces should be the only goal this offseason, we are well and truly past the asset collection stage in our rebuild, it's finally time to start turning those assets into workable talent that might be able to bring banner 18 to Boston.
But why is now necessarily the time to make a move? I've seen quite a few opinion pieces online making the point that the Celtics shouldn't rush into a chance at becoming contenders and instead, wait for the right deals to come around, not giving up too many assets, while keeping their performing, young core together. But what these people don't understand is that this offseason is the perfect time to make two or three deals to vault us up the standings.
First off, this year is one of the few years in which the Celtics will have bucket loads of cash to splash. I get that the salary cap is going to rise again and again as the years go on, but we have over $50 million in cap room this year, with very few important free agents, none of whom are necessary to re-sign. In the next few years, the Celtics will have to dish out massive contract extensions to Marcus Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and even Jae Crowder a couple of seasons down the line, all of whom will be looking to cash in as they are all on deals that are no where near what they are worth. In a couple of years, the Celtics will have little room to move and attaining a guy like Kevin Durant through free agency will be impossible.
And then there's the point that this offseason might be the last time where this amount of stars are available. Jimmy Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin and Kevin Love could all conceivably be traded, while Kevin Durant and Al Horford are both available in free agency. Before too long, all of these guys will be off the market and who knows the next time a star will be available for the Cs.
If the Celtics want to make the leap, they should do it this season. But then there's the argument that the Celtics should continue building their team as is, without a superstar. But the fact of the matter is, that the NBA is a superstar driven league. We just saw LeBron James put a team on his back all the way to the NBA championship and unless you think that Isaiah Thomas could do the same, we need that same level of player on our side to compete. Then again, we could always draft the next LeBron James, but unless one of the Brooklyn picks that we may end up trading away, turns into a bona fide superstar we will be wasting its value. This is because we could avoid the risk of drafting, by trading those picks for established stars like a Jimmy Butler. If we end up keeping those picks and the draftees don't work out, we would've lost all of the trade value that those picks hold. At the moment, those exact same picks are at their highest value. The Nets stink and for all anyone knows, the next couple of Nets picks will end up number one overall.
And even if we do hit on those picks, a rookie rarely makes an impact on an actually decent team right from the get-go anyways. It'll take a couple of years for these picks to pan out and who knows where the Celtics will be by then. All of our players might be over the hill, the entire roster might look different, Brad Stevens may have gone back to the college coaching ranks or hell, that theoretical player that we draft, may now be surplus to requirements, because we signed or traded for a more established player.
Basically, to put it simply, the Celtics need to make their move this offseason. The last 3 years have been building towards this offseason and it's time to take a trip back to 2007 and pull off some blockbusters.
Just how we can do this is actually, reasonably simple.
In tonight's draft, we have 8 picks, three of them in the first round. Danny Ainge probably won't keep half of them, let alone all. He will be targeting one of the many rumored stars that have been flying around the internet of late. To acquire one of those players, we will likely have to give up the third pick, one of our many other picks and one of the trio of Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart or Jae Crowder, the three most lucrative trade chips that the Celtics have that aren't untouchable.
Depending on how big a star the player we acquire is, that could be the end of our hunt for a star. But it's unlikely that the Celtics will be able to find a star big enough on the trade market that won't require other supporting stars to join to be competitive. One such player that is available this offseason however, is Kevin Durant. A man that is at the top of everyone's shopping lists this summer but only a couple of teams outside of OKC actually have a chance of getting. I believe that due to the increased market size, ability to draw in other stars thru their cap space and assets, the Celtics will be an enticing enough destination to at least intrigue Kevin Durant.
Kevin Durant is the star that this Celtics team needs. Who is the go to scorer that we've desperately needed, adds more shooting to a brick laying squad and is already one of the best 5 players in the league, without being coached by President Brad Stevens. The sight of him in a Brad Stevens offense is scary and every other team around the league should feel the same way. Simply put it, we need Durant and our entire offseason should be devoted to going after Durant.
But for Durant to come on board, we need to make it real clear to him that we have championship aspirations, he wants to win and has devoted his entire career to doing it. Which means that we will have to use our draft picks and assets to trade for someone and use the rest of our cap space -- Durant money subtracted -- to grab another star player to create a new big 3, to go along with an existing core that won 48 games this season anyway. If we are able to add 2 stars to that same core, surely Durant will have to do more than just think about the Celtics.
Hypothetically, the Celtics could have a starting lineup of Isaiah Thomas, Jimmy Butler who we could acquire through trade, Kevin Durant, Jae Crowder if we gave up Marcus Smart or Avery Bradley to get Butler and Al Horford as our second star free agent signing. That team is good enough to win the NBA title, it's possible and if everything goes to plan it could be the squad Boston enters 2016-17 with. Kevin Durant wants to win and that core, at least in my opinion, is better than the one he currently has and considering that he is an extremely loyal, it will need to be to even have a chance at Durant.
Of course, if it's clear that Durant doesn't want to sign, we have to shift our course. Signing a guy such as Horford probably becomes a stupid decision, considering his age and the cost he would come at. His signing, or a player similar would only be one that we go after to put the icing on the pitch to Kevin Durant.
If our offseason strays away from Durant, stopping with our trade target is probably a good place to stop.
But regardless of who exactly we go after, the Celtics need to be aggressive. The time is now, the time to make a move is now and we need to be deep in the trade market and hunting down marquee free agents in order to make the necessary leap this squad with all of its assets are capable of.
Your move, Danny.
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