The Boston Celtics are a team that can shift in many directions in the near future. Armed with a ridiculously valuable pile of picks, young talent, both overseas and local, and cap flexibility, the team can pull the trigger on that “big splash” move to acquire a top 15 player without much difficulty. A strong young core is in place, but decisions must be made, especially in the case of star guard Isaiah Thomas. With the ability to free up enough money to sign a big name max-player (ie Hayward, Griffin), or a strong role player or two (Mason Plumlee, Ilyasova, PJ Tucker), the Celtics could own free agency as well.
Of course, this all is hinged on GM Danny Ainge’s willingness to part with said assets, but we’ll get into that later. Oh, and did I mention that with the Cavalier’s Monday loss to the Spurs, the Celtics are in first place in the Eastern Conference? That’s right, your Boston Celtics, who happen to own the projected number one pick in this summer’s loaded draft, now have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Now of course, the Celtics have been without much playoff success since the departure of the big 3 in 2013, failing to make it past the first round, but this could be the year they finally break through (which surely sounds funny when we’re talking about a 17 time NBA Champion team).
Let’s start by examining the Celtics’ myriad of draft picks, because, based on Ainge’s history of not trading his picks, it seems likely the Celtics make the selections themselves. Over the next 3 years, the Celtics have a grand total of 13 draft picks, including the Brooklyn Nets’ picks for this year and next, which both project to be number 1 overall. This year, two possible franchise-defining talents stand alone at the top of the draft, in Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, and both of these players will come off the board at or near Boston’s draft slot, but they also both play Point Guard, the same position as their best player in Isaiah Thomas.
All isn’t well. The Celtics are at a crossroads. They signed 30 year old Al Horford to a 4 year/113 million dollar contract, and came painfully close in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes. They have a definite core with Thomas, Horford, guard Avery Bradley, and wing Jae Crowder, (and of course the greatest NBA player of all time in Marcus Smart), but the seemingly limitless resources pose a question. When is this team’s window? Do we cash all our chips, go all in, win now? Or do we wait, use the picks, let the current core go, and hope we develop something special? We’re stuck in between, because if Ainge wanted to win now, he would have traded the Brooklyn picks. And if he wanted to bide his time, wait it out, then why did he sign Horford to such a lucrative deal? This coming offseason could very well decide the direction of this franchise through at least the end of the decade. The Celtics do have plenty of options.
Option 1: So let’s say the Celtics decide to make a trade. Danny remembers that we only won the ring in 2008 because of the moves he made for KG and ray Allen, and he makes the move. Boston comes out of the deal a few firsts lighter, but let’s say they pry away someone like Jimmy Butler or Andre Drummond, star players with track records and strengths that this team needs. The team would immediately become an NBA Finals contender. The window passes after a few years, and the Celtics may fall to a lottery team. That’s the cycle of the NBA, right? Ainge could hypothetically pull a Belichick, and never fall back to earth, but we all know Ainge better. That team that contended, barring injuries, could have challenged the Cavaliers, Warriors, and Spurs for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. There’s an obvious path to a championship there. Boston could also opt to build a super-team via free agency, and with only about $37 million in salary on the books for 2017-’18, the Celtics have plenty of room for a top tier guy, like what they did last year with Horford. This could propel the C’s to champ contender status as could the trade option.
Option 2: Use the draft. Now, Ainge isn’t the best drafter in the world, missing at times in crucial spots, but this might be the safe bet. Not many guys around the league can fuck up back to back number one picks. Let’s say we don’t make a move, and draft Markelle Fultz and a stud in next year’s draft. Now, we hope that some combination of Fultz, Jaylen Brown, 2018 BRK pick, and foreign talents Ante Zizic and Guerschon Yabusele pan out into a good team, or we have to start over again. This option would also involve key members of the current team declining and leaving in free agency, which would only be ideal if the Celtics’ young players turn into stars to replace the departing talent. (Ainge could also be fired, in exchange for a GM with balls.)
Boston does have a path to the 18th banner. Two distinct paths, in fact. Neither is a sure bet, but what is for sure is that 29 other front offices want to get to the promised land just as much as we do. What else is for certain is that if you stay complacent in the NBA, you get swallowed up. In the end this comes to a tough decision, and one that i can only attempt to answer. The question being; Do the Celtics trade for a star and hope injuries don’t derail their plans? Or do they draft young pieces, and hope they become stars?
If i knew what to do, or if anyone else did, then Danny Ainge might well be in the unemployment line. All we can do is wait and see.