If and when the Boston Celtics are trotting out a starting frontcourt of Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, fans are going to be wrapping their heads around one question.
Why are the Celtics rebuilding this season?
The specific answer isn't clear, considering how murky everything is with an NBA rebuilding period. You definitely won't be getting a straight answer out of Danny Ainge. It isn't in his best interest to show all of his cards. Nor is it in the best interest of rookie head coach Brad Stevens, who will be doing a fair share of water treading in 2013-14.
What we do know is that these moves had to be made. For the organization's future, it had to bite the bullet.
The Celtics may have received minimal immediate value in return, depending on how Ainge can utilize the acquired assets two months down the road. Three future first-round picks, along with Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace and some young players are now in Boston.
They didn't simply dump three quality players for no return, however. Humphries, as much as he is a popular tabloid target, is one year removed from two straight double-double seasons. Wallace scored in double figures for eight straight seasons before last year, and MarShon Brooks was an All-Rookie Second-Teamer two seasons ago, averaging 12.6 points per game.
The prospect of bringing the gang back for another run in 2013-14 seemed darker and darker as the season ended and summer began.
With Doc Rivers entertaining offers from the Los Angeles Clippers, and Rajon Rondo still recovering from a massive injury, the floodgates were opened for Ainge to explore his options.
In reality, the Celtics didn’t want to pay two aging stars $27.7 million next year. Not with the prospect of Rondo being less than 100 percent and the rest of the Eastern Conference improving. Ainge’s trigger finger has been itching to pull off a deal like this for years now.
The circumstances finally lined up and brought back a considerable haul.
The key is taking emotion out of it. In reality, there is a decent chance Garnett gets hurt again next season or suffers a dramatic cut in production. While Pierce has been healthier overall, that same concern is there.
Had they been allowed to retire in Boston, Ainge would be left with a bunch of empty chambers in his revolver. He had to kill that possibility, sacrifice it for a better future. George had to kill Lennie. It wasn't easy, but it had to be done for future reasons.
Now, he has loaded up fully on ammunition for the future. Not just on the court, but ammo for trades and drafts for years to come. What took him many years to accumulate in the early 2000s, he may have just swung in one afternoon.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this rebuild will be next summer’s NBA draft. As you’ve probably heard at the water cooler, the 2014 draft is coming in with pretty gaudy expectations. While most of that is probably a bit overblown at this point, it is worth noting that the Celtics improved their own pick with the Nets trade.
So, even though the pick its getting from Brooklyn in 2014 will be somewhere in the 20s, Boston will have its own much lower. That opens up all kinds of possibilities for trading up to grab one of the potential stars. Also, the 20s is where Ainge found Sullinger just one year ago in a less highly touted class
The Celtics know as well as anyone, the draft is not an exact science and the lottery can be a cruel mistress. Rest assured though, as Ainge knows this too. That is why he has loaded up with so many options.
Rebuilding through the draft alone won’t get you anywhere. Teams find themselves taking lottery picks on a yearly basis and never move into legitimate contention. What you need are options for other avenues of rebuilding.
Options are not something Ainge had while continually re-tooling around Pierce and Garnett. There was one path the Celtics were heading down, and that alone would decide the outcome.
With the trade, Boston also opened up the possibilities for next summer’s free-agent class. The opportunity is there—if the Celtics play out this season under their current roster—to chop off as much as $23.8 million from their books.
Humphries’ $12 million opens up a ton of space on its own. However, Boston can add in Keith Bogans’ non-guaranteed $5 million, as well as smaller options and offers for the likes of Jordan Crawford, Fab Melo and MarShon Brooks.
Now, some of that money will go to minor raises for Rondo, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and others, but around $20 million is a lot of space in free agency. That is enough to possibly bring in a young star on a maximum contract, if one is available.
This would presumably still leave money to re-sign Rondo in 2015, especially with Brandon Bass’ $6.9 million coming off the books then.
As a reminder, this all comes along with the overwhelming draft picks Ainge brought in, while sacrificing few of his own. These picks can also help facilitate sign-and-trades with restricted free agents next summer and beyond.
It really was time to set all this in motion. Rebuild is a dirty word in the NBA—and not one fans really want to hear. However, as is the case in all businesses, the future has to be in your peripheral.
Don’t expect Ainge to tell the world some master plan. He doesn’t have one. No one has one. Draft picks, age and injuries are all unpredictable forces in professional sports.
The best-laid plans of NBA general managers often go awry.
In the league it is all about options, and Ainge now has plenty of those.