Boston Celtics' Rebuild Won't Take as Long as You Think

Roy Burton@thebslineContributor IJuly 19, 2013

The Boston Celtics will be a lot better than many people expect this season.
The Boston Celtics will be a lot better than many people expect this season.Darren McCollester/Getty Images

There's a prevailing sentiment that the Boston Celtics are intentionally trying to "tank" the 2013-14 season in order to land prized prospect Andrew Wiggins. 

That line of thinking is flawed, however. Not only are the Celtics markedly better than a number of Eastern Conference squads, they also aren't that far away from being a contender.

The presence of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green alone almost guarantees that the Celtics will win at least 30 games next season. Furthermore, the players acquired in the team's recent deal with Brooklyn (Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Marshon Brooks and Keith Bogans) were each personally assured that winning was (and is) Boston's No. 1 priority.

"I think every player wants to know what the rules of the team are," said Celtics' president Danny Ainge after the former Nets' quartet was introduced to the Boston media on July 15. "I assured [them] we're going to try to win every game."

Boston isn't even the least-talented team in the Atlantic Division: That honor belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers. And while the Celtics are a notch or two below the Nets and the New York Knicks, they could easily sneak into the eighth seed in a watered-down East.

That said, Boston won't be making a run for the Larry O'Brien Trophy next season. Barring a draft-night miracle, the Celtics are still two or three years away from being a legitimate contender.

Or maybe not: Boston has nine first-round picks over the next few years, and two summers from now, the team will have just $25 million on the books (if Jeff Green opts into the final year of his deal). And even though that number is set to increase with the inevitable extension for Rajon Rondo, the Celtics will still have enough money to sign a max-level player to pair with their all-world point guard.

A deeper inspection of the roster reveals that Boston also has several young, talented and salary cap-friendly players on the roster—all of whom could be valuable bargaining chips in potential trades. If the Celtics wanted to free up salary by moving Brooks, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger and/or Jordan Crawford, they could do so without much effort.

There's a fine line between "tanking" and "positioning yourself for the future while acquiring valuable assets." Boston clearly falls into the latter category, and the only way that will change is if the team decides to trade Rondo before the start of the season.

Former head coach Doc Rivers didn't want to be a part of the rebuild, so he and the Celtics decided to part ways in June. Assuming Rivers' spot on the bench is Brad Stevens, a 36-year-old NBA neophyte whose reputation is based largely on his accomplishments at a mid-major school (Butler).

Stevens amassed a .772 winning percentage in six seasons at Butler, and led the upstart Bulldogs to the NCAA championship game in both 2010 and 2011. While the lack of pro experience will offer its fair share of challenges, Stevens is he's the perfect figure to motivate and develop a young team.

"Yes, there will be transition, from the college game to the NBA game, but we will give him the support that he needs to make that transition fast," said Ainge when Stevens was named the Celtics' head coach on July 5. "He's a very smart guy."

No Rivers, no Garnett, no Pierce, no Terry? No problem. The five-year run of the Celtics capturing the Atlantic Division crown may have ended last season, but the team doesn't plan to be down on the mat for too much longer.

"Tanking, I think, is ridiculous," said Ainge during a press conference back on July 1. "This is the Boston Celtics, and we have a tradition and we have a culture that we're trying to create."