A quick gander down the Boston Celtics' roster will tell you all you need to know about their 2013-14 campaign: It's going to be a struggle. Gone is the veteran glue that guided the C's to a title in 2008; new coach Brad Stevens will be responsible for a rebuilding project with a bigger picture in mind than 2014 success.
But what if the so-far winless Celtics shock the NBA world? Could Boston manage to tread water until the winter, then squeak into one of the East's final seeds after Rajon Rondo returns to the lineup, whenever that may be?
It'd be an uphill battle, and one that would stun even the most hopeful Boston backers. But would it even benefit the organization to bask in short-term glory—which would likely max out at an eighth-place finish followed by a first-round exit—and sacrifice a prime selection in one of the more promising drafts in recent history?
It certainly won't be a joy to suffer defeat all season long, but an appearance in the postseason may end up setting the Celtics back even further in their rebuilding plans.
A Look at the 2014 Draft Class
Much has been made of next summer's star-studded draft class, and for good reason. Even beyond Kansas wunderkind Andrew Wiggins, there's a handful of standouts that could play the part of franchise-changer almost immediately.
With the exception of the point guard spot, the Celtics could use help at every position, and with two first-round selections next June, this draft is the perfect opportunity to restock. With wing players like Jabari Parker, Wayne Selden, Jerami Grant, James Young and Glenn Robinson III available, management certainly isn't without options should they wish to go that direction.
They could beef up the frontcourt by adding Wiggins' Kansas teammate Joel Embiid, or they could give Rondo a premier offensive weapon down low by selecting Julius Randle out of Kentucky. For an in-depth look at the '14 class, take a look at Jonathan Wasserman's most recent mock draft.
Even if none of the names attract Boston's attention, packaging one or some of their owned selections in a trade would be another route.
The possibilities are nearly endless for Danny Ainge, so long as his 2013-14 roster is as bad as advertised. The upcoming draft is possibly the deepest since 2003, but falling out of the lottery in favor of a short playoff stay this year would be short-sighted.
But what about Celtic Pride?
When Ainge signed off on the deal that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to the division rival Brooklyn Nets, he sent a crystal clear message to the city of Boston. By receiving the rights to four first-round draft picks—including Brooklyn's selection in the famed 2014 draft—the Celtics have a plan to return to dominance in the near future.
But that plan includes a near forfeiture of 2014.
No, it isn't evocative of the way Boston has conducted business throughout the franchise's history. Fifty-one of the Celts' 67 seasons have resulted in playoff appearances. Being content with failure won't normally be associated with anyone in the Celtics community—internally or within the fanbase.
But even the most optimistic fans have to realize that these short-term defeats only serve to build towards an improved product.
Remember the last time the C's suffered through a minor dry spell?
The Proof Is in the Rafters
It was seven years ago the last time Celtics fans endured the turmoil of a bad basketball team. The 2005-06 Celts won just 33 games, and the following year's team managed to make that squad look halfway decent by winning just 24 times.
The franchise followed up its second-worst season in history by including the fifth overall pick in a deal to acquire a 32-year-old Ray Allen, and later packaged several young assets and picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves to lock up Kevin Garnett in his prime. The two additions were teamed with Paul Pierce to form Bean Town's first "Big Three"—the rest is in the record books.
Boston won 66 games and rose a championship banner a season removed from being the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
As grimly as 2005 and 2006 rest in Celtics fans' memory banks, it can't be denied that those miserable years played a role in the team's first championship since 1986.
The Similarities Are Causes for Optimism
Danny Ainge may have to maneuver his way to a ring slightly differently this time around, thanks to revisions in the current collective bargaining agreement, but there are still a fair amount of similarities.
Boston still has an All-Star piece to build around in Rajon Rondo, who currently represents the 2006-07 version of Pierce: a primed star eager for help on his own roster, but also a living, breathing trade rumor.
In Brad Stevens, the Celtics are trusting a coach without golden NBA coaching accolades, but they certainly have reason for optimism. Rivers never finished above fifth in the East as Orlando Magic head man, but he was a 14-year floor general for four pro teams. Stevens enters with no NBA experience, but he's a revolutionary mind in an evolving age of basketball.
In Kendrick Perkins, Tony Allen and Leon Powe, Boston carried key championship role players over from the abysmal 2006-07 squad. Primary issues with this year's roster are the players being counted on as offensive and defense catalysts (i.e. Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk), but the C's employ plenty of names—including those just mentioned—that would be serviceable accessories on a better team.
These Celts don't have a good overall roster right now, but neither did they in 2007. Ainge has displayed an ability to reconstruct success. With a stockpile of talented assets and draft picks at his disposal, there's reason to believe he can turn Boston into a contender in short order.
All the 2014 team has to do is contribute to the cause by living down to expectations.
Follow me on Twitter at @JSDorn6.
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