The Boston Celtics are in an enviable position right now.
They have a plethora of draft picks over the next few seasons, including two first-round picks in a 2014 draft which features a transcendent class of prospects.
They have a bright and adaptable head coach, who has already impressed in his first month on the job, under contract until 2019.
They have an ownership group that savors success and wants to taste it again, but one that also understands their general manager’s vision and the need for patience.
The Celtics are not very talented right now, but their young assets range from promising (Kelly Olynyk) to improving (Avery Bradley) to good (Jared Sullinger).
To top it all off, they’re a trade or two (or three) away from having a wide open cap sheet in two seasons, creating all sorts of possibilities in a summer where adored players like Kevin Love and Marc Gasol can enter free agency.
Early returns this season haven’t been pretty, but each week, the wheels of progress continue to roll in the right direction. The team's ultimate plan is to contend for a title within the next few seasons, and in order to qualify for that tier, the roster must have at least two elite players on it.
How can Boston get that type of talent? Here are the two most likely methods.
The Trade Market
Some might argue that Boston already has a necessary building block in Rajon Rondo.
Regardless of whether you believe the four-time All-Star's weaknesses outweigh his strengths, before tearing his ACL last season, he was more than capable of entering a playoff series involving the world’s very best players and outplaying them all. He’s a pass first player whose skill set should compliment nearly every other All-Star in the league.
In the following scenario, Rondo is the point guard of the future, and the Celtics feel as though they could compete in a wide open Eastern Conference sooner than later if only they had another proven All-Star—preferably a volume scorer—standing by his side.
What do they do? First of all, Boston has enough draft picks to convince almost any team in the league to part with their star, once said star becomes disgruntled.
It’s unlikely, but let’s say the New York Knicks secretly didn’t want to make Carmelo Anthony their highest paid player over the next five years.
And, just as unlikely, the Celtics felt that Anthony—playing beside Rondo, out of New York’s stressful atmosphere and under the tutelage of Brad Stevens—could vault them back into title contention.
The Celtics and Knicks could do a sign-and-trade that offloads several draft picks, kick starts an intelligent renovation in New York (the least plausible part of this circumstance) and makes Boston a very good team once again.
(Side Note: The Celtics have a $10.3 million trade exception from their blockbuster trade with the Nets, opening up numerous possibilities when it comes to taking back money in a trade.)
This is just one example, but that’s the type of deal Danny Ainge would make if he were interested in turning this thing around sooner rather than later.
What’s necessary is a star who wants out or a team that feels like starting over. This is tough, and it can’t be done until rare opportunity presents itself. The good news is that should an opportunity arise, Boston will be prepared.
The Celtics have two first-round picks in 2014, two first-round picks in 2015, two first-round picks in 2016 and two first-round draft picks in 2018. Should the Brooklyn Nets disintegrate in 2017, the Celtics have the right to swap first-round picks.
The chances of them using all those picks is slim, but the chances of them finding special talent with at least one of them is not.
Should Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle or some other prodigious candidate become theirs this summer, the franchise’s No. 1 priority then becomes catering to whichever one they selected and building around him.
That means drafting smart, being patient and not swinging for the fences until the franchise’s new center piece is ready. It’s difficult and tedious, but it is also inexpensive and rewarding.
Should Boston not land Wiggins, Parker or Randle in this year’s draft, there’s a possibility they survey the marketplace and attempt to upgrade via a trade right away. Or, they can wait until more information is available about the talent they already have.
If building through the draft is what they want to do, patience is the route they must take. They have another crack at a top pick in 2015, and then they can reap the many advantages that come with mixing cap space and developing talent (just ask the Indiana Pacers).
In the end, what Boston likely does is both. They’ll use some draft picks, and they’ll trade active players (packaged with other draft picks) for better talent. It’s far too early to answer this question with a right answer. Luckily, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge doesn’t have to.
Rebuilding a roster is tough and lengthy, with numerous uncontrollable forces dictating every team’s destiny. The Celtics aren’t guaranteed a prosperous future, but they have all the pieces to build one.
Michael Pina is a contributor at Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.
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