Expectations were rightfully low this season. The Celtics had a new head coach stalking the sidelines (the league’s youngest), a renovated roster filled with castoffs and inexperienced projects, and their best player was scheduled to miss roughly half the season with a torn ACL.
But the future looks bright. They have a treasure chest filled with draft picks, and most of the youngsters are developing at a promising rate. There’s always a chance at any moment Danny Ainge shocks the world by swapping some of those assets for a bona fide superstar.
Realistically, the process is less predictable and could take a little longer than that. The organization is stacked for the future, like a Y2K believer’s basement in November, 1999. Except the Celtics know what they’re prepared for.
Here’s an outline of their most probable best-case scenario heading into next season:
Rajon Rondo is healthy, comfortable, still on the team and it’s understood that in two years he’ll sign a four-year contract (for a smidge under the max) keeping him in Boston through his prime.
Avery Bradley is re-signed to a four-year, $33 to $37 million deal, and Jared Sullinger is the starting power forward on opening night.
Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony and maybe even Jeff Green have already been traded for a collection of expiring contracts and scattered draft picks, but Kris Humphries remains on a new three-year, $20 million deal.
Gerald Wallace is still a problem. He’s owed approximately $20.2 over the next two seasons. He’s played over 1,000 minutes this season, and his PER is below 10. Wallace will not be better next season.
Boston would love more than anything to trade Wallace and unload his contract, but it’d be extremely difficult to do so without cutting off a finger. A desirable draft pick would have to be shipped out of town, and a potential trade partner must have long-term cap space and an indifference toward winning basketball games anytime soon.
A dream scenario could be a deadline deal with the Utah Jazz, involving Wallace and multiple future first-round picks (especially one or some in 2015, which could be all the more valuable should any of the 2014 freshmen decide to spend another season in school), for Gordon Hayward (who's then signed to a max contract by the Celtics).
The Jazz would be interested in doing such a deal only if they want to select someone in this year's draft who plays the same wing position Hayward currently fills (Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker).
They have cap space and are clearly rebuilding around an incredibly young core consisting of Trey Burke, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter (due for a massive raise in 2016).
But the deal is hypothetical, and a lot of things need to happen before Utah even considers it. Regardless, Wallace will be gone at some point.
Factoring in his contract, age and skill, he's not what a rebuilding team wants and needs, (actually, he's not what any team wants and needs, but Wallace is especially toxic to teams that are already at the bottom). So far, the Celtics have paid him $131,244 per turnover.
Ainge will also explore what his picks can transform into by themselves in a trade, specifically, if any young, blue-chip players still on rookie-scale contracts can be taken from teams frustrated with their development.
The previously mentioned Kanter could be one example. He's shooting under 50 percent from the field, getting to the free-throw line less often and grabbing fewer rebounds than last year, and Utah's defense ignites on fire (not in a good way) whenever he's on the court.
Why would the Celtics want him? He's large and 21 years old. Golden State Warriors small forward Harrison Barnes is another target.
If Boston chooses to use both picks this summer instead, it'll have two more assets ripe for development. At least one might even have All-Star upside. It's the exact opposite of being between a rock and a hard place.
What do the Celtics do after all that? Wait. For their young talent to grow or a disgruntled superstar to demand a trade (Kevin Love is the most popular example right now, but these things change quickly). They wait for anything to accelerate the process.
In 2015, they'll either dangle their two first-round picks or use them. Same goes for 2016 and 2018. By then, another star should be beside Rondo, (or in a less likely but always possible scenario, at least two others have taken his place), and the Celtics will once again be a very competitive basketball team.
Michael Pina has bylines at Bleacher Report, Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Sports On Earth and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.