It’s rarely a bad time to acquire a superstar. Other variables might loosen a team’s need, but timing should never be one of them. If a star is available, and the means exist to grab him, a team should draft, sign or make a trade and then ask questions later.
The Boston Celtics already have one star, but the rest of their roster is mostly murk. A few young pieces have unknown potential (Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk), and there are veterans, like Jeff Green, Brandon Bass and Gerald Wallace, who range from “fairly paid” to “that contract is a raging forest fire!”
Right now, Boston is 22-43, which is the fourth-worst record in the NBA. The Celtics have numerous holes that need to be filled. A center/long-armed rim protector, secondary ball-handler, more outside shooting and a wing defender or two would go a long way.
But a franchise-altering star is the end game, and general manager Danny Ainge will surely explore the availability of a few before addressing any direct needs that could be solved with a less expensive veteran, role player or young prospect.
How do we know this? The team's owner Wyc Grousbeck recently said so to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe:
I’ve got confidence that with all these picks and these young guys and our willingness to spend money that we can get there. We’re a patient group. We will take a multiyear plan if that’s what it takes. But I think this June there could be some fireworks. I think this June we’ve got so many pieces to this puzzle that we might be able to shake loose a real piece or two for this team going forward. So, I’m hoping it’s sooner rather than later.
So there you have it: The Celtics wouldn't mind contending for a title sooner than later (breaking news!), but what "pieces" are Grousbeck referring to?
The Expected Candidates
The variables involved in Carmelo Anthony’s future make it difficult to place the Celtics as a potential landing spot, but thanks to the amount of assets they have to sell (and New York’s dire need for those very assets), Boston remains a dark-horse candidate.
On the court, Rajon Rondo would thrive beside Anthony in the same way he worked with Paul Pierce—except a 28-year-old Rondo will be better than his 25-year-old self, and a 30-year-old Anthony is better than a 31-year-old Pierce.
Their pick-and-roll would be unstoppable, and Rondo’s passing would unleash the catch-and-shoot monster that broils in Anthony’s belly.
The team would need to clear a whole bunch of cap space in order for an outright signing this summer, but if Anthony really wants to wear a green jersey, a sign-and-trade could work.
Kevin Love is the sexiest name out there for a variety of reasons, with the No. 1 being he’s the best player who is most likely to be on a different team two years from now.
He is a transcendental rebounding sensation who can step outside and murder you with the three ball (38 percent on 6.5 attempts per game this season).
Right now he holds the league’s third-highest player efficiency rating (behind James and Durant), per ESPN.com, and the third-highest defensive rebound rate. Love can pass, draw fouls and set screens. Defense is problematic but solvable if he’s working beside a demonic rim protector like Omer Asik or Roy Hibbert.
The Celtics do not have that rim protector, but if Love can be had, they’ll worry about filling other holes later on. The three-time All-Star is only 25 years old and would instantly make Boston a top-five team in the East.
Slim Chance...but Anything Is Possible
At what point will a struggling, capped-out team with few future assets look to cash out on its best player?
Maybe when that player is near the end of his contract? Maybe when the team believes the player and his financial being hold less value than a few draft picks and skilled guys in their early 20s who are making relative peanuts?
None of these guys will be actively shopped, but their respective franchises should at least project where they’ll be three years from now if they keep them as opposed to cashing out at the ripest hour.
Maybe it’s a pessimistic way to think about things, but that doesn’t make it any less intelligent. The offer would have to be sizable, and Boston has the ingredients to cook something up.
Not that the Celtics would follow this path, or even agree with it, but should the Brooklyn Nets, Portland Trail Blazers or Memphis Grizzlies trot out of the gate next year with a string of losses, the Celtics could dangle their 2014 lottery pick(s)—a prospect or two who may be more appealing as actual human contributors than valuable, abstract symbols of the future—to catch that elusive franchise big man.
Why wouldn't they do it? All three will re-enter free agency next summer (Lopez needs to opt out of his player option for 2016, but it's probable he will), and injury concerns are real. Lopez has battled chronic problems with his feet, and Gasol seriously hurt his knee this season.
Hypothetically, Ainge might instead set his sights on smaller fish, like Harrison Barnes or Terrence Ross. Or maybe he’ll just plug holes with talented short-term stopgaps, bring up the team’s competitive level and let those future draft picks burn a hole in his pocket.
Those additions won't be stars, but the only stress related to time that Ainge should feel is in regard to Rondo’s prime, and whether the GM can find another superstar before his current franchise player’s production starts to drop.
Josh Smith and Rudy Gay will probably have their names associated with Boston this summer. They’re fine, familiar players—Smith played with Rondo in high school and Gay is a close friend—who can do freakishly great things on a basketball court. But financially, acquiring either one doesn’t make much sense for a rebuilding team like the Celtics. Their contracts and age don’t hold value, and “value” is the second-most important thing Ainge wants right now.
Gordon Hayward and Greg Monroe are two younger targets who don't yet qualify as "star" material, but both will lose their market value this summer when they enter restricted free agency, and forfeiting hard-earned assets for either would be risky.
The most important thing is obtaining another superstar, and from Boston’s end, the window to grab one is propped wide open until it does.