With a listless offense, a slew of players either hurt or underperforming for stretches and a first-year head coach still acclimating to the league, Boston positioned itself well for the post-Big Three era by engineering the worst Celtic team in recent memory.
Now that the Celts are virtually ensured a high lottery pick, the team can begin focusing on the rest of the offseason beyond just their pair of first-round selections.
This includes not only free agency and how to handle some of their more hefty contracts, but also what to do with Rajon Rondo, whose expiring contract will surely be one of the most discussed stories of the coming year.
Let’s rejoice that the long, dark 2013-14 campaign is nearing its end and try to help Danny Ainge and the front office plan for the brighter days of the 2014 offseason.
Don’t Trade Rajon Rondo for 50 Cents on the Dollar
By the time the 2014 offseason rolls around Rondo will have just one year remaining on his contract, and the Celtics brass could slip into Kevin Love-style panic mode.
For the year, Rondo is averaging 11.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 9.2 assists on 37.5 percent shooting overall and 29.3 percent from three-point territory.
The percentages are undoubtedly troubling, but Rondo has looked very much like himself and has provided Boston with some much needed point guard stability.
There are sure to be plenty of teams like the Sacramento Kings, Houston Rockets and New York Knicks interested in his services during the offseason, but the C’s should not jump on a deal just because one presents itself.
Rondo is earning just $12.9 million in 2014-15, limiting the kind of return Boston can get for him.
They cannot acquire another eight-figure-salary superstar as well as young assets, and they will likely want some mix of established talent in addition to future pieces.
The Celts could ship Rondo out purely for picks and players on rookie deals, but that will set their rebuild back years and it is difficult to picture Boston getting equal return.
NBAdraft.net has Boston taking Marcus Smart at fourth overall, but the C’s have more pressing needs than the point guard position that they should be addressing through the draft.
Obviously, Rondo’s play down the stretch will matter in determining his future, but the C’s should not make a hurried deal just because they are not 100 percent sure they can re-sign him.
Boston still holds the upper hand in both trade negotiations and signing Rondo to a new deal, and the organization needs to keep that in mind.
Deal Jeff Green
He has looked better with Rondo back in the lineup, but the “Jeff Green as a first option” experiment has clearly been a failure for the C’s.
Green had never been better than a third option before the 2013-14 season, and while he has had some nice moments (four 30-plus point games), he has simply been too inconsistent throughout the season.
Boston’s trouble scoring (they rank just 27th in the league in points per game at 95.5) is not solely Green’s fault, but he has been far too complacent and willing to settle for outside jumpers.
Green is shooting just 44.3 percent on two-pointers and 35.4 percent on jumpers from 16 feet to the three-point arc, per Basketball-Reference.
For the year, he is averaging 17.0 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists on 41.2 percent shooting overall and 34.8 percent from three.
He hasn’t been particularly assertive in getting to the basket, and his playmaking even when Rondo was out left something to be desired.
Additionally, Green has been a bust on the glass. Some of that is because he has been playing more on the wing, but his five boards per 36 minutes is the lowest of his career.
Boston likely won’t be able to get a first-rounder for Green, but if they could get his remaining two years and $18.9 million off the books that would be huge going forward.
The C’s should do what they can to cut bait and get a decent return for Green while not taking on too much long-term salary.
Draft a Scoring Wing
If Boston does wind up trading Green, it will surely need another scorer at the 2 or 3 to replace him.
Luckily, the 2014 draft is full of wing players who can fill it up both at the top of the lottery, where Boston will be using its own pick, and in the middle of the first round, where the Celts will have either the Hawks’ or Brooklyn Nets’ pick.
Ideally, Boston would land in the top two or three of the draft and be able to snag either Duke’s Jabari Parker or Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins.
While neither freshman had a particularly strong showing in the NCAA tournament, they are both elite talents with high upside who could be Boston’s franchise cornerstone for years to come.
If the Celts continue to lose at their current rate they could very well wind up with a top-three pick and a shot at Parker or Wiggins, but even if they don’t they could still land a pure scorer later in the first round.
They could potentially grab someone like North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren, who averaged 24.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in his sophomore season, or Syracuse’s Jerami Grant, who scored just 12.1 points per game but shot a strong 49.6 percent from the floor.
Obviously, a first-year player won’t be leading Boston in scoring, but the C’s offense has been pretty ineffective all season and they could use someone capable of feeding off of Rondo and creating his own shots as well.
Brad Stevens’ teams at Butler were never elite offensively, but the Celts need to become at least middle-of-the-pack on offense before they can return to the playoffs and do any real damage.
Signing some free agents who can score the ball would certainly help, but Boston could save money and continue the rebuild by drafting a player capable of creating offense for himself and his teammates.
Not Overcommitting in Free Agency
Much has been made about the 2014 free-agent class, but the Celtics aren’t going to be chasing LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony this summer.
The C’s will have a decent amount of cap space this offseason, owing $52.5 million excluding player options, per Shamsports, but they should not spend simply to spend.
A player like Greg Monroe or Gordon Hayward could certainly earn Boston a few more wins in the short term, but neither is a game-changing player, and both would likely command an eight-figure, four-year contract.
Additionally, the C’s should try not to chase any restricted free agents and end up in bidding wars that could potentially leave them overextended financially.
Chasing a Lance Stephenson type could be a smart move, but with an extension due for Avery Bradley and decisions to be made about Kris Humphries, Jerryd Bayless and possibly trading Brandon Bass, Boston should focus on fixing its internal problems first.
The Celtics will also have to start thinking about preserving space for Jared Sullinger’s upcoming extension, for which he will be eligible in the 2016 offseason.
Re-signing Bradley to a three-year deal in the $14 million to $18 million range is reasonable given his expanded offensive game this season, and Humphries could be a good get at the right price (not $12 million annually), but the C's should not make their offseason priority the free-agent market.
The C’s should look to add some cheap shooting and rim protection, but the long-term cap space should be preserved for when Boston is closer to title contention and the team's needs are clearer.