Are Boston Celtics Poised for the Quickest Rebuild in the NBA?

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IApril 3, 2014

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It is easy traveling to one of two extremes when looking at the Boston Celtics' rebuilding process.

On one hand, this team is 23-52 and has struggled through numerous losing streaks. On the other hand, this is a franchise with a bevy of assets, a fairly solid track record and a lot of other things going for it.

The reality will likely fall somewhere in the middle. The Celtics' last bottom-out year was followed by what may very well have been the quickest rebuilding process in the NBA. They missed the playoffs for two consecutive years from 2005-07, then came back to win the title in 2007-08. 

The 2006-07 team that lost its way into the lottery and came out the other side with the assets to rapidly acquire Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett finished 24-58. This current incarnation will likely finish with a similar record.

Celtics president Danny Ainge has already made moves to try and shorten the rebuilding process, but has he done enough to surpass the other construction projects going on across the league?

There are many factors that go into an NBA rebuild, and teams must really hit on a majority of them to be successful.

First and foremost, to quickly rebuild an NBA franchise, there must be a solid infrastructure of front-office people. This includes an involved owner who's willing to spend but isn't pressuring, a steady general manager who isn't fearful of unemployment and a coach who has the trust of those two and the players.

The franchise must also hit on early draft picks. Few things can sink a rebuild faster than whiffing on a highly anticipated pick. Cutting corners with cheap materials in construction can create a lot of trouble; you need the proper equipment to win at this level.

In order to expedite this process, it is important to have successful young players under contract. These are somewhat established players, not just capable of playing at a high level but capable of setting a tone, culture and standard for the incoming pieces, of which there will likely be many.

Finally, it would seem to be important to have the capital to bring in free agents where needed. This is always a risky spot, as a team with free money can sometimes be too willing to spend it. However, cap space is gold is today's NBA and a necessary factor to ensure a quick and profitable rebuild.

One of the strongest things Boston has going for it at this point is its solid infrastructure. At this point, Ainge isn't worried about making moves to save his job in the short term. He has been there for a long time and has had success. 

The ownership group has been fairly solid since purchasing the team in 2002, and it seems as though everyone in the organization is behind new hire Brad Stevens. The head coach is currently completing the first year of a six-year contract.

Per ESPN's NBA front-office rankings, Boston has the sixth-best group in the league, by far the top team out of those currently in rebuilding situations. Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale may be slightly biased, but he had good things to say about the relationship to The Boston Globe's Baxter Holmes:

But I think his team plays hard. That’s the thing — if you get your guys to play hard every night, that’s a sign that he’s doing right if they’re buying in. He’s got a long [six-year] contract, and I’m sure at some point in that contract, he’ll have the type of team that he wants and that Danny will put together for him that can contend.

Boston's recent draft history is a bit murky, with names like Fab Melo and JaJuan Johnson inducing cringes. However, over the past two years Boston has definitely hit on Jared Sullinger and, to a lesser degree, Kelly Olynyk, with middling first-round picks. 

Since 2002, Boston has picked in the top 10 only twice. However, both Jeff Green and Randy Foye were traded before ever playing for the franchise (Green has since returned). 

As far as having young talent under contract, Boston has both Sullinger and Olynyk wrapped up, along with 28-year-old All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, for at least next season. Unfortunately, beyond that there are a lot of questions. How good is soon-to-be 28-year-old Green? What is the future of restricted free agent Avery Bradley (23)?

Boston's cap-space situation isn't ideal, but it isn't a major hindrance. They will shed a large sum this offseason. Not enough to open up significant capital to sign a big free agent, without some help at least, but enough to breath easier.

All in all, Boston's situation doesn't appear that dreary. Taking everything into account, this rebuild could indeed be very short-lived. However, one must take a look around the league, as the Celtics aren't rebuilding in a vacuum but rather in a cutthroat league full of similar projects.

Milwaukee Bucks (14-61)

Larry Sanders will be in town for a while, but is that a good thing?
Larry Sanders will be in town for a while, but is that a good thing?David Zalubowski

Milwaukee is the not-so-proud owner of the NBA's worst record. This year, that may be a somewhat enviable position, as they'll have the best shot at picking first come June.

The Bucks have a solid albeit unremarkable head coach in Larry Drew. He is in his first year but had a track record of success, going 128-102 with the Atlanta Hawks and making the playoffs in all three of his seasons. However, there was a reason he was available.

Herb Kohl has owned the team for what seems like forever and has grown visibly impatient recently, putting pressure on recently extended GM John Hammond. That led to somewhat ill-advised moves like signing O.J. Mayo and guaranteeing a big extension for Larry Sanders.

The Bucks do hold all their future first-round picks. Unfortunately, they also already have $45 million guaranteed to players next season. That isn't a good sum to have locked into players who formed a 14-win team in 2014-15.

Orlando Magic (21-54)

Orlando has hit on both Vucevic and Oladipo, but when will that mean a contender?
Orlando has hit on both Vucevic and Oladipo, but when will that mean a contender?John Amis

The Magic are in a fairly favorable rebuilding situation, despite a second straight season of bottoming out.

They have been wise with their financials since the Dwight Howard trade while managing to come out of that blockbuster relatively blemish-free. Jacque Vaughn is tough to gauge as a head coach right now after two years of being dealt foldable cards. However, he has not exactly expedited the turnaround. 

What Orlando does have going for it is possibly seven first-round picks over the next four years, including what could become two lottery picks this June. They could wipe nearly $20 million off the books this offseason, leaving plenty of room to build with those two picks and free agency. They also have some young talent locked up.

Aaron Afflalo (28) broke out and is owed only $7.5 million next year. Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris are two of the best value players in the league right now. Victor Oladipo makes a lot of money as a rookie, but hasn't been a bust at No. 2 overall.

Philadelphia 76ers (16-59) 

This hasn't been the best NBA introduction for Carter-Williams.
This hasn't been the best NBA introduction for Carter-Williams.Jason Getz

The Philadelphia 76ers have done the most jarring job of bottoming out this season. However, it remains unlikely that they'll have the best shot to pick No. 1 in June.

They have next to no money on the books for next year, meaning plenty of cap space, but are doing little to showcase anything that would attract free agents to their franchise. They appear to be banking on hitting their lottery pick this summer. With a brand-new general manager and head coach, that is a tough avenue to judge this early.

Philadelphia does have the good fortune to have apparently hit on their draft last year, with Michael Carter-Williams looking like the Rookie of the Year. However, we still haven't seen Nerlens Noel. They have a lot of stipulations on a lot of picks but no noticeable windfall of assets beyond their own.

The 76ers are a little behind the ball with their rebuild. They have chosen to shed almost everyone from the roster. Instead of starting from a higher point, with real talent, they are starting from scratch. Philadelphia may not be in store for a quick rebuild.

Detroit Pistons (27-48) 

Detroit took a big rebuilding swing and missed.
Detroit took a big rebuilding swing and missed.Duane Burleson

The Detroit Pistons aren't in an incredibly enviable spot. They promised to win this year with splashy offseason acquisitions which haven't quite panned out. Now they are once again lottery bound for the fifth straight season, with the hopes of maintaining their first-round pick. Should it fall out of the top eight, it goes to the Charlotte Bobcats.

The championship 2003-04 season was a long time ago for GM Joe Dumars, who had to fire head coach Maurice Cheeks in February. New coach John Loyer is the sixth person to helm the team since Larry Brown was bought out in 2005. That type of internal turnover and danger is unhealthy for a rebuild. On top of that, Detroit has money tied up in Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings without a great deal of results to show for it.

Their saving grace may be the cap room still available thanks to a couple of sizable expiring contracts. However, this team isn't in the type of situation that breeds prosperous thoughts.

Going into their fifth rebuilding summer, this process has been anything but speedy.

Cleveland Cavaliers (31-45) 

Irving is supposedly a top player in the league, but can't win.
Irving is supposedly a top player in the league, but can't win.John Raoux

Nothing Cleveland has tried so far has worked for the franchise. They've been drafting in the lottery since LeBron James left in 2010. We are approaching four complete seasons since then, and the Cavaliers have little to show for their rebuild.

This summer will mark their fourth straight trip to the lottery, despite picking in the top four a total of four times in the last three drafts.

Whether it is just bad luck with injuries or a more tangible problem doesn't matter at a certain point. Chris Grant was the first domino to fall, as the Cavaliers fired their GM in February. Mike Brown is now struggling to win with the team they've put together and attempted to augment time and time again.

Andrew Bynum didn't help. Luol Deng didn't help. Jarrett Jack didn't help. Anthony Bennett certainly didn't help, and the list goes on.

They have been able to maintain cap space, but at this point they do not have an attractive operation. Their best course of action is to pray for a fully healthy season from Kyrie Irving, who is now unfortunately 0-for-3 in that respect.

Utah Jazz (23-52)  

Utah put a ton of Trey Burke's shoulders this year and needs to get him help.
Utah put a ton of Trey Burke's shoulders this year and needs to get him help.Rick Bowmer

The Jazz are in a similar situation to what Boston is going through right now. After years of solid, mildly successful teams, they have cut bait and are restocking this year.

Their infrastructure has its question marks but broke off a piece from the San Antonio Spurs tree with relatively new GM Dennis Lindsey. Tyrone Corbin hasn't proven a ton as a head coach, though he was dealt a losing hand this year.

You won't find a team with more available money entering the offseason. However, a fair amount of that will go to retaining Gordon Hayward, if that is the chosen course of action.

Should they lose him to restricted free agency, it is tough to say where they have a leg up in a rebuild. Derrick Favors is a solid player and under contract, but his salary bubbles over $12 million next season for a guy averaging 12.9 points and 8.8 rebounds on a 23-win team.

Trey Burke might become something eventually but is shooting just 37.8 percent as a rookie point guard and has a lot on his shoulders.

Los Angeles Lakers (25-50)

Nathan Denette

Any conversation about the Los Angeles Lakers at this point has to begin with them having about $32 million tied to Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant for next season. Combined, those two have played just 19 games in 2013-14 and will be 76 years old before next year tips.

Other than them, the Lakers have nothing significant holding over. Their first-round pick this summer is looking pretty solid, but as a whole their draft prospects aren't ideal. Their first-rounder next year will likely go to Phoenix, while their 2017 first heads to Orlando. Both picks are top-five-protected.

Mike D'Antoni can't be looking great after two straight disappointing seasons, and there continues to be some turmoil in that front office.

The Lakers will always have a leg up in rebuilding situations because of their location. However, even that has taken a hit in recent years, with Dwight Howard spurning them and Miami's trio opting to team up in South Beach.

Sacramento Kings (27-48)

This team-up hasn't redirected the franchise's playoff hopes.
This team-up hasn't redirected the franchise's playoff hopes.Rich Pedroncelli

This will be the eighth year of the Kings' rebuild. Their last playoff appearance came in 2006, when DeMarcus Cousins was just 16.

The team has two borderline All-Stars in Rudy Gay and Cousins but haven't been able to put much of anything together.

They scraped away years of questionable front office infrastructure recently, which would seem to direct things up. Unfortunately, there is $47 million guaranteed to players on the current roster, with Cousins' raise being a big bump. 

Gay has a player option for $19.3 million, which would pretty much solidify the Kings roster. They will likely owe a first-rounder at some point to Cleveland, though that has has some very good protections on it.

Is Boston poised for the quickest rebuild?

If we are considering these rebuilds individually, we can safely eliminate teams like the Kings, Cavaliers and Pistons. Those projects have been ongoing for quite some time.

However, with teams that have won in recent years like the Jazz, Lakers, Magic and even 76ers and Bucks, things are tighter.

Barring a major Kobe resurgence, Rondo is a better individual player than anyone on the rosters of these other rebuilding teams. Boston has maintained some semblance of respectability through this down-year. That is something Philadelphia and Los Angeles may not be able to say.

The Bucks made some poor front-office decisions of late that have to be counted against them and have only been a sporadic playoff team in the recent past. 

It is tough to say at this point, because so much will weigh on who hits and misses with this 2014 draft. However, one above-average player isn't going to fix Utah, Philadelphia, Milwaukee or Los Angeles.

It might help get the Magic or Celtics back to competitive levels. Even then, Rajon Rondo can be one hell of a trump card.

All salary and cap information courtesy of Basketball Insiders.


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