After spending a fair amount of time researching and projecting just how quickly this rebuild can be completed, it seems a good time to get into the issues this 23-52 team faces entering the NBA's downtime.
As you'd imagine, there are quite a few issues for a Celtics group that was recently embarrassed by the Washington Wizards. For all the headway they've made in garnering draft picks and setting themselves up for future financial flexibility, there are definite, tangible errors in the organization.
The game of basketball is far more than numbers on a payroll and future assets. It is played by the 10-20 guys who set foot on the floor each night. The bottom line is that Boston's 10 guys have been drastically worse than the majority of teams in this league. That is a problem that likely won't be fixed by clearing cap space and drafting a lottery pick.
The issue of a talent deficit is what needs addressing this season. It will come in many forms; re-signing free agents, making offers to restricted free agents, drafting multiple picks, entertaining deals for their vast array of future assets, avoiding franchise-crippling mistakes and, in general, filling in the spaces that will make this team whole again.
The Avery Bradley problem
Boston has the most control over one issue on their summer docket: what happens with restricted free-agent shooting guard Avery Bradley.
It isn't complete control because any one of the league's other 29 teams can come along and offer him a contract that will force his current franchise's hand, one way or the other.
However, the Celtics are the only franchise he has ever known, and they have been very good to him. They didn't force him into anything, instead realizing his skill set early and helping him develop that with trips to the D-League and substantial minutes in the pros.
For a No. 19 overall pick—who came out before his 20th birthday with very little semblance of an offensive game—that is certainly fair treatment.
Beyond that, in many ways the Celtics made at least a partial decision to continue on with him over a legendary player in Ray Allen. Bradley may have been playing well in Allen's absence, but sticking with him after the future Hall of Famer became healthy showed a lot of trust.
All that is a long way of saying that Bradley owes a fair amount of his current success to the Boston Celtics. He should want to stay with the franchise that brought him into this league and taught him how to be a professional athlete. If nothing else, the Celtics have that going for them.
The problem gets created when you take into account the market value for an All-Defensive-caliber 23-year-old, who also averages 14.2 points per game on 43.4/36.7/78.8 shooting splits this season.
Market value sometimes doesn't take into account injuries or the risk of future loss. The NBA's other 29 teams don't see how Bradley responds to treatment on a day-to-day basis or know the extent of his increasingly bountiful medical record.
Giving Bradley a break for his rookie season, he has played in 185 of a possible 249 games including the postseason, roughly 74.3 percent. While an argument can be made that that isn’t a bad number for a career, Bradley is 23 and has played in just 66.9 percent of games the last two years. That number will only plummet the longer this current Achilles problem keeps him out.
Entering a summer of contract negotiations, that obviously isn’t something a player wants next to his name. Bradley now has concerns about both his shoulders and ankles in his early 20s. That is a major issue the Celtics have to figure out before moving forward with their offseason.
Other free-agent options
Beyond young Mr. Bradley, the Celtics have a lot of other free-agency concerns.
Even if they retain their starting shooting guard for something like $6 million a year, that puts them at about $50.7 million distributed to eight players, per Spotrac.com. Joel Anthony opting in tacks on $3.8 million with little extra on-court value, and two first-round picks, including one in the top five or six, will put Boston right at the salary cap.
Boston must bring in cheap, short-term free agents to augment this team if there are no trades on the horizon. One way to do that is with guys who are already happy where they are.
Kris Humphries and Jerryd Bayless haven’t been game changers for the Celtics, but they've been fairly steady players. One or both of them could return at a possible discount for the franchise that gave new life to their careers.
Beyond that, the pickings are going to be slim for a team that doesn’t have a ton of available capital to sign free agents. Thankfully, seven of those original eight salaried players are playable NBA athletes, apologies to Vitor Faverani.
Fixing the frontcourt
Boston entered the 2013-14 season with a logjam in their frontcourt. Over the course of this basketball year, they haven’t addressed this issue.
Changes to the frontcourt have included: giving Faverani’s minutes to Humphries, sliding Jared Sullinger into the starting role and acquiring Anthony.
The Celtics have five power forwards on the roster, with Brandon Bass and Kelly Olynyk joining Anthony, Sullinger and Humphries. They have one center, Faverani, who hasn’t been able to get on the court since late January.
This is an issue that likely isn’t going away without significant attention. Sure, Humphries and maybe even Anthony (player option) will be off the books next season, but there are still three guys who deserve playing time, none of whom are capable of guarding NBA centers.
Draft day is the first spot to look, considering the wealth of possibilities Boston gained in their 2013 trade with the Brooklyn Nets. However, the prospective center crop isn’t ideal—especially with as glaring an opening as Boston's.
The hope is that somehow Joel Embiid, of Kansas, falls due to injury concerns, not incredibly unlike Sullinger. As of now, the Celtics have been eliminated from the possibility of having the best chance at drafting first. However, if Embiid's absence from the NCAA tournament forces his stock to drop, Boston will be picking in the top five or six.
That leaves the similarly slim free-agent pool and trade possibilities. No matter the avenue of repair, this should be a primary issue on Boston’s whiteboard.
With the exception of Dirk Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks and the injured Nets, every current playoff team could make a case for having a star five, or at least a highly capable player who can man the center position.