This summer, head decision-maker Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics have a lot of work to do.
When the regular season ended, it certainly seemed abrupt. Fans have grown accustomed to watching this team in the playoffs, and not having it there just seems uncomfortable and odd.
Even more uncomfortable is the somewhat helpless feeling being experienced across New England. The season is over, the Celtics were a step above horrible, and currently, there is nothing anyone can do about it.
The Netflix era of television-watching has sapped the art of cliffhangers. Personally, I'm in the middle of binge-watching House M.D. At the end of each season, a big discovery is made, or something major happens to one of the characters. Instead of waiting and agonizing over what comes next, I can simply let the program roll into the next episode and find out.
Live sports are rapidly becoming the only avenue for that type of pure unknown. Those great teasers at the end of live shows—"Next week on Scandal," or "What will happen to the gang next week?"—unfortunately can't exist. We don't know what will go right or wrong next year for the Celtics or what will happen to Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and the gang.
The NBA draft isn't until June 26. Boston won't even know where it's picking in the lottery until Thursday, May 20. Beyond that, the Celtics could make moves that will affect 2014-15 all the way up until the actual season starts.
The Washington Wizards are winning their opening-round playoff series right now, and they didn't know Marcin Gortat would be a part of this run until Oct. 25, 2013. Likewise, the year before, it was Oct. 28 before the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder knew James Harden would be swapping teams.
There is a lot of time to traverse before we know what will become of the Celtics. A lot can happen over the next six or so months, and it is impossible to be ready for all of it. Instead, the focus has to be on where the team should go from here.
As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
This early during the unknown offseason, it is important to take stock of the positives. What do the Celtics have going for them following that 25-57 season?
The biggest plus for Boston right now is the continuity and job security of front-office members and the coaching staff. Insecurity and fear can be used as motivation for players, sometimes very effectively. However, for decision-makers and schemers, it rarely helps.
Ainge and team owner Wyc Grousbeck have a great relationship, and the former has been with Boston for 11 years. Brad Stevens, fresh off his first NBA season, has five years remaining on his contract. To his credit as well, the Celtics went through an entire season of losing basketball with minimal off-court incidents or negativity. Ainge had only positive things to say about Stevens in an interview with MassLive.com's Jay King.
He’s a special person and a great coach and the players see it. The players see his work ethic, they see his integrity and they see his intelligence. So I think he’s earned the respect of the team in a really difficult situation and I know he’s going to get better. He’ll be better next year and he’ll be better the next year. He’s a sponge, and he’s very intelligent with a great work ethic. And I couldn’t be happier.
While various teams around the league are scrapping and headhunting for potential coaches and general managers, the Celtics should be set. This crew seems to be in sync with one another, which should be a valuable tool and weapon come draft day and when the time comes to hit the free-agent and trading markets.
The second-biggest thing going for the Celtics is that they have an elite basketball player on the roster. Rajon Rondo was an All-NBA player in 2011-12, one of the six best guards in basketball.
He has since had halves of two seasons wrecked by an ACL injury, but he should return fully healthy for 2014-15 with a lot to prove and a new contract to play for. Rondo will become an unrestricted free agent around this time next year.
He has turned down talks of an extension with Boston this early, which is a credit to his intelligence, not a detriment to the process of keeping him in green long-term. Why would he agree to lock into a price right now?
That is what happened to him during his last contract negotiation, and he wound up wildly outplaying his price tag. Rondo knows better than anyone what he is capable of doing next season.
Organically, Boston has been surrounding Rondo with young talent. Bradley, Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are all under 24 years old and are already capable NBA players with the potential to grow.
Even though Bradley may not return to the Celtics—as a free agent, his price may be too high—Ainge has created enough flexibility over the last year to replace him and continue moving forward.
There are still holdovers on the roster and payroll. There are clogs in the path of this franchise moving forward that must be Drano'd out of the way.
Brandon Bass is still somewhat of a holdover from a passed-by regime. Green and Gerald Wallace have the contracts and games that can muck up the workings of any forward-moving franchise starting from such a faraway point.
Green as a mercenary third scorer on a team that has already traveled far could be a great thing. On this Celtics team that is still in cartography school, Green doesn't quite fit.
The journey may not be a brief one, but Boston can get started soon. It can clear out space in the vehicle by shedding outdated and unnecessary parts. Then it may begin filling in the holes with more than patchwork spackling. It needs to put into place people who can succeed and thrive alongside the team and its journey.
It could be a legitimate center to help carry the scoring load and take some defensive pressure off Sullinger and Olynyk, or a young stud from the draft who can study along the way and provide hope for a future endgame. Perhaps it may be a replacement shooting guard if Bradley is wooed away.
Really, whatever happens with the vehicle itself should work out. Boston has three solid drivers in Rondo, Stevens and Ainge.
"I have no worries about Brad," Ainge told MassLive's King. "Brad is maybe the only thing in this whole organization I’m not concerned about."
The big thing this journey must avoid is setbacks. Where the Celtics go from here has to constantly be answered by one word: forward.
Moves made to hedge what Ainge accomplished last summer don't help this team in the long run. Whiffing on their 2014 lottery pick would throw a massive kink into this expedition, akin to Rondo getting dysentery somewhere along The Oregon Trail.
The Celtics can't TomTom a faster route back to relevance and contention. It is going to be an arduous journey. The franchise has proven capable of surviving that trip before, and Boston's fans keep coming back.
As long as the franchise continues moving forward, it'll be followed until it gets there and respected once it arrives.