Since then, the team has accumulated nine first-round picks over the next five years. They have enhanced their long-term cap flexibility by trading away players with longer deals like Courtney Lee.
They’ve also loaded up their roster with non-guaranteed contracts that could help facilitate any trade over the next few seasons by providing their new team with salary cap relief. Promising young players like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley showed encouraging growth last season and could be contributing parts of the team’s rebuild for years to come.
Anytime you finish a season with just 25 wins and a player like Kevin Love potentially becomes available via trade, the long-term rebuilding process looks a lot less appealing. A fanbase that saw Danny Ainge turn a 24-win team during the 2006-07 season into an NBA champion the next season is having flashbacks. They want Boston to become relevant again, and they see acquiring Love now as the best way to do it.
Zach Harper suggested on ESPN.com that the Celtics sacrifice three or even four of the team’s future first-round draft picks plus Sullinger and/or Olynyk in a deal for Love. “Whatever it takes” has been the prevailing attitude among many Celtics fans that want to see Love paired with Rajon Rondo and whoever else Ainge can manage to put around them with his remaining assets.
That combination looks attractive on paper, but is it the best bet for Boston in the long term? Are the Celtics better off staying the course with their rebuild rather than cashing in their chips early with a blockbuster deal for Love?
Here are a few reasons why the patient approach may be the smarter choice for Ainge and Co.
First-round draft picks are more valuable than ever in today’s NBA
If you are building a contender, you need low-cost talent to fill in the gaps of your roster around the top-priced stars. There’s no better way to acquire that talent than in the NBA draft.
CBA rules now give teams control of their first-round picks for the first four years of their NBA career on low-cost rookie scale contracts. Keeping these picks would allow Boston to attack the free-agent market with some serious cap room in another year or two while having young talent already locked in place at reasonable prices.
Ainge has a good track record in the NBA draft
Draft picks are only helpful if you are a good judge of NBA talent. Luckily, Boston’s front office has had far more hits than misses in this department during the past decade.
Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, Tony Allen, Bradley, Rondo and Sullinger make up a pretty impressive resume of starting NBA talent chosen by Ainge, especially since none of said players were picked in the top 10. A healthy collection of picks over the next five years increases the odds Ainge will find another diamond or two in future drafts.
Whichever team trades for Love will likely have to overpay
The list of suitors for the All-Star power forward around the league is long, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski. Many of these teams, like Boston, have been stockpiling assets for a chance at trading for a star, so the bidding for Love will get expensive if Minnesota elects to pull the trigger on a trade.
The team that makes a move will likely end up overpaying, and that possibility would damage a team's, like Boston’s, ability to build a formidable roster around Love, Rondo and whatever pieces are left over.
Would Love and Rondo even form a contending core?
If Love were brought in, he would undoubtedly be looking for a long-term max contract after next season. Rondo will also be looking for similar money in his next contract as well.
Those two players would take up more than half of Boston’s cap space over the remainder of their decade under the expected terms of their extension. Are both of those players good enough to commit to for the rest of the decade as cornerstones of a contender? Unless the team is able to find the right pieces to put around them, I’m not so sure.
The bottom line here is that the Celtics should realize they are dealing from a position of strength. While there is no reason they shouldn’t try to turn the team around after a down season, there is nothing wrong with remaining patient and staying the course in year two of the rebuild.
Boston shouldn’t rule out trading for a player like Love, but there are plenty of reasons for the team not to go all-in on a blockbuster swap that would carry plenty of risk.