Coming off one of their worst seasons in franchise history, the Boston Celtics entered this summer with high hopes of a quick turnaround.
Armed with half a million first-round picks (two of which are now actual people named Marcus Smart and James Young), a few semi-valuable veterans on short-term contracts and a couple young forwards who will hopefully grow into above-average rotation players, the Celtics had their sights on Minnesota Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love.
That trade has yet to materialize, and other teams (the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers) are just as likely, if not better equipped, to acquire Love’s peerless skill set. And so, while not entirely closing the door on exchanging a treasure trove of assets for Love, general manager Danny Ainge is also focused on an alternative future that still holds promise.
One of the first things Ainge did this summer was re-sign shooting guard Avery Bradley to a four-year, $32 million contract. The 23-year-old defensive rascal’s deal first appeared to be an overpay, but it actually might turn into a steal.
Bradley’s offensive limitations are well known: He can’t handle the ball, drive to the basket or create opportunities for teammates. What he can do is shoot threes and mid-range jumpers, which is valuable.
Those strengths (along with his weaknesses) only figure to improve through the next four years. And the back end of his contract should eventually give Bradley some genuine trade value once the salary cap makes its eventual leap toward $80 million.
Short of Bradley injuring himself again, the decision to retain him is a win-win for the Celtics.
Boston’s next move was participating in a fantastic three-team trade that landed them Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton and a top-10 protected 2015 first-round pick from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Ainge used the trade exception from last summer’s Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett blockbuster deal to make this transaction work, and all three assets obtained are helpful.
Thornton is a score-first off-guard on an expiring contract, Zeller is a 24-year-old 7-footer with ball skills, a jump shot and legitimate offensive grace (there’s a good chance he’s their starting center on opening night), and the draft pick is great because it’s a draft pick, something rebuilding teams can never have enough of.
All three add to Boston’s future flexibility, further establishing it as a team well-positioned to turn things around with one megatrade down the line. Pairing another star with Rajon Rondo should instantly make the Celtics a playoff team in the doleful Eastern Conference. And once they get one star, the likelihood they cash out the rest of their assets for another only increases.
Until then, Smart and Young figure to be building block pieces at two key positions of need. Smart’s long-term potential is as one of the best two-way guards in the league, while Young hopes to become a legitimate and reliable scoring option from the wing.
Having Rondo serve as a bridge between Boston’s last successful era and its next one is another key part of the team’s long-term plans, despite constant rumors and whispers that Ainge should deal him as soon as possible.
Here’s Jeff Clark from CelticsBlog.com with more on this issue:
Finally, if the sum of all fears happens and he simply walks away from the Celtics and they literally get nothing in return, where will that leave us? Well, we'd have young talent, tons of draft picks, and all the cap space in the world. Or you know, we could trade him now, and have young talent, tons of draft picks, and a lot of cap space. So, ...I guess about the same, though maybe with a few extra assets but no shot at keeping an All Star and no chance of convincing another All Star to join him.
Bringing in a top-flight star remains the primary goal, but who knows how good Smart or Young will be?
It’s perfectly fine for this team to keep its options open, hold onto its young studs and enter next summer with a boatload of cap space. To further improve their standing, the Celtics will try to move veterans like Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Joel Anthony, Gerald Wallace and Keith Bogans (whose $5 million non-guaranteed contract is fantastic for any team looking to shed salary) for even more future assets.
Ainge already plugged Kris Humphries into a sign-and-trade with the Washington Wizards (receiving a $4.3 million trade exception in the process) and let Jerryd Bayless walk to the Milwaukee Bucks. Both are veterans who play positions where the Celtics are already deep. Opting not to bring them back was the right thing to do and keeps future cap space open.
Boston's Plan A is still to bring in another star or two. The Celtics have the assets to do it and are ready the next time one becomes available. Plan B is to develop all the young talent in-house, and, if a second star doesn't materialize by next July, re-sign Rondo and retain one of the best point guards in the league.
The long-term plan hasn't been altered by anything that's happened so far this summer. It's simply been delayed.