How Far Away Are Boston Celtics from Landing Their Next Superstar?

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How Far Away Are Boston Celtics from Landing Their Next Superstar?
Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images
Rajon Rondo is Boston's closest thing to a superstar. Can Ainge get another to pair with him soon?

If one were creating a book, a Poor Red Auerbach's Almanack, if you will, of Boston Celtics cliches, "superstars don't want to play in Boston" would be at or near the front.

As the Celtics continue along their rebuilding road, the eye for a quick fix won't ever go away. Even with this fact in mind, Danny Ainge will continue searching for the team's next superstar. He isn't the type of guy to let cliches bother him, but not all searches end up being fruitful.

Of course, like a lot of cliches, this one is founded in some truth. Boston is very rarely seen as a major threat in free agency. Players with their choice of NBA locations to play in have shown a tendency to avoid the New England area.

There are a lot of factors weighing on this; weather, celebrity, market and taxes are just some of the reasons.

Looking back, it is difficult to say with certainty who the best free agent, not already wearing green, to sign with the Celtics was.

Perhaps James Posey, who came on after the most recent Big Three was assembled and worked as their sixth man. Boston has signed big names like Sam Cassell and Shaquille O'Neal, but both were far past their primes.

Dana Barros came to Boston as a free agent in 1995, just after completing a season in which he was voted the NBA's Most Improved Player and a league All-Star, averaging 20.6 points and 7.5 assists per game. Unfortunately, Barros never reached those heights again.

Also, Barros was a hometown kid, who was born and raised in Boston and went to Boston College. Massachusetts' own 2014 LeBron James story.

Ainge and the Celtics brass know all this. They all got into this business in this area knowing the challenges and the history. They found a way around it once before and reeled off five-straight playoff appearances in which they advanced past the first round.

They were able to circumvent free agency by amassing enough assets in two losing seasons to trade for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Coupled with the somewhat lucky drafting of Paul Pierce (No. 10 overall) and Rajon Rondo (traded for at No. 21 overall), the moves were enough to take home a championship and raise banner No. 17.

Now the challenge is to do it again. However, teams and players are wiser now, meaning Ainge and company have to adapt. There also has to be patience from a fanbase that has grown accustomed to wildly successful sports teams over the last decade-plus. 

There is rarely such a thing as a one-year fix. Boston missed the postseason for two straight years while amassing all those assets to acquire Garnett and Allen. Kevin Durant, the 2013-14 NBA MVP, won a combined 43 games during his first and second professional seasons. Patience is key, and shortcuts often get you nowhere fast in this league.

 

The area's draws

Steven Senne/Associated Press

As we move into a new generation of the NBA, with more intelligent and savvy players, there are some things that may turn around Boston's free-agency luck.

New England is cold in the winter, sometimes bitterly so. Anyone who has walked from the Government Center parking garage to TD Garden for a mid-January game would find it difficult to argue against this fact.

However, there are some great school systems in the area. According to the U.S. News and World Report, Massachusetts public high schools ranked fourth in the nation in 2014. Maine was No. 1 and Connecticut No. 3.

As players get older, this is a major thing to take into account while building a life for one's family. Unfortunately, this may not be something weighing on the mind of a 25-year-old basketball player who just wants to be in the spotlight.

Well, speaking of the spotlight, Boston is hardly a small-market team. According to the 2014 estimates by Nielsen, Boston (Manchester) is the seventh-largest market in the country. While it is still dwarfed by New York and Los Angeles, and edged by Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas and San Fransisco, the Celtics' home beats out NBA locales like Washington, Atlanta, Houston and Phoenix.

The Celtics also have a very good relationship with their local cable network, Comcast SportsNet New England.

Despite being one of the league's worst teams, competing without a big name star during Rajon Rondo's absence, Boston still operated the TD Garden at 97.2 percent capacity for home games. They averaged 18,701 fans per game in 2013-14, good for 14th best in the league. On the road, they drew at a top-10 rate, selling an average of 17,484 tickets.

Massachusetts is also slowly becoming a destination for films to be made. According to an Los Angeles Times story in May, the state offers very competitive tax credits, and Hollywood producers are flocking to the state. While there is a long way to go before Boston brings the celebrity power of a Staples Center or Madison Square Garden, this is a step and a notice to young, media-savvy players.

 

The team's draws

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If the location isn't going to be a major selling point for the Celtics to bring in a superstar, they must work to make the team that.

Currently, Boston isn't in a great situation. They've got no current cap space with which to improve the team immediately and the stink of a 23-win season emanating from New England like a warning to all possible additions.

Boston has over $70 million committed to 14 guaranteed players, only two of whom have an All-Star appearance to their credit. One of those two is Gerald Wallace.

The other, Rajon Rondo, is probably the only basketball-related reason a star would enjoy coming to Boston. There are still many in the league who hold him in lofty regards. In a recent podcast with Bill Simmons of Grantland.com, DeMarcus Cousins referred to Rondo as the league's top point guard.

While that may be hyperbole until he proves himself post-ACL surgery, what can't be argued against is Rondo's ability to make players look better. A shot-happy superstar would do well to saddle up alongside a distributor as creative, athletic and seemingly selfless as Rondo.

Off the court, but remaining in the realm of basketball, there are a few reasons to choose Boston, or at least be pleased by a trade to the green team.

The front office should be a major draw. This ownership group has remained strong and steady for more than a decade now. They have kept the same general manager through thick and thin and proven a desire to win and willingness to spend to do it.

Head coach Brad Stevens doesn't have a lot of experience in the pros, or a lot of contacts among players, but he certainly has some fans. Most young stars still pay attention to college basketball and played in the NCAA fairly recently. It is a fair bet that they know of Stevens and his heroics at Butler.

That he signed a six-year contract and is young, open-minded and innovative should also be positives. The Celtics' last coach, Doc Rivers, was with the team for nine years, so loyalty does mean something in Boston, and it's not the type of franchise to have a revolving door of figureheads trying to lead the team.

 

What the team can actually do

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Even with those items going for the Celtics, it won't be easy for them to bring in the team's next superstar.

The process to make them a free-agency destination is going to be long and arduous. The trading world is still where Ainge will have to work his magic to get this team back into contention soon.

The Celtics have an incredible amount of draft picks coming up over the next three to four years. Thanks to crafty and creative trading, and some teams willing to do anything to be immediately competitive, Boston has created an arsenal that Ainge can use in a variety of ways.

He can keep all, or most, of those picks, and Boston will have a very young and exciting team to watch in a couple years. He could also package some of those picks and some of the ones he has recently spent on players to bring in a superstar.

While the Kevin Love trade appears to be a pipe dream now, there are still no big-boned women belting out tunes in Cleveland or the Bay Area.

Next summer, Boston will alleviate some serious cap room, as well. Over $32 million in Marcus Thornton, Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony and Rondo will come off the books. Jeff Green's player option of $9.2 million is also a possibility, along with a variety of smaller deals. Of course, a fair amount of that available capital could go to re-signing Rondo, but surely the Celtics will be in a better financial situation than they are entering 2014-15.

 

How long will it take?

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There are still more factors weighing on this question that we couldn't discuss today.

Boston's next superstar could still come in place of Rondo. The Rondo trade avenue remains a viable option for Ainge and the Celtics, though it is clearly not part of plans A, B or C. Still, he remains the Celtics' best trade chip and would return the closest thing to a superstar on the open market.

Perhaps Boston has already landed said second superstar. Marcus Smart certainly has his question marks, but there were plenty of Dwyane Wade comparisons coming out of college. In a few years, he could become that superstar the Celtics are craving. Whether Rondo is still there alongside him at that point is another matter.

Otherwise, Boston could be in for a bit of a longer haul. Ainge's willingness to take on Thornton's salary, even for just one year, as a part of that Tyler Zeller trade signaled that perhaps this coming season was going to be a wash. It ate up the rest of their cap space and made any more moves this summer less likely to happen.

Still, looking at all the bones Ainge has buried in his backyard, it is easy to see a big picture forming in the near future.

Perhaps Love stays in Minnesota until February, but at that point Cleveland and Golden State no longer want to mess with their winning chemistry, leaving Boston as a more likable trade partner. Perhaps Greg Monroe plays out another year in Detroit on the cheap and the Celtics can really woo him or the Pistons next summer.

There are plenty of options out there, and the wheels are in constant motion.

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