July 2014 hasn't been the best month in Boston Celtics history. Heading in, expectations were high for the team to exchange a good chunk of its draft picks, modestly-priced veterans and young talent for a star, but such a transaction has yet to materialize.
Right now, the Celtics are unofficially a distant third in the cutthroat Kevin Love sweepstakes—behind the Golden State Warriors and clubhouse favorite Cleveland Cavaliers—and have yet to make any other impact free-agent signings or deals.
A trade exception was used to acquire Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton’s expiring contract and Cleveland’s top-10 protected 2015 first-round pick, and the team just signed former No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner using part of its non-taxpayer mid-level exception. But owner Wyc Grousbeck promised “fireworks” a few months ago, and the team has seen anything but.
Here’s WEEI.com’s Ben Rohrbach with recent quotes from Grousbeck on the team’s current state:
We had definitely hoped to try to make bigger moves this offseason, to be honest. Having said that, it takes two partners to make a trade, so we focused on longterm trying to build the club. We think we’re a better team now — positioned for the future, some new young talent and even more draft picks — but it’s been a patient summer so far, and I’m not always the most patient guy.
(Those draft picks can be seen here.) All that's been written so far makes it sound like the Celtics are doing something wrong, that they're failing. They aren't.
Their non-action action is perfectly fine. Rebuilding around franchise point guard Rajon Rondo with a multitude of draft picks and low-cost, high-upside free agents won’t create a championship overnight, but it’s a perfectly appropriate step in the right direction for now.
This team understands the need for patience. It knows that heading into next season with the pieces it currently has isn’t the worst thing in the world. They have nearly a dozen aforementioned draft picks and tremendous cap flexibility for the summer of 2016, when several of the league’s best players could enter free agency (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Love, Al Horford and more).
Here’s ESPN Boston’s Chris Forsberg on why waiting until next summer to be aggressive isn’t the worst thing in the world:
Boston could continue to add young talent with those picks via the draft or use them as trade assets (whether to clear space like Wallace's contract, or add additional talent after landing big names in free agency). One of the benefits of another lean year in 2014-15: the potential for a high lottery pick next June.
It's not fair to suggest that Boston would have what Cleveland has this summer. The Cavaliers, with help from lottery luck, had three No. 1 picks to help entice James back. But with development this season, the idea of playing alongside the likes of Sullinger, Olynyk, Smart, Young and the rest of Boston's young core could be intriguing to prospective targets.
Forsberg is absolutely right about the possibility Boston uses one of its future first-round picks next summer to grease the wheels on a potential deal that would ship Gerald Wallace out of town. Moving him before then will be difficult, but he’s easier to swallow for possible trade partners as an expiring contract.
Such a trade would be similar to the one Daryl Morey and the Houston Rockets made with the Los Angeles Lakers and Jeremy Lin. That was done to clear enough space to sign Chris Bosh, which of course didn't happen. But the logic behind it holds up.
There should be at least one team next summer that's willing to take Wallace's expiring deal, and moving it clears a smidge over $10 million from the books. Factor in the likelihood Jeff Green opts out of his $9.2 million contract, and the Celtics should have plenty of cap space to re-sign Rondo and sign another All-Star-caliber player if the opportunity presents itself.
In the meantime, there’s no rush to make an uneven trade or a hefty long-term signing. Boston let Kris Humphries and Jerryd Bayless walk as opposed to bringing them back on modest contracts, which is smart. The Celtics need everything to stay clean.
There was always a strong chance that the second year of the Celtics' rebuild would only be slightly better than the first. That's just the nature of roster renovation in the NBA. Things don't happen overnight. At the same time, the Celtics should also never rule out accelerating the rebuild process by acquiring top-tier talent should it become available.
For now, they're on the right track. There's more young talent onboard today than one year ago, and their best player will head into training camp with a healthy knee. Armed with arguably the most impressive (and certainly the largest) stash of trade assets in the league, the Celtics will throw their hat in the ring every time there's a possibility another All-Star player becomes available.
That could be tomorrow or one year from today. Either way, Boston will be ready.
Michael Pina covers the NBA for Bleacher Report, Sports on Earth, Fox Sports, ESPN, Grantland and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.