Outside of the Alamo City, rebuilding is a necessary evil for championship-hopeful NBA teams. It's an exhaustive exercise where fans are forced to shift their attention away from the wins column to search through unsightly box scores for the slightest sign of player development.
For the Boston Celtics, it's still too early to start looking for tangible signs of hope. They're still trimming the fat left over from their Big Three playoff runs, and the lean meat left on this roster needs plenty of seasoning before Celtics fans can think about feasting on substantial success.
So, why would a franchise willingly subject itself and its fans to such an excruciating existence? Because the Celtics can't change the cards they've been dealt. Their only option is to patiently work toward improving that hand and somehow transform it into a winner.
Patience is a hard sell in any market, and the Boston sports scene hasn't made it any easier. These fans expect success, as recent history suggests they should.
The New England Patriots have averaged 12 victories over the last 13 seasons, a wildly successful stretch that's included 11 playoff berths, five Super Bowl appearances and three world titles. The Boston Red Sox have won three World Series since 2004. The Boston Bruins have made the playoffs seven straight years, twice playing for the Stanley Cup and raising a championship banner in 2011.
Even the basketball business has been good, last season's 25-win performance notwithstanding. That anemic effort followed a run of six straight postseason appearances, which included 11 series wins and the 2008 championship.
For fans riding that kind of high, measuring success in anything other than victories might feel foreign.
But it shouldn't.
These Celtics look a lot like the ones who preceded the team's 2008 title group. In fact, last season's group actually notched one more win than Boston's 2006-07 outfit (25 to 24).
Of course, that team had more intriguing assets than this one, namely preps-to-pros prospects Gerald Green and Al Jefferson. Both played pivotal roles in Boston's heist of transcendent big man Kevin Garnett, who teamed with longtime Celtic Paul Pierce and then-newly acquired Ray Allen to spur one of the most dramatic transformations in league history: from 24 wins to 66 victories and a world title.
The Celtics made the overhaul seem effortless, but that couldn't have been further from the truth.
"I know how hard it was, and how fortunate we were that summer," Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said, via Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald. "It didn’t have to go that way. I don’t think people understand how challenging making deals is."
Landing a major player requires first collecting and polishing front-line prospects. The Celtics can't worry about the first part of that equation with the latter half still far from complete.
Boston has started bringing in some intriguing talent, but there is no ready-made star like it had with Jefferson. Maybe Jared Sullinger or Kelly Olynyk becomes that missing piece with time. Perhaps the Celtics' pulls from the 2014 draft (Marcus Smart and James Young) will hit the ground running and immediately improve their leaguewide value.
Whatever needs to happen clearly hasn't happened yet.
If the Celtics had game-changing pieces on their roster, they might have won the Kevin Love sweepstakes already.
In May, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports identified the Celtics as "an increasingly intriguing destination" for the stranded superstar. Shortly thereafter, Love appeared in Boston, a weekend getaway that just so happened to include a chance encounter with Rajon Rondo.
Boston's problem then, as it still is now, is that it didn't have enough trade chips to pry Love away from the Minnesota Timberwolves—not even with the Celtics holding as many as six first-round picks over the next two drafts.
The Celtics' current players held such little interest in the Timberwolves' eyes that Ainge was forced to dangle his draft picks elsewhere in hope of acquiring the talent Minnesota was after, according to Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe:
Obviously, those moves never happened. In fact, it now appears that Ainge doesn't even have a line left in front of the rugged-rebounding, sweet-shooting big fish.
"The more teams step up and show interest in Love, the further Boston falls in the pack," a source told Comcast SportsNet's A. Sherrod Blakely. "Danny's a smart guy. He knows when to keep pushing for something and when to move on."
Short of diverting LeBron James' plane ride back home, the Celtics had no better quick-fix option than Love. Then again, it's hard to tell if that was ever really an option. Whether Minnesota wanted win-now assistance or high-upside prospects, the Celtics couldn't match the other offers that were coming in.
Don't expect that story to change before next summer—at the absolute earliest. Smart and Young won't immediately flip the script, and low-level newcomers Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner never will.
The Celtics need head coach Brad Stevens to bring the on-hand talent along and Ainge to keep accumulating assets.
Ainge's challenge starts with maximizing the value of all those future picks. They didn't build a bridge to Love this time around, but they could still lead to a star down the line.
"Boston could continue to add young talent with those picks via the draft or use them as trade assets," wrote ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg. " ... One of the benefits of another lean year in 2014-15: the potential for a high lottery pick next June."
Draft picks are invaluable for a rebuilding club, particularly for one that's never been a destination franchise for top-shelf free agents. The Celtics should have money to spend next summer even if they keep Rondo around, but it's hard to imagine anything happening next season that suddenly opens Boston's door to tier-one targets.
Patience isn't a virtue for Celtics fans right now, it's a necessity. It's going to take time to get this franchise back on track, whether that's forming the young guns into players for the future or developing them enough so they can serve as trade bait.
Nothing about this process is fun, particularly with the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel still so far out of focus.
"The biggest lingering complaint among Celtics fans is simply that no one knows exactly where the Celtics will go from here," Forsberg wrote.
There is no blueprint for a successful rebuild. Ainge has a number of possible avenues in front of him, but none that will allow him to circumvent the process.
The Celtics might have the pieces to fuel a trade that makes them decent next season. But if the desired end result is greatness, then they have to keep proceeding with caution and planning for the day when greatness is truly obtainable.