6 Things That Must Happen for Boston Celtics to Complete Their Rebuild
The trouble with NBA rebuilding is that it's generally impossible to know just where your team stands.. The Boston Celtics are rebuilding, but whether this will be a multi-year rebuild, or their management is still looking for that quick, two-year fix, isn't totally known.
There are so many factors, a large number outside of Boston's control, that will determine just how long the rebuild takes. A lot of things have to go the Celtics' way to expedite the process. Right now, they are doing a solid job of handling everything in their power, but it will take a significant amount of luck.
There are a handful of things that will have to happen, in the short or long term, to ensure future success for this organization. Many of them may not be easy or immediately pleasing, but in time, they are going to need to get done.
At this point, the Boston Celtics cannot whiff on draft picks.
Teams in this fragile rebuilding state can't afford to draft a dud, especially in the first round, even if it seems like just one lost player wouldn't be a big deal.
Boston had two first-round picks this summer, using them on Marcus Smart (No. 6) and James Young (No. 17). Young is really the first immediate future asset that the Celtics acquired in that big trade with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013.
While Smart had some impressive moments and stretches during summer league play and appears to have a NBA-ready body, judgement should be reserved until the season starts up.
Young is a bit scarier. Due to a car accident, reported by ESPN, he was held out of summer league play, not allowing anyone to see what he looked like against marginal NBA competition. There was also a recent quote from him in a piece by A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast SportsNet New England.
"Coach Stevens has really been on me about defense. That's how coach Cal was, too."
The Kentucky product isn't going to find playing time under Brad Stevens if he can't get his defense up to snuff. Young also just turned 19. With only one year of college experience, there should be some concern about him developing, though it is still early.
Someone Has to Make a Leap
Hitting on the draft is very important. However, of equal importance, is that those drafted players make some sort of leap.
Whether it be in year two, three or even four, if a NBA player is going to become more than just roster-filler, they must show drastic improvements in certain aspects of their game.
For the Boston Celtics, there are a few candidates for this leap, given how young the roster is. First and foremost should be Kelly Olynyk. A lottery pick in 2013, Olynyk was named to the second team All-Rookie last season after averaging 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds. He really came on strong with added playing time in the final weeks. He had another strong summer league in 2014 and should continue to carve out minutes in Brad Stevens' rotation.
Another option could still be Jared Sullinger. Despite being labeled as a two-year veteran, Sullinger missed half of his rookie season with a back injury. He played in 74 games as a sophomore, averaging 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds. With a good number of NBA games under his—hopefully not tightening—belt, Sullinger could still make a leap and become a nightly double-double. He still only averaged 27.6 minutes per game in 2013.
Elsewhere on the Celtics roster, one could look at Tyler Zeller as a possibility. He showed flashes as a rookie with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and with a change of scenery, his third NBA season could be his best. Even a guy like Avery Bradley, technically a four-year veteran, has played in just 205 regular-season games. He'll turn 24 in November, and if he is going to become something more, this will be the season to do it.
Be in the Running for a Big Free Agent Next Summer
As the days of summer draw to a close, it is becoming more and more apparent that the Boston Celtics have sort of whiffed on free agency in 2014.
There were plenty of names bandied about in the early months of this offseason, but none really came to fruition, save for Evan Turner, who isn't the type of big name Boston needs to fix their outlook. Through little fault of their own, the Celtics just didn't have the NBA-ready packages teams were seeking as trade bait, and unfortunately no once-in-a-generation superstar grew up riding the T in Beantown.
While they may have missed out on 2014, Ainge was also planning ahead. Thornton's contract, worth $8.575 million this season, expires next summer. That pairs his salary with Brandon Bass' $6.9 million, Joel Anthony's $3.8 million, Rajon Rondo's $12.9 million and maybe even Jeff Green's $9.2 million (player option) as money coming off Boston's books after 2014-15.
That is plenty of capital with which to dive head first into the pool of 2015 free agents. If Rondo hasn't been traded by then, they will likely at least try to re-sign him to a sizable contract, but there should still be remaining money to go after a guy like Greg Monroe, Rudy Gay or Paul Millsap.
Those are players who could actually change Boston's outlook.
Retain the Services of Rajon Rondo
This is going to be a split issue, pretty much down the middle with Boston Celtics fans.
On one hand, many will believe that the fastest way to rebuild is to deal Rajon Rondo, Boston's best trade asset, to maximize his return. Boston can't trade anybody else and get the kind of package back that Rondo commands. More spread-out talent and draft picks is a definite rebuilding path.
On the other hand, others would prefer Rondo stay a Celtic and that the team rebuilds around him. There are obvious inherent flaws with that logic, since Rondo is an unrestricted free agent next summer. However, to build a competitive team in the NBA, you need two or three All-Stars. If you have one, and he isn't throwing a fit about playing there, like Kevin Love or Dwight Howard, you don't deal him away and hope the return pays off.
Last week, after a report surfaced that Rondo was asking out of Boston, his camp quickly denied the claim, according Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald. The original claim was made by Jackie MacMullan, while she thought she was off-air during the filming of an episode of ESPN's Around the Horn. The video, which has since been deleted, was found by MassLive.com's Jay King.
The best-case scenario for trading a star player in recent years has been the Orlando Magic and Howard. Not that Rondo is by any means as valuable as Howard, but the Magic maximized their return on a star player, getting back a bunch of picks and promising young players. That has gotten them to 23-59 two years later, and they are staring at likely another down year. Orlando just missed out on the Big Three draft picks this summer, landing Aaron Gordon at No. 4 instead of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid.
Boston already had one down year, earning a top-six pick, with Rondo missing more than half of it due to injury. They were unable to surround him with another star this summer but definitely made an effort. They have a chance to do it again next summer or through a midseason trade, as well.
If they can retain a star whose best talent is making other players on the floor better, that could be the most important part of their rebuild.
Craftily Deal with What Pieces You Do Have
Danny Ainge made fairly impressive use of his available pieces in the Tyler Zeller trade, picking up the young center, a future pick and Marcus Thornton for little more than a traded-player exception.
Crafting small deals in the shadows of the league is something Ainge could become very deft at over the next year. He has a lot of fringe pieces that can't totally be called assets, but do hold value either in their contracts or their games.
If Ainge is able to smartly move guys like Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Thornton or even Jeff Green, he can pick up assets to further the rebuild without sacrificing any of his young talent, picks or Rajon Rondo. The difference in Boston's 2014-15 competitiveness and win total when replacing Green with Evan Turner or Bass with more Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger is negligible.
Those are the guys he should be focused on moving right now, with Rondo being more of a last resort, or if a huge offer does come forth from somewhere.
When all else fails, Ainge can never go wrong with clearing out salary for next summer to make a run at some of those guys we mentioned earlier.
A Healthy Dose of the Luck O' the Irish
Since that year, injuries withheld Boston from competing in perhaps a couple of more NBA Finals, and maybe even winning one more.
Two years ago, Rajon Rondo went down with an ACL injury in the midst of one of the best stretches of his career, essentially forcing GM Danny Ainge's hand with slamming the window on the Garnett and Paul Pierce era. Avery Bradley hasn't been able to stay healthy, Jared Sullinger had predictable back problems as a rookie and try as he might, Ainge never got much out of Jeff Green.
Then, when they may or may not have been shooting for a high lottery pick, the Milwaukee Bucks crapped out and the Philadelphia 76ers put on a tanking exhibition to rival the most putrid of NBA seasons. The Celtics won just enough games to finish in a tie for the fourth-worst record in the league but come lottery time, slid to the No. 6 position in the draft.
LeBron James chose to move back to Cleveland, effectively ending any shot Boston had at getting in on the Kevin Love sweepstakes.
The rebuild hasn't gotten much luck just yet, and it will need to if Boston is to return to prominence any time soon.