Trading Rajon Rondo certainly isn't the only move the Boston Celtics are going to make while trying to advance their rebuilding project. It's a nice start for general manager Danny Ainge, but the team can't stop after just swinging the one deal.
There has to be a next step. In fact, there should be a trio of moves—or at least overarching categories of moves.
Boston's roster still isn't set up properly. There are plenty of intriguing pieces in place, between Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, James Young and the newly arrived Brandan Wright, but there are a few holes that need to be filled all the same. Plus, the Celtics have other assets at their disposal, and they can be turned into quality pieces as well.
So, let's figure out how the Celtics should attack the next stage of their rebuilding phase.
Trade Jeff Green
Thus far in 2014-15, Jeff Green is enjoying a bit of a resurgent season. He's averaging 19.2 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game, shooting 45 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from downtown and 84 percent from the charity stripe. All together, he's produced a player efficiency rating of 16.1, via Basketball-Reference.com, and that's the best mark of his career.
However, Green still isn't a perfect fit for these Celtics.
He's best suited as a tertiary scorer, one who can complement a pair of players who thrive when creating their own offense and putting up performances in the 20s and 30s. After all, that allows him to conserve his energy and go to work on the defensive end, where he has far more potential than he does as a scorer.
In other words, he's not the ideal scoring option on a rebuilding team, especially when you consider his contract.
According to ShamSports.com, Green has a player option worth $9.2 million for the 2015-16 season, and there's no good solution for him potentially turning it down. Not only is that more money than he'd be guaranteed to make elsewhere, but it also makes sense for him to hit free agency one year later, when the recently signed television deal has pushed the salary cap even higher.
That's the motivation for him to opt in, which would hinder the team's plans. Unfortunately, that $9.2 million makes it harder for Boston to complete an overhaul during the offseason, as it cuts into the team's financial flexibility.
But if he opts out and pursues a long-term deal to gain more monetary security, the Celtics run the risk of losing a talented asset with a good bit of upside without getting anything in return.
And that's why it's such a good idea for the C's to move their talented forward before doing anything else, ideally receiving a keeper, an expiring contract or a draft pick in return for the remaining year-and-a-half of his services.
"Among the teams believed to be interested in Green is the Los Angeles Clippers, coached by former Celtic coach Doc Rivers," reports A. Sherrod Blakely for CSNNE.com. "The Clippers are among a handful of teams fighting for the top spot out West, and they more than anyone else desperately need an upgrade at the small forward position."
As Blakely continues, it's a mutually beneficial idea:
"Green's familiarity with Rivers coupled with the Clippers' needs would make this a pairing that at the very least makes sense for both teams. Boston would get assets for a player they'll likely lose this summer to free agency, and the Clippers bolster their chances of winning an NBA title."
Given the picks LAC already owes to Boston for acquiring Doc Rivers, as well as the size of Green's contract, it would be hard to find an actual deal between these two without involving a third party. That's especially true because, per Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the C's are insistent that they receive a first-round selection for Green's services.
They should be able to get one, even if it's not coming from the Clippers. And doing so not only opens up time for younger players like James Young, but it also pushes Boston further down into the lottery—leading to better picks—and adds another asset to Ainge's coffers.
Find a Rim-Protecting Big
If there's one glaring weakness on the current roster, it's the extreme lack of rim protection, which is crucial for any team trying to build a rock-solid defense.
According to NBA.com's SportVU data, the Celtics are allowing opponents to shoot 53.6 percent at the rim, and that's the No. 21 mark in the Association. It gets worse, because Boston is also giving up 24 shots per game in that area, a number exceeded by only the New Orleans Pelicans, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors.
There just isn't a rim-protecting stalwart on the roster, as the big men are largely undersized and/or limited in the athleticism department. Even the acquisition of Wright in the Rondo swap might not change that.
Tyler Zeller is the only player on the roster allowing less than 50 percent to opponents at the rim, and he's clearly not going to be the future of the franchise. While he's a valuable backup, the team needs to upgrade at the position. And Wright may not be the answer, even if he's an intriguing player with enduring upside.
Instead, it would be more advantageous for the team to seek out another home for the former Maverick's services. Trading him to the Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, would be in their best interest, so long as they could receive some picks or another player with upside. Dion Waiters, for example.
It's not always easy to find a player capable of providing excellent interior defense, but there are potential targets out there. Boston could try to pry Larry Sanders away from the Milwaukee Bucks or take a flier on JaVale McGee, though they'd have to eat contracts that aren't necessarily palatable. Another option would be waiting until the draft and then addressing the issue, or hoping the Philadelphia 76ers end up deeming Nerlens Noel expendable because Jahlil Okafor has blown them away.
Regardless, there will be a way to shore up this part of the team, even if the method isn't clear yet.
Package, Package, Package
At this point, the Celtics have plenty of assets.
Not only do they have some intriguing young players with upside, though not necessarily star potential, but they also have an abundance of draft picks at their disposal. Even before landing a few more from Dallas in exchange for Rondo, Ainge had quite a few selections to play around with.
But now that the trade has taken place, let's take a look at how many first-round picks the Celtics have access to in the next four years:
- 2015 first-round pick
- 2015 first-round pick from Dallas Mavericks (protected for 1-3, 15-30)
- 2015 first-round pick from Los Angeles Clippers
- 2015 first-round pick from Philadelphia 76ers (protected for 1-14)
- 2016 first-round pick
- 2016 first-round pick from Brooklyn Nets
- 2016 first-round pick from Cleveland Cavaliers (protected for 1-10)
- 2017 first-round pick
- Right to swap first-round picks with Brooklyn Nets in 2017
- 2018 first-round pick
- 2018 first-round pick from Brooklyn Nets
That's a ridiculous haul, and only a few of the protections should end up mattering. The 2015 pick from the Mavericks will likely be deferred to 2016, when it's only protected for the top seven picks. And as for the one from the Sixers, it will come in the form of two second-round picks, one in 2015 and another in 2016.
So, factoring in the likely protection outcomes and the transactions involving the latter round, the Celtics will have nine first-round picks and eight second-round selections in the next four drafts. Oh, and it may end up being double-digit first-round picks if they trade Green for the expected and desired price.
While that's quite nice, it's too much.
I can't help but be reminded of what general manager Ryan McDonough said last year when his Phoenix Suns were in a similar situation, per NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper:
I think one of the things that's important for people to realize is that we may not draft four players even if we have four picks. Our preference would probably be to maybe package a few of them. We're obviously all looking for stars and we feel like we can put together a package as good, if not better, than any other team in the league if and when a star becomes available. That's kind of generally what we've wanted to do, not only with our draft-pick situation but also with the cap space that we’ve acquired.
The Celtics, though they don't have the incumbent stars Phoenix did at the time (Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe), are in a similar situation. They can't possibly add 17 rookies, no matter how good they may be, and that's why it's so necessary for them to package some of these picks together.
It's all about acquiring a player with much more upside than anyone on the current roster.
Does that mean they'll end up trading multiple picks in the middle or tail end of the lottery for a top overall selection? Does it mean the Celtics will give up picks for a current star who suddenly becomes available? Will they do some combination of the two?
The world is Ainge's oyster, at least when it comes to draft picks. He can do whatever he pleases with these picks, putting the Celtics in great position to have cheap young talent and spend plenty of money on any marquee free agent willing to take his talents to Beantown.
"Of course we're not actively pursuing anything at this minute," the general manager told Blakely after the Rondo trade. "I anticipate that there will be a lot of calls coming in in the next little bit and I think that there will be some activity at trade deadline, whether we do a trade or not I have no idea, but we'll continue to try to improve our team."
Fortunately, he'll have plenty of chances to do so. As far as rebuilds go, this one won't be quite so painful as others have been.