Boston Celtics' Rebuild a Reminder of the NBA's Volatility

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2015

Marcus Smart and the young Celtics are in a tough transitional period.
Marcus Smart and the young Celtics are in a tough transitional period.Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

I want to take you back in time to the summer of 2007.

The Boston Celtics were coming off a miserable 24-58 season during which they lost 18 consecutive games. For perspective's sake, that was the losing streak that the Philadelphia 76ers, whom many feel are among the worst teams of all time, endured to start this year.

Paul Pierce, although he averaged 25 points per game, was going through the same type of scrutiny that Carmelo Anthony is going through right now. He was branded by many as a loser—someone who just could not get over the hump.

The Celtics were teetering on the brink of irrelevance (if they hadn't already gotten there).

To make matters worse, Boston fizzled in the draft lottery, being rewarded with just the No. 5 pick in a highly regarded draft that included the likes of Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.

Then, it happened.

On draft night, the C's swung a deal with the Seattle Supersonics for Ray Allen.

At the time, it looked like the Celtics had merely vaulted themselves into the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. Most did not realize that Allen was the precursor to a much larger move that would take place a month later, a move that would alter the NBA's landscape.

That move manifested itself on July 31, 2007, when Boston landed Kevin Garnett. The rest is history, as Boston went on to win the NBA championship that next season.

BOSTON - JULY 31: (L-R) Boston Celtics Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce hold their jerseys after their press conference on July 31, 2007 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees tha
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Now, the C's are in a position similar to the one they were in during 2007. The team is clearly in rebuilding mode, and at the current point in time, the Celtics are more likely to change their uniforms to purple and gold than to win a title.

Naturally, fans are starting to lose patience, a rather knee-jerk reaction for a ballclub that is only two years into its rebuild. However, seeing that Boston turned its fortunes around so quickly during that fateful 2007 summer, going from rags to riches in the blink of an eye, it's somewhat understandable.

The C's are a prime example of the inconsistency of the league today. They epitomize the volatility, the unexplainable pendulum swings. Rebuilds can take years to complete, but sometimes, they can be done in mere months.

No team knows that better than these Celtics.

Take this past summer, for instance.

Boston was coming off a 25-57 campaign, not unlike its abysmal 2006-07 season. A star big man was on the trading block, and once again, it was a star on the Minnesota Timberwolves. Said star even had the same first name as Garnett: Kevin Love.

Back in May, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that the C's appeared to be a potential destination for Love. The Celtics had some young players like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk to offer up in a trade, not to mention a wealth of draft picks.

The Celtics may have been offering Olynyk in a package for Love.
The Celtics may have been offering Olynyk in a package for Love.Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

It seemed like a dream scenario for the Celtics: Acquire Love to play alongside of Rajon Rondo and, in turn, make Boston a rather attractive landing spot for free agents. It was the perfect plan.

Visions of 2007 danced in the heads of Celtics fans. Could this be the start of another successful run? Whom could the Celtics bring in to round out the next Big Three?

Of course, in the end, it was all for naught.

The Cleveland Cavaliers won the draft lottery, selected Andrew Wiggins and signed LeBron James—the Love sweepstakes were essentially a wrap. Wiggins was clearly a better prospect than anything the Celtics (or any other team) had to offer, and with James heading back to Cleveland, the Cavaliers became an incredibly attractive destination for Love. Remember: Love was headed for free agency in 2015, so while he did not have a no-trade clause, he could basically dictate to whom he was traded.

So, Love went to the Cavs, and unlike 2007, Boston was left out in the cold, figuratively and literally. Due to the harsh winters of New England, the C's have never been an ideal location for free agents to take their talents, especially when the club appears to be going nowhere anytime soon.

General manager Danny Ainge entered this season without a clear-cut direction. Should he move forward with Rondo as the centerpiece, or should he say goodbye to his point guard and start fresh?

The decision was ultimately made on Dec. 18, when Ainge sent Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks for a less-than-desirable package that was headlined by Brandan Wright and a first-round draft choice.

Ainge was forced to sell low with Rondo's contract up at the end of the year. It was something that had to be done, and in Ainge's defense, he had accumulated so many assets from the trades he had made prior to the Rondo deal that his not making out like a bandit wasn't the worst thing in the world.

"It was an emotional time,” Ainge said of the Rondo trade, via Julian Benbow of the Boston Globe. "It was not an easy thing to do, but I believe it was the right thing to do."

Ainge probably isn't done dealing, either. Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner all seem like prime trade candidates, and logic dictates that at least one of them will go before the Feb. 19 deadline.

It may be in the back of Green's mind, based on a recent comment he made concerning Rondo's upcoming return to TD Garden:

Scott Souza @Scott_Souza

Jeff Green on 'homecoming' receptions for former #Celtics: I don't want to know how that feels because I don't want to be traded.

The Celtics' situation speaks to how delicate the balancing act of the NBA is, demonstrating how different two separate rebuilds can be.

All things considered, Boston can take some solace in the fact that it was not the only team to capture lightning in a bottle when rebuilding in 2007.

Let's remember that during that next season, the Los Angeles Lakers landed Pau Gasol and would proceed to meet the C's in the finals as a result. The Lakers were hardly a threat before acquiring Gasol, but all it took was one move, and they were there. The Spaniard and Kobe Bryant went on to win two titles together.

LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 21:  Kobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers watch the game from the bench during the fourth quarter of their game against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center on November 21, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. NOT
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Another example is the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets had missed the playoffs three consecutive years from 2010 through 2012, but just before the 2012-13 campaign kicked off, they snared James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder. That trade vaulted Houston into the playoffs and opened the door for general manager Daryl Morey to sign Dwight Howard that summer.

How about the Cavaliers? They went from a laughingstock to legitimate just because of a ping-pong ball. Instead of Kyrie Irving and a bunch of role players who haven't even been good enough to crack the postseason in the meek East, Cleveland now has its own Big Three of Irving, James and Love. While it's not exactly working according to plan, it's still miles better than what the Cavs had in the four years they spent languishing at the bottom of the league while LeBron was in Miami.

The thing is, the Celtics do have the assets to make a major move happen. They have nine (!) first-round draft picks over the next four years, and the potential to add even more to the lot is there with the trade deadline looming. They also have some good, young players like the aforementioned Sullinger and Olynyk, and then Marcus Smart and James Young.

The difference between now and 2007 is that Boston does not have that Pierce-like centerpiece on its roster. When Ainge added Allen, Pierce was already there. Garnett was the final (and most important) piece.

Would it be wise for Ainge to mortgage the future on a star in 2015 when the hypothetical star he acquires would be all alone? Perhaps landing such a player would make the C's a bit more desirable for free agents, but that's debatable.

Ainge's mettle will truly be tested these next couple of years.
Ainge's mettle will truly be tested these next couple of years.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Taking that into consideration, don't expect Ainge to put all of his chips on the table and go in. The Rondo trade signaled that a quick rebuild is not probable, and to be perfectly honest, that dream fundamentally ceased when the Celtics were unable to nab Love.

And you know what? That's not necessarily the worst thing in the world.

Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston breaks it down:

When assessing a potential Rondo trade on Wednesday, we noted that it was initially a step backward in the rebuilding process and it might have extended an already tedious exercise for the Celtics. 

But with the right moves, and proper utilization of their draft picks, there is still a chance for Boston to accelerate through this process. Getting star-caliber players to Boston will be no easy chore, particularly without a star like Rondo to help recruit those players, but the Celtics appear to be banking on a sales pitch that combines the decorated past of the franchise and an intriguing future helmed by Brad Stevens, a developing young core and its pile of future picks to help Boston build and maintain its success. 

Yes, a Rondo-Love tandem certainly sounds enticing, but would it really have been prudent of Ainge to cash in all of his assets for someone who only plays one end of the floor? Not to take anything away from Love, but let's face facts: He is not a good defensive player, particularly in pick-and-roll situations and on help defense. Plus, he is rather atrocious at rim protection, averaging only 0.5 blocks per game for his career. For a Boston ballclub that has always prided itself on getting stops, Love does not seem like a great fit.

Jumping off of that, not only would Ainge have had to find a third star to play alongside of Rondo and Love, but he also would have had to pursue a bona fide rim protector. A couple of names that come to mind are Omer Asik and Larry Sanders, but the New Orleans Pelicans happily dealt for Asik this past summer, and Sanders probably would have been too expensive of an addition given his contract.

What would Ainge have done at that point, then?

More than likely, he would have had to settle for someone like JaVale McGee who, while not horrible, is not exactly ideal. It would have been very difficult to add a legitimate defensive center while already paying Rondo and Love sizeable contracts, not to mention the hypothetical third star that Ainge imaginably would have sought.

The C's are not in a bad spot right now. Think of them as you would think of preparing dinner. The young pieces they already have are the rice, the potatoes and some vegetables. The draft picks are the spices that you are preparing to add.

They just need the meat.

That meat could come from a draft pick or it could come from a trade down the line. You just need to trust that Ainge and company are going to make the proper decisions over the next couple of years to put the Celtics in a position to win again.

Boston may have hit the jackpot in 2007, but given the capricious nature of the league, it looks as if it will have to take the scenic route this time. Or maybe it won't. Who knows?

The fact of the matter is that no one, not even Ainge, really knows for sure. A golden opportunity may present itself soon, like Allen eight years ago. Or it may not.

No one can completely control his circumstances. What truly matters is how one reacts to them, and that is why Ainge gets paid to do what he does.

The moral of the story?

Have patience. Nothing is that easy, but nothing is that hard, either.


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