Pros and Cons of Boston Celtics Making the 2015 NBA Playoffs
“You never want to be stuck competing for the No. 8 seed” may be an old NBA adage, but the Boston Celtics have become a terrific feel-good story thanks to their recent upswing and pursuit of one of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff berths.
Celtics fans are currently transfixed by the dogfight between Boston and the Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks for the No. 7 or 8 spot, but it’s important to remember that making the playoffs would not be a wholly positive endeavor.
Though the experience of playoff games has value, so too would bowing out of the postseason chase and embracing lottery status.
Per CSNNE’s A. Sherrod Blakely, Danny Ainge has voiced support for the playoff run, but he knows that squeaking into the eighth slot is not a recipe for Banner No. 18.
The issue is far from black-and-white, and it looks like it is going to come right down to the wire for Brad Stevens’ squad.
With only a handful of games remaining and plenty of uncertainty surrounding the franchise, let’s examine a few pros and cons of Boston slipping into the 2015 playoffs.
Pro: Valuable Experience for Young Players
Boston would not be the most daunting No. 7 or 8 seed in league history, but getting experience in the postseason for the young core would be valuable going forward.
Even if Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk and Isaiah Thomas struggle, and the Celtics don’t put up much of a fight, logging minutes in high-pressure, nationally televised games would be good for them.
There has always been a widespread belief in the league that a team needs to get playoff experience under its belt before it is ready to contend for a title, and this could be Boston’s first step in that direction.
While Celtics like Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley have been in plenty of playoff games, the experience for the youthful nucleus and rotational players like Luigi Datome and Jae Crowder could be valuable.
In the past, young teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers have made the playoffs as a low seed, lost in the first round and come back the next year much stronger and more experienced.
A postseason run could also help the C’s determine which of their young players they may want to keep around for the long haul versus who they want to ship out for other assets.
Con: Hurts Quality of Draft Pick
This is probably the simplest argument against Boston making the playoffs: If Celtics sneak into the postseason, they won’t have a lottery pick.
Right now, the Celtics are tied with the Utah Jazz for the league’s 11th worst record, but unlike the Jazz, they sit just 0.5 games out of the playoffs.
Some have argued that there is no significant difference between landing the No. 10 pick, for example, versus the No. 15, but the C’s need the best talent available.
Per 82games.com, the typical No. 10 selection averages 10.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists, while a No. 15 usually posts 6.6 points, 2.9 boards and 1.4 assists per game.
That is not an insignificant drop in production, and Boston has enough glaring needs that it should be trying to improve through the draft.
The Celtics have holes at center and small forward that they could address by taking a player like UCLA’s Kevon Looney, Kansas’ Kelly Oubre or Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein (pictured).
Those players are likely lottery picks though, and while the C’s have plenty of assets to trade up, they should try to preserve future flexibility and trade potential in case a superstar becomes available on the open market.
It is virtually impossible for the C’s to snag the No. 1 pick, so that train of logic does not really work, but by making the playoffs, Boston could be taking a small step back long-term.
Pro: Makes Boston a More Desirable Free-Agent Landing Spot
Most of this summer’s quality free agents are currently on decent squads, and even if Boston can offer max money, no one is going to jump ship to play for a terrible team.
Making the postseason would give the franchise evidence to prove that the rebuild is ahead of schedule and that it has the pieces to be competitive sooner rather than later.
As we’ve seen with players like Kevin Love, Dwight Howard and James Harden, stars are more likely to join a team that is already in decent shape than entrench themselves in a complete rebuilding project.
Boston has a top-flight coach and some intriguing young pieces, so a playoff run, however brief, would be another thing the front office could use in its pursuit of free agents.
Top names on the market like Kawhi Leonard, DeAndre Jordan and Jimmy Butler are all used to high-level success, and even second-tier free agents like Khris Middleton and Omer Asik have been on decent teams.
Instead of billing the franchise as in need of an overhaul, the Celtics can employ more of a “missing pieces” pitch that should be more attractive to some players out there.
In this instance, it is important to remember that making the playoffs has more positive impact than whether or not the C’s win a title.
Con: Being Fodder for a Top Seed
The No. 8 seed has upset the No. 1 seed five times in the history of the NBA playoffs.
It’s a pretty safe bet that the 2014-15 Boston Celtics aren’t going to be the sixth team to do that.
Boston has played decently against the Atlanta Hawks, including winning a Feb. 12 thriller thanks to Evan Turner’s late-game heroics, but that game featured a Herculean performance by the since-injured Jared Sullinger.
Still, the C’s just don’t have the defensive juice to keep up with the Hawks’ pinpoint attack for a whole playoff series, as their passing and outside shooting will simply become too much to handle.
Should Boston manage to nab the No. 7 spot, its fate may not wind up being much better. It is 0-2 against both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors with two games remaining. They also lost their season series with the Chicago Bulls 3-1.
Undoubtedly, the Celtics would have a better chance against the injury-weary Bulls or inconsistent Raptors, but both teams have meaningful playoff experience and appreciably more veteran talent.
To put it simply, nothing sucks the joy out of a playoff run like suddenly finding yourself down 3-0 and fighting just to avoid a sweep.
The playoff experience would still be valuable even if Boston wound up getting handled easily, but the value would certainly be lessened if the Celtics prove to be little more than a warm-up for a true Eastern Conference contender.
Pro: Testing Pace-and-Space System at a High Level
Much has been made of Stevens’ pace-and-space system, which has turned this ragtag group of players into a cohesive, entertaining unit. What better way to test that than having them battle one of the league’s best teams?
Stevens’ phenomenal preparation every night is a huge reason the C’s did not start tanking early in the year, as they found themselves keeping most games incredibly close.
It would be fascinating to watch him make adjustments over the course of four (or five or six or seven) games with the same opponent.
Since Boston’s defense hasn’t exactly been stellar (24th in points per game at 101.5), if it wants to win in the postseason, it will likely be due to the revamped offense.
Making the playoffs would also highlight any potential flaws in the system and make the offseason needs even clearer, allowing Boston to go into the summer focused.
Without the pressure of a title run, the team could experiment with more three-guard lineups, using Turner as a point guard and other quirks Stevens has broken out over the course of the season.
According to Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe, Stevens recently affirmed his commitment to the Celtics in the midst of rumors of a college return, and making the playoffs would only make him more confident about his decision to stay put.
Con: Could Give Front Office False Confidence
The worst possible thing that could come from a Boston playoff run would be the front office thinking this team is ahead of schedule and attempting to expedite the timeline of the rebuild.
As Grantland’s Zach Lowe writes, “The rebuild is moving faster than expected, with a surprise run at the No. 8 seed in a dreadful conference, but there is a giant chasm separating this plucky, starless group from what it aspires to be.”
Boston has nice role players, but it lacks a superstar or even a typical All-Star player who could carry the team on a nightly basis.
As constructed, the team is a collection of specialists who have jelled in Stevens’ system but are almost all clearly limited in various ways.
Some of them, like Smart, Olynyk and Sullinger, have room to grow, but they will not reach their peak as players for some time.
Because of this, the most foolish move the C’s front office could make would be to read too much into a playoff appearance, regardless of the outcome.
The franchise could think it has the in-house talent to become a threat, not be aggressive in the offseason and wait for a developmental leap that may never come, or it could think the team is ready to contend and go all out for a key player like Tyson Chandler or LaMarcus Aldridge.
Players like this would boost Boston’s immediate win total, but their peak would not coincide with the rest of the roster, and they would ruin the team’s financial flexibility going forward.
Obviously, this team needs some sort of injection of talent, because the roster right now won’t grow into a true title contender.
Reading too much into a playoff run also ignores the historically dreadful year the Eastern Conference is having.
The C’s have an opportunity to capitalize on making the playoffs in 2014-15, but Danny Ainge and company would be unwise to use this as a barometer of where the franchise currently is in its long-term development.