We’ve reached the three-quarter pole on this Celtics 2014 season, as good a time as any for some light analysis. So, what are we looking at with this vintage of the Celtics roster? Who has exceeded expectations? Which players have furthered the losing of games? What do we as fans have to look forward to this summer? Good questions, all, and I’m just about bored enough to answer at least a few of them.
Going into the season, it was obvious this roster was a mess. The team lacked and continues to lack anyone who can play in the pivot competently. The small forward position is woefully thin after Jeff Green. The team’s interior defense has been an adventure, to put it mildly. Veteran subs like Brandon Bass and The Hump have been forced to play too many minutes and out of position often this season. As the season has gone along, the injury bug has made its presence felt, forcing players like Chris Johnson and Kelly Olynyk to play more of a role than they would normally be accustomed.
I came back…for this?
Rajon Rondo returned to the court on January 17th, for a nationally televised game versus the Lakers, naturally. Since even before stepping on the court, there have been plenty of folks trying to read the tea leaves to determine what the future holds. Will he ever be the same as he was before the ACL tear? Will he be much of anything without Garnett and Pierce? Will Danny Ainge trade him to secure more future flexibility for the club?
As the games pile up, Rondo continues to chip more and more rust off, to the point where he almost looks himself again. In some ways, he appears to be a better version of himself, adding a three point shot and non-painful free throw shooting into his bag of tricks. About the only thing holding him back at this point appears to be the twelve pounds of knee brace he’s lugging along out on the court.
What does this mean for the Celtics? It means they either have a prime years PG whose game appears to be maturing or a very good trade chit. I vacillate between keeping Rondo and trading Rondo on a seemingly daily basis. I suppose the actual plan for him lies heavily in the results of the forthcoming draft.
Aside from Rondo, the two biggest pieces the Celtics control at this point are Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger. It remains to be seen how the Celtics view Young Avery, as he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. The offer the Celtics give Bradley should tell us everything we need to know about how they view him going forward. Sullinger has had mixed results this season, posting some monster games along with showing a propensity for flagrant fouling. He has been the sole bright spot for the working the boards and in the post. Unfortunately, his game would show improvement if he either abandoned the face up game and three point shooting, which has been a disaster. Recently, he has garnered comparisons to a 21 year old Kevin Love. In order for that to not cause one to blush, Jared will have to make a similar leap in his third season. Losing some weight would not hurt the cause, big boy.
Jeff Green remains the enigma he has been since entering the league. When he is actively involved, he can be an efficient, volume scorer. Those remaining 70 games on your schedule, he is the passive, lethargic player he’s been since leaving Georgetown. He’s a tall guy who doesn’t rebound, a quick guy who can’t defend. He is what he is and they have him for at least another season, barring a trade.
Kelly Olynyk’s rookie season has given us one fairly major surprise – he’s not nearly as awful a rebounder as he was projected to be. If his rebound rate stays high, he may, in fact, be able to stay at center, despite the Venus di Milo arms. For a stretch big, however, his shooting has left something to be desired, as he’s not hitting the open shots he’s getting while being basically unguarded out there. The passing has been alright, though his interior passing has been far better than his perimeter passing, putting another knock on his stretch big bona fides.
The rest of the roster is a collection of zero-VORP veterans (Brandon Bass, Jeryd Bayless and The Hump), young guys with no future (Pressey and Johnson) and the ever present horrific contract (the corpse of Gerald Wallace). None of the above will likely be part of the next resurgent Celtics squad. In fact, very few of the players on the roster today look to be part of the Celtics future going forward.
With the state of the roster, you should be asking yourself, where’s the hope here, exactly?
They’ve, apparently, got this.
The current contract structure of the Boston Celtics is, in a word, ideal. While the players themselves aren’t much to write home about, the contracts they are being paid have a good mixture of varying dollar amounts and short terms, aside from Gerald Wallace. Every player on the roster should be a trade-able asset in one way or another. There are young guys on short money deals that can be combined with veterans on larger contracts. There are veterans who can be combined with youngs or draft picks to return real value for the Celtics. The only real thing hindering the franchise right now is their close proximity to the luxury tax limit, which will likely cause them to lose Kris Humphries for nothing this summer.
Another attractive thing about the Celtics position is General Manager Danny Ainge. Ainge has done this once before, and in doing such, has earned a degree of trust from both ownership and Celtics fans. The ownership group, led by Wyc Grousbeck, has seen the franchise’s value increased by 20% over the past year, despite fielding a sub-par product. Having the front office and ownership on the same page during a rebuild is vital and nothing buys a GM more time than a dividend-fattened ownership group. Ainge should have the time required to execute whatever plan of action he has up his sleeve.
Brad Stevens inaugural campaign has been relatively quiet, as far as complaints go. Aside from Gerald Wallace’s early carping, his team has been free of complaints or controversy. The only minor complaint from laymen was laid to rest during the last road trip, when he finally got both his first technical and ejection in the same game. While limited by the current roster, the players play hard for him, especially on defense. It remains to be seen whether the team’s inability to make baskets is due to the personnel or his system.
See ya, Dave.
The real future hope for the Boston Celtics lies heavily in the NBA Draft for the next half decade. Over the next five years, the Celtics own up to ten first round draft picks, their own plus picks from the Nets, Clippers and the 76ers, with the option to swap picks with Brooklyn in 2017. This bevy of picks leaves the team with many options for rebuilding the team going forward.
The basic value of a draft pick, if the pick is in the lottery, is the number of ping pong balls added to the hopper for the annual lottery drawing. Much like what happens at college parties, NBA general managers tend to go a little nuts and make poor decisions once ping pong balls show up on the scene. A top 5 pick in the Draft could be anybody to someone wearing beer goggles. Add some job security pressure and the desire for a shot at a top pick becomes overwhelming for some GMs. In short, there are opportunities to improve your roster with draft picks that don’t involve selecting a player.
With up to ten picks in the next decade, Ainge has the option of selecting players or trading some of those picks for veteran roster players. This is a nice way to avoid the Sacramento dilemma, where a team winds up with a roster full of young players without any veteran leadership. Depending on how things go this summer, it sounds as though Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony could be up for grabs and no team has the sheer number of pieces to offer the Celtics possess. This is the kind of flexibility the Celtics have right now – the ability to adapt to a changing marketplace. The franchise isn’t locked into selecting 10 teenagers over the next five seasons as its only source of salvation.
The enticement of actually using those picks is strong, however, especially this summer. Lotto balls and names like Wiggins, Embiid and Parker bubble through the imagination. According to Chad Ford’s latest mock draft, the Celtics could come away with both Parker and Willie Cauley-Stein, a state of affairs that makes me light headed.
Whatever the direction the Celtics look to take, they have options. Having options is vital for a rebuilding franchise. The options increase. Mistakes can be recovered from. The sheer weight of the the options available to Ainge ensures nothing, of course, but for fans of the Boston Celtics, they should provide for some hope.