NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

Boston Celtics Rebuild

Although the Boston Celtics are in contention for the eight-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs this season, they are clearly not talented enough to make a real playoff run.

The rebuilding process that started with dealing away members of the Big Three a few years ago has certainly started off in the right direction. Boston has a bevy of draft picks and trade assets to show for all the deals. They have a lottery pick in Marcus Smart that they can move forward with. But what else do they have? Right now, it looks like they have a handful of role players and some capital that they can use in trades, free agency or the draft.

“The important thing to remember about us is that we have a long, long way to go,” said head coach Brad Stevens in an interview with Grantland.

Celtics’ general manager Danny Ainge got great value for his aging superstars when he let them go. He scored trade chips and a first-round pick for Rajon Rondo. He has drafted some solid young players all across the first round, including Smart (sixth overall), Avery Bradley (19th overall) and Jared Sullinger (21st overall). He traded for Kelly Olynyk on draft night in 2013, and just this year made a smart move to pick up point guard Isaiah Thomas from the Phoenix Suns.And it could be argued that Ainge’s most important signing was one he made in the summer of 2013 when he signed Stevens to a six-year contract to coach the team.

But although Boston appears to be moving quickly through the rebuilding process, they certainly don’t have anything that resembles a franchise-changing player. People around the team say Smart is adored and is part of the long-term future, but at this point it’s unclear how great he will be. Bradley and Thomas can certainly make an impact, but they would most likely be role players on a championship team.
“Everyone knows that to win a title you have to have your number one, two and three guys who do everything well — guys who basically do everything well,” Stevens said. “But championship teams are filled with other guys.”

Stevens was hesitant to say whether or not anyone on the current roster could be a top-three player.

“I won’t put a ceiling on any of them,” he said. “Maybe some of them hit that next level.”

Ainge feels that there are several pieces on the current team who will be part of the future.

“I think we have a handful of guys who could be (future starters),” Ainge said. “And we certainly have guys who could play some role on a championship team.”
The issue for Boston now is finding that superstar player to take the team to championship heights. While there are always superstars who force their way into a trade or into free agency, there aren’t too many big-time guys on the market in 2015. Adding to that dilemma is the fact that the Celtics generally have a poor track record attracting superstar players.

There are potential “big fish” trade targets like Kevin Love and Demarcus Cousins, but there’s no guarantee that either of those players will be available for a trade. Boston will make a push for those guys, but their other trade options are unclear if they are unsuccessful.

Young players like Draymond Green of Golden State and Jimmy Butler in Chicago are expected to get max contracts this summer, and either would be a great fit on the wing in Boston. But the Celtics still have to sell themselves to these players, something they haven’t been able to do with past star players.

This summer, it’s more likely that the Celtics will look more at players like a Greg Monroe-type, someone who they may be able to get for less than a max contract, and then load up for a run at a superstar in 2016. Kevin Durant is the biggest name in that field, but there is no indication at this time that Boston will make a run at him. But, things do change a lot in time.

“We don’t have a master plan,” Ainge said. “You just hope you have the assets when a deal comes along.”

The Celtics could also take an Atlanta Hawks-esque approach of smart free agent signings and good drafting outside the lottery. Like the Hawks, the Celtics have a great young coach in Stevens, and they are in a position to take the same path Atlanta took this season.

In this case, Boston could retain many of their current players, including guys like Jae Crowder and Tyler Zeller, and still make move in free agency.
“We will be very active in free agency,” Ainge said.

It is clear that the Celtics have started off their rebuild on the right path. They are contending for the playoffs sooner than they thought and they have a host of young talent on the roster. But Ainge’s work is not done yet. He will have to make some significant improvements to the team if they want to be back in title contention in the near future.

Ainge needs a superstar. If he can’t get one, the Celtics could get stuck in the awful cycle of being just good enough to stay out of the lottery but not good enough to contend for a championship.

That will make the next two summers very interesting for Celtics fans.

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