With the NBA Draft now just hours away, there’s a lot of excitement surrounding the Celtics right now. There is a lot of buzz about what could happen in the draft and also in the upcoming weeks as free agency is on the horizon. The Celtics overachieved last year going 40-42 and finishing 7th in the Eastern Conference in a year that they were expected to be battling for the league’s worst record. 40 wins is by no means a great season for a contending team, but this was a huge step in the right direction for this team. This was a 15 game improvement from the previous season! In 2014-15, we learned a lot about the team, the coach, and many of the players. The vision for next year is very promising and it starts with the man at the top of basketball operations, Danny Ainge.
We knew this well before last season, but Ainge is not afraid to make big moves and take risks. He recently stated that “there is no such thing as untouchables”. He’s willing to move anyone for the right deal. He was the mastermind behind the Celtics 2008 championship as he somehow found a way to bring in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen after a season in which the Celtics were the second worst team in the entire league with just 24 wins. It appears that Ainge is poised once again to make some blockbuster moves. He is very creative and he is always thinking outside the box. Ainge finished fourth last year in the NBA Executive of the Year voting. He made 11 trades and 41 roster moves. Those number are astounding considering the amount of players on an NBA roster. He is the best GM in the city of Boston in this regard. He’s the anti-Peter Chiarelli. In addition to having a creative GM, we learned last year that the Celtics have an excellent NBA coach. Brad Stevens gets the best of out of his players, he has full control over the team on the court, and he’s a great in game manager. Stevens works very well with young players and they buy into his system. You never see effort being an issue with this team. They always play hard for Stevens. Are you listening, Red Sox?!
The leadership in the front office and the coaching are clearly there. That’s the key to any team’s success. As we all know, it takes a lot more than that, especially in the NBA. You need superstars to be able to realistically contend. On this current roster, the Celtics do not have one. In fact, they do not have a player that you would put in the top three of any contending team. Their team consists of a few borderline starters and solid role players. Collectively, they play well as a team, but they do not have the horses to realistically contend right now. What the Celtics do have is assets. This includes young players who have the potential to be more than what they are currently. They also have multiple draft picks. Ainge has been stockpiling these picks over the course of the last three years.
Here are the first round picks the Celtics have over the next four years:
2015 – 16th and 28th pick (from Clippers)
2016 – Boston, Brooklyn, Minnesota (protected), Dallas (protected)
2017 – Boston (can be swapped with Brooklyn), Memphis (protected)
2018 – Boston, Brooklyn
That’s ten first round picks in the next four years. Granted, some of the protected ones may not pan out, but these are assets for Ainge. The Celtics also have at least eight second round picks during this span and that number could be higher depending on how the protected picks pan out. Ainge’s biggest assets right now are these picks. However, he also has some players with high value on the current roster.
The Celtics currently have the following players signed for next year.
The following players from last year’s roster are free agents.
Brandon Bass – Unrestricted Free Agent
Jonas Jerebko – Unrestricted Free Agent
Luigi Datome -Restricted Free Agent
Jae Crowder – Restricted Free Agent
The players on the team that would be ideal to keep for the continued progression are Smart, Thomas, Bradley, Turner, and Sullinger. These players would all be borderline starters on a championship team. The free agent who is most likely to be back is Crowder. He’s a good fit in Stevens’ system and he brings a lot of energy to the team. These players are not only the players you want to help build your team, but they are also players other teams want. However, there is a surplus in the backcourt and there isn’t enough talent at the Power Forward and Center positions. Smart would clearly be the player with the highest value on the current roster given his age and his contract status being a rookie last year.
The final factor in Ainge’s ability to make deals this summer is cap space. The full details can be mind numbing as there are a lot of factors with the cap space in the NBA. What we need to know is that Ainge has the potential to be able to offer a max contract and sign a big name free agent starting on July 1st. There are some interesting names out there including Kevin Love who declined his player option with the Cavaliers today. What makes it interesting is that the top four are all big men which is where the Celtics have the greatest need.
LaMarcus Aldridge – Center – 23.4 Points, 10.2 Rebounds Per Game
Marc Gasol – Center – 17.4 Points, 7.8 Rebounds Per Game
Kevin Love – Power Forward – 16.4 Points, 9.7 Rebounds Per Game
DeAndre Jordan – Center – 11.5 Points, 15.0 Rebounds Per Game
There you have it. There are tradable commodities on the current roster. There are a number of draft picks that will be viewed as assets. There is cap flexibility. In other words, the Celtics have a lot to work with this summer and it’s a result of the great work Ainge has done to acquire these assets. Did anyone think the Celtics would have a shot at contending again in just the third year after the Pierce and Garnett were traded?!
A lot has been written and and discussed lately about what Ainge might do and what rumors are legitimate. It’s been reported that the Celtics are interested in trading for DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins averaged 24.1 points and 12.7 rebounds last year for the Sacramento Kings. He’s only 24 years old. It’s been reported that the Kings may trade him. Ainge may be ready to pounce! Another report was that Ainge tried to trade Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, the 16th pick in this year’s draft, and another player to Philadelphia for the third pick and Nerlens Noel. We’re also hearing that Pierce may be interested in returning if the Celtics can sign a big name free agent. There are likely to be multiple additional reports in the next 24 hours.
It’s going to be fun to see how this plays out. We have no idea what moves Danny Ainge is going to pull off. We also have no idea which of these rumors we should believe. What we do know is that Ainge has a lot of weapons at his disposal right now and he has the ability to make things happen. A guy that made 41 roster moves in a season won’t be afraid to pull the trigger on any deal. It’s very exciting to think about where the Celtics could be next year if they add one of these legitimate big men. The team finished seventh in the East last year and is improving. The East is very weak. The Celtics could very easily be one of the top four teams in the East next year. Toronto, Washington, and Milwaukee are all teams that the Celtics could surpass. If they can make it happen, it will be another big step forward similar to this past year.
One step at a time. Danny Ainge is the man who can make it all happen. NBA rosters can take many years to build. Remember, Ainge has already proven he can do it in one year. Can he do it again?