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Welcome to the most exciting part of the NBA off-season Celtics fans: Free Agency!
Unfortunately for Boston, the Celtics rebuilding phase has taken over the spotlight, so the expectations of signing any big-time free-agents this summer are abnormally low.
After trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn, the Celtics have officially begun to take baby steps towards the construction of another championship team. Here are some of the important questions surrounding the franchise that will go a long way into determining when it will be competitive once again.
That Depends. What is Danny Ainge’s plan? Tank the entire season and shoot for Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker? If that’s the direction the Celtics want to go in, they can either trade Rajon Rondo and try to get picks or a younger star, or they can keep him and let him recover slowly like Derrick Rose did this past season. Rondo’s almost 28 years old (believe it or not), so while wasting one of his prime years on a tank job for the hopes of landing a once in a decade type of player might work, it could also backfire. In 2007, the Celtics convinced Pierce that tanking was the best option, only to end up landing the fifth pick in the ‘Durant draft’.
Rondo doesn’t want to waste the best years of his career playing for a team that isn’t going anywhere and vice-versa for the Celtics. Ainge should either start from the bottom up and completely get rid of his last true asset, or have him stick around for a lousy year while crossing his fingers that the draft works out and that Rondo maintains a Pierce-esque level of understanding that in order to be really good, you have to be really bad for a period of time.
P.S. As constructed, the Celtics won’t be as bad as people think next year (as long as they play the ‘Celtic’ way, and not lose games on purpose). A healthy core of Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, and Fab Melo (you’re supposed to laugh), could ‘contend’ for a playoff spot in the East, where teams 6-15 will all be tanking.
Pursuing Josh Smith would mean that the Celtics would attempt to execute one of the quickest rebuilds in league history. How do you trade a top-two coach and you’re two star players/legends in one summer, and find a way to compete in the following season? That’s hard, but it can be done when your roster still consists of the core I mentioned above.
Realistically, if Ainge believes that the possibility of landing Wiggins is slim to none, and throwing away one full season for that slim shot may not be worth it, then why not go after Smith? Don’t get me wrong, he is one of those players who will make Celtics fans shake their heads more often than not. His shot selection is mediocre at best, and sometimes his hero-ball mentality gets the best of him—in the wrong way. But, let’s remember, not everyone is LeBron James, and every player is flawed. Smith possesses freakish athletic abilities, and can rebound, defend, and run with Rondo about as well as anyone could. Smith’s defensive prowess could replace some of what Garnett brought to the team as the defensive anchor.
Having Smith and Rondo as the best players on your team is a big risk—not talent wise, but locker room mentality wise—which may make Ainge think twice, or five times about pulling the trigger. However, if Boston can execute a sign-and trade for Smith, while finding a way to maintain salary cap flexibility moving forward, then why not? In a few years, a core of Rondo, Bradley, Green, Smith, Sullinger, and whoever the Celtics draft through first round picks could be enough in an Eastern Conference that will always be up in the air outside of Miami (LeBron coming back to the Heat is not even a given).