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Five Targets for the Celtics’ Rebuilding Process

Danny Ainge

With a GM as secretive and prone to throwing out red herrings as Danny Ainge, it’s nearly impossible to understand his train of thought and  predict who the Celtics will try to acquire in their quest to raise banner number 18. Yet we cannot help ourselves as it compels our experience watching a lackluster team compete.

Owner Wyc Grousbeck hinted that this offseason could include “fireworks” and perhaps rival 2007′s groundbreaking offseason that saw the formation of the Big Three, but it has come and gone without any big-name signings. Whether or not Rajon Rondo will be dealt continues to be a mystery as teams struggle to determine what a poor-shooting point guard’s value is in the modern NBA.

While the two draft picks, Marcus Smart and James Young, seem promising enough to one day contribute to a playoff roster, there is just no way this youthful lineup is going to bring the C’s anywhere close to a championship. Thus, another year of rebuilding is in the works, which means that we’ll have to settle for another season of mediocrity, while looking forward to next year’s draft. Which can all start here.

The Celtics will likely have two first-round draft picks next year and a large amount of cap space, since Rondo’s and other large (yet extremely fair to the Celtics) contracts will be off the books by then. While they are set at PG with Smart, shooting guard with Avery Bradley‘s recent extension and power forward (Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger are fighting for a starting spot), they must look to add a small forward and a center.

Anybody who watched the Celtics last year and braved their losing season already knows that the C’s need two things above all: wing scoring, where Jeff Green just didn’t cut it at 16.9 points per game, and rim protection. Having a big man who can protect the rim is a must if Boston wants to build around Olynyk or Sullinger at the four, since both have alligator arms and are allergic to blocking shots. The problem is that the market for big men is weak right now, due to many guys (Andrew Bogut, Larry Sanders, Tiago Splitter) having just signed long contracts, so it makes the most sense to look for a strong center in next year’s draft.

Three potential prospects for the 2015 Draft

1. Jahlil Okafor (Center, 6’11″, Duke)

Okafor could be the Celtics’ golden ticket as he immediately provides rim protection and a modicum of scoring in the paint due to a wealth of post moves that, paired with his long wingspan, make him almost unstoppable against smaller opponents in the post. While he is the cousin of the chronically injured Emeka Okafor, don’t let that comparison spook you — Jahlil has much more hype going into his rookie season than Emeka, due primarily to the fact that his basketball IQ is unlike any other big man’s in recent memory. The problem is that Okafor looks like a guaranteed top three pick, so the Celtics must really stink it up next year in order for this to be feasible.

2. Willie Cauley-Stein (Center, 7’1″, Kentucky)

If you watched any of the NCAA Tournament, you’ll remember Cauley-Stein as the clown with the yellow hair wearing a suit on the Kentucky sideline. It perplexed everybody, including coach John Calipari, when Cauley-Stein returned to college for another year, as everybody pegged him as one-and-done by the time the season began. This actually helps the Celtics, as he is currently projected as the ninth pick in next year’s draft (take said mock draft with a giant grain of salt), and I could realistically see the Celtics being the ninth worst team, so it’s feasible that they could nab him. To give you an overview of his skills, he’s like a smaller Kendrick Perkins: no offensive game with proven shot-blocking ability.

3. Kelly Oubre (Small forward, 6’7″, Kansas)

To address the need for a wing scorer, Oubre, the top-recruited small forward in this year’s freshman class, would immediately fill that hole. He would essentially be a better version of Young. He’s a lefty, with infinite athleticism and a smooth jumper from the three-point line. Think of him as a James Harden archetype, considering his propensity to get to the lane and get fouled. If the Celtics are somehow able to steal him in the 2015 draft, then we could be looking at one of the league’s most dynamic young lineups by next year.

Two trade targets for the coming months

1. Terrence Ross (Small forward, 6’6″, Toronto)

How much the Raptors see DeMar DeRozan as Vince Carter 2.0 will affect the feasibility of the Celtics acquiring budding star Ross. The only way the Celtics could pry Ross and his affordable rookie contract away from Toronto is if GM Masai Ujiri senses that he and DeRozan are a bit redundant in their skill sets. Ross, who currently plays as the two-guard, is really more of a three, with his large wingspan and ability to cover larger opponents on defense.

Although he averaged only 10.9 ppg last year, he’s a 20-point scorer waiting for the right opportunity. His stats are slightly curbed due to the often shot-chucking Rudy Gay eating up a roster spot for the first half of last year, so just remember that Ross exploded with a 51-point game in January. Although I may be getting a little ahead of myself with my optimistic speculation, bear in mind that options are limited, but if the C’s are trying to keep building up a young core, Ross may be just the man.

2. Harrison Barnes (Small forward, 6’8″, Golden State)

If it wasn’t for the Andre Iguodala acquisition, Barnes would currently be the Warriors starting 3, but the superior Iguodala called for a shift in Golden State’s dynamic, which prompted Barnes to be relegated to the sixth man role. His efficiency plummeted last year coming off the bench, which could be enough of a red flag to convince the Warriors to trade the young star to address other, more immediate needs, such as a backup big man for injury-prone starters Bogut and David Lee.

Barnes was lights out from beyond the arc in the 2013 playoffs, and was a big reason the Warriors upset the Denver Nuggets. Barnes, who only averaged 9.3 points in his first two years in the league, must evoke a more killer instinct if he ever wants to see his scoring numbers approach the 20-a-game mark. If not, then he could perhaps just pan out to be a Jeff Green 2.0 — extreme potential, but devoid of the Paul Pierce-like assassin instinct. If he can overcome that, only then could he be of service to the offensively anemic C’s.

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