Boston fans left the NFL playoffs with a feeling of emptiness. The Patriots didn’t deliver like we have come to expect. The Bruins have been Boston’s winter go-to for years now. But heir prospects aren’t promising. Watch the Celtics? Pssh, pitchers and catchers report when?
At first glance, this winter’s sports scene began to look as dark and dreary as the prospects of catching an MBTA train during last winter’s snowpocalypse.
It’s been easy to forget the Celtics in recent years, hidden away behind the success and achievements of other championships won by Boston teams. Pierce, Garnett, and Allen have now been gone for considerable time. In a league dominated by big name superstars, the Celtics only had the troubled Rajon Rondo. He would prove that his temperament and lack of emotional control was hurting the team more than anything else. The Celtics would soon dump Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks. Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, and Brandan Wright? Who are hell are these guys? Little did most most know it would be a turning point in this particular chapter of Celtics history.
“I’m sorry. I apologize to Danny right now if that’s what they’re trying to do. But I’m a winner. He brought me here. I like to win games. I’m a basketball player. I don’t know how to just lay down and lose.” Crowder said on the team’s expectations when he was traded to Boston. Right from the outset, Crowder declared he came here to win and wouldn’t expect anything less. Crowder was the embodiment of Brad Stevens’ and Danny Ainge’s vision for this Celtics build. A group of basketball players that buy into a young, passionate, incredibly talented young coaches message. They share the ball, they know how to defend, and most importantly they emphasize team play above all else. Crowder struggled for playing time on a talented Dallas roster but just needed to be given an opportunity. Jae has taken that opportunity and taken flight. He puts it all out on the court 82 games a year, leads by example, and brings a toughness to the Green that makes them a tough matchup for any team to play.
The time of Celtics Irrelevance is over. The NBA second half has begun and the Green continue to exceed expectations. With 29 games remaining in the season, the C’s sit in 4th place in the East with a record of 30-22. They are scorching hot; winning 11 of their last 14 contests. The team is fresh off defeating King LeBron’s Cleveland Cavaliers in his own palace. A Cavalier team that the majority of analysts peg as the top team in the Eastern conference. The Celtics are winning against the top tier of their conference and defeating superstars without any on their own roster. No doubt, their strides have much to do with the work of their young head coach. Before Stevens reached Boston he coached two Butler teams to the Final Four. The Celtics are the 5th youngest team in the NBA. Their lone all-star Isiah Thomas is only 26.
Crowder, Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, and Marcus Smart are all 25 or younger. Their age is an incredible testament to the framework the Celtics have cemented in order to achieve success. Stevens is obsessive with his approach to game preparation and is one of the biggest advocates of using statistical analysis to make coaching decisions. Most notably he stresses fundamentals and teamwork over individual basketball skill. It shows within statistics as the Celtics have a deep rotation ranked 1st in the league in bench points averaging 41.8. The approach Brad Stevens makes to coaching might strike a chord with Bruins fans. Defense and team over all else? Remarkably similar to Claude Julien’s approach to coaching in the NHL.
However, the Bruins are a much more stale product on the ice and they are aging. For the sake of the Bruins and their fans hopefully Don Sweeney is taking notes. The C’s took the opportunity to rebuild the core of the franchise rather than holding onto veteran players longer than they should and it has paid off.
The Celtics are finally over the hump of their rebuild. Danny Ainge has acquired a monopoly of 13 potential draft picks in the next two years. There are four players that do not have contracts for next season: David Lee, Evan Turner, Tyler Zeller, and Jared Sullinger. In the 2016 draft, the Celtics will have 3 first round picks (2 lottery) and 5 second round picks. There is where things become confusing and unpredictable. The Celtics have an incredible amount of picks and pretty solid roster pieces to boot. Ainge is left with a multitude of options. All of these draft picks can be either be taken or traded to improve an already solid roster. $50m (yes, million) can be taken off cap this offseason by not signing Sullinger, Turner, Zeller, Lee and declining the non-guaranteed options for Johnson and Jerebko. Key players like Thomas, Crowder, Bradley, and Smart are all signed long term. If the team theoretically made no moves and didn’t decline the Johnson, Jerebko contracts they would have 11 players on contract with 8 draft picks in 2016. That would mean they would have 19 players; well over the roster limit of 15.
Changes may occur as early as this week before the upcoming trade deadline on February 18th. They’ve been linked to discussions for players like Dwight Howard and Al Horford. I’m not sure I see — or want — either guy coming to Boston. The summer will be a more interesting free agent market with the likes of Kevin Durant, Hassan Whiteside, DeMar DeRozan, Mike Conley, Nicholas Batum hitting unrestricted free agency. Looking forward to 2017- Blake Griffin and Chris Paul both have early termination options. Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook will also be unrestricted free agents.
Something has got to give. They have too many picks and players. The Boston Celtics will undoubtedly make major moves. If they make the right deals they can be championship contenders in a relatively short time frame. They currently have players that are thriving above expectations, a squad that has bought into a brilliant coach, favorable contracts/cap room, and a general manager who has proven he can pull off franchise shaping trades. It’s going to be a fun ride for Celtics fans in the next few years.
Trader Danny has the gun loaded, safeties coming off, hes aiming down the sights, ready to fire. “I think the one thing that we could really use is a go-to scorer,” Ainge said recently.
It makes all the sense in the world for both the Celtics and Kevin Durant to sign together. It would be a huge name for the franchise and Durant is likely a Hall of Fame player.