After a 25-57 season in which the Celtics were expected to lose far more often than they’d win – to the point where many would suggest that was even the plan – we have no idea exactly how long it will take for Boston to be a contender again.
With young talent on the books, expiring contracts in tow, trade exceptions, and as many as nine first-round draft picks over the next five seasons, the Celts could opt to go in a number of directions. Most notably, trade for veteran talent a la 2007, or keep filling the treasure chest with assets for seasons to come in hopes some of those future prospects pan out.
Our Boston.com panel of C’s insiders assembled once again to weigh in on which is the ideal strategy for the organization going forward. Should they rebuild with veterans or youth?
Gary Dzen: I'm going to play the wise, old Celtics writer here and answer the question with what seems like a cop-out: both. The Celtics aren't likely to get as lucky as they did in 2007, when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined an already established star in Paul Pierce and the team became an instant title contender. Even if the Celtics get, say, Kevin Love, they've still got to build through the draft. That becomes even more imperative if they acquire a lesser free agent. You've got to surround your stars with talent.
Despite giving the easy answer, what I absolutely DON'T want the Celtics to do is mortgage their future by trading away most of their picks for players now. Kaufman, you wrote Thursday that you don't think Danny Ainge will keep the No. 6 pick, and I could not disagree more. They're keeping that pick unless Love and Gordon Hayward come skipping through Logan Airport arm-in-arm. It would shock me if they traded that pick for anything other than Love, and it's going to be pretty tough to get that big guy without giving up the farm.
Jeremy Gottlieb: It may only be one year in, but the Celtics have arrived at a crucial point in their rebuilding stage. And unless they're comfortable allowing it to continue for at least a couple of more years, they'd better step on the gas and go get themselves a couple of solid veterans this summer in order to speed up the process.
It's incredibly difficult to contend in the NBA but it is doable provided a team has the right mix of new and old to go along with star talent. Just look at the 2001-02 Celtics. That team had a 25-year old Antoine Walker and a 24-year old Paul Pierce but it took a a deadline deal with Phoenix to acquire Tony Delk and Rodney Rogers (and give up first-round pick Joe Johnson after just 48 games) to team up with those young stars and point guard Kenny Anderson, then in his 11th season, and make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. After that team was broken up following a conference semifinal loss the next year, going with Pierce and an ever changing cast of youngsters and role players did nothing but earn the Celts a first-round ouster in 2005. The following two years after that were, as we all remember, dreadful, and led directly to the fireworks of the summer of 2007, which of course preceded a championship and five solid years of contention.
The common denominator between that 2001-02 squad that came within two wins of the Finals and the new Big 3 era was the acquisition of key vets to supplement the talented but inexperienced younger players that dotted the roster. If the Celtics choose to keep both of their first-round picks in next month's draft and pair them with their already young core, or are forced to should Danny Ainge come up empty in finding the right deal, that decision will not pay dividends for some time, if at all. And by then, if you believe ESPN.com college basketball writer/Rajon Rondo hater Jeff Goodman, coach Brad Stevens may be long gone for Tobacco Road and the keys to the kingdom down at Duke.
Adam Kaufman: Can’t it be both? From the moment the Celtics inked head coach Brad Stevens to a six-year, $22 million deal last summer, I’ve been convinced of one thing: This is his team. As commitments go for young and unproven, first-time NBA coaches, that’s an awfully good one. Danny Ainge didn’t lure him from Butler to let the players run the ship, a rarity in that league. Yes, I write that with acknowledgement of BirthdayGate.
Courtney Lee and Keith Bogans both complained about their minutes in Stevens’ first year and both were quickly shipped out of town. Gerald Wallace ran his mouth a bit in the early stages of the season before embracing his role. To some surprise, Kris Humphries never made a peep. Along the way, Stevens was praised by players and management for his ability to get his players to play hard and command the respect of the locker room. Even he and captain Rajon Rondo were on the same page more often than not.
That being said, the 37-year-old coach doesn’t have the NBA cache to lead a group with the likes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen (not that he’ll have the opportunity). Say what you will about Doc Rivers as a coach or the way he left Boston, but the man can massage egos with the best of ‘em.
For Stevens to be successful in the long-term, he’d be best suited to have young players – young vets, included – who can grow right along with him in the league, and who the coach and mentor and instruct as he would a college kid without concern over veteran backlash or entitlement. Yes, that could even include a certain 25-year-old with loads of experience named Kevin Love. At 28, Rondo might fit the bill as well.
By the end of last season, a dozen of Boston’s 15 players on the roster were age 30 or younger. Obviously not all of those players will return (thank goodness) but that doesn’t mean their departures will be followed by a desire to get older. The trend will continue the other way. Don’t be surprised if the average age on Opening Night is 25 (it is currently 27).
The good news is such a philosophy may set the Celtics up for success for years to come. The downside is it may take longer to reach that point.
Brian Robb: Youth appears to be the obvious answer here but it's not as simple as you might think. For every team like the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Indiana Pacers that builds their team through youth primarily, there are teams like the Charlotte Bobcats and the Cleveland Cavaliers that spent years drafting young talent in the lottery and have very little to show for it years later.
In my mind, the correct answer is a mixture of both. It's just too hard to build with all veterans in this day and age with imposing salary cap rules. You need some young talented and most importantly inexpensive players that fill the gaps on your roster. Gambling that you are going to find the right young players in the draft year after year to solve your team needs is a bad bet though as well, even for the top draft evaluators. You aren't going to be able to avoid a bust every year.
Danny Ainge had the right idea in 2007. You bring in your top veterans with trade assets, but also have enough young talent remaining (Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe) to construct a complete roster. It's a hard formula to replicate but an effective one when it works.
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