Only 121 short days separate us from the 2014 NBA Draft. If you managed to watch all four games of the Celtics' Western road trip, which concluded with a 110-98 loss to the Utah Jazz last night, that number is of great interest to you. It also means you need to find a more productive hobby.
Boston's last three games were against teams directly "competing" against them for a higher draft pick in June. The Bucks and Sixers have an upper hand on the league's worst record, but after that, the Celtics are among six teams that could end up with the third-worst record and a shot the top players in the lottery.
I watched every minute of the four road games so you didn't have to. Here's what you missed:
-- The C's are way better with Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger and way worse without them. This Sullinger stat is mind-blowing:
Jared Sullinger (concussion) out again tonight here in Salt Lake City. 2013-14 Celtics… With Jared Sullinger: +22 Without him: -234— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) February 24, 2014
-- Kris Humphries is a better-than-average defender in the post. DeMarcus Cousins was so flustered by his defense Saturday night that he was openly shoving any Celtic he saw in the fourth quarter. Somehow he wasn't thrown out of the game.
-- Brandon Bass has been the Celtics' best player this season, and it isn't close
-- Make a couple of bad calls, dagnabbit, and Brad Stevens is gonna letcha know it.
Now on to the questions.
Part 1: Who is the best of the big guys that will be available to the worst six teams? Part 2: In your opinion, are Rondo and Sullinger Celtics next year?
Jumping right into the draft stuff is a good place to start. I'm admittedly not an expert on all of the college prospects, but around mid-January, I usually ramp up my viewing just enough to make a fool of myself in the bracket office pool.
Joel Embiid is still the obvious No. 1 big man in my mind based on his combination of size and skill and his relatively rapid learning curve considering how new he is to the game. The other guy I really like is the kid from Indiana, Noah Vonleh. He is 6 feet 10 inches with a 7-3 wingspan, and can face up to the basket and take people off the dribble. NBADraft.net calls him a combo forward in the mold of Jamal Mashburn. Oh, and he's from Haverhill, which would play well here.
On your Part 2, yes to Sullinger for sure. In my heart of hearts, I believe Rondo stays next season and gives the Celtics a real shot to re-sign him, provided the building process is on track by then.
These next two questions are related:
Do you see Jeff Green becoming a key piece of our future or will we depart him in the upcoming offseason?
Braeden S., Perth, Australia
@GaryDzen why can't I quit Jeff Green?— Colin Sloan (@TheColinSloan) February 24, 2014
To Braeden: Neither. I see Green remaining on the team next season, but I wouldn't call him a key piece. He may be the most athletic 6-9 guy the Celtics have ever had, but we've seen enough at this point to know that Green can be the fourth- or fifth-best player on a good team and not much more.
In response to Colin's question, it's the flashes of athleticism and scoring in bunches that make it hard to quit Jeff Green. He's not a bad player, nowhere close to it, but he's not going to be Paul Pierce, either.
Two questions about the SG position.
1. Do you think Ainge should make a move for Lance Stephenson this summer because it's better to pay Lance $10-$12mil/yr than Avery Bradley $8mil/yr.?
2. If we don't get a top 3 pick, I was thinking we could draft Marcus Smart and play him at the 2 alongside Rondo and trade Avery Bradley. What do you think?
Two great questions. I'm all in on Lance Stephenson, but I also think that the difference between $12 million annually and $8 million annually is nothing to sniff at. There's risk involved in being the team that gives Stephenson his first big contract, though the package is intriguing. I'm also pretty high on Bradley, even if I think he projects as a perfect third guard/sixth man.
Which leads into Question 2. I think Rondo and Smart would be very, very interesting in the backcourt, with Bradley off the bench, but then you really need a scoring wing, someone who can flat-out light it up. The Celtics also need a center who can defend. In my opinion, those are Priorities 1 and 2. Love the international questions, keep 'em coming.
If today was the draft, who should the Celtics draft?
Not knowing where they'll pick, I still hold out hope that the Celtics can get Andrew Wiggins at No. 3 if he slips to there.
@GaryDzen Doesn't Big Baby being bought out with a similar contract to Bass tell us Ainge had no market for Bass? He did the right thing.— Mark McNamara (@MarkMcn81) February 24, 2014
Bass has a reasonable $6.95 million on the books for next season. I'm with you in thinking Ainge did the right thing here, Mark, because I don't think anyone offered a pick as compensation without sending bad salary in return. It's a shame someone like Golden State didn't see the need to make that deal, though. Bass could be playing 25 minutes per game for that team.
I somewhat question the direction the Celtics have taken since the beginning of the year. Being a diehard Celtic fan, I never thought we were tanking the season in the beginning of the year. However, with the team getting rid of some key players who were showing some promise (Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford ,etc.), it now appears from their play we really now have a lost season. In addition, with Rondo stating he is looking forward to free agency, we may be even set back more than it appears. Hoping I am wrong. What are your opinions and do you think Danny has a plan from here on? I am concerned because of all the draft picks we have stacked up in the future; it appears most of them could very well end up being lower-end first-round draft picks, and will there be good players around at that time? I still believe in Danny but now that things have really taken a turn, would love to hear your thoughts.
Sonny, Fort Myers
As tough as it is, Sonny, my advice to you is to be patient. I know that's hard to do as a fan who cares about the team. The last four games have been painful to watch, and the remainder of the schedule should be tough as well. But the plan that went into action when the C's traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett is still in place. It really hasn't even started yet.
Here are the first-round picks the Celtics have over the next few seasons:
2014 1st round: Boston, Brooklyn, Philadelphia (lottery protected)
2015 1st round: Boston, LA Clippers, Philadelphia (lottery protected)
2016 1st round: Boston, Brooklyn
2017 1st round: Boston
2018 1st round: Boston, Brooklyn
Some of those picks may get higher in the lottery, but there are good players there. Some of the picks may ultimately be packaged for an All-Star. Rondo may bring something in return in a trade, but the more likely scenario I see is that he stays and signs a contract here. Testing free agency doesn't mean he wants to leave, it's just the right thing for him to do financially. Hang in there, it's going to get better.
That's all for this week. Thanks, all, for your questions.