LeBron James is out there again for the second time in four years, and if you are the Celtics you have to make the call. Even if it is a fantasy. Even if it is the longest of longshots. Even if LeBron and Carmelo Anthony are in cahoots the same way that James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh were during the summer of 2010.
The NBA Draft is now just two days away, and things get more interesting by the minute in the amusement park that is professional basketball’s offseason. You just can’t make this stuff up. Just days after Miami Heat president Pat Riley issued James a challenge that was really nothing more than a shameless plea in disguise, James opted out of his contract with the Heat, according to multiple reports this morning. Just like that, an array of endless possibilities for a variety of teams included the greatest possibility of all, James’ name joining a list of available NBA players that includes Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love as well as members of a draft class that includes Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, and others.
The Celtics? We all know that they have as much chance of landing James as the US national soccer team does of winning the World Cup. But they should still play it out and see what happens on Thursday. Ainge has enough assets and cap space to make almost anything happen this offseason if other parties are willing, and he should promise James anything and everything if he has any chance of building another super team in Boston.
And if he doesn’t? So what. It at least sends the message that the Celtics are as serious as ever about stopping at nothing to win. You can’t lose what you don’t have, anyway. James almost certainly will head to one of the NBA’s preferred destinations – Los Angeles, New York, Houston, maybe even back to Miami – because Boston simply doesn’t have the glitz or the sunshine or stage the way those other cities do.
Beyond of all of that, what faces the Celtics in the next few days is as important a three-day stretch as the team has faced since the end of the 2012 season. Ainge has the Nos. 6 and 17 picks in Thursday’s draft, and the Celtics have been linked to more prospects than some two-bit stock broker. Recently, for instance, one mock draft had the Celtics ending up with both Embiid and Dario Saric, the former of whom recently underwent foot surgery, the latter of whom just agreed to play in Europe for the next two years. In that scenario, neither play might play for the Celtics before the fall of 2015, which likely would put the Celtics right back near the top of the NBA draft again next summer.
The point? In recent years, the days before the NBA Draft have become the time to dream, to think beyond big. Come Friday morning, James, Anthony and Love might be elsewhere, and so might Rajon Rondo. The Celtics might have fully committed to a longer, more deliberate rebuild. Ainge will have continued to collect young players the way he did in the years before the Kevin Garnett deal, and the prospect of another banner hanging from the rafters of the TD Garden will seem even less likely than the prospect of James in Boston.
It will seem, in fact, like the unlikeliest scenario of all.