The Kevin Love dream has been dead for Celtics fans for a few weeks now, but it is still tough to escape the drama surrounding the big man.
Love made headlines again earlier this week by pulling out of Team USA camp in Las Vegas ahead of the World Championship in Spain. The move was just another telltale sign that a deal involving Love is imminent this offseason as the Wolves and Love likely don’t want to risk injury at this stage of the game. The Timberwolves’ power forward probably won’t be traded until late next month at the earliest, after rookies like Andrew Wiggins and Doug McDermott have been signed for 30 days.
Once that timeline passes, both guys can be offered as a part of trade packages from Cleveland and Chicago, respectively, for the three-time All-Star. We don’t know where exactly the highly sought after 25-year-old will land, but Boston’s package of draft picks and young players won’t be able to match what the Cavs, Bulls, or potentially Warriors have to offer.
With another long year of rebuilding facing Celtics fans, it’s easy to get down and out about the team’s failed pursuit of Love. He was the team’s clear Plan A this offseason and his offensive skills would have made Boston relevant right away in the revamped Eastern Conference. Additionally, attracting a third star down the road always comes easier when you have two in place and that’s what Boston would have had with Love and Rondo. These are just a few of the indisputable reasons the team was wise to try to acquire Love.
It didn’t work though, so now the team is onto Plan B (collecting more assets and patience for the right team-building trades to come around). That road is far more uncertain and challenging than any Love acquisition. It relies largely on building the team through the draft and that’s a process that will be lengthy and may never result in a player of Love’s caliber. With that said, it’s unfair to say that Plan A would have been without a doubt the best route for this team to take long term. Like any situation, that plan had some question marks, as well.
While there’s no denying the immense talent of Love, let’s play devil’s advocate here for a bit. The fact is there are a few legitimate reasons missing out on the four-time All-Star may not end up being the worst thing for the team after all. So instead of dreading a “lost” offseason, let’s flip the script here and take a closer look at those reasons why the Celtics (down the road) might not regret failing to land Love.
1) The Celtics would have had to overpay to acquire Love
Trades in the NBA are largely predicated on distinct circumstances. Back in May, the Celtics loomed as one of the more likely destinations for Love, while holding an “intriguing” collection of future first round draft picks and young talent to offer Minnesota in a potential swap. Unfortunately, Minnesota president of basketball operations Flip Saunders had his heart set on building a competitive team for next year rather than rebuilding. Thanks to this, a collection of draft picks and inexperienced players with limited upside in Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk didn’t appeal to Saunders.
Could the Celtics have upped their offer enough before the NBA Draft (and Cleveland’s emergence as a suitor)? It’s possible, but it likely would have taken an absurd number of first rounders (think four or five) to make Saunders an offer he couldn’t refuse. An offer like that would have been an overpay, and that’s something Danny Ainge isn’t in the business of doing. Retaining those assets could be just as pivotal to building a contender long term, especially when the possibility of serious salary cap room is on the horizon.
2) A core of Love and Rondo wouldn’t have necessarily made the Celtics long-term contenders
It’s not a direct knock on either player, but a Rondo/Love led team not being a contender is a possibility. The fact that the Celtics would have had to sacrifice several young players and picks for Love would complicate things from a team-building standpoint for Ainge.
Look at it this way: In order to satisfy Love’s demands of being on a competitive team, both he and Rondo would likely need to be re-signed to long term deals when their contracts run out together next summer. The Celtics couldn’t afford to let Rondo walk and expect Love to still sign an extension. Max deals for both players would be worth five years and somewhere close to the $110 million mark, according to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, when you factor in estimates for the salary cap next season.
It remains unclear whether Rondo would be able to fetch a max contract in his next deal, but he’s likely to receive at least $17 million per year (at the bare minimum) on the open market if he returns to form next season. Love is a lock to land a max deal, even though some executives around the league question his value, citing his flaws on defense and his inability to win consistently during his career..
Tying up that much money in both players (while forfeiting assets) would have put Ainge in a challenging spot moving forward. The team would lose any chance at significant cap space over the next few years with the pair in place, forcing Ainge to make improvements via limited means (trades, draft picks, midlevel exceptions).
Would the team have tried it if they had the chance? Absolutely, but there was no guarantee they would have had the means to put the right supporting cast around a Rondo/Love combo even if both players took less than max deals. There’s also always the possibility that Love would have walked in free agency next summer if things didn’t go well in Boston during the season. The truth is we don’t know whether Love would have opted into the final year of his deal for the 2015-16 season upon being traded to Boston.
3) Why can’t the Celtics retain their assets and just make some noise in free agency next summer?
Boston’s history in free agency speaks for itself. They haven’t landed a big-name player for a long, long time. With that said, it’s important to think about this: Can you even name the last time current Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had the salary cap space to sign a big-name free agent?
The answer? It hasn’t happened in the Danny Ainge era. In more than 11 years at the helm in Boston, Ainge has never had significant salary cap room. So yes, the Celtics haven’t signed anyone with star power in recent memory, but they also haven’t had a realistic chance to do so.
That should change next summer, especially if the team finds a way to dump Gerald Wallace and Jeff Green over the next 12 months. If that happens, the Celtics have a young core, a savvy front office, and a well-respected head coach. Who is to say Boston won’t have the ability reel in elite players?
Boston may not be able to offer free agents the spotlight of New York or Los Angeles, or the weather of Miami, but the team has tradition and a terrific fan base. We’re not talking about a place like Atlanta or Milwaukee that can’t draw the attention of free agents. The success of the Big Three era put Boston back on the map in the NBA, and players around the league take note of the atmosphere at TD Garden home games. If the team is competitive (and sometimes when it’s not), Boston is a fun place to play.
The bottom line here is not trying to knock Love or the team’s pursuit of him. Love is a top player, but he has his fair share of question marks. A trade for him would have made the Celtics commit to a pairing of Rondo and Love for the remainder of the decade.
That’s a spot many teams around the league would love to be in right now, but the fact is that the Celtics could be in a better place as a franchise a few years down the road by falling short in this endeavor.
Between avoiding overpaying Minnesota, building additional assets this summer (first round pick from Cleveland), and maintaining cap flexibility, the team has plenty of options moving forward. Will any of those options be better than Love? It’s tough to know now, but it’s fair for Celtics fans to hope that Plan B might not be so bad after all.