Celtics, Rest of NBA, in Weird Position
As Celtic fans watch Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors continuously drain three pointers against the King of Akron, LeBron James, and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, they ask themselves, “Are we really that close to contending?”
Celtics fans want the answer to be yes, because the Green took a game from Cleveland in the Conference Finals and made it somewhat competitive. But it seems as though not only the Celtics are far away from contending, but also just about every other NBA team is just as far away, if not further, by the looks of what is happening right now. And it’s not even close.
Of course, if you’re a Celtics green teamer you want to put in all of your chips right now and simply go and try to beat LeBron James. But what if LeBron James himself can’t even beat the Dubs? Then what do you say?
It’s safe to say that the Celtics have never been in a better situation as a franchise as they are right now; With the number one overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (oh don’t forget a potential top four selection in 2018 as well), cap space to go after a max free agent and potentially more, and young players that are good and could help any team in the NBA win games. It’s also safe to say that the Celtics may never have been in a weirder position than they are now. Do they trade the number one pick for a star talent, and go all in to try and beat the Cavs and Warriors now? Or do they draft Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball (I’d prefer not), or Josh Jackson and continue the rebuild process? It’s a tough call for Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge, but as a fan, it also must be a tough decision.
You want your team to win, that is that. But look at it like this: the Warriors are the closest thing to a perfect basketball team: Two former MVP’s, two definite Hall of Famers and two possible Hall of Famers, as well as great role players. The Cavs have the best player on the planet (I love you Paul Pierce but KD is not there yet), the best finisher at the basket in the game, in Irving, and Kevin Love, who has played like he did when he was in Minnesota.
What do the Celtics have? They have Isaiah Thomas, who in my opinion is a top 20 player but not a top 10 player (Kyrie Irving and yes even Dame Lillard I think are better), Al Horford (a good player, a max player, not a great one) and a bunch of guys that will scrap, fight, and play with high energy. If the Warriors go on to beat the King, and the King has two sidekicks that are arguably better than anything the Celtics have, how can the Celtics be expected to beat either of the two?
But again as a fan don’t you want the maximum effort put in so that you can at least go out and try to beat them? Or could you actually swallow your pride and say, “Fine. We can’t beat LeBron. We can’t beat Steph and KD. Let’s build toward the future.” It’s a tough place to be and there are many opinions on which direction this franchise should go in. But is it possible to do both? To build for the future but to also stay competitive and try and beat LeBron?
Building for the future is a very good idea, especially when you have the ability to choose whomever you want because you have the number one overall selection. Whoever it is, Fultz, Ball (again, no.), Jackson, Jayson Tatum; you are going to get a good player. Ainge needs to make sure this player is THE guy that can transform this franchise. He cannot get this wrong. The number one overall pick only comes along to a franchise every so often and you have a chance, this year and next, to capitalize on amazing talent.
I believe they will select Fultz. He met with Ainge and Celtics officials Monday and Tuesday and it seems as though he and Isaiah Thomas believe they can be a great backcourt together. Fultz and Thomas can play together like C.J. McCollum and Dame Lillard do in Portland. Both players tabbed point guards coming out of college, but they exist quite nicely and are a top five backcourt in the league. Build for the future: check.
Let’s talk Gordon Hayward. There is no doubt in my mind he will get max money, but from who? Sure, he could stay in Utah and be the fourth or fifth best team in the West and make $179 million over five years. Or he could take his talents to the Boston Celtics, sign for four years and make about $132 million. Where is the better chance to win? It’s obviously Boston. There is the connection with head coach Brad Stevens from their days at Butler University and there is the natural basketball fit with the team: a perimeter player who can shoot and create his own shot. It’s a near perfect match. So for the sake of the argument, pretend the Celtics sign Gordan Hayward. Although you still can’t beat the Cavs with Hayward, the move still makes you more competitive. Stay competitive: check.
If Hayward or any other guard comes to the Celtics via trade, the draft or free agency, someone on this current Celtics roster has to go. I designate Avery Bradley as the guy. Avery is an elite defender and has improved immensely on offense, averaging 16 points per game on 46% from the field and 39% from downtown this past season. I just happen to think he has the most trade value on the team. With offense coming in in Fultz and Hayward, and elite perimeter defense still being on the roster in Marcus Smart (a guy that is the perfect six man, and if he can hit the three consistently, he is very dangerous), the move makes sense. Then you don’t re sign Tyler Zeller, James Young and you find a better rim protector for cheaper value on the market than Amir Johnson. Do I dare say maybe a healthy Andrew Bogut?
Nevertheless, unless the Celtics trade for Anthony Davis, and still sign Hayward (and maybe this still isn’t enough to win), the Green won’t be raising banner 18 next season due to the fact that beating two definite Hall of Famers and two possible ones, with no Hall of Famers, the number one overall pick who needs time to mature and improve, and a couple great scorers in IT and Hayward, is nearly impossible. That is why teams in the NBA in general, not just the Celtics, are in a weird spot. Try to tear down the elite in the Cavs and Warriors? Or just pray the teams get broken up in four years and build towards the future? There is a silver lining to this if you are a Celtics fan: your team is always going to be in the mix. Danny Ainge is always on the phone talking, looking, and thinking. Teams come to you because of your many assets. In the blink of an eye, everything could change, just as it did in 2007 with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
It’s a different NBA than it was in 2007 so maybe history just physically can’t repeat itself, regarding super stars getting traded. Carmelo Anthony was possibly the last quote on quote “superstar” to get traded and look how that has worked out for both the Denver Nuggets and the New York Knicks. It’s an NBA where you want to be the elite of the elite, or the worst of the worst. It can all change with one move and the Celtics know they control a lot of things. They have the ability to change the NBA again, but at some point a move will have to be made, or Celtics fans will start thinking of what Danny Ainge could have done, instead of what he got done.