The Irrational Optimist: Boston Celtics Edition

In an effort to keep this website relevant to the entire league (Don’t worry Knicks fans, I’m still right here), this is going to be the first of a series of profiles I will be doing on other teams and players. It’s also the first time I’m taking requests from my devoted fanbase. If you want to see something up on Knicks at Night, drop me a comment. Maybe you’ll be the next one up on the site…

The request: A profile on the Boston Celtics, Optimistic Words Only.

Hmmmm, let’s see….

Your 2018 NBA Champions… THE BOSTON CELTICS!!! (crowd going wild)

The Celtics are going into year 2 of their rebuilding program, which began after their ugly 4-2 playoff smackdown by the pretty-darn-good 2013 Knicks squad (sorry, Rabes gimme one). They have no plan to compete for the postseason this year and will likely focus on player development, improving their implementation of coach Brad Stevens’ system, and jettisoning Rajon Rondo, and possibly Jeff Green, for as high a return as they can get before another trip to the lottery in summer of 2015. However, while they may not be the most watchable team this year, there are a lot of reasons for Boston fans to be stoked for the future. Let’s get into it.

The Team as Currently Constructed

It initially looked like star PG Rajon Rondo could miss as much as 10 weeks after breaking his hand in September. Now, it seems more likely he will be ready for opening night. Or, at least returning soon after that. This leaves the depth chart looking something like this:

PG: Rajon Rondo, Marcus Smart, Phil Pressey

SG: Avery Bradley, Marcus Thornton, James Young

SF: Jeff Green, Evan Turner, Gerald Wallace

PF: Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Dwight Powell

C: Kelly Olynk, Tyler Zeller, Vitor Faverani

All in all, not bad for the league’s 8th youngest roster. Especially when you figure Gerald Wallace, Rondo, and Evan Turner are not likely part of their long-term plans, making them one of the 3 youngest. This is a team that went 5-3 in the preseason (though that did include two beatdowns of the NBA’s D-League 76ers) and has the kind of players who are going to play hard for every possession, even if they are down 15 or 20.

Marcus Smart– Selected with the 6th pick of this year’s draft and widely believed to be the future of the Celtics after Rondo is traded. Read this. Holy shit. I honestly believe that this article and this dude’s background says so much more about Smart’s future than any on-court action. The guy is a fierce competitor who has overcome mountains to be where he is. I don’t think he’s going anywhere; we’re looking at a future All-Star. Smart has been on and off with his jump shot, but fulfilled his PG duties of leading the team in assists during the preseason. He’s also a pretty scary on-ball defender and will combine with Avery Bradley to form up a “No, not those fucking guys” backcourt for rival guards to go against.

Jared Sullinger– Led the team in both points and rebounding this preseason, including averaging 18 boards (!!!) over two contests with Brooklyn. Sully is a little undersized at the 4, as is Kelly Olynk at the 5 so Brad Stevens has the two of them shooting 3s. All I can say is that the night they played the Knicks the two of them went a combined 6-6 behind the arc. Yeesh. While that kind of success is not going to happen consistently, it looks as if the team as a whole is trending towards a more 3-friendly approach than last season, which will help these guys hang with better teams if they can get hot from deep.

Tyler Zeller– Its hard to say at this point if Zeller, acquired from the Cavaliers during the offseason, is part of this team’s long-term goals (that applies to most of the Celtics by the way). I’d like to see him stay in the TD Garden for a little while. What the Celtics do have in perimeter defense, they lack badly in rim protection. Zeller didn’t play a whole lot during the preseason but he did have two 3-block games (no one on the team put up even 2 in any of the games). If the 3 point shooting from Boston’s other bigs is real, Zeller might be a nice addition to help this team protect the rim.

Cap Situation

Boston isn’t in the same boat as fellow tankers like Philadelphia who are actually below the cap threshold (meaning all their seriously low-paid players get a nice pay bump that makes up the difference). The cap for this year is currently at around $63 million, with the luxury tax kicking in at $77 mill. The Celtics squeeze in quite nicely at $75 million, but if you look a little closer that number drops to only $47 million in commitments next year. After that the real fun is going to come in 2016, when the salary cap is expected to jump by about $20 million and Boston finally gets to say goodbye to Gerald Wallace’s heinous contract. In fact, if the Celtics don’t make any major signings, or keep them to 1 year contracts this summer, they’ll have something like $90 million to spend and only commitments to players on rookie deals and Avery Bradley’s $7 million/year contract.

This leaves Boston a ton of flexibility to go one of two ways in the next two seasons. They can continue blowing up the roster, netting more future draft picks and flexibility, allowing them to go ALL-IN on two or three max level players in Summer 2016. Orrr, if they actually turn out to be sneaky competitive (don’t underestimate Stevens getting the most out of his roster and being unsatisfied with a continuing tankjob) they can resign players like Jeff Green or Evan Turner (ugggh probably not Turner) and bring in a nice mid-tier free agent next summer to compete for a playoff seed in 2016, before they accelerate and think championship. Someone like Paul Millsap or Greg Monroe would be a nice complement to Green in the frontcourt should they choose to do this.

Another nice feature of Boston’s cap situation is the number of expiring contracts it has. Chief among these is Gerald Wallace, whose albatross deal is really what made the whole Brooklyn trade possible. Dude gets paid like $10 million a year to ice his ankles on the bench. Awful for any competitive team, but for a tanker that $10 million in expiring allows you to reach that lottery AND THEN have the money to sign another FA in the summer. Its not totally unrealistic that the Grizzlies or Pacers end up underperforming this season and their GMs decide to flip Marc Gasol or West/Hibbert into cap space and a first round pick. The Cs also have Marcus Thornton who comes off the books this summer at around $8.75 million. Thornton represents Wallace’s opposite. Dude can actually play (or at least shoot the basketball) and would be a good addition to a team that is willing to overpay to make the playoffs, or compete for a championship RIGHT NOW. Again, teams like the Grizzlies and the Hornets NEED outside shooting and may be looking to make a splash in the postseason. Orr, there’s always the chance that Sam Presti in Oklahoma City realizes its far past time to make a commitment if he wants to keep Kevin Durant in Thunder blue.

Draft Picks

Well if you’ve made it this far, I’ve got some great news for you. Boston fans REJOICE!!!

While I only did extensive research on the Celtics, I think you would be hard pressed to find another team in the league that has a better couple of years coming up in terms of draft picks. Danny Ainge is a GENIUS in realizing exactly when to cash in on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and the fact that he also netted a 1st rounder from L.A. in exchange for Coach Doc Rivers means this team is sitting PRETTY. Let’s look at it:

2015: Boston has its own first round pick, the pick from the Clippers, and then one more from Philly. Unfortunately that one is top 14 protected, meaning there is no way they end up getting it and it turns into two 2nd rounders in successive years. Still, two 1st rounders with a chance for a miraculous third.

2016: Boston has its own first round pick, one from Brooklyn, AND one from Cleveland (they got this by taking on some of the Cavaliers’ contracts so they could free up space for Love and James) That last one is top 10 protected. I have a hard time seeing Cleveland as one of the ten worst teams, but even if their Big 3 all sprain their ACLs and fall into the lottery, the pick rolls over into a first rounder in 2017. 3 in 2016.

2017: They have their own pick and the right to pick swap with Brooklyn. Seeing as they may actually be rebuilt by this point and Brooklyn extinct, this is a nice time for a swap. One pick in 2017.

2018: They have their own pick and one last first rounder from Brooklyn. Two picks in 2017.

If you’re following this means that Boston has 8 first round picks in 4 years. Not only does that give Boston the chance to add young players on rookie deals who can contribute right away (Smart and 17th selection James Young project to be starting caliber NBA players in a couple years, and decent bench players right now) but they have serious assets if they want to chase a big-time player via trade instead of free agency. However, don’t underestimate the pull that Boston has as a Free Agent destination as well; I would love to see Danny Ainge drape the 17 championship banners over Kevin Durant in 2016, Pat Riley style.

Wrap it Up Dude

In short, the Celtics have a lot going for them. In fact, forward thinking as Sam Hinkie is in Philadelphia I honestly believe Danny Ainge is doing a better job of driving the tank, keeping the Celtics at least somewhat competitive/relevant while in the hunt for high draft selections in the lottery. He also has a lot more assets in his treasure trove that he can flip at any time these guys show that spark and actually start looking good. The Celtics may not be the most fun team in 2014, but if Smart looks like a real PG and they can get something meaningful for Rondo, these guys have all the pieces in place to make a run for a ring in about 3 years. Better pre-order those season tickets now!

YOU’RE WELCOME

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