In the end, having the best player in the world, an All-Star point guard, and an All-Star power forward was more than enough for the Cleveland Cavaliers to dispense of the scrappy Boston Celtics. The Cavs closed out their first round sweep of the Celtics yesterday with a 101-93 win. While the Celtics made a solid effort in the series, Cleveland was just too much for them to handle and now LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and (maybe?) Kevin Love will move on to likely face the Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
The question for Danny Ainge and the Celtics now is, just how long will they be overwhelmed when facing the elite of the NBA?
Armed with a war chest of draft picks, salary cap space, young talent, and one of the best coaches in the league, the Celtics might be closer to contention than they looked this past week.
Let's start with the draft picks. Ainge's wheeling and dealing the last two years has added enough picks for the team to have the option of adding several new players via the draft while also having enough picks to potentially use as trad chips.
In addition to their own first round picks, the Celtics own the first round picks of the Clippers in 2015, the Nets and Mavericks in 2016 (as well as a Top-12 protected pick from Minnesota that would revert to two second round picks), the right to swap with the Nets in 2017, the Nets in 2018, and a Memphis pick that will come some time between 2018-2021.
The Celtics also stand to have around $27-million in space under the salary cap heading into this offseason and with the salary cap expected to rise dramatically in the next few years, this will allow Ainge to offer big time dollars at prospective free agents.
Some of that money might be spent on retaining the team's own free agents - Brandon Bass, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, and Gigi Datome are set to become free agents - but Ainge will have the dollars needed to recruit at least one big ticket free agent to Boston.
Ainge will be able to woo the likes of Marc Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler (restricted free agent), DeAndre Jordan, Draymond Green (restricted), Paul Millsap, and Greg Monroe.
Imagine Ainge using the money to add Green and Millsap? That would give them a rotation of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, and Isaiah Thomas at guard; Green, Evan Turner, and James Young on the wing; and Millsap, Tyler Zeller, Jared Sullinger, and Kelly Olynyk at forward with two first round draft picks to use as well.
Another big selling point for the Celtics is the presence of Brad Stevens. In just two years on the Boston bench, Stevens has established a reputation as one of the game's brightest leaders and proved that this year by taking a team that was constantly changing personnel and was not built for the playoffs this year and leading them to the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Improving the quality of the team's talent to take advantage of having an excellent coach is a challenge that Ainge must meet immediately.
The optimism presented this year is a major step forward in the rebuilding process of the Celtics. The pressure is now on Ainge to add the right pieces to the roster to take them from the bottom of the Eastern Playoff picture to the contender status.