The rebuilding phase of the Celtics after the departures of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo was supposed to take several years at least. Under the leadership of Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, and with a supportive ownership group, that rebuilding phase seems like it will not be as long as anticipated.
The Celtics qualified for the playoffs this year. Yes, it happened in the weak Eastern Conference and the team was swept by the Cavaliers but it was important for their young core of players and for Stevens to gain the experience of playing in the playoffs.
Ainge also has manipulated the roster to have plenty of salary cap space as well as multiple first round draft picks over the next few years. Along with the young talent he has already added to the roster, the cap space and draft picks Ainge has at his disposal will be used to add the missing pieces that the Celtics need to become championship contenders.
With the draft tonight and free agency starting in early July, here are a few scenarios that would be ideal for the Celtics to make them contenders in 2015-2016.
1. Move up in this year's draft
The Celtics have their own first round pick this year (16th overall) and the Clippers first round pick (28th overall) as well as two second round picks (33rd and 45th overall). In addition to their own 2016 first round pick, they own the first round picks of Brooklyn and Dallas and own that of Minnesota (via the Suns) if it falls outside the top 12 picks (it becomes a second round pick in 2016 and 2017 if they don't get the 2016 first round pick). In 2017, they have their own pick, which can be switched with Brooklyn, and a potential Memphis first round pick (this pick has a lot of protections and might not end up with the Celtics until 2021). In 2018, they once again have their own pick and Brooklyn's first rounder.
That makes ten potential first round picks that Ainge can use to move up in this year's draft to find an impact player.
How about a package of both of this year's first round picks as well as one of their three guaranteed picks for next year (protected so that they would keep a high lottery pick), Jared Sullinger, and James Young to the Knicks for the 4th overall pick?
What about the same package, but take out the protections for the 2016 first round pick while adding Marcus Smart, another first round pick in 2016 (Celtics would keep the lowest of the three picks), and the future Memphis first rounder (with lottery protections) to Sacramento for DeMarcus Cousins and the 6th pick this year? That's five first round picks along with three young players with potential for a major talent like Cousins who also causes major headaches.
The goal in moving up in this year's draft for me would be to add Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein. While he's not going to provide much scoring, his defense and rebounding would make a major difference for the Celtics.
In a perfect world, allowing him to play along side Cousins would make the Celtics an imposing team. Giving up four first round picks as well as Smart, Sullinger, and Young is a hefty price but to add two impact players that would make the Celtics instant contenders would be well worth the cost.
A starting five of Cauley-Stein, Cousins, Evan Turner, Avery Bradley, and Isaiah Thomas with a bench that would include Jae Crowder, Tyler Zeller, and Kelly Olynyk. The Celtics would also have enough cap room to add a player or two (see below) that could help them compete next year along with the two second round picks to build depth for the end of the bench.
2. Make a splash in free agency
This has never been a strong point for the Celtics but they have become an attractive franchise due to it's excellent ownership, management, and coaching as well as the recent success of the team.
The news that Kevin Love opted out of his contract in Cleveland is interesting. There seemed to be interest by Love in coming to Boston last summer and he is the type of high impact player that would instantly make the Celtics a contender in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics would have money left over to make a run at another free agent and a player like Wes Matthews of the Blazers would fit nicely with Stevens' system. He is a good defender on the perimeter and is also a good three-point shooter. He is coming off a torn Achilles tendon but is expected to be ready for the start of the season and that should also help lower his price tag on the market.
With a potential contender on their hands, adding a veteran scorer to round out the roster would be a smart move and their seems to be a former Wizard and Net - who may also have played in Boston previously if my memory serves me well - looking for a job.
Let's say, because it's easy to do so in this space, that Ainge pulls off the trade for Willie Cauley-Stein and signs Love, Matthews, and Paul Pierce. What do you think of this team?
C - Willey Cauley-Stein, Tyler Zeller
PF - Kevin Love, Kelly Olynyk
SF - Evan Turner, Paul Pierce
SG - Wes Matthews, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder
PG - Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart
Actually, with an over flow of guard talent, Ainge could shop Avery Bradley to add another big man to the rotation and use one of his second round picks to add a depth player in the back court.
There will be a lot of moving pieces starting tonight and stretching over the next month for the Celtics but with good leadership, an attractive franchise, and money to spend, they are looking like a team ready to jump into contention next year.