Tuesday, May 31, 2016

My Ideal Celtics Summer

Here are a few rambling thoughts on how I believe Danny Ainge should - and will? - handle the off-season to build a team capable of hanging the 18th championship banner for the Celtics in the Boston Garden rafters.

Step #1: Kevin Durant

The Thunder superstar is coming off a brutal loss in the Western Conference Finals and after nine years of chasing a title in the West, it's time for him to move to the East where the path to the Finals is not as brutal.

The Celtics and Ainge were his most adoring suitors when he spent his lone season at Texas and now it's Ainge's opportunity to lure Durant to Boston as a free agent.

With so many assets to spare, Ainge can give the Thunder two second round picks (#35 and #51) plus Jared Sullinger in exchange for signing and trading Durant to Boston.

All Durant has to do before the Draft is express his intent to leave Oklahoma City and give them a short list of teams he'd agree to sign with so that they can recoup a few assets in return for losing their best player.

Step #2: Clear the Salary Cap

I enjoyed watching Amir Johnson play this season but in order to create enough room under the salary cap to add another maximum free agent to go along with Durant, Boston needs to cut ties with him.

Step #3: The Draft

With their Nets pick, the Celtics should draft 18-year-old Croatian forward Dragan Bender and then stash him in Europe for another year to let his body and his game develop.  Bender has all the makings of a future star and bringing him over to learn from Durant in the Fall of 2017 when he's more mature is the best way to help him reach his potential.

With the Mavericks pick, the Celtics should select Michigan State's Denzel Valentine.  Valentine is a good shooter and a good defender who could possible contribute as a role player off the bench as a rookie with Evan Turner not likely to be re-signed under this operating plan.

With their own pick, the Celtics should nab Louisville center Chinanu Onuaku.  While being very raw offensively, he's a solid rebounder and projects to be a good rim protector.  And in my scenario, with the team trading Sullinger and letting go of Johnson, adding a big that can realistically contribute as a shot blocker is a plus.  Timothe Luwawau, a gifted wing player from France, would be a nice add here as well.

In the second round, Ainge should look to "draft and stash" international prospects.  Croatian center Ante Zizic, Australian center Thon Maker, Chinese center Zhou Qi, and Spanish forward Juan Hernangomez are all intriguing candidates for the Celtics in the second round.

Step #4: Sign Al Horford

Horford has spent his entire career in Atlanta but as the Celtics build a title contender in the East, he can be convinced to come win a title or three in Boston.

Step #5: Round Out The Roster

The Celtics have a logjam of young wing players that needs to be addressed.  Finding a new home for James Young - and possibly moving Terry Rozier and/or R.J. Hunter - will be necessary to clear cap space and roster space for Ainge to add depth in the front court.

Landing a veteran big man such as Pau Gasol or Nene would add quality depth.  Gasol strikes me as the type of player who would accept a back-up role on a title contender at this stage of his career.

Bringing back Tyler Zeller would be Plan B.

These moves would leave head coach Brad Stevens with a roster capable of taking home a title in 2017.  Stevens doesn't adhere to a traditional view of a basketball roster and instead categorizes his players as ball handlers, wings, swings, and bigs.

Bigs: Al Horford, Pau Gasol, Kelly Olynyk, Jordan Mickey, Chinanu Onuaku
Swings: Kevin Durant, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Denzel Valentine
Wings: Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, R.J. Hunter
Ball Handlers: Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier (Smart)

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