Why making a run at the playoffs is the worst thing that could happen for the Boston Celtics
Before I get started, let me be clear: this isn't a tanking article. Tanking, to me at least, is doing things on the basketball court that cause the team to purposely lose basketball games they have a chance to win. Pulling hot players, playing awful ones, and sitting players because of fake injuries. Basically everything the 1996-97 Celtics did.
Instead, this is meant to be a discussion on what is best for the future of the Boston Celtics. A future that currently has a ton of question marks.
There seems to be a few different theories on what is best for the team.
One is win as many games as possible with this roster. Compete for a playoff spot if possible, and then "build from the middle" if the team happens to win too many games to get an elite draft pick.
The other is to do (basically) whatever it takes to make sure none of the things discussed in scenario #1 happen. Lose games and put yourself in a position to secure as many ping pong balls as possible in time for theloaded 2014 NBA draft. Bottom out.
In most cases, scenario #1 involves keeping Rajon Rondo, and scenario #2 involves trading him. But I disagree. I think that the best of both worlds is holding on to Rondo while simultaneously getting rid of just about any other useful asset not in the team's long term plans. Keep the star, get rid of the stuff surrounding him, and then add a good amount of talent in the summer of 2014.
Boston has the veteran talent and potential defensive chops to stay in a lot of games, but the idea that these guys are going to challenge for the no. 8 spot is way overblown. The C's have been a bottom-10 scoring team for two straight seasons with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett (and Ray Allen in 2011-12). Every single basket is going to be an unwatchable grind, and the season will probably end with Boston around 25th or worse in points per possession.
They'll be solid defensively on the perimeter, and Brad Stevens will have them executing precisely on both ends, but they're severely lacking rim protection. It's going to be ugly, and if the Celtics do somehow find themselves in the race for no. 8 at midseason, they'll happily trade themselves out of it if they can find any useful assets for Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries, and others. A Rondo trade is the sexier angle — and not implausible — but a trade involving one of those names is much more likely; dealing Lee or Bass would allow Boston to get serious cap room in July.
As Lowe notes, trading Rondo is neither impossible nor improbable. But it's not a necessity to ensure a poor season this year. Nor is it good business to have the "we must dump this guy" mindset when it comes to the one certifiable superstar on your roster.
For those who think Rondo must go for the team to ensure themselves a poor record, keep this in mind:
Rondo is going to miss approximately the first 15-25 games of this season, meaning the Celtics will most likely get off to a pretty terrible start (especially looking at their November schedule - yikes). Then he will most likely need some time to shake off the rust and become the Rondo of old. By the time he's 100%, it will very likely be either January or February, and we'll be approaching the trade deadline.
Mr. Right, but not Mr. Right Now
At that point it's possible that the Cs are anywhere from "in the running for worst record in the league", right up to "competing for the 8-seed" thanks to an impossible to predict bottom half of the Eastern Conference, and the still unknown Brad Stevens factor. Either way, that's when they should begin the purge.
Kris Humphries and his incredibly tradable $12 million expiring contract needs to go.Brandon Bassand his affordable 2 years, $13 million should go to. And if Courtney Lee has a solid first half, the Celtics should also ship him and the 3 years, $16 million left on his deal out of town as well.
Hell, who knows, if he plays well enough, Gerald Wallace could become (somewhat) movable as well as we approach the deadline and teams on the cusp of contention look to upgrade.
In all of these deals, the Celtics should be looking to do a few things:
- Pick up draft picks and or/young, cost-controlled talent
- Shed long term financial obligations while not acquiring them
- Make themselves worse down the stretch in 2013-14
It would be tough to accomplish all three in the same deal, but doing either one of the top-two plus the last one would be good enough in any prospective deal.
It sucks to say, but the absolute worst thing for the long term success of the Celtics is to have them compete for a playoff spot this season. The Cs need building blocks for the next era of basketball, and it's much, much harder to find those building blocks picking 12-16 in the draft than it is to find them picking 1-5.
Sure it requires luck to pick in the top 3, but in my opinion it requires far more luck for a team to build a championship contender without the benefit of elite draft position. In fact, "Building from the middle" is one of the most difficult things for an NBA team to pull off.
The term "build from the middle" has been made famous by the Rockets, but what they pulled off is in no way a realistic model for any NBA team.
After all, this was their roster at the end of the 2011-12 season. A few good young players mixed with a whole bunch of role guys.
They then hit the mega-ball jackpot when Daryl Morey fleeced Oklahoma City, sending Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two future first round picks to OKC for a superstar in James Harden. For those who say Danny "got lucky" in 2007 by getting KG for Al Jefferson, two firsts (including one high lottery pick) and a few other young players — Morey was infinitely luckier.
And then, Morey convinced a superstar to come to Houston (Dwight Howard) for less money than he could have gotten in LA.
When was the last time any superstar signed in Boston? Oh yea, never.
So if you're one of the people saying it's stupid to rely on ping pong balls because of the luck that goes into it, "building from the middle" requires A LOT more luck than the lottery. After all, one (or more if there are multiple stars in a draft) team(s) gets lucky every single season at the lottery. While very few teams have successfully turned one solid player (Martin), three mid-to-late-first round picks and some cap space into two Hall of Fame caliber talents.
That's why as much is it may hurt, losses this season are the best bet this team has at winning another title. Think about some of the assets Danny has already acquired.
- Rajon Rondo (superstar, 2 years left on his deal. Seemingly ready to take part in the rebuild)
- A plethora of 1st round picks (two in 2014, two in 2015, two in 2016, one in 2017, two in 2018)
- $20 million in expiring contracts
- A $10 million trade exception good until next July
- Significant cap space in the summer of 2015, even if the team re-ups Rondo
A superstar to add to Rondo and the young guys (who seem more likely to be really nice complementary pieces on a winning team).
This organization needs another superstar, and the best way of that happening is to draft one. Think about what could happen if this team drafts a guy like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle or Jabari Parker and add them to this core. They immediately become a more competitive team, and would still have a ton of assets (the trade exception, first round picks and Jeff Green) to try and make a move for another star.
And what do they risk if the lottery Gods again shake their fists at the Celtics? Let's say Boston again picks up the 5th pick in the draft and settles for a guy like Aaron Gordon in the draft. That's still a better spot to be than picking 12-16 (where they'd pick if they compete for a playoff spot and either get it or just miss out).
And for those saying that the young players will be hurt by the culture of losing — I disagree.
Kendrick Perkins won an average of 34 games per year his first three years..did he become a loser?
Rondo lost 18 games in a row as a rookie..was he incapable of learning how to win?
Hell, Paul Pierce wasn't on a good team until his 4th season. Did that leave a mark on him in later years?
Losing games won't negatively impact this franchise long term. Now I want to be clear, I think that purposely losing basketball games is absurd. Have the five guys on the court play as hard as they can every night. But by trading the quality role players, this team becomes thinner and will fall several places in the standings.
This is a superstar's league. The Celtics have one such guy. Hold on to him and do whatever else necessary with the roster to put yourself in position to land another one next summer.
It's the only realistic way this franchise wins another title while Rondo is still in his prime.