The way that ESPN ranks them is by having each of the 210 writers on their "forecast panel" give each team a score between 1-10. 1 meaning their front office is spectacularly bad, and 10 meaning they pull all the right moves. Simple, but a fairly good way to put a ranking system together.
And apparently their forecast panel really admires the job that Danny Ainge and the Celtics have done restocking the franchise with assets over the last year or so, because the Cs rank sixth on the list with a score of 7.30, ahead of juggernauts like the Rockets, Clippers, Thunder, Blazers and Warriors.
The Celtics are the only team below .500 coming in in the top-ten, with the Lakers (ranked 16th) being next in line amongst non-contenders.
So why so high? And should they really be ahead of the aforementioned Western Conference contenders?
Well we need to keep in mind that this ranking includes the entire body of work done by the front office. For the Celtics that means every move that Ainge has made since 2003 should theoretically be taken into account. Which means that he is getting some of the love based on his ability to transform a 24-win team in 2007 into a 66-win champion in 2008, still the best single season transformation in pro sports history.
And while Ainge has had some draft failures (what up Fab Melo, Jujuan Johnson and J.R. Giddens), he's also grabbed Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Tony Allen, Delonte West, Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis despite never picking inside the top ten. That's a pretty good track record, blunders included.
And it's not like the Western Conference teams are mistake free. While they're all currently very good teams, the Thunder have traded away James Harden (basically because they overpaid Perkins), the Clips traded Eric Bledsoe for Jared Dudley/J.J. Redick, and the Rockets owe Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik a combined $30 million next season to serve as back-ups.
While I wouldn't argue if any of those teams (especially the Thunder and Rockets) were ranked ahead of the Celtics, Ainge does deserve quite a bit of credit for building a champion and then tearing it down and re-positioning the Celtics to be a really intriguing team again as soon as this summer.
I don't think people quite grasp how well stocked Boston is entering this summer. They have a top-eight draft pick (with a good chance it's top-five) in a strong draft, eight additional first round picks over the next five seasons, a star point guard, several good young players and a great young coach. As crappy as 2013-14 has been, the Celtics are in better shape than the majority of lottery bound teams, and have dozens of potential paths to take this off-season. They could put the best offer on the table for Kevin Love, make a smaller move for a paint protecting center, or decide to build through the draft and trade Rondo for a nice haul.
With all that said, there is a lot of pressure on Ainge and company to choose one of those paths this summer. It's one thing to keep your options open through one year of the rebuild, but Rondo is 28 and the clock is starting to tick. Assets are great, but until they're turned into something (be it a franchise superstar or a more "Sixer-like" plethora of young guys), they don't mean much.
That's why in next year's #NBARank, I don't expect Ainge to remain at #6. He'll either carry out his plan to the next level and rise a few spots, or fail to do so and fall a bit.