Going the other direction: Rebuilding without Kevin Love
The Kevin Love-fest is in full effect. It makes sense. Who wouldn't want to add a superstar to a team that already has one in order to build towards Banner 18? The latest news about Love coming to Boston is certainly encouraging.
But what if the Celtics fail to snag Love, for whatever reason? What if Minnesota simply doesn't want to send another superstar to Boston? What if another team makes a better offer or offers a package with more established talent that Boston can't match? What if the Timberwolves decide to hold onto Love until the trade deadline in the hopes that the rest of their players continue to develop and Love has a change of heart and stays? What are the Celtics to do then?
Go young. I mean really young. This scenario isn't going to be any fun for those wanting to win now. It'll take a couple years to fully pan out, but the payoff could be huge.
If Boston can't bring in superstar-level talent to play alongside Rajon Rondo this summer, the first step would be to trade him. Senior NBA writer Ian Thomsensaid recently on CSNNE's Arbella Early Edition he thinks that's exactly what Boston will do.
"When he becomes a free agent," said Thomsen. "he's talking about the [maximum contract], so he can't back down off of that. That's going to be $18-19 million. That's Garnett money. Pierce only made that once."
"Jordan Crawford had a better record as the point guard of the Celtics than Rondo. Part of it was because maybe Rondo isn't such a good fit right now with this team. And part of it was because Rondo is coming off a knee [injury]."
Thomsen goes on to say another reason the Celtics didn't fare great with Rondo last season is because coach Brad Stevens was running an "egalitarian offense," meaning he was trying to make sure everyone got theirs instead of focusing on an NBA-type offense. That's not Rondo's fault, as Stevens was using the year to see what he had on a roster bereft of high-level NBA talent and to let his young guys develop.
Rondo can say he wants to stay in Boston until he's blue in the face, but until he signs an extension or a new deal, talk is all it is. I'm not calling Rondo a liar, but the fact of the matter is we have no idea whether or not Rondo will actually stick around. He's a free agent next summer. All bets are off.
For this part of the rebuild, I'm going to resuscitate the Rondo/Sacramento deal. If the Kings also fail to trade for Love, they could be inclined to look for a superstar elsewhere and start up the Rondo talks again. Sacramento is reportedly willing to trade for Love without an extension, would they also take that gamble with Rondo to get the most of out DeMarcus Cousins and get Rudy Gay to stick around while at the same time showing Rondo he's on a team that wants to win? What other choice do they have?
The Kings send Boston their No. 8 pick in the draft and guards Ben McLemore ($3,026,280) and Isaiah Thomas for Rondo and a possible future pick. Thomas is a restricted free agent, so this would have to be a sign and trade. Thomas put up over 20 ppg last season, but he's undersized at 5'9" and there are plenty who question whether or not Thomas is actually a starter in the league, points or no points.
A contract paying Thomas around $8 million a year sounds reasonable for what Thomas can do, which matches up pretty closely with Rondo's $12.9 million salary when combined with McLemore.
This is where things get fun. Boston would now have three first-round picks: two top-10 picks, with No. 6 and No. 8, as well as the No. 17 selection in an insanely deep draft. Think this draft is all hype?
Chad Ford recently put out an article (Insider) ranking the players in the draft on a tier system based on what scouts and NBA execs think. There are three players in Tier 1 who are of course Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker. Three in Tier 1.
Here's Ford to help explain how crazy that is:
Since 2009, only (Blake) Griffin, John Wall and (Anthony) Davis have been ranked in this slot. This year, there are three players in Tier 1 -- as many as there have been in the last five years combined.
In Tier 2, we have Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon, Julius Randle, Dario Saric, Marcus Smart and Noah Vonleh. Here's Ford again talking about having that many guys in tier 2:
Last year, Tier 2 also was empty for the first time since I've been doing this column. That should tell you something about how poorly regarded last year's class was. Tier 2 is reserved for players who are projected as potential All-Stars by scouts. They are typical high lottery picks in a normal draft. In 2012, Bradley Beal, Harrison Barnes, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist all got the nod as Tier 2 players. In 2011, Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams were in this tier. This year, six players are here, which is a high number (as is the case with having three players in Tier 1). Two of these players -- Exum and Vonleh -- even got a couple of votes for Tier 1.
So in summation, this year's draft is just as good as the draft in 2003, even though there are no LeBrons available. This is the draft to snag up as many picks as humanly possible. So what does Boston do with these three picks?
With the No. 8 pick, Boston takes Saric. International players are always risky, but from everything I'm reading, this guy can play. He does all the little things and is putting up obnoxious numbers in his league overseas. Hearing that he actually wants to play in Boston helps as well. Jeff Green is not the answer at small forward so bringing in a guy who has All-Star potential to replace him makes a ton of sense.
With the No. 17 pick, Boston takes either the best available wing, be that T.J. Warren, James Young, Rodney Hood or an international big, either Clint Capela or Jusuf Nurkic. The Celtics need scoring and all three of the first guys can do just that. Boston also needs size and either of the foreign players helps Boston get bigger.
Even if Boston drafts Nurkic or Capela, there's no guarantee they would come over for next season. They could also need quite a bit of seasoning before they are NBA-ready. Either way, the Celtics will still need a center. It just so happens a certain team in Houston has a defense-first center on the market as they try to free up cap space to sign Carmelo. Boston should use the Paul Pierce trade exception and maybe a future pick to grab Omer Asik.
The point of going this direction for the rebuild is to go young, but Asik would be an expiring contract so you don't have to worry about him clogging up the books going forward. Also, nothing covers up growing pains and youthful mistakes better than a true rim protector. Boston has a $10.3 million trade exception that expires next month, why waste it?
Another point Thomsen made on CSNNE is he doesn't think Stevens is ready to coach a veteran squad. He doesn't think a guy like Carmelo Anthony will listen to Stevens. Thomsen wants Stevens to have a young team, since player development is Stevens' best asset, and under this scenario, that's exactly what he gets. Avery Bradley is still on the roster because I don't believe any team is going to break the bank for him, restricted free agents are always hard to pry loose.
Here's the new depth chart with the players' current ages in parenthesis:
PG: Smart (20), Phil Pressey (23)
SG: Thomas (25), Bradley (23), McLemore (21), possibly Hood (21)
SF: Green (27), Saric (20), possibly Warren (20) or Young (18), Gerald Wallace (31)
PF:Jared Sullinger (22), Kelly Olynyk (23), Brandon Bass (29)
Looking at that roster you may think, "Wait a minute, way too many guys at SG/SF and still a logjam at PF. No more logjams." Having too many guys at one position is an issue, for a contending team. On a rebuilding/developing team there is nothing wrong with having a ton of guys playing whatever position. This is to see what Stevens can do. Here are the tools, make something of them. Hopefully Green and Bass can be dealt to contenders during the season, but they aren't locked up long-term so they won't have a major impact on the team's progression going forward.
The league is also evolving, where positions aren't as neatly defined as they used to be. This roster reflects that. Sullinger showed he can play center in the league if he has to and Smart and Thomas can switch off ball handling duties. Saric is 6'10", he can play PF in smaller lineups.
The pieces to build around become Smart, Saric, Sullinger and whoever the team takes at No. 17. Bradley can either become the team's sixth man or he can be dealt once he puts in a healthy few months. Thomas can also be dealt if the team decides on someone else to take the off-guard slot or he can keep on putting up big scoring numbers in green. McLemore is so young we don't really know how good he is yet.
These moves are also about building up assets. Keep in mind, the only pieces of the war chest that are sent out to make this roster are a possible future pick to the Kings and another possible future pick to the Rockets. Neither of those picks will be anything worse than maybe the Clippers' 2015 pick and the 76ers' first which is really two second rounders. The Kings are getting an All-Star so they can't really cry poverty and Houston has zero leverage. If they want Anthony, Asik has to go.
Boston retains all of its future picks going forward and those sweet picks from Brooklyn. You want to talk assets? How about the litany of young talent the Celtics will pick up going this direction and all of those future picks?
It's hogwash for anyone to say "This team won't win anything. They won't be contenders." We have no idea what these guys will turn into. How many knew for a fact Damian Lillard or Paul George would be cornerstone guys when they were drafted? Not many. Of course it's a gamble, but going any direction is a gamble, even trading for Love. There are no guarantees in life.
The hidden beauty of this scenario is that Boston probably won't win a ton of games next season, as everyone takes time to mesh and develop. While that doesn't sound too appetizing after just sitting through a 25-win season, there is a serious upside to it. Remember that issue at the center spot? Well it just so happens the 2015 draft is stocked with bigs. Check out a 2015 mock draft from DraftExpress here. Lots and lots of size.
These aren't the fireworks most fans were expecting this summer, but if Boston can't find Love, this is certainly another way to shoot for long-term success.