One year of David Lee could be even better than you think

The Celtics won 40 games last season.  But in all honestly, the team that finished the year was actually much better than that.  Here's a tweet I sent out before the playoffs:

I'm not saying Boston will be a contender next year, but chances are they are going to win more than 40 games--maybe even a lot more.  Marcus Smart will progress in season No. 2, hopefully James Young will as well.  Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger may also improve with another year under their belts.  One or more of the rookies could also add valuable contributions.  Not only that, but Amir Johnson is likely a more polished big man than anyone on the C's roster last season.

And now the Celtics have David Lee.  A win total in the high 40s seems completely within the realm of possibility.

Despite speculation that Lee might be part of another upcoming trade, there is evidence to the contrary:

Maybe of even greater importance, Lee reportedly wants to be in Boston.  From TNT's David Aldridge:

David Lee's agent, Mark Bartlestein, says he and his client are happy with the trade to Boston and that Lee does not want to be re-routed elsewhere. Bartlestein: "They really like him. They pursued him for a long time. [Warriors GM] Bob Myers worked very hard with me to try and get David to a place he wanted to be. Boston is a great basketball town, great history with that franchise. It's an up and coming team. Everywhere David has been--Golden State, New York and now Boston--there has been a great basketball tradition. Every player wants to go where they can have a huge impact on a team's success."

Even if he only stays with the Celtics for one season (his contract is up after 2015-16), Lee can play a big role in getting Boston where it wants to go.  At this point, dreams of a top lottery pick returning the Celtics to greatness are obviously no longer part of the plan.  All Danny Ainge can do is try to keep getting better, and acquiring Lee is a big step in that direction.

Yesterday, the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett discussed the possibility of the C's having enough cap room to sign two max free agents next summer.  Before you freak out and say "that'll never happen in Boston," consider Bulpett's argument:

You might want to ask why being able to sign two max guys would be a big deal when they can't even seem to sign one. ...

However, what we've learned even more this summer is that, once the money is relatively equal, players want to go where they can win. (Maybe you'd rather leave Boston for a warm weather city, but remember, NBA players don't have to shovel snow.)
LaMarcus Aldridge turned down the bright lights of Los Angeles for San Antonio, a very nice place, but not exactly Hollywood. Greg Monroe said no to LA and New York to play in Milwaukee, thinking the Bucks were more ready to win than the Lakers or Knicks. ...

And once you build a team that can win, players will most definitely come. In what may be a bit of an extreme case, David West opted out of $12.6 million with Indiana to agree to a veteran minimum deal of some $1.5 million with the Spurs. And, yeah, the Knicks wanted him, too.

Oddly enough, Bulpett wrote all of this before the Lee trade.  I had the Celtics pegged for a low-40s win total already, and now they are definitely better.  Lee could be the catalyst to guide the C's into the upper echelon of Eastern Conference playoff teams (outside of Cleveland, who else in the conference are you afraid of?).

Lee clearly isn't the star who's going to carry Boston back to the promised land.  But, he might help the C's become good enough to recruit the guy (or guys) who will.

Follow Mark Vandeusen on Twitter @LucidSportsFan