The Blueprint: Building the right situation for a transcendent player

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I hate to bring it up again, but I'm going to.


In the 2014 the offseason Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck appeared optimistic about the team's then immediate future.  With a lottery pick in 2014 and a treasure chest full of future picks and low-cost-high-potential players on the roster, the fireworks prediction was a valid-- albeit nerve-racking-- one.
Kind of like the offseason basketball version of talking to your pitcher during a no-hitter.  Once you call attention to a thing, it just seems harder to accomplish.  

That wound up being the case in 2014.  That lottery pick wound up being Marcus Smart and the big offseason acquisition was free agent Evan Turner, a former 2nd overall pick with something to prove, but far from the fireworks Boston was expecting.  To be fair, last summer anything less than Kevin Love was going to seem like a letdown.  It seemed so feasible when we saw photos of Kevin Love at Fenway casually bumping into the last remaining member of the '08 championship team Rajon Rondo.  Fans and talking heads alike speculated as to whom would be the third member of the Boston "Big 3.0."  With Rondo and Love on the squad, surely some other player thirsty for a championship ring would be willing to take a pay cut and come to Boston, right? 

Once Kevin Love was traded to Cleveland, the market righted itself and the Celtics landscape had to be viewed through less aspirational and more realistic eyes.  The 2014 offseason proved one thing-- Only teams with superstars get to bring in more superstars.  

Swing and miss on a superstar, bring in a promising rookie and a former high lottery pick.  A little closer to sparklers than fireworks.  

Fast forward a year and it's a completely different picture.  More trades lead to more players, who then got dealt for more picks and more players.  The Celtics rostered nearly 30 different players last year alone, all in search for the perfect construct of assets that could play and compete for coach Brad Stevens, while maintaining a flexible roster/balance sheet for president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.  The result of endless tinkering and deal making was an eye opening and improbable run to the playoffs, in which the Celtics were defeated by the Cavs in four games.  

Less than two years into the rebuild and the Celtics were young, hungry, and competitive team.  Less talent than previous years, but more heart than most of the Eastern Conference.  The NBA's version of the scrappy East Dillon Lions was re-introduced to the public on September 25th at Celtics Media Day.   Every player interviewed seemed prepared to grind it out on the court and battle their way back into the playoffs.  

Even the staunchest critics of the current Celtics team would have to admit that the rebuild is coming along faster than expected.  Even in the desolate wasteland of basketball that is the Eastern Conference, the Celtics have played like winning matters; lottery positioning be damned.  As Brad Stevens pointed out his Media Day interview, the Celtics were involved in 50 three-possession games in the 2014-15 season.  The team, while down a superstar or two, is capable of winning games and doing so at a high level.  

When asked about his thoughts on where the Celtics fit into the mix in 2015, Danny Ainge spoke as he often does-- candidly and cautiously optimistic.  
“I think you need transcendent players, is what everybody would like to have in the NBA,” Ainge said. “You don’t always get what you want.”

The desire to pull in a top tier transcendent player in his prime is the goal of every single NBA team that has ever existed.  In today's modern era NBA, pairing superstars together has been the most consistent strategy in attempting to win a title.  Sometimes it works (Miami Heat), and sometimes it doesn't (Brooklyn Nets), but it is always the go-to strategy as it is easier than the alternative-- building slowly over time (Golden State Warriors).

In the venn diagram that shows these two team building strategies, the Boston Celtics find themselves squarely in the overlapping area.  Ainge has built a team that could easily house a superstar or two and he still has enough young assets and draft picks to build a team that could be good for years to come.  

Stars in the NBA aren't born, they are made.  The combination of opportunity, hard work, and team situation have as much to do with transcendence as does natural talent, divine intervention, and referee bias in big game situations.  In order to draft, develop, or trade for one of these types of players, the right opportunity must present itself for said player to be placed into the right situation for success.  What Boston lacks in current household name superstars it makes up for in the opportunity to grow and/or harbor one.  Sooner or later, that is going to be worth much more on the open market than just about anything else.

And when the time comes...


Follow Padraic O'Connor on Twitter @padraic_oconnor
Source: Darren Hartwell; NESN