All's well that Winslow: What Ainge's pursuit of Justise really means

The Boston Celtics pursuit of Justise Winslow was highly publicized (I think we’ve all heard the “if you can pass up four first round picks and draft Frank Kaminsky, you have to do it!” jokes plenty since draft night), but ESPN’s Zach Lowe added another wrinkle to that story line in his recent column on the Knicks and rookie phenom Kristaps Porzingis:

The Celtics initially chased Charlotte's pick with the idea of sending it to the Knicks, along with Boston's No. 15 pick, to vault all the way into the Knicks' draft slot -- where the Celtics would take Winslow. 

There were plenty of interesting facets to Lowe’s article, including when he asserted that the Celtics were one of the most logical destinations for Carmelo Anthony should Phil Jackson decide the timelines of his current star and his future franchise player simply dont mesh. But the fact that the Celtics were willing to move all the way up to number 4 to nab Winslow is an even bigger story for several reasons.

First and foremost, the ten people left in the world who think Carmelo is a key piece to a championship team (which, despite much ridicule, includes the writer of this very post) should pump their brakes; it would take this year’s Brooklyn pick, with no added protections, to even begin a conversation about acquiring Anthony, and that is not a course any Celtics fan should be on board with the way the standings currently fall.

Jackson has his critics, and some of his moves (most notably acquiring the walking corpse of Sasha Vujacic) have certainly been head scratching, but this is a man with eleven championships, who has worked under some of the greatest front-office minds in the history of the game. He is not giving up a player like Melo without getting something substantial in return, and the Celtics are simply not at a place in their rebuild to feel like giving up the farm for Anthony will put them over the top. The pursuit of Winslow, however, just got a lot more intriguing.

Many have criticized the Celtics' strategy of asset acquisition, both in terms of picks and cap space, by saying that there are no guarantees in taking such a path -- the old argument of “cap space only matters if someone is wiling to take it.” However, the Winslow pursuit paints a picture of exactly how this sort of asset acquisition can lead to fruitful team building.

No other team had both the draft capital and the current crop of talent to make the sorts of offers Ainge floated in June. Phoenix has an enticing combination of young players and future picks, but the Suns fancy themselves a contender for marquee free agents, having pursued Lamarcus Aldridge hard this past offseason and attempting to trade for Kevin Love the year before. Even Philadelphia, the paragon of asset acquisition, wouldn’t have made the same sort of overtures because they know how far away from contention they are, and Sam Hinkie loves draft picks more than you love your children.

It was only the Celtics peddling their treasure trove to try and swing a franchise-altering deal from their war room, and that alone should be an encouraging sign. 

The key to rebuilding is hitting what few opportunities you have to acquire guys who move the needle -- whether it is winning the lottery or exploiting a franchise with a disgruntled superstar. In parlaying all the fruits of his various moves, however, Ainge showed the team’s fans and the rest of the league that perhaps the best aspect of having a ton of assets is the ability to use them in creative ways to build a true contender.

Charlotte, of course, denied Ainge’s advances. Even if they hadn’t, more than a few fans right now would be roasting Ainge over a green fire for giving up so much to grab Winslow once they realized just how talented that lanky, skinny white kid from Latvia (Porzingis) really is.

But that is the great thing about the Celtics rebuild, and about Ainge himself; he hasn’t just bought lottery tickets, he’s bought lottery tickets with some great resale value. He can wait and see if they become the diamonds he hopes them to be, but even if they don’t, as the pursuit of Winslow shows, it may just be that some team out there, in the right position, at the right time, will trade Ainge a chance at the diamond he craves in return for a couple gold nuggets.