By: Denery Noone and Justin Lynch
Denery and Lynch team up to outline the Celtics possible pathways out of the middle tier of the NBA.
Boston is one of the most demanding sports towns in the country. Mediocrity is not something that the fans of Boston take lightly, and it is a death zone in the NBA. The Celtics have risen from the depths of the lottery following the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett trade to the middle tier of the Eastern Conference, but they now face their biggest task: making the jump into the NBA’s upper echelon.
Few teams are able to elevate their team from the middle to the top without a substantial influx of talent. The Celtics have historically struggled to land big free agents and missed out on the prizes of this year’s draft by falling to third at the lottery. The Celtics have multiple paths they can choose to try to contend, but it will not be an easy road to building a contender.
Rumblings of the potential availability of perennial All-Stars such as Paul George and Jimmy Butler have Celtics fans drooling in anticipation. Yet, how much would the Celtics have to give up in order to acquire those players? Or would building through the draft with the Celtics’ surplus of draft picks in the coming years be the more rational option?
Path 1- The Quick Fix → Free Agency and Trades
DN: I think that it is important that we hit on the free agency and blockbuster trade path, the popular choice for almost every Celtics fan.
JL: No doubt, who doesn’t want to see Jimmy Butler or Paul George in green?
DN: Exactly, both of these guys are dream fits for what seems to be a Boston Celtics team that is in limbo with its current roster. If Trader Danny can pull of a trade for one of these superstars it would change the landscape of the franchise for years. The one thing is, how much will they have to give up to make it happen?
JL: Obviously, it depends on the player they are going after, but I can’t imagine a trade that doesn’t involve the 3rd pick this year and either future Brooklyn picks or Smart/Bradley/Crowder. Some deals may require both. Let’s start with Jimmy Butler, rumored to become available this summer. Is he really going to make the Celtics that much better? And is he worth what the C’s would need to dump to get him?
DN: When considering Butler, the first thing you have to think about is can he make the three ball? The Celtics desperately need an outside threat to spread the floor and take pressure off of guys like Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Avery Bradley, their only true scoring threats. We know what Butler can do off the dribble, he has the ability to get to the hoop with ease, but Butler shot an underwhelming 31.2% from three last year, which is something that would need to improve if the Celtics are going to offer all of their assets to get him.
JL: The shooting is no doubt an issue, but Butler is a scorer and a guy who can put the ball in the basket down the stretch. Isaiah is fine, but becomes bottled up when played by longer defenders. Butler draws the opposition’s best defender every night and he still is able to score. He will also have more help around him on this Celtics team than he did on the Bulls last year. Butler’s probably a top-15 player, and he would be the team’s second all-star next to Isaiah. I think you need to get him if you can. The issue is that I would be reluctant to give more than this year’s Brooklyn pick and Avery Bradley. Do you think they would accept that?
DN: It depends on what Chicago’s plans are going forward. Are they ready to erase everything that they have built and start over? That is becoming a more likely possibility for them considering Gasol is most likely going to leave in free agency, Rose’s health is far too inconsistent, and there have been whispers about Hoiberg and Butler having a very turbulent relationship. If I am Chicago, I would love to have Bradley on my team, because he is one of the best perimeter defenders in the game with one of the best contracts, but he is aging. If I am Gar Forman, the GM in Chicago, I would try and pry Marcus Smart from Boston and try and build around Smart, Doug McDermott, whoever they would choose with the third pick, whoever they choose with the fourteenth pick, and their inevitable high lottery choice next year and possibly the year after that. Smart is merely 21, he is emerging as a dominant defender, he works harder than almost anybody in the league, and as one of the top scoring options in Chicago his offensive abilities would have to improve.
JL: I think the Bulls blow it up. A Smart-Jamal Murray-McDermott-Portis-Whoever lineup is a good start to the rebuild. If they can grab, say, Tim Luwawu at 14, that opens up some small ball opportunities with Portis at center. Plus, that team will stink, and they will be drafting at the top of the lottery next season. They also have the Kings’ pick (top-10 protected) in 2017. But is giving a top-15 player for Smart, who is extremely limited offensively and may never be even average on that end, and the 3rd pick in a two player draft enough? I’m not sure. They will probably ask for another Brooklyn pick, and I think they get it. Danny wants to deal and wants to win now. He won’t give up an opportunity to get that caliber of a player. I don’t want to give up the other Brooklyn pick unless it’s for a certified superstar. Butler is really good, but I can’t justify giving two potential top-5 picks for someone lower than the Demarcus Cousins/Paul George/Blake Griffin tier of player.
DN: If I am Danny Ainge and the only way to acquire Butler is by adding a second Brooklyn draft pick, I am doing everything in my power to keep next year's option to swap with Brooklyn because it is well known that the 2017 draft is going to be extremely deep with guys like Josh Jackson, Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Dennis Smith, etc. However, if I can get Butler for Marcus Smart, the third pick in this year’s draft, and Brooklyn’s pick in 2018, I would do it. By the time 2018 rolls around you would think that Brooklyn will have added some talent through trades or free agency to at least get them into that middle tier that will compete for a playoff spot. With that being said, I would consider that pick expendable and something worth offering to land a guy like Butler. Now, you mentioned guys like Paul George and Demarcus Cousins. With the addition of Dave Joerger at head coach I find it hard to believe that Sacramento would deal Boogie this offseason. However, Paul George might be available and if he becomes available Boston should do everything in their power to acquire him. In your opinion, what do you think it would cost to bring George to Boston? Would it require all-three Brooklyn picks along with players? Would the steep price be worth it?
JL: Before I get to your question I had a quick final note on Butler. I think the Bulls would rather the 2018 pick because if they are a bottom-5 team what good does a swap do them anyway? I guess we just disagree on the availability of the 2018 pick for Butler. But you have to give that pick for Paul George. George is a top-10 player in the league. He was 10th in scoring at 23/game, and added seven boards and two steals to the cause as well. He also shot 37% from three with little floor spacing around him. Monta Ellis, George Hill, and C.J. Miles are all fine players, but not are demanding defenses guard them. George took the Raptors to seven games in the first round basically by himself. The biggest advantage that the C’s would gain with George, though, is his positional versatility. Jimmy Butler played 81% of the time at shooting guard this season, and had played there the vast majority of the last three seasons. George spent his first couple seasons playing mostly shooting guard, before playing almost exclusively at the three until this year where he played 39% at the four, and even tried his luck at center in super small doses. The Celtics making him their full-time PF and trotting out a core four of Isaiah--Smart/Bradley--Crowder--George could be dangerous. The issue is what motivation do the Pacers have to trade him?
DN: That was my initial reaction when I heard of his potential availability. Why would they be inclined to move a true superstar in the middle of his prime? In my opinion, this team is one All-Star away from potentially making the finals and I am curious as to why they would rather trade away a superstar like George. Yet, they did fire Frank Vogel after their game seven exit, a rather questionable move. Considering that, are they just trying to blow it up and build around Myles Turner and assets they could get from a Paul George trade? It is clear that landing Paul George would require almost all valuable assets available, and then some. All three Brooklyn picks would be on the table, along with some variation of Crowder, Smart, Bradley and a big like Kelly Olynyk. Is Larry Bird ready for a clean slate? Do you think that the big haul they could potentially gain from Boston would be appealing enough for them to hit the reset button?
JL: The Pacers are in a tough spot. They don’t have the oodles of cap room that some teams have entering this summer. Hill’s contract is up after next season, and Turner is their only real asset outside of George. Trading George for a boatload of assets and getting more shots in the draft, where Bird has made many strong picks, makes sense considering this team won’t be a free agent destination for any of the top guys. They are stuck in the middle, and George seems like their ticket to a small reset, though it is always tough to part with a superstar. I think the Celtics could get him, but they would need to give everything, like you said.
DN: Now let’s say that the Celtics do have the good fortune of landing either George or Butler, it is important that they keep fishing after that. They have the cap room for one, potentially two max-contract players this offseason with the salary cap going up, and they would need to take advantage of that right away. Renouncing the contracts of Sullinger, Zeller, and Turner would clear up an extra $16 million in space in addition to their initial $16 million. Even though George and Butler are both on a max-deals the Celtics cap number would not change because they would be required to match salaries in the trade. This would free them up to go out and sign big time free agents, with about $32 million in space. With the success the Thunder have sustained this postseason, it almost guaranteed Durant is returning to OKC, at least on a one-year-deal. However, the Celtics could target guys like Al Horford, Hassan Whiteside, maybe a guy like Bradley Beal. The Celtics would have options, so what do you think they would need to do to really establish themselves as a team that belongs in that upper echelon in the NBA?
JL: Free agency is always fun for the Celtics. And by always fun, I mean never fun. The top guys are not perfect fits, though Whiteside is the closest, and the lower level guys will be grossly overpaid in a free agent market swimming with extra money. Teams need to hit their cap floors, and the only way to do that is spend. Even though the Celtics would likely throw Amir Johnson in any of these trades to help balance the salaries, they could still potentially have Jerebko to let go of and save an extra $5 million. How much that will help, I don’t know. As for who they should target, I think Whiteside tops the list even with his limitations. The C’s need a rim protector and he fits the timetable. I don’t go after him hard unless the Celtics already landed George or Butler, though, because I’m not sure how much he moves the needle. Spare me Horford and his aging, injury-prone frame, and please no Pau Gasol, either. The Bradley Beal/Mike Conley/Harrison Barnes tier may not come to fruition, considering two of those three are restricted. I’m going to rattle off a bunch of names and tell me what you think: Festus Ezeli, Ryan Anderson, Chandler Parsons, Ian Mahinmi, Bismack Biyombo. See a trend?
DN: I like the thought of Festus Ezeli, Ian Mahinmi, and Bismack Biyombo considering the Celtics need rim protectors, but is that enough? Are those guys going to push you over the top and get you to the finals? If you are going to add those guys, it is important that you are adding another scoring threat that can take pressure off of George in the playoffs, because as we both know Isaiah Thomas cannot be your number two option on a championship team. I would love for this team to add a guy like Bradley Beal, even if it means overpaying him through an offer sheet to the point that Washington cannot match, and even a guy like Parsons would not be a bad fit because he could play the three, George could play the four, and Crowder could play the two with Bradley or Smart coming off the bench. That also provides a very dangerous small ball lineup if you want to play George at the five and throw Bradley or Smart into the mix. The move would give you options. However, like I said before if you are going to go down the Festus Ezeli/Ian Mahinmi path, then you need to add another weapon to make you more dangerous and versatile.
JL: I don’t think this team will be able to find two players this offseason that are better scorers than Isaiah. I also don’t think they need to get everything in one summer, considering the Celtics have another top pick next year and the cap is set to rise another $18 million or so. Operating under the assumption that they get Butler/George and are trading one of Bradley or Smart in the deal, I think they need to focus on getting a big. Ezeli fits the timetable and was a top-5 rim protector this season. Given the perimeter defense of Crowder, Butler/George, and Bradley/Smart, a top-tier rim protector could bring this team to the next level. If they throw $16-18 million at Ezeli, they will still have another good chunk of change to grab a wing/scorer/shooter off the bench. I think they need to throw a max deal at Beal, and that may not even be enough to make Washington let him walk for nothing. The Celtics would also be reluctant to do a sign-and-trade after giving most of their assets in the hypothetical Butler/George trade, so Beal may be off the table. Parsons helps the shooting cause, but playing him and Isaiah might be trouble defensively. There are a bunch of mid-level wings who will be available, but I think the Celtics best option is to grab a Mahinmi/Ezeli, throw out a lineup of, say, Thomas-Bradley-Crowder-George-Ezeli, and gut the bench to get those five out there. From there, grab proven players at 16 and 23 and hope you hit on one of those second rounders. Maybe throw a one year deal at free agent, and gear up for next summer with max room.
DN: Would offering a guy like Seth Curry to come off the bench on a roster like this make sense to you? Because even with the addition of George/Butler the Celtics would still lack a true outside shooter and Curry could provide that to a point, and he is a strong defender. He would go well with the roster that Danny Ainge is trying to construct. However, going back to the Horford/Whiteside argument, a lineup of Thomas-Bradley-Crowder-George/Butler-Horford/Whiteside in my opinion is a lineup that has a strong chance of winning the Eastern Conference. Why are you so reluctant to sign a guy like Horford knowing that his ability to protect the rim and guard the perimeter, along with his strong offensive skills would most likely push you over the top? I know he is older than most would prefer, but he is someone that could provide a lot offense down low and rim protection to go along with George’s superstar ability and Thomas’ ability to create offensively, along with the elite defense from Bradley and Crowder.
JL: Horford specifically is troubling because bigs drop off when they around 30, which Horford will be next season (see: Dwight Howard). Horford has seen his PER, Rebounding Rate, and usage drop each of the last two seasons. He also has a history of injuries that have caused him to miss nearly entire seasons. Committing to that for four years at max money is too much for me. Whiteside is a better rim protector and younger, but I’m simply not sure he would even consider signing. Who have the Celtics ever signed that’s a big name free agent? Grabbing a lower level guy will keep some cap space open for next season, so they can chase Gordon Hayward, who would certainly considering coming to Boston to play for his college coach. Seth Curry fits into the mid-tier of free agents I mentioned earlier, though I’d like to see his effectiveness in bigger doses before giving him Terrence Ross-type money.
DN: As a final piece to this section, what would be your ideal Celtics roster in two years if they decide to go down this path?
JL: Ideal? Well, I hope the Celtics get Kevin Durant. More realistic, but still pretty hopeful, if they decide to build through free agency and trading is Isaiah-Crowder-Hayward-George-Ezeli with Luwawu, Thon Maker, and whoever they end up getting with Brooklyn’s 2017 pick swap. I think the youth of that bench could be trouble, but tight cap situations and limited trading resources should they land George would force them into having the young guys contribute. Obviously, this is sort of a pipe dream, but the path there is at least clear.
DN: I completely agree. Acquiring a roster like that will not be an easy task for Ainge but if he does so it just might push the Celtics into that elite group. Now let’s talk about the other path the Celtics can take, one that is more lengthy and less popular, but lethal if it works: The Draft.
JL: The first step in the process is a simple one: not trading this year’s pick. The Celtics have eight picks in this year’s draft, including three in the first round. They have the option to swap pick with Brooklyn in 2017, an unprotected pick from Brooklyn in 2018, and a top-8 protected pick from Memphis in 2019. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What do the Celtics need to do in this year’s draft to set themselves up for future success?
DN: For me it starts in this year’s draft. The Celtics need to use that third pick to get some scoring, and that is why I think they should take Jamal Murray. Murray was lights out from three all year long at Kentucky, and even possesses the ability to drive to the basket. At Kentucky this year, Murray averaged 20 ppg and shot 41% from three. He has size at 6-5 and is athletic enough to dominate in today’s NBA. Murray reminds me a lot of Ray Allen because they are both similar in height and weight, and Murray is clearly a knock down shooter. The biggest question mark regarding Murray is his defense, but that is something that can develop over time, specifically with his size and a coach like Brad Stevens pushing him. My next move would be at pick number 16, where the Celtics should take Thon Maker. Maker is the first high schooler to enter the draft in nearly a decade, and that is why he is being overlooked, but this kid is going to be a star. He is 7-1, freakishly athletic, and has the ability to knock down shots. Maker is someone who can stretch the floor and will occasionally be able to knock the three ball, but I think Maker’s strongest features will be his athleticism, rim protection, and eventual ability to consistently hit from that 18-20 foot range. The biggest question surrounding Maker start with his weight. Maker is only 218 pounds which is a bit of a concern for people that want him to bang in the post, but you have to consider the fact that he is only 19 years-old, and will have time to bulk up. The other major concern is that he has only played against high school competition, so nobody knows how good he will really be. Players like LeBron, Kobe Bryant, and Dwight Howard also only played against high school competition before coming to the NBA, and they all did just fine. In my opinion, Maker is going to be transcendent in the NBA. Finally, with the twenty-third pick if he is still available, the Celtics need to take Timothe Luwawu.
JL: Those are three good choices, probably the ideal scenario. Luwawu is a 6’7” wing and projects to be a 3-and-D nightmare. He’s shooting it well from three in France, is already an elite defender, and plays on a team that boasts awesome uniforms.There are questions as to whether or not he will come over this season, but he looks like the next player in a line of strong international prospects. But speaking of international players, if the Celtics are trying to build through the draft and really get a star, why not take Dragan Bender? Bender is the best overseas guy in this year’s draft, according to pretty much everyone, and he fits a much bigger positional need for the Celtics than Murray does. It’s about risk versus reward in the draft, and if the Celtics are not content with the current roster and believe it will only bring them so far, they should take big chances in the draft and hope it pays off. So, why not Dragan?
DN: In my opinion, I think Maker is going to be better than Bender. They are the same age, it looks as if Maker is more athletic than Bender, they both have a strong jumper, and Bender only has about 8 pounds on Maker at 225, so there are size questions for both of these guys. Also, there are just as many questions about Bender’s past play, considering he only averaged 2 points and 1 rebound per game in Israel. People are giving Bender too much credit because of the success Kristaps had this year, but they are different players with different backgrounds, so people should refrain from naturally assuming Bender is going to provide for a team in the same way. Maker has just as much upside if not more, we know more about Maker and who he is as a player, and I think his size, talent, and athleticism previews more superstar ability. It is also important to consider the fact that Maker will be available later in the draft, allowing the Celtics to get a guy like Murray at three if they so please, and getting Maker at 16, so that is why I would rather Thon Maker.
JL: I believe in Thon, with some reservations. He’s probably a mid-range shooter at least early in his career. I’m not sure he’s strong enough to protect the rim, and we don’t know what type of feel he has for the game. I think he will be really good as well, but there are a ton of questions with him. As there are with Bender, however I think it’s time we bury the hatchet on the foreign big guy failing in the NBA. Gone are the days of Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Jan Vesely, and Fred Weis. Rudy Gobert, Jonas Valanciunas, Nikola Jokic, Jusuf Nurkic, Kristaps Porzingis are all bigs drafted recently who have succeeded in the NBA.
DN: Yes, but what has Bender done to assure us that he will be just as effective as those other guys besides the fact that he is foreign and big?
JL: Nothing, but Bender shouldn’t be penalized for being foreign and big. Bender has the size, skills, and athleticism that has proven to translate in recent years. He’s closer to Thon Maker than anyone else in the draft this year in terms of style. Many are projecting him as a four. That means he’s a quasi-small five in terms of style, because you don’t play the four if you’re 7’1”. He’s going to stretch the floor, and if he can protect the rim, he’s exactly what you want in a center. And he’s probably further along than Maker is, considering he’s been playing professionally in Europe. Everyone thought Kristaps was miles away this time last year, and he was ready to go on day one. I think we may be due for a foreign big to flop, and his numbers certainly aren’t enticing, but I think you need to consider all options when building. Guards are a dime a dozen in this league, especially for Boston. Getting a big who has the upside that Bender may have would help, and I think they need to at least look into it.
DN: I agree that Bender has upside, but when you look at Maker’s athleticism, shooting, dribbling, and passing abilities, his ability to stretch the floor, guard the perimeter, and score in the post, Maker could have one of the highest upsides in this draft. The other advantage to taking Maker over Bender is that Maker is going to be available at 16, which gives you the option to take a guy like Jamal Murray at 3. I also think that people are immediately placing Maker into that center position, but he might be a better fit at the four for the first few years of his career as he bulks up. Maker would dominate at the four because of his ability to play 18-20 feet away from the basket and still be just as effective.
JL: I’ve been on Thon Maker Island from the beginning. Freshman mixtapes, sophomore mixtapes, you name it. There are a ton of question marks around him. He measured 6’11.75” at the combine, but he’s only 216 pounds, making him taller, yet the same weight as Skal Labissiere. Like Maker, Labissiere is a 5-star big man who has a solid jump shot to 18 feet, and will need to bulk up to play at the next level. Labissiere wildly disappointed at Kentucky this season. That’s not saying they are the same player, but something to think about. We will go more into the prospects in our NBA draft previews. I don’t think it’s set in stone that Maker drops to 16, though. In a weak draft, can’t you see someone in the 10-14 range saying exactly what you just said and taking him? In most other drafts, Maker might have been too risky, but I don’t think you can overestimate how bad this draft is. Let’s stay on the third pick for one more minute. Why not Buddy Hield or Jaylen Brown (or Jacob Poeltl)?
DN: I like Buddy Hield a lot. He was a pure scorer at Oklahoma this past year and he continued to get better every single year that he played in college. However, he is 22 right now, he played all four years in college and there had to have been some wear and tear from that. Like I said, I like his ability to score, find his own shot, and shoot the ball, but I think that Murray might have a little more upside because he is just barely 19, he is just as good, if not a better shooter than Hield (Yes, I believe this despite the fact that Buddy had a higher three point shooting percentage). Murray also averaged 20 points a game on a Kentucky team that was stacked with talent and guys that are all trying to take shots and display their abilities. While I do like Buddy Hield a lot and would not be overly disappointed if they took him at number three, I would prefer Jamal Murray. I also like Brown a lot but his shooting woes scare me a little bit. He is probably the most athletic player in the draft behind Simmons, and he can create so much offensively, but as we mentioned before, if the Celtics do not go with a big man with this pick I want them to take a guy that can knock down shots when needed. The Celtics need that three and D type player and while Brown is sizing up to be a serviceable defender with strong off the dribble skills, it looks to me as if he is going to be a more athletic Jae Crowder; someone who plays strong defense and produces offensively to a point, but lacks that three-point ability that can put him over the top into the superstar category. Finally, Poeltl is a good prospect and I am sure he will have a solid career in the NBA, but with the third pick there are simply too many other guys with more upside and superstar potential than him. Now this is not me saying that he will be a terrible player because I think that he will produce for a team, but I just think that if you are looking for a franchise-type player at number three if there are any, Poeltl is not the guy you go with.
JL: If the Celtics were to stay on the current path, just gaining assets and guys who can contribute, Poeltl or Hield would be the pick. Here, however, we are proposing that the build their team through the draft with high upside guys. That leaves Murray and Brown. I really like Murray’s game. Yes, I know about the issues. He’s not very fast, I’m not sure who he guards, I don’t know if he can play point guard. But, as you said, he’s the best shooter in the draft. Beyond that, he’s a playmaker. He led Team Canada over Team USA in the Pan American games last summer, scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Brown just scares me. He is Stanley Johnson/Justise Winslow without the feel for the game. So let’s say the Celtics grab Murray at three. We’ll give you Thon at 16, and as you said earlier, Luwawu at 23. Where do the Celtics go from there? Because there aren’t many minutes to go around as it is.
DN: Well, if the Celtics decide to take these picks and build through the draft, then they have to apply that into their lineups. That means getting rid of Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger this offseason. There is no reason to overpay Turner if they are consciously making the decision to rebuild once again. Turner is a solid player who can contribute to a championship team off the bench, but if he is brought back under these circumstances he will simply be taking minutes away from the young guys. With Turner gone, that would allow Marcus Smart to take over that backup point guard position from Turner, and push Murray into Smart’s position last year as the backup two guard. In doing so, this would allow for Smart to play more minutes and for Murray to play 25-30 minutes per night which would really allow him to develop. Also, with Sullinger gone, this gives Brad Stevens the decision between starting Kelly Olynyk or Thon Maker at the four. In my opinion, I would start Maker. He will be able to take advantage and have success at the four, especially in extended minutes. In terms of Luwawu, it all depends on whether or not he decides to come over from France or not. If he does, you play him behind Jae Crowder as the backup three. I am not afraid to give Luwawu extended minutes at the three either; he is 21, he has played professionally and produced at that level, and will turn out to be a very solid three and D guy for this team. Many people might be wondering what the team will do with guys like James Young and R.J. Hunter and why they are not factoring into the equation here, and it is as simple as this: Get rid of them. Their value is probably as high as it is going to get (and it is not really very high), and see what you can get out of those deals because both of those guys are simply not that good. If this is the outcome of the draft, it will officially be time to move forward with these guys, a group of promising prospects.
JL: Dumping Turner, Sully, and Zeller clears 64 minutes of playing time per game. If the Celtics are truly going to build around their youngest players, then they need to give those minutes to the young guys. I can’t imagine they start Thon Maker over Kelly, in fact I would be pretty surprised if he even started the year in Boston, as opposed to Maine. No way the Celts hit the reset button in the traditional sense. Stevens wants no part of a full rebuild. So, they need to work the younger guys into the rotation while still being relatively competitive. I wouldn’t mind if they traded Isaiah while his value is at its peak, but it doesn’t seem like a realistic possibility. Ainge just needs to chill out in free agency and let his young guys fill the bench roles. Developing them on a good team will be better in the long-run anyway. If they spend big in free agency or bring back their current free agents, the rookies this season will face the same fate as Jordan Mickey and James Young.Get the young guys minutes so they can step in when Bradley and Isaiah’s contracts are up or the Celtics decide to move them to set back the timetable. Let’s imagine this: it’s late January next season and the Celtics are the 5th seed in the East. The Nets are the worst team in the NBA and show no signs of improvement. Do you trade Isaiah for assets and commit to the young core? Do you trade anyone? Or do you play it out and worry about it after the season, even if Isaiah’s trade value is less?
DN: It would be a mistake to keep Thon Maker in Maine. With Sullinger gone, Olynyk would be the only other true power forward on the active roster besides Jordan Mickey, and I think we can both agree that Maker is the more appealing choice than Mickey. Maker is being wildly underrated because of his high school background, but if Stevens gives this kid a chance it is going to pay dividends. Also, if the Celtics are the fifth seed at that point and the Nets are the worst team in the league, you keep everyone and make a playoff run. There is no value to tanking as you said because next year's pick is simply a swap so there would be no benefit to that. What they should do in that situation is to continue what they have been doing all year, and come playoff time those young guys will get valuable playoff experience. Then, when the offseason comes and you see where you land in the lottery, then you make decisions regarding the future. You evaluate the progress that guys like Murray, Luwawu, and Maker made during the season, see how the next guy whether he is Jackson, Tatum, Smith, Giles, etc. fits into the system, and see how the current vets you have fit as well. Is Smart ready to take over duties as point guard and the primary ball handler? If you are deciding to Trade Thomas without the next point guard on the roster, what do you do then?
JL: The hope would be that Murray or Smart would be the primary ball handler. I have my reservations about Smart, but I think Murray would be fine in that spot. If Smart could develop into that ball handler, that would open up tons of spacing, because the best way to make the defense guard a bad offensive player is to give him the ball. Regardless, Thomas and Bradley would be on expiring deals at this point in time and they would need to trade them as soon as they could to get the highest return. Both of those guys should generate first round picks or young players. That would be the time to trade them. Commit to the Smart-Murray-Crowder-Luwawu-Maker lineup with their draft pick next season and the haul from the Isaiah and Bradley trades coming off the bench. Kelly would be a restricted free agent, and you probably hold on to him because the team will be swimming in cap room. Also, remember the Celtics have five second rounders this season, if they can hit on just one of those guys, now the team has a young top-8/9 that can be lethal down the line.
DN: I completely agree. This would be ideal for the Celtics going forward. It would give them a lot of depth and potential superstar talent for the next 10-15 years, and you cannot forget about Brooklyn’s pick in 2018. Now we know that they will probably be a little bit better by then, but this also has the potential to be another great pick. If Celtics fans can be patient for just a little longer, this is a method that I think would allow the Celtics to compete for titles for years to come.