The Eastern Conference Finals are well underway. The number one seeded Boston Celtics are matched up against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers. After two games played in Boston, the Celtics look woefully overmatched. The best thing that happened to the Celtics thus far was them actually winning the opening tip in game two. Barring an unforeseen disaster, the Cavaliers are running away with this series. In order to become a genuine title contender, the Boston Celtics need to acquire a superstar. The Boston Celtics must move forward championship chasing.
The Current Team
This current Celtics team is led by All-NBA player Isaiah Thomas. Thomas is the heart and soul of the Celtics’ roster. Other key players include Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Gerald Green, Terry Rozier, rookie Jaylen Brown and others. Led by coaching savant Brad Stevens, the Celtics finished the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Stevens’ offensive philosophy is the 5 out motion offense. This system presents a problem to all opponents throughout the league. The Celtcs had the 8th best offensive rating of 111.2 per 100 possessions.
On defense, the Celtics are tenacious. Led by Crowder, Bradley, Smart and Brown, Boston plays a physical in your face type of defense. Bordering on dirty, the Celtics play to whistle. Smart, Bradley, and Olynyk are masters of getting under the opponents skin. The Celtics had a defensive rating 108.4 (ranked 13th in the league).
As far as rosters go, the Celtics are competitive. The Celtics won a conference-best 53 regular season games, surprisingly securing the top seed in the east. Thomas made the All-Star team for the second consecutive season. Thomas’ season was rewarded with a spot on the All-NBA Second team.
2017 All-NBA vote totals ⬇️
The Boston Celtics won the Lottery
The results are in: pic.twitter.com/MvU3sPRlK2
So thanks to the insanity of Billy King and the Brooklyn Nets, the Celtics won the NBA Draft Lottery. This means the Boston Celtics will have the first pick in a projected loaded draft. Pundits expect players like Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and others to become cornerstones for their respective franchises for years to come. Other potential stars include De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Jonathan Isaac, and Dennis Smith Jr.
Also worth mentioning, the Celtics also have the Nets first round draft pick in 2018 as well. With the Nets going through a rebuilding phase, it’s safe to suggest that pick will be a high lottery selection as well.
Issues facing the Celtics
In Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics have a unique playmaker. Thomas led the team in scoring and assists. His play in the fourth quarter became the stuff of legends. On offense, Thomas is fantastic. Standing at 5’9″, Thomas was able to overcome insurmountable odds nightly marshalling his teammates with his stellar play. Defensively, however, Thomas was terrible on defense. Stevens was forced to hide him on the opponents least threatening offensive player. Due to his diminutive stature, Thomas is faced with abnormal defensive challenges. This was evident in Thomas contesting King LeBron James at the rim.
However, despite Thomas’ effectiveness as a leader, this Celtics team is devoid of playmakers. With the exception of Thomas, no other player on the roster can create his own shot opportunity. Horford (an All-Star during his time with the Atlanta Hawks) is a decent player but needs assistance in the creativity department. The rest of the roster at best are streaky three-point shooters. A championship roster in this modern NBA must consist of at least two playmakers. A prime example would be the Golden State Warriors who has at least three playmakers on its roster. The defending champs Cavaliers has two very dynamic playmakers in James and Kyrie Irving.
Option for Celtics Improvement
In professional sports throughout the USA, there are three options to acquire talent. A team selects a player in the draft, signs a player through free agency, or trades for a player with another team. The Celtics draft history is not the greatest. GM Danny Ainge has been on a mission to acquire assets over the last few years. Ainge made some interesting draft selections over the past three seasons. Fab Melo, Guerschon Yabusele, James Young, and R.J. Hunter are some of Ainge’s selections. He has a chance to set the franchise up for the future with the assets acquired from the Nets.
Free Agency is a possibility
How about free agency? This is Boston, not exactly the greatest free agent destination in the NBA. The issue is the history and the fans. Actor Bill Murray once referred to Boston fans as “terrible winners“, albeit he was talking about Red Sox fans. Recently at a baseball game, fans called African American baseball player Adam Jones a racial slur. The NBA consists of majority non-caucasian players.
Remember last off-season and the Kevin Durant sweepstakes? Durant granted the Celtics a meeting and the Celtics brought in the big guns. Tom Brady, legendary quarterback of the New England Patriots came as the special pitch-man. All accounts say the meeting went well, so naturally, Durant signed with the Warriors on the opposite coast. At least the Celtics got Horford who signed for the maximum amount. Especially relevant the Celtics are preparing to pursue forward Gordon Hayward as soon as free agency begins. Blake Griffin is also a rumored target.
Maybe a blockbuster trade perhaps
Well, next there is the possibility of trading for a player. Ainge once pulled off the great coup that got Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to the Celtics which resulted in a championship back in 2008. In another brilliant deal, Ainge later traded Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, D.J. White and Garnett to the New Jersey Nets for a set of second tier players and a haul of first round draft picks. Ainge correctly judged the team’s window had closed.
However, it appears Ainge favors keeping picks instead of using them as trade chips in the acquisition of a star. More importantly Ainge the GM is a lot like Ainge the player, very risk averse. He won’t make a trade unless he’s certain that he wins it. There was a proposed deal with the Bulls for Jimmy Butler, but Ainge refused to let Crowder go as part of the deal. Butler is a top 10 player in the NBA and Ainge was unwilling to make the deal. Interesting choice there.
Then there were the Paul George rumors.
Sources: Pacers asking for 3 of 4 from group of Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, and Jaylen Brown + 2017 Nets pick for Paul George.
This issue with getting George was George’s representatives stressing his desire to play for the LA Lakers. Many, speculated that if George made the All-NBA team, he would be enticed to stay in Indiana. Thus making a deal difficult. However, three rotation players and a draft pick for a superstar player is a relatively small price to pay.
As a franchise, the Boston Celtics are in an enviable position with regards to the future. That said, future assets eventually become players. The Toronto Raptors is going through a similar situation though their assets are not as highly valued. While having picks looks fantastic on paper, it’s akin to having cash under one’s mattress. As time pass, these assets ultimately depreciates in value.
While a top tier rookie provides stability long term, a top tier player or star will be able to attract fellow top tier players to the organization. One suspects Ainge knows that. After all, he played for the Celtics who traded for Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson. How was that possible? Larry Bird was a Celtic. Game recognizes game as the song goes. As Kevin Durant wisely taught everyone, gone are the days when the superstar wants to carry a team alone. King James made sure his team has players that help him play at a high level.
Furthermore, the Celtics must move forward in championship chasing for they are not alone in the east. The Milwaukee Bucks are a very talented young team consisting of several play-makers. The Washington Wizards (who took the Celtics to seven games without a meaningful bench) are led by a dynamic backcourt consisting of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Wizards also have young wings Otto Porter andKelly Oubre. Yet another team to look at in the east is the Miami Heat. Coach Erik Spolestra led a team that Dwyane Wade forsook to a record of 41-41. The Heat turned players like Dion Waiters, James Johnson, and Hassan Whiteside into household names. Waiters, in particular, went from being a running joke to a legitimate guard in just one season under Spolestra.
Finally, no matter what decision the Boston Celtics arrive at, there will be criticism. Perhaps drafting Fultz and have him play alongside Thomas is the answer. Maybe trading the pick for a star player like Butler is the answer. There’s the dark chance that the Celtics actually get their number one target, whether Hayward or Griffin as well. One thing is for certain, NBA draft night and the impending free agency promise excitement. Stay tuned.
Stats provided by Sports-Reference.com