Checklist for Danny Ainge to Rebuild the Boston Celtics in 2014 Offseason
Successful NBA rebuilds require luck, timing, shrewd decisions and patience. They're done with a long-term plan in mind, gradual motion toward a championship.
In order to be competitive in a league that has 29 other organizations with their eyes on the same prize, getting to the top is obviously very difficult, but the Boston Celtics are on the right track.
Much of the process is outside any single person's control. Countless variables can set everything on fire at any time. The idea is to be as prepared as possible for whatever the future holds. The Celtics are.
They have 10 first-round draft picks over the next five years, a franchise star at point guard, several bushy-tailed prospects providing low-cost value and a cap sheet that'll be flexible by the summer of 2015. Still, much work needs to be done, and once this season ends Danny Ainge will have a few important items on his plate that need attention.
Here's his checklist for the summer, with each action ranked in order of importance.
5. Win the Avery Bradley Contract
What does "win the Avery Bradley contract" mean? The shooting guard becomes a restricted free agent this summer; Danny Ainge wishes not only to sign Bradley to an extension, but to do so on a deal that holds value for the team.
Before going out with a bone bruise in his ankle about 15 games ago, Bradley’s offensive progress was public record. His pull-up jumper became one of the sharpest knives (relative to some seriously dull ones) in Brad Stevens’ drawer, and he continued to hound opponents on the other end, maintaining the skill that put him on the map.
But he can't seem to stay healthy, which could turn into a blessing for Ainge once contract negotiations for Bradley’s extension resume, and the "injury prone" tag caps the dollar amount other suitors may be willing to offer.
The Dallas Mavericks just signed Monta Ellis to a three-year, $25 million contract, with a player option on that third season. The Celtics would be thrilled with a similar deal (albeit one where Ainge shaves about $4 million off the top) and could keep one of their prime assets at a contract that maintains financial flexibility.
Keeping Bradley is smart, and signing him to a deal like this would be ideal.
4. Find Rim Protection
Pictured above is Charlotte Bobcats forward Bismack Biyombo, an unheralded rim protector who doubles as a solid post defender. He's also 21 years old and will be paid a little more than Joel Anthony next season.
Biyombo is the exact type of player Boston will try to acquire this summer. He's young, cheap and could fill a gaping hole in the team's defense. Opponents average 0.58 points per possession on post-ups against Biyombo (sixth in the league, per mySynergySports) and shots at the rim miss over 60 percent of the time when he's the closest defender.
He isn't much of an offensive player and only averages 15 minutes a game, but Biyombo (or a similar contract, like Milwaukee Bucks center John Henson) is one route to take.
That or the Celtics could go with someone more established and trade for the likes of Houston Rockets center Omer Asik.
Asik is clearly a better player than Biyombo, but he's also way more expensive; acquiring him would make pulling off other necessary personnel decisions more difficult. Greg Oden is another option, though guaranteeing him money comes with substantial risk.
The other alternative is the draft, but there appears to be only two centers who could step in on day one and protect the basket: consensus No. 1 pick Joel Embiid and Kentucky 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein.
Either way, the Celtics need someone who can anchor their defense next season. They allow 28.1 shot attempts in the restricted area per game, ninth most in the league according to media.nba.com (subscription required).
Kris Humphries and Jared Sullinger have spent the bulk of this season at center, and even though they've held up fairly well under the circumstances, they aren't a practical long-term solution.
3. Gather More Assets
"Gather more assets" is essentially code for "trade Brandon Bass and Jeff Green." Gerald Wallace would be included, but there's no chance anybody's taking that contract without several draft picks attached.
Danny Ainge surely looked to deal Green and Bass at the trade deadline, but consummating a trade midseason can be tricky. Teams are weary of acclimating a new piece and disrupting time-allowed chemistry in the process.
But on draft day, most of those worries evaporate. Players like Green and Bass are valued much higher by teams that don't have to pay last season's salary, are receiving a shorter contract and have the benefit of working their new player into a system with the benefit of training camp and preseason games.
It's unlikely any players on Boston's roster are worth a first-round pick by themselves—which is probably what Ainge is holding out for—but a player's value is only worth what someone's willing to offer, and last season Ainge acquired a boatload for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Let's see if he can do it again.
2. Sniff Around for a Big Fish
The NBA's most valuable commodity will always be the franchise player. The rare top-10 talent who, every year, makes the All-Star Game in his sleep. Having one is great. Having two? Now a championship can be had.
Boston already has one (Rajon Rondo), so now it's up to Danny Ainge to find at least one more. Kevin Love and Carmelo Anthony are two who conceivably can be had this summer. Both would be perfect complements to Rondo's game, and Boston has more than enough assets to get a deal done should the Minnesota Timberwolves be interested in a deal or the New York Knicks seek a sign-and-trade.
The Celtics would need to cut quite a bit of salary if they were interested in signing Anthony outright.
Outside of those two, other targets who aren't as talented might be Gordon Hayward, Harrison Barnes, Josh Smith, Rudy Gay and Greg Monroe. Those players could either be signed as free agents or acquired in a trade, but it's in Boston's best interest to hold out for a franchise-altering piece like Love or Anthony.
1. Keep Rajon Rondo
Generally speaking, Rajon Rondo should not be traded. He’s in his prime as one of the best players in the league.
In other words, in a vacuum, he’s exactly what every team in the league wants. The phrase “blow it up” is as dangerous as it sounds; there’s no reason Boston, a team already choking on too many assets as it is, should be interested in generating more rubble.
But given his upcoming contract and how risky it now is to set aside a long-term, big-money contract to any player not in his early to mid-20s, that doesn’t mean Rondo is completely off the table. No player is off the table, though. Except LeBron James.
If a too-good-to-be-true offer of blue-chip prospects and unprotected first-round picks (plural on both accounts) is on the table, then Danny Ainge would have to think long and hard about pulling the trigger.
This stance doesn’t change over the next 12 months unless A) a second All-Star is acquired—in which case Rondo can be taken off the market completely—or B) for mysterious reasons, Rondo starts playing like Toney Douglas.
Rondo is the building block. Those don’t grow on trees. (Or, in Rondo’s case, fall from the sky.) Moving him would be a major mistake.