Commentary

Slow rebuild might trump quick fix

Updated: May 23, 2014, 9:23 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

Rebuilding stinks. And after the Boston Celtics endured a 57-loss campaign this past season, everyone from players to coaches to executives to fans can agree on that.

But it's also a necessary evil. The only way to get back to contender status -- and, more importantly, stay at contender status -- is to rebuild the right way and maximize every asset you have.

Which is why we have a sobering thought for Celtics fans: Maybe it's not such a bad thing if the summer of 2014 is devoid of fireworks and the team has to endure one more transition year.

(Ducks and covers)

Let's be clear: There are too many moving parts to know exactly how the Celtics' offseason will play out. If the right deals materialize, and established talent can be added at reasonable rates, Boston absolutely shouldn't hesitate to reload this summer.

But the (Kevin) Lovefest this week left us with a case of sticker shock. Yes, the prospects of adding a bona fide NBA star and slamming the rebuilding accelerator is mighty intriguing, but at what price? Is it truly worthwhile to part with multiple first-round draft picks and young talent and other assets to add a single talent to the roster? In the NBA, maybe more than any other sport, having individual star power is supremely important, but having a deep, balanced and affordable roster doesn't hurt, either.

Make no mistake: The Celtics, throughout their history, have often built or maintained their success through deals. But the three D's that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge often preaches also includes "draft" and "development."

So it got us thinking about what kind of shape the Celtics might be in if they utilized picks Nos. 6 and 17 this summer and committed to building toward the future for one more season. The Celtics could still maneuver, but maybe there are ways for them to use their expiring assets (like a $10.3 million trade exception or Keith Bogans' nonguaranteed deal) to help shuffle around the draft board and land the players they are highest on.

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The end game in that scenario remains the same: building toward the 2015-16 season. Here's why that intrigues me:

• For all the consternation about the Celtics landing the No. 6 pick in the draft, it's not a terrible spot. Sure, every team that missed out on a top-3 spot is kicking the dirt because of the talent available this year, but if the draft is as deep as it's made out to be, those in the 4-6 range stand to get what would normally be a top-3 talent in other drafts.

• Ainge and his staff have been terrific at identifying talent in the middle of the first round and, even if they had to part with a bit of their treasure chest to move around a bit this year, there's a quality opportunity to emerge with two quality players with those two picks.

• No one can be certain what the ceilings are for players like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, but they're on encouraging paths. If the Celtics landed two more players in this draft who could eventually carve out roles in, say, their top eight, then half their core rotation would be set on affordable rookie pacts.

• Another rebuilding season puts Boston back in the lottery next summer. Sure, Boston brass said they had no desire to go through that process again after the pingpong balls defied them once more on Tuesday, but the Celtics' top pick next season could be used to add more talent or as a valuable trade chip.

• The salary cap is expected to rise in each of the next two seasons, and CBA guru Larry Coon noted it could land around $66.5 million for the 2015-16 season, with a luxury tax line of $81 million. Imagine a Celtics team where Sullinger, Olynyk, Pick No. 6 and Pick No. 17 combine to make less than $10 million for that 2015-16 campaign. That leaves an awful lot of space to complement them.

Let's say we're simply intrigued by the possibility of taking this process slow. Is that ideal? Probably not, especially not in Boston. But when the Celtics bestowed a six-year contract upon coach Brad Stevens, we always wondered if they knew this turnaround would take some time.

The team still has plenty of tough decisions to make in the interim. How much are the C's willing to pay to keep restricted free agent Avery Bradley? He's only 23 and would be another quality young body if retained at a reasonable rate. Is Rajon Rondo in the team's long-term future? He has expressed a desire to test unrestricted free agency next summer, and Boston must be willing to pay him something approximating max money if it plans to keep him around (otherwise, the Celtics must think harder about any trade offers that arrive this summer).

Boston has Jeff Green ($9.2 million) and Gerald Wallace ($10.1 million) on the books for that 2015-16 campaign, but Green has a player option he could decline in order to test the market (however unlikely that seems at the moment), while the Celtics might find it easier to move Wallace in the final year of his deal.

The crystal ball is hazy, but there seems to be a chance to have a bit of a fresh slate in 2015-16, with only young, cost-efficient players to build around. Boston would still have its surplus of picks it worked so hard to acquire in recent seasons. Some selections could be used to keep up the flow of incoming talent, while others could be traded to help pluck more established talent (perhaps players without quite the asking price of someone like Love).

Rebuilding stinks. But building slow might prevent Boston from having to endure that process again for a much longer period than a quick fix.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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