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In the immediate aftermath of the 2014 NBA draft lottery, Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was asked about his team's strategy moving forward.
Ainge noted there was "a possibility of moving up. Moving down is also a possibility. And moving out, or using all those picks are all options. We'll explore all those things."Well, that clarifies things. It'd be like asking someone what they want to do for dinner and being told, "We could go out. Or we could stay in. Delivery is an option. Maybe we'll wait and have a big breakfast? We'll explore all those things."
During Ainge's 12-minute chat with reporters, he was probed for hints about how the team would proceed after landing the No. 6 pick in June's draft, but offered no tells. Boston also owns the No. 17 pick as part of last summer's swap with Brooklyn, giving it an additional asset to utilize entering Year 2 of a process aimed at restoring the Celtics to contender status.
"I think [the next month leading up to the draft] is exciting," Ainge said. "It is fun. This is an exciting time of the year, an exciting time for our franchise. We can do anything from taking the two draft picks and continuing to add to our young talent, or we could make some bigger deals that speed up our process -- and everywhere in between. I think that everything is possible, and it's going to be a really interesting next month."
So what options does Boston have? Let's run down the potential scenarios:
While the future of Rajon Rondo in green is slightly hazy given that he'll be an unrestricted free agent next summer, the Celtics believe they have a quality young core, headlined in part by recent top picks Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. If the team brings back restricted free agent Avery Bradley and continues The Jeff Green Project, the Celtics have a solid five-man nucleus with an average age under 25. By hanging onto its picks this season, Boston could further infuse the roster with young talent.
The downside? Young players typically take time to develop and it's hard to imagine the Celtics making too much of a leap forward without a "fireworks" move to add established talent.
If you clicked on this article, hit Control-F and searched "Kevin Love," you've landed in the right spot! Given the scuttlebutt about Love's future in Minnesota, he's the target du jour, and with good reason. Teams are understandably salivating at the opportunity to add a legitimate young superstar. The Celtics, particularly with their collection of draft picks (nine first-rounders over the next five years), have the available assets to thrust themselves into the bidding for any available star.
The downside? Love (or a player of his caliber) won't come cheap. It's likely to cost the team multiple first-round picks and young talent just to get Love in green, then you gotta pay him max money moving forward. Speaking in generalities, Ainge told Boston sports radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub on Wednesday that he'd consider taking on a star player in the final year of his deal without an assurance he'd return, but there's always a risk involved there (hey, Dwight Howard!). On the other hand, adding someone the caliber of Love makes a team an immediate contender again, especially in the East. The Celtics must consider the balance of winning now and being a contender for the long haul.
Whether by combining this year's picks or working with future selections, the Celtics have the means to do what the pingpong balls did not and elevate the Green a bit. Ainge and his staff were in Los Angeles this week for a glimpse of some of the top available talent in the draft. Why bother scouting the top names at No. 6? The Celtics must determine if there are players worthy of moving up to snare. Last season, Boston jumped up three spots to snag Olynyk at No. 13. Might the team employ a similar strategy if Joel Embiid stays on the board after a couple of picks? Is Dante Exum a potential backcourt fixture of the future if they could get into the top 4?
The downside? The draft is often a crapshoot, and sacrificing quantity in search of quality is a tough balance, particularly given the rising price of picks (especially the ones at the top of the draft).
If this draft is as loaded as everyone but Ainge will admit, then there seems to be value outside the top spots. Players that will be picked outside the top 3 this year would seemingly have been candidates to be top-3 selections in weaker drafts (hello, 2013 draft!). So if the price is too steep to move up this year, maybe Boston tries to cash in at No. 6, moving back a bit and getting comparable value while adding to its pick surplus in the process. Maybe all that overseas scouting of someone like Dario Saric entices Boston to shuffle down a few spots and snag him there, while allowing a team behind them to sacrifice some of its own future for a shot at the likes of Aaron Gordon or Marcus Smart.
The downside? No team wants to look back and see it traded down when star talent was still available. The success rate of picks seems higher at the loftier spots in the draft.
Let's face it, there doesn't seem to be any good reason this would happen. Unless a team was willing to mortgage its future (hey, Nets!) in a deal that Boston couldn't pass up, then the Celtics would have little desire to remain in rebuilding mode any longer than they have to.
Here's a sobering thought for those Celtics fans that love the Love speculation: We might eventually be inundated with similar stories about Rondo. Boston's All-Star point guard has expressed a desire to test unrestricted free agency after the 2014-15 season and, while it's highly unlikely that the Celtics would watch Rondo leave town without compensation, that is a possibility if he gets to the open market. So the Celtics have to give just a little extra consideration to any trade offers that float across Ainge's desk this offseason. All indications are that Boston sees Rondo as a cornerstone and is willing to pay him the fortunes that are in his future, but that could seemingly change for the right offer. Just be careful when you wish for fireworks, because this rebuilding project could always be leveled again before the real construction begins.
So what's the best scenario? Forgive us for hedging, but it depends on what's available. Ainge and his staff have relentlessly scouted this year's draft class and undoubtedly have a strong grasp on what can be had with their picks. Over the next month, Boston's front office must gauge what other teams are willing to offer and what the Celtics' assets can bring back in return.
Ainge said the team would have multiple plans of attack following the lottery. Boston's front office will gauge the effectiveness of those plans now that the order is set, but we'll probably have to wait until June 26 to get a clue about which scenario they've chosen.
It might simply come down to patience. If the Celtics can add talent now, even at the cost of some of those future draft picks, it will be tough to pass up with a chance to climb back into contender status in a weakened Eastern Conference. But the draft allows you to add talent at reasonable prices without having to sacrifice assets (some of which could be repurposed to hunt for established talent, though maybe not quite on the superstar level).
Ainge could have saved himself some time on Tuesday night when asked about future options by taking a page out of Kevin Garnett's playbook and simply screaming, "Anything is possible!"