Isn't this fun?
Celtics fans have been promised "fireworks" this offseason. It's a pact that could have Danny Ainge spinning the team's nine first-round picks in the next five years into All-Stars and other riches. The Celtics as we know them, that ragtag bunch who won 25 games this season, are about to get much better.
For now, though, we wait. With the draft lottery still more than two weeks away (May 20) and the actual draft taking place June 26, the franchise and its fan base are in a kind of limbo. It's made many of you antsy, and quite frankly, you've gotten on my nerves. Below is my best attempt to break up the boredom with a little hoops talk.
-- Let's assume the Celtics end up with a draft pick where they are currently slotted or lower, fifth or sixth Arguably, the C's are strongest at PF and PG and could use help at the other three positions. Yet they'll need a top-3, maybe top-4 pick (if you count Exum as a SG) to get one. How do you draft if you don't finish in the top-3?
Michael F., Brookline
Ah, the dreaded "what if?" scenario in which the Celtics lose out on Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, and maybe even Julius Randle and have to settle for someone else. The crux of your question concerns positions the Celtics may or may not need. While I agree the Celtics are crowded at power forward and point guard at the moment, there's a million scenarios in which they won't be very soon. It would shock me if Ainge didn't take the best player available at No. 5 or 6 or wherever the Celtics pick. There are too many needs on a 25-win team to do anything else.
-- Watching the NCAA tourney while the Celts tanked out the string made me nervous; I like all the top prospects just fine, but I didn't see anyone who made me say, "Oh yeah, add that 19-year-old next year and C's are a playoff team." Even if they get one of the top guys and he performs to expectations, is it realistic to dream of the playoffs next year? Let's say Wing Guy X comes in next year and is good as Jeff Green (which is great for a teenager), aren't the Celts more than a JG clone away from even the 8th seed in the East?
The short answer: yup. You're right that there isn't a 19-year-old on earth who is going to join the Celtics and make them into a playoff team. And your Jeff Green comparison is good here. I think lots of fans are ready to be done with Green, but even the best pick in this year's draft probably won't play as well as Green in his first year in the league. Your question is a reminder that we all need to temper our expectations for whomever is picked.
The Celtics will get better slowly. Their top pick in June will be a big part of it, but so will their pick at No. 17. The "fireworks" alluded to earlier, a quote from Celtics managing partner Wes Grousbeck, hint at a potential trade or two and are consistent with what Ainge has said all along. The Celtics aren't going to use all of their picks. Some of them could be moved for real, live NBA player as soon as this offseason, and those players, combined with the team's draft picks, could make the Celtics a playoff team as soon as 2014-15.
Philly, Orlando and Milwaukee are reasonably set at center, whereas this is our most glaring weakness. We took a a chance on Sullinger's back and maybe have a centerpiece to next great Celtics team at one forward position. If Joel Embiid falls to us do you not think we should grab him?
George G., Copenhagen, Denmark
Absolutely. Center is a true weak spot for the Celtics, who essentially played this entire season without one. Is Embiid a risk? Sure. But if he falls to the Celtics he's worth the risk. I can see him slotting effortlessly into a potentially dominant frontcourt next to Sullinger.
@GaryDzen Thoughts on the Celtics pursuing RFA Gordon Heyward?— Bob Futon (@BobFuton) April 25, 2014
We're getting into the good stuff, now. Hayward is a premier free-agent target for many teams. He's a 6-foot-8-inch guard/forward who can fill it up from all over the floor. He's so good, in fact, that BBallBreakdown spent some time examining whether or not the fourth-year NBAer deserves a max deal:
Based on his 2013-14 season, the answer would have to be no. While points (16.2), rebounds (5.1), and assists (5.2) were all up for Hayward, so were turnovers, which soared to 2.8 per game. Hayward's 3-point shooting dropped to .304, landing him in the bottom quarter of the league in that category.
There's also the issue of Hayward's defense. Basketball Reference lists Hayward's defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) at 110 for his career and 111 for the season. That puts Hayward 411th of the 482 players who saw action in the NBA this season (Kevin Garnett was 36th, because of course he was).
Don't get me wrong, I still think Hayward is one hell of a player, and the hunch here is that Brad Stevens, who coached Hayward at Butler, does too. But if the Celtics can't get Hayward at some kind of discount based on the stats in the last two paragraphs, they're better off looking elsewhere.
-- I was really frustrated with this team. When it was a winnable game they lost the lead and in real close games they couldn't get the big shot from anyone. Rondo made very little difference in the win-loss column. Therefore my question is: Do you see anyone on this team that can be expected to be a difference maker in the revised lineup that the team SHOULD have next year. I hate to call people names but this team is a big collection of LOSERS. They are not Celtic players at all.
Fred T., Washingtonville, N.Y.
Fred wrote this one as the season was winding down, so I understand his frustrations at the time. It's easy to say from my perch, but it's important not to confuse players on a losing team as being losers. Is Paul Pierce a loser? Tony Allen? Rondo has already proven not to be a loser, even if his return didn't signal a major improvement for this team down the stretch. I find it hard to paint even one current Celtic as a loser given that on another team, Jared Sullinger or Avery Bradley or Jeff Green or Kris Humphries or Brandon Bass or anyone else could be a difference-maker for a contender.
-- Gary, Greetings. Here's my proposal for fireworks this summer. Prior to the draft, trade Green and our lottery pick to Houston for Asik and their 1st round pick (25ish). Green seems to fit their mode, 3-point shooter, runner, and doesn't need a lot of shots. Asik gives us the defensive presence we need. Then try to get Luol Deng from Cleveland. Rumors are he's not happy. ... Starting five is Asik, Bass, Deng, Rondo, and Bradley (tender). We still have some young players and draft choices. During the season, if a team with a pending free agent starts out slowly (think Minnesota), Danny might be able to move some pieces for Love, Aldridge, Horford or another star. Is my plan workable?
I see where you're going with this. One issue I have is getting rid of the lottery pick for Omer Asik. I like Asik a lot as a defensive presence on a good team, but trading a pick that could be used to draft your future franchise player for a defensive stopper seems like way too much. Otherwise I agree with your premise of trying to get good pieces from other teams using all the assets the Celtics have built up. That's exactly the way they need to go.
We'll end with this one.
Of all the Jeff Greens in the world, he's definitely the Jeff Greeniest.
Thanks, all. Shoot me questions for a future mailbag on Twitter (@GaryDzen) or at firstname.lastname@example.org.