What’s the plan, Danny Ainge?
The Boston Celtics GM has now made two trades in the past eight days. He has shipped out three of Boston’s (now former) shooting guards, two of which are on expiring contracts, leaving them with just one left on their roster.
With Rajon Rondo returning from his ACL injury in the next few days, the Celtics are destined for a higher win percentage in the second half of the season. Inserting him into the lineup could inch Boston into the playoffs as the eighth seed, where they would all but surely be eliminated in the first round by the Indiana Pacers or the Miami Heat. This fate would also cause the Celtics to miss the lottery entirely.
Before you “tanking” advocates lose your minds, understand that this may not be a bad thing. While Ainge has indeed sent three serviceable players to new homes, the return for the Celtics has been underrated and could be very useful heading forward.
Courtney Lee was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jerryd Bayless, who is a major downgrade in both efficiency and defense. With that being said, Bayless is younger than Lee and also has an expiring deal. Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks were sent to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for a second-round pick from the Miami, Ccenter Joel Anthony and a top-15-protected Philadelphia 76ers first-round selection, which will likely become two second round picks, as Philly seems far from post season qualification.
The Celtics have now stockpiled nine — potentially 10 — first-round draft picks in the next five years.
Ainge has claimed that he has no intention of trading Rondo, which may or may not be true. But if Boston plans on building around their point guard, its slew of draft picks won’t do much if they are used for their intended purpose. Rondo will turn 28 years old in February, meaning he is most likely approaching his best years in the NBA. By the time the Celtics can use their 2016 and 2018 picks, Rondo will be 30 and 32, respectively, and most likely on the downswing of his career.
Ainge surely recognizes this. His trades have left this roster completely depleted talent-wise, and he probably won’t elect to “waste” Rondo’s prime by surrounding him with a team destined for lottery appearances and/or first-round eliminations year after year.
If there is still an opportunity to build around Rondo, the Celtics are going to need to vault themselves back to contention within the next two seasons. Rondo’s contract ends after the 2014-15 season, and if the Celtics haven’t improved, there isn’t any guarantee that he’ll decide to stick around.
It appears that Ainge is planning for the Celtics’ leap from the NBA’s cellar to a high playoff seed to occur in the near future. Given the circumstances regarding Rondo, it would make sense for Ainge to attempt to flip some of the picks and possibly some of the Celtics’ expiring contracts — specifically those of Kris Humphries and Keith Bogans — in a mega-deal to bring in another superstar to pair with Rondo, reminiscent of the trades that brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to team up with Paul Pierce in the summer of 2007.
A trade like this certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise. While building through the draft is becoming more and more popular in the modern age of the NBA, acquiring players via free agency/trades has certainly paid out for teams that have attempted it, including the Celtics after their acquisitions in the 2007 offseason.
Alternatively, Ainge may prefer to use the picks to acquire young players (via the NBA draft) with the capabilities of turning into franchise-talents. If that is the case, the next player headed out of Beantown could be Rondo. Trading Rondo would begin a full-blown rebuilding process, one in which the Celtics would lose their only superstar. If a deal of this nature transpires, Boston faithful better pray that Ainge makes intelligent decisions in the upcoming drafts.
The smaller trades that Ainge has made in the past week are, in all likelihood, small cogs in a master scheme. Whether or not the upcoming deal involves Rondo is difficult to foresee, but however Ainge decides to start the trip back down championship lane, it is sure to turn some heads.