With the playoffs nearing the end and nobody in Boston caring that much, it seems like a great time to start the review of our 2014-15 season and look ahead to the 15-16 season.
This was a season nobody expected… except me (Sort of). In October I wrote “this team could make the playoffs in a horribly weak Eastern conference. They top out as a George Karl Nuggets type-team that spreads the floor around Rondo, and uses ferocious backcourt defense and team speed to make up for a lack of rim protection.” Well… minus the Rondo part that was pretty accurate. What we got in Year 2 of Stevens’ reign was hope. Hope that we have one of (soon to be the) best coaches in the NBA, a wizard who can pull brilliant sideline plays, at any time, out of his ass and who just took a roster full of bench players to the Big Show. Granted – they got swept, and it was in possibly the weakest Eastern Conference during my lifetime, but it was a positive showing nonetheless. When your best 2-way player is Avery Bradley, even competing for a playoff spot is an astonishing feat. Looking at that Eastern Conference, Boston almost inarguably has a less talented roster than Brooklyn, Indiana, and even Charlotte, and really maximized its own potential. Credit goes to Stevens. There are many people out there who argue that this was a waste of a season for the Celtics, that if you’re not at the top of the lottery or the top of the playoffs you are in NBA no-man’s land. Modern logic treats the 8th seed as a significantly worse fate than the 30th seed. In some cases, this is true. Boston, however, is uniquely positioned to both make the playoffs and stand to drastically improve their team during the offseason. Yes, we have a worse draft pick, but we were never going to compete with the train wreck that is the Minnesota-New York-LA rosters. Making the playoffs is valuable for this team for two reasons:
- It creates valuable playoff experience for the young core. Obviously, not everyone is going to be here next year. But, the pieces ARE there to build around and it is important to get some of those foundational players – mainly Zeller, Smart, and Thomas – playoff experience. Most of the time, these guys looked overmatched during the Cavs series. Getting swept is not only a good motivator, but serves as an example to the young’uns as to where they can improve. It also means that when playoff time comes with real expectations, they won’t be intimidated by the bright lights (I.E. MISSING 13 FREE THROWS AND 20 THREES IN AN 8 POINT GAME).
- One of the thing this team has done best is create artificial value in its players. Everyone knows Boston needs a star, and Trader Danny not only has a buttload of draft picks, but also a bunch of valuable role players who just helped a full squad of bench-level talent reached the playoffs. Guys like Jae Crowder, Brandon Bass, Evan Turner, Jonas Jerebko, Jared Sullinger, and Kelly Olynyk will never have more value than they do now – any one of these guys is a nice bench piece for a contender and can serve to bring in more assets or help facilitate a trade for a legit star.
The big question for the Celtics is: What’s next? After shattering everyone’s expectations for 2015, the Celtics look to the 2016 season full of promise. Let’s break down the Celtic’s roster and see what they might do in the coming months.
Step One: Should they stay or should they go?
THE CORE: GOING NOWHERE Barring the possibility of nabbing a top-5 talent, here are the players I see being stubbornly held out of trades by Danny Ainge:
- Marcus Smart: This should come as a surprise to no one. While his numbers weren’t particularly impressive, Marcus made some huge fans in Boston with his hustle, defense, and tenacity. Whether it is sucker punching Matt Bonner in the balls or somehow out leaping seven-footers for two-handed putback throwdowns, he’s the total package. I love this kid. He could be the next Paul Pierce. He needs to work on his drive and kick game and solidify his outside shooting, but in 5 years he could be a perennial all-star and a first team all-defender.
- Avery Bradley: It seems like Avery has been around forever, but he’s actually two months younger than me. He turns 25 right around the one-month mark of next season. So far, in six seasons, we’ve seen him go from a bit role-player who brought insane defense and an equally insane lack of any offensive skills to the Celtic’s leading scorer two years running. His 3P% dropped slightly this year, from just shy of 40 to about 35, but that is not a red flag. We’ve got him at a reasonable contract for the next 3 seasons, which will take him into his prime as an athlete [I am mystified by people that hate Avery’s contract. It’s no “bargain” but it’s exceedingly reasonable, especially as the cap is set to jump $20million next year. Now if we can get him to quit it with the long twos]. I am excited to see what the new Avery can do when he can play his game instead of having to carry a scoring load.
- Tyler Zeller: This is a personal one for me, but Zeller is a keeper. Offensively, he progressed so much so fast this season that I was astonished. He will never be Marc Gasol, but he can be a solid rotation big man on a championship team, and helps provide significant offensive burst in the paint. His little lefty floater, in particular, is both deadly and unstoppable. The range on his jumpers is increasing steadily. If he could bulk up and learn to play a little defense, he might be good enough to start in the future.
- Isaiah Thomas: The little spark plug was essentially the reason we made the playoffs. He’s got stones. Without his crunchtime scoring, I’m not sure this team makes it past Indiana or Charlotte. He’ll never be a starting cog on a contender, unfortunately, because as much as I love him he’s still pushing 5’9”. I would place Thomas as a significantly better version of Jason Terry, one who can create shots for an entire team, get to the line at will, and drain steezy late game buckets on people’s heads. AKA, something every good team needs. His contract is unbelievable, and I just don’t see him going anywhere unless it’s as part of a package for a bonafide superstar.
YOU COULD TALK ME INTO IT: ON THE BUBBLE
- James Young: If I were Danny Ainge, I would probably put Young in the category above. I love the kid. He’s going to be an incredible scorer when he fills out. He’s already a knockdown shooter, but his defense is so bad it’s not even worth playing him. Luckily, he’s 19. I put him on the bubble because his upside is enough to gain more than he is worth in a trade. Of Young + the four guys above, I think Young is the most likely to be traded because he represents the biggest unknown. That said, I hope we keep him. In 3 or 4 years he could be one of the better scorers in the league. Now, about that defense…
- Kelly Olynyk & Jared Sullinger: I’m putting these two together because one of them is going to be gone, almost for certain. I have no idea which it will be. Kelly brings you a versatile scoring big man who can dribble, shoot, and play terrible defense. Sully gives you a better down low scoring threat, better rebounding, but worse shooting and probably even worse defense. These guys max out as bench contributors and could be nice pieces for a team that needs big-man offense off the bench. While I think Sully is the better player, I think he has eaten his way towards being more likely to be traded.
- Brandon Bass: Brandon Bass has won me over in recent years. He has hand like bricks, but he defends like a maniac and attacks the rim hard. This season he improved his midrange shooting and began experimenting with a corner 3. Like the rest of this roster, Bass could be a nice energy big man off the bench of a contender. Equally, he could remain on the Celtics and do what he’s been doing for four years, which is also nice.
- Jae Crowder: I love Jae. He’s got great hustle, he’s a decent shooter, and he’s a team player. Absolutely a player I would love to see back next year. The flipside of the issue is that President Stevens has created an insane amount of artificial value for Crowder. He’s not going to get the open shots he got in Boston, and he’s probably not going to play the role he played in Boston either, but he played well enough in Boston to make people think he might. So while I expect Crowder to be back, if he’s a player a team wants in a trade for a big gun, sayonara.
BYE BYE BIRDIE: 100% GONE
- Evan Turner: Let’s start off the good-byes with my least favorite member of the 14-15 Celtics. I can almost 100% guarantee that Evan Turner will not be a Celtic next season, and while I appreciate what he did for our team this year, we all saw the reality of Evan Turner when he was massacred by LeBron in the playoffs. You cannot win with Evan Turner running your offense. He’s the type of player who can only be successful with the ball in his hands… but even with the ball in his hands he’s not much to watch. Against crappy Eastern Conference teams he’ll occasionally go off. Against real competition… good luck. The only worry I have is that all the work Stevens did rehabbing Turner’s image and game is going to go to waste because of how utterly dominated he was by the Cavs. Just as long as he plays somewhere else, I’ll be happy.
- Jonas Jerebko: Jonas brought some versatile scoring this season and proved he has the skill to be in the NBA. He’s small for a stretch 4, but he works the pick and roll game well. He crashes to the hoop quickly off the roll, often getting left alone for easy dunks by defenders worrying about the ballhandler. He’s also got some nice outside shooting and can really stretch the floor. He’s an ideal bench piece for a contender in that he can play multiple positions, has a high basketball IQ, and is a damn good shooter. We’ll get something for him, but I’m also reasonably confident that our first round pick will be just as good.
- GiGi Datome & Shavlikh Randolph: Do I need to say more?
- Gerald Wallace: With his albatross contract morphing into a giant expiring deal heading into the biggest offseason in NBA history, Wallace is going to be the lynchpin of whatever big trade we can make. He will generate a trade exception, as well as expiring cap space that will be useful to someone entering the Year of the Cap Jump. Theoretically, a big trade to net a big player would be with a team with an unhappy star in no-man’s land looking to blow things up [SEE: SACRAMENTO KINGS]. 10 million in expiring contracts looks good going into a summer where the cap jumps 20 mill.
- Who’d I forget? Anyone? Gone.
Part II will come soon, focusing on FA/trade targets, and Part III will cover the draft. Stay tuned.