As of the writing of this article, the Celtics are 12 games above .500.
That’s the third-best mark in the Eastern Conference.
Seems reasonable, with a talented roster loaded with All-Stars, featuring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.
But this isn’t that team.
This roster is stacked with Evan Turner, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jared Sullinger, and Isaiah Thomas. With a coach that’s younger than Kevin Garnett.
To say the Celtic’s post-Big Three rebuild has been a success would be a gargantuan understatement. Not only did the Celtics seemingly get the very best of every transaction it took to dismantle that Championship team, they didn’t sign a single bad contract, and they certainly didn’t simply hire a coach that’s “been there” before.
The hiring of Brad Stevens from Butler, following the trade of coach Doc Rivers to the Clippers for a 2015 first round pick (that turned into R.J. Hunter), the Celtics’ organization immediately proved that they were in it for the long haul. No quick fixes with savvy vets, like the Mavs have done so many times. No forcing a respected, tenured coach to oversee the development of young players in the current NBA culture that so many old school coaches can’t seem to understand, or respect.
Brad Stevens has instilled a culture into the Celtics locker room and basketball court where everyone knows their role, and executes his amazing play-calling flawlessly. The team is truly greater than the sum of their parts when they are clicking, and more often-than-not, they’re clicking like crazy.
Jae Crowder is the glue guy on a team filled with spare parts, tossed away projects, and overlooked prospects. Considered a “throw-in” in the deal that sent Rajon Rondo to Dallas, Crowder has absolutely out-played expectations and is now an integral cog in the well-oiled Celtics machine. Sacramento never bought into what Isaiah Thomas was selling, then Phoenix promptly (and foolishly) shipped him out of town once it was determined a Bledsoe/Dragic/Thomas point guard-by-committee wasn’t working and needed to be broken up.
Danny Ainge, ever the opportunist, gladly scooped him up, knowing how underpaid Thomas would be under the new rising salary cap, in relation with his then-current production. Then IT4 blew past those projections to make his first All-Star team this year, while being the Celtics primary go-to scorer.
Marcus Smart is in year number two, and has already cemented himself as a defensive bulldog who plays with a relentlessness that would have fit right in with those Garnett-anchored defenses of a few years ago.
Avery Bradley inked a four-year, $44 million dollar contract for his potential as a 3 and D guy. While his defense has never waned, this season, his three-point stroke has found its rhythym, and he has already exceeded the value of that once questioned contract.
Evan Turner has completely rehabilitated his career as jack-of-trades, after failing to live up to his draft position (Number two overall) in Philadelphia, and then in Indiana. He doesn’t shy away from the big moments, yet always seems to know when to make the right play, even if it isn’t self-serving.
Then you throw in Olynyk and Sullinger, stretch bigs that fit the mold of the ideal stretch four (or even five) of the current NBA, and you have an extremely talented, deep team that players the right way, and frankly, overachieves. That isn’t even including the three draftees selected in the 2015 draft, as well as veterans Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko.
Not only are the Celtics near the top of the Eastern Conference already, they have amassed a plethora of draft picks. The Brooklyn Banquet (unprotected first-rounders in 2016 and 2018, with swap rights in 2017), the Dallas 2016 first-rounder (top 7 protected), as well as the Celtics own first rounders for the foreseeable future, plus the multiple second-rounders coming to them from various trades, and loads of open cap space, the present and future are overwhelmingly bright in Boston.
Really, they only lack one thing. Unfortunately, that one thing is the absolute most difficult thing to acquire in the NBA. Some franchises go decades without one, while other teams are able to regularly sign them outright: an unquestionable superstar player.
Most teams draft them, and unless one of the Brooklyn picks hits that number one spot with a transcendent player going pro that summer, Boston might be forced to go another route, which historically-speaking, has never been their forte.
Taking all the forementioned players, assets, coaching, savvy front office history, and the fact that they’ve been able to build a winner before, this summer will hopefully grant them the ability to take a meeting with someone who will be one of the biggest NBA players to ever hit the open market: Kevin Freakin Durant ( shout out to @zachlowe ).
Yes. Kevin Durant.
The fact that this is even a remote possibility for Boston is a triumph. The Celtics were able to keep their team fluid and malleable, waiting for that star player to become available via trade. Disgruntled Boogie Cousins? Volatile Blake Griffin? Jimmy Butler? Paul George? It doesn’t matter. From a value standpoint, the Celtics could offer the absolute best package for any star player.
Unfortunately, that scenario has not played out as soon as most fans would have liked.
Sure, Ainge could have dealt the farm for free agent-to-be Dwight Howard, but he was never going to do that. Al Horford was apparently on the trading block as well, but Ainge preferred to keep his assets for the summer of 2016, when the Celtics may just luck their way into the number one overall pick. Or maybe they received a strong indication from Horford’s camp to stand pat with their treasure trove of goodies, and maybe Al would heavily consider signing there outright this summer. The team is much more attractive with the roster intact, instead of say, what James Dolan gave up to get Carmelo Anthony to New York instead of waiting until the summer to sign him outright, while keeping his supporting cast stocked.
Lets put Horford on the back burner for a minute, and talk about the Durantula in the room.
If Kevin Durant decides Oklahoma City will never be able to build a true Championship team around him by going in the luxury tax, Boston may be his best option. Sure, the rumors about Golden State being a potential landing spot seem to be real, but there’s no way Durant’s brand would ever be the same. He’d be simply jumping aboard the Warriors machine that’s poised to make a run at the Finals for a few years, even without him.
If people question his and Russell Westbrooks relationship and basketball fit, how would he respond to being Curry’s sidekick, along with Klay and Draymond? As salivating as the idea is, ultimately Durant is too dominant a player for a supporting role.
Boston could give him his first real taste of NBA royalty. There’s no NBA franchise with a deeper tradition and history of success. The 2008 Championship team was assembled by the same ownership and GM that are currently sitting on a pile of team-altering assets, able to tweak the roster on-the-fly to bring in the ultimate complementary players. Russell Westbrook? Horford? Anyone would be fair game. Remember, KG didn’t approve of the trade to Boston until Ray Allen was acquired. One star often leads to another in the new NBA.
Kevin Durant has never had a coach on the level of Brad Stevens. If he’s capable of squeezing this much production and success out of Evan Turner and Jae Crowder, it’s almost unfathomable what Durant could become.
Another huge selling point: Durant would escape the Western Conference, and dodge the Warriors/Spurs freight train. Setting up in the East, with a youthful roster, and Cleveland as their only true competition, Durant could conceivably find himself in the Finals year-after-year. The Eastern Conference is still a handful of years away from The Next Great Team’s emergence, and nothing is guaranteed as Lebron piles all those minutes on his aging and aching body.
Furthermore, the city of Boston would adore him. He would follow in the footsteps of the All-Timers to play, and win for the Celtics. He would be putting his career and legacy in experienced hands, as OKC continues to remind us of just the opposite with every post-Harden trade transaction.
In the end, the most likely outcome will be Durant taking a cue from LeBron, by signing a one year deal, giving the Thunder another year to prove he should resign. Short of a Finals appearance this year, and/or next, they could very well lose Durant and Westbrook, and be forced to truly feel the pressures of a small-market NBA franchise.
Boston has been waiting to choose that star player that becomes available in a trade. It would be serendipitous if the star player chose the Celtics for change.