Green with Envy

2014 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day
 Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

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.


Kris-STAP Me If You’ve Heard This One

Not unlike any draft prior to Thursday’s 2015 draft, the weeks an days leading up to it were full of mystery, intrigue, and desire.

The Mystery

Just what were the Los Angeles Lakers going to do with the 2nd Pick? Take the prospect that sat atop mock drafts all college season, and build around an out-of-style XXX that stated building around a big man was the way to a title?

Would they move the pick for immediate help, surrounding Kobe Bryant (in what appears to be his final season) with talented vets for one final push?

Or would they trump classic basketball convention, and adapt to the “New” NBA and draft combo power guard D’Angelo Russell, a player that seems to have all the intangibles to help this Lakers team thrive in this new era of small ball?

The Intrigue

What on Earth would the Philadelphia front office do if somehow the Lakers did take D’Angelo Russell? Would they really draft a franchise big man, for the third straight year? Would they take the Latvian sensation shooting up draft boards the last few weeks, intrigued by his combination of shooting, slashing, and basketball IQ? Or would they trade out, catapulting a completely different team to the top end of the lottery, possibly altering the rest of the draft selections from #3 down?

The Desire:

By what avenue was Phil Jackson going to start to construct the roster he had completely stripped bare just months prior? Fill a need by drafting highly recruited point guard prospect Emmanulle Mudiaye and shore up the leagues most important position for the next decade? Hope and pray that somehow Okafor slips to the Knicks and thus ushering in an era of New York’s next great Big Man? Would Phil finally take advantage of his perceived basketball connections and construct a trade to bring back multiple assets to help aid in, what has now apparently become, a rebuilding project?

He couldn’t let the merciless New York media, or rabid Knick fan base down. After all, the team’s best player, Carmelo Anthony cited his belief in Phil Jackson (and the $124 million dollar contract) as his reasoning for staying in New York when other teams offered perennial shots at legitimate title contention.


The Outcome

After the Sixers drafted Jahlil Okafor woth the 3rd pick, Phil Jackson found himself in a position of desperation: appease the fans, media, and Melo by drafting a perceived NBA-ready player, such as Willie Cauley-Stein or Justise Winslow. Or take the path less traveled, or lets face it, never traveled by these New York Knicks: Patience.

Patience and “quick fixes” have not served these Dolan Knicks well, and it’s completely understandable why Phil Jackson would approach building this roster from a different angle.


The trials and tribulations of Isaiah Thomas, Stephon Marbury, the D’Antoni Era, the king’s ransom Denver received for Carmelo Anthony to “Come Home” have been chronicled so well that it’s impossible to suggest conducting business in the same manner and expecting to yield different results.

That’s the definition of insanity.

Phil Jackson surveyed the landscape, an ultimately decided there wasn’t a player with bigger upside or more sill than Kristaps Porzingis. Sure, Justise Winslow was there, and could have been a solid role-player for the Knicks. Or WCS. But that’s not what picking at the top of the lottery is about. You aren’t trying to secure your 3rd option or 4th option. You aren’t looking for a 6th man. You are trying to find a transcendent player that will help carry your franchise for a decade, not help an injured, aging Carmelo slip into the playoffs.

To even think about passing up on a prospect like Porzingis to pacify Carmelo Anthony, who has clearly made it be known that winning is not in his top 3 priorities as a player, is laughable.

For years, the Lakers played this game with Kobe Bryant. He determined who stayed, who left, and had no problems taking an enormous chunk of the team’s salary cap when he was broken down and couldn’t play. Luckily for the Lakers, they didn’t trade every conceivable asset and draft pick, and were able to select two potential franchise guys in Russell and Julius Randle.

The Knicks don’t have that luxury.

The Knicks’ media and fans will be quick to point out Kristaps’ shortcomings: He’s skinny, he doesn’t know the NBA game.

Guess what? All these rookies need to hit the weights, and mature into their bodies. Most are 19 or 20, just a year removed from High School. If you look back on the past 5 drafts, you’ll be hard-pressed to fin a rookie that excelled his first year. Everyone takes a year or two now.

But often times the wait is worth it. Would you rather have Jimmer Fredette or Kawhi Leonard? Evan Turner or Paul George? Cody Zeller or Rudy Gobert? How about Otto Porter or Giannis Antetokounmpo?

You need to draft that franchise-altering player in most cases. Look back at the last 15 years of Knicks basketball. The only time they had anything close to a franchise player was when they overpaid for a broken Amare Stoudemire, or overpaid via players and draft picks, for Carmelo Anthony. And neither one of those transactions led to an NBA Championship.

Not even close.

Free agency should be used to address the holes of a roster: 3 point shooting, defense, depth. Not the top of the lottery, where franchises would trade 4 first round picks (Sorry Boston) just to get into the top ten.

The Knicks’ should be fine in the long run with Porzingis on board. Had he been an American-born collegiate player, he very well could have gone number one. Luckily for the Knicks, in this case, stepping outside of their box may lead to a future full of promise, hope, and maybe just a ring.