So on Wednesday I wrote a real bummer of an article about why the Celtics should be cautious about trading for Kevin Love.
With the Warriors reportedly considering including Klay Thompson into their offer, it seems like the Celtics may be falling back in the race for the superstar power forward.
But all is not lost! Even if this isn’t the year where the Celtics could have the most room to make blockbuster trades or woo superstar free agents (2015 and 2016 could be more interesting), the team could put themselves right back into contention by making the right moves. Here are just a few ideas.
1. Wait to see if Joel Embiid falls to #6
It was reported yesterday that Joel Embiid, pretty much the consensus no. 1 pick in the draft despite a back injury that kept him out of the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, was struck another huge health blow, when he was a diagnosed with a stress fracture in the navicular bone in his foot.
This injury has reportedly knocked the Kansas product out of Cleveland’s considerations with the No. 1 pick, and maybe out of the Top 3 altogether.
But if Embiid somehow makes it to No. 6, the Celtics should sprint their pick to the podium with Kool and the Gang blasting from the war room.
Let’s get the downsides out of the way first. One, this is a pretty scary injury in NBA history. Bill Walton struggled with fractures in his navicular bone throughout his painfully short career. Yao Ming likewise was forced into retirement with a similar injury. Even though medical professionals have said that, in nearly every recent case, athletes have come back at full strength, it’s a bit disconcerting.
Two, he’ll almost certainly be knocked out for the entire 2014-15 season. Like Nerlens Noel, who tore his ACL prior to the draft last year, whatever team drafts Embiid will give him a redshirt so as not to risk reinjury. It’s never fun to not even see your first team pick in the draft play, but in the long term, it’s for the best.
So why do it? BECAUSE HE’S JOEL FREAKIN’ EMBIID!!
We all saw what we did in college last year, and he barely knows how to play basketball! This is a player with some crazy sixth sense footwork in the post, the length to be a defensive stopper for years in the league, who’s uncommonly graceful and swift for a big man.
Let’s be super-cynical and say there’s a 60% chance he makes it back at full force. You still have to take it. There are only so many young game-changing big men in the NBA. Let him sit on the bench for a year, the Celtics are in no rush.
This is a risky move, but one absolutely worth taking.
(That being said, would I trade up for him if I were Danny Ainge? Eh…
It’s one thing to spend a draft pick, it’s another to give up more assets for him. But you’d give it a lot of thought if he fell to 3-4)
2. If not, trade down for Nik Stauskas
Look, I love Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley to death, but would you trust either of them with the final shot of a game?
Didn’t think so. The Celtics badly need that 3-point weapon, that player whose very presence on the court will make defenses jumpy in a final minute of a game.
There aren’t really any players in the 4-7 range that fit that description, but there are two big ones that will certainly be gone before the Celtics pick again at #17: Creighton forward Doug McDermott and Michigan guard Nik Stauskas.
Both are tremendous players, and the only real reason I’d pick Stauskas is because McDermott’s 3-4 tweener is a bit harder to fit on the Celtics roster than Stauskas’ 2-3 tweener.
Stauskas put up 17.5 ppg in his sophomore season as a Wolverine, shooting a positively bonkers 44.2% from three. And remember, this isn’t some shooter who gets a ton of open looks. This was the guy who every opposing team was looking to shut down, and took most of his shots with a hand or two in his face.
What impressed me most about Stauskas last year was the added slashing/distributing element he added to his game, his APG jumping from 1.3 to 3.3. Even if the base numbers don’t show it, watching him in the postseason especially, Stauskas generated a bunch of “hockey assists”, sucking defenders out with his 3-point threat, beating them off the dribble, and finding an open man quickly.
A backcourt trio of Rondo, Bradley, and Stauskas would allow Brad Stevens to construct plenty of different looks for this Celtics offense, and give the team a knockdown shooter for years to come.
3. In the 2nd Round, take Nick Johnson
Alright, so let’s say hypothetically the Celtics pick up a second round pick in their trade down for Stauskas, or, just as likely, they buy/trade for one outright.
The second round is generally a crapshoot. For every miracle pick (Manu Ginobili) or even just steady pick (Glen Davis) there are players who are out of the league by the next season.
As such, Danny Ainge shouldn’t be afraid to take a chance. And hell if you can rack up infinity karma points in the process, you might as well.
Enter Nick Johnson, Arizona Wildcat.
First, Johnson the player: despite his slender 6’3 (generous) frame, that will give him trouble against longer 2-guards, Johnson made up for it in college with his immense athleticism and blazing speed. He can knock down the three when asked to (36.7% last year), but will make his money as a dangerous transition threat (which we saw time and time again at Arizona) and as a nuisance of a defender. Because of his size, and the depth of this draft class, Johnson will almost certainly be a second-round pick, but he could also have a long and fruitful career in the league. Immediately, he’d be a sparkplug off the bench, who could help replace Jerryd Bayless or, should he leave this summer, Avery Bradley.
But also, Nick Johnson is the nephew of Celtics great Dennis Johnson. First off, Nick’s ceiling is obviously to mimic the game of his uncle, another high-energy top defender and athlete who could play both guard spots. But in these darkest of Celtics’ times, drafting Nick could act as a sort of bridge between older fans, hearkening back for the glory years of Bird and McHale and DJ, and a newer set. Nick Johnson would be a fan favorite anyway because of his tenacious energy and playmaking ability, but his already being part of the Celtics family tree is just icing on the cake.
4. Go after Omer Asik
Believe it or not, I originally called this section, “Go After Roy Hibbert”, before I realized there was another center out there who is more readily available and can, you know…rebound.
I always forget about Omer Asik, even with the multitude of trade rumors this past winter, because he’s not exactly flashy by any means. He’ll never be a dynamic offensive player, but he does two things exceedingly well: rebound and defend. And in case you didn’t notice, the Celtics desperately need someone who can rebound and defend.
How available is he? I’d say very. The acquisition of Dwight Howard pushed Asik to the bench where he was…unhappy. To say the least.
But the Rockets are also desperate to clear up cap space, with Chandler Parsons’ epically cheap contract running out and the team’s desire to pull in a major free agent, and Asik’s salary is clogging things up.
I’m not even sure that the Celtics would need to give up a draft pick for Asik, just the Celtics’ prized 10.3 mil TPE. The Rockets would get rid of a player clearly unhappy on the bench and free up space for another star.
And the Celtics get the rim protector they so desperately need to keep up with the best teams in the Eastern Conference without sacrificing future assets.
(He also looks just enough like Judge Reinhold to be one of my favorite players in the NBA. Seriously)
5. Decide what to do about Rajon Rondo
One consequence of the Celtics not going after Kevin Love is that it decreases the chances of Rajon Rondo wanting to stick around on a team-friendly deal. And the worst case for the Celtics is that Rondo plays out the final year of his contract and then leaves in free agency.
Which leaves Danny Ainge with one question and two choices. The question: Is Rajon Rondo the future of the Boston Celtics? If so, sign him to a max extension. If not, trade him.
And both need to be done as soon as possible. The Celtics can’t play this “we’re confident” game any more with Rondo, the clock is ticking. By knowing where Rondo will be next year, they can make corresponding moves knowing what the team’s salary looks like. Also, Rondo is maybe the one reason (next to Brad Stevens) that free agents would consider Boston as a destination. By locking him down, the Celtics would announce their intention to stay competitive in the East.
Or go the other way. There are plenty of teams who would be happy to take on Rajon Rondo and who could, in return, send nice young assets or more draft picks. Again, this has a ticking clock element to it. Waiting until the trade deadline is a dangerous game, and could, in the meantime, bring down the team’s morale amongst the constant speculation.
Rajon Rondo is the one player that will change the Boston Celtics’ future, whether they will tear it all down and rebuild or patchwork a contender, but if waited on too late, could hinder the team’s chances at either.
6. Stay smart in Free Agency
Alright, now the boring part.
June and July tend to be positively bonkers, with trade rumors shooting left and right, constant smokescreening, and the bumrush surrounding the NBA Draft epitomizing the beauty and allure of an unknown future.
But the Celtics desperately need to stay calm. Kevin Love? Sure, if for the right price. Carmelo Anthony? Absolutely not.
Big moves do not necessarily make good teams. For every Big Three there’s Amare Stoudemire making 20 mil a year to sit gloomily on the bench.
There are some great fits for the team out there, but we have to keep the future in mind. And, might I add, the roster isn’t exactly a disaster.
Let’s say the Celtics don’t get either Embiid or Love, but do everything else above. Their lineup would look like this:
C: Omer Asik, Vitor Faverani, Joel Anthony
PF: Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Kelly Olynyk
SF: Jeff Green, Chris Johnson, Gerald Wallace
SG: Avery Bradley, Nik Stauskas, Nick Johnson
PG: Rajon Rondo, Phil Pressey
And that’s not including the #17 pick, who could be anyone from Adreian Payne, to TJ Warren, to a foreign investment like Clint Capela.
Or if the Celtics get Embiid, they could still trade for Asik, sit Embiid on the bench, and take a shooter like PJ Hairston with the 17th pick instead of Stauskas.
That’s a playoff team. Maybe not a Top 3 seed, but it’s something to build on for the future.
Again this isn’t the most exciting course of action, but they’re moves that will make the Celtics a better team for the long term. If we learned anything from this year’s Finals it’s that big and flashy doesn’t always win out. Celtics’ brass, including Wyc Grousbeck, have hinted that they’re willing to spend money to win, but there’s the right way and a wrong way to spend, and splurging on a “star” just because he’s a star, and maybe not a cohesive part of a team, is the wrong way.
But what do you think? Who should the Celtics go after and why? Should Rondo stay or go? Let us know in the comments, and keep reading our Celtics’ coverage by Nathan Farr.