Trusting In Danny Ainge’s Process
Just before the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and Cavs, I had jotted down notes after we managed to the secure the no 1 draft pick in the draft. Attempting to topple the Cavs is no mean feat, but a number one pick to a playoff team is a good position to be in.
I reluctantly convinced myself not to overreact and see out the Cavs-Celtics series before sharing my thoughts on how we’d go about getting a superstar in the offseason. 2 games in, I got my answer: not even close.
For a team so young, managing to finish above the Cavs was a great achievement. As the playoffs went on, some of our flaws we masked with effort and team play were subtly exposed. Had it not been for Rajon Rondo’s injury we might have not made it past the Bulls in first round.. had it not been for the Wizards’ role players switching off on the road for 3 entire games coupled with some poor coaching in game 7, we might have not made it past the second round. On the road against Washington, we barely made it a contest. Against the Cavs, the Irish luck ran out and a much superior team haplessly exposed us.
During the trade deadline in February, we all anticipated Danny to make a move a get player of Paul George or Blake Griffin’s calibre. To be honest, I was too eager for a blockbuster move. I clamoured for something huge. We were best placed to do it and the whole league waited to see what the Celtics do.
He decided otherwise, which had me a bit disappointed. I thought we blew a big chance to seriously have a team that could challenge LeBron, Kyrie and co: 3 months down the line, that same team finished first in the East, had THE number one draft pick, made the Conference Finals and proved yet again, that they have one of the best young coaches in the NBA. Boston and CelticsNation was buzzing on the eve of game 1 against the Cavaliers. Here we were, writing another chapter in “the aftermath of the Celtics-Nets blockbuster trade”, going into a series as the underdogs. Danny had managed to even better our position. I apologise for doubting you.
The possibilities were endless. If we were to draft, we’d be getting the best player of the 2017 class in Markelle Fultz, a point guard. But what kind of message would we be sending to star point guard and Mr. fourth quarter himself, Isaiah Thomas, regarding his future? He had been great for the team all season long, great in the playoffs, and was an All-Star. Another factor was that, considering the depth at the guard position, it would be impossible to give Fultz the minutes he demands as a number 1 pick and/or he requires as a rookie to nurture. Still, not a bad guard combo to have.
If Danny decided to use the pick to trade for a superstar, would he and the Celtics be getting value for the pick? Gordon Hayward was going to be a free agent: pursuing him and successfully getting him would mean keeping both him and Fultz. Perhaps one more superstar is all we needed to be more than just contenders in the East… I gave us a shot at winning at most two games, and probably drafting Fultz and getting Hayward in free agency in the offseason.
Then after two games against the Cavs, at home, life didn’t seem as rosy anymore. We suffered heartbreaking blowout losses, at one point being 40 points down in game 2. LeBron was a freight train who got to the rim at will and was abnormally efficient. Kyrie channeled his Uncle Drew and Kevin Love was unconscious from deep. A bulk of our offense ran primarily through IT4 and when he got closed down, we just didn’t have the talent to be effective enough on both sides of the floor. Getting one star was not going to be enough, clearly. The gap between us and the Cavs was much bigger than our seeding or playoff run had suggested.
Fast forward to 17th of June and rumours surfaced of a possible deal involving our pick and Jimmy Butler. I was really not feeling that move, but hours later fresh rumours did rounds that we were trading that pick to Philly for their number 3 pick and a 2018 first round pick from the Lakers.
I couldn’t comprehend the move at first with my minimal NBA trade knowledge, but I took a point to sit down and think about it. The trade mentioned above necessarily didn’t mean our pursuit of Jimmy Butler was done away with. We basically dropped down two places to 3rd but got another 1st-rounder for next year; and when you think of all the picks we have and the 8 players drafted last year that are stashed somewhere in Europe (apart from Jaylen Brown), this moves looks even more shrewd by the minute...
But by doing this deal, Danny has instead managed to get more assets to increase the chances of a Hayward AND Butler splash without losing a crucial cog of the core. The Bulls will surely ask for one or two of Bradley, Crowder or Smart in that deal, even though I consider Bradley and Smart important pieces that the Celtics can’t afford to give up. If we manage to pull it off, and keep IT4, Avery Bradley, Al Horford and Marcus Smart in the process, defensively we’d be very solid and lot of the offensive burden would be off Thomas. The biggest challenge would be intergrating the ball stopping tendencies of Butler in a selfless offense, but that’s a welcome challenge for Stevens and the coaching staff.
In all of this, the Sixers will draft Fultz, who may suit them better than us and will add more talent to that youthful nucleus and make them a team for the future. I’m still a huge fan of his, would have loved to see him in Celtics green, but the prospect of seeing him play alongside Ben Simmons (who will be a rookie), the Process and Dario Saric is too good to pass up on. It seems almost inevitable that they’ll pick him after a quick glance at Joel Embiid’s Twitter feed. They have the most exciting collection of young talent probably ever, and seeing them grow barring any injuries will be exciting. Trust the Process.