I have absolutely no idea what Danny Ainge, general manager of the Boston Celtics will do this summer.
In all seriousness, there are an almost infinite number of options available to the brain trust of the Celtics, a brain trust that just received a great big vote of confidence from ownership in the form of contract extensions to both Danny Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens. They're in this for the long haul, and that's incredibly appropriate, given that this offseason could shape the franchise for the next decade. No pressure. While all the national media and casual fans that watch only nationally televised games a few times a year would try to have you believe that the Celtics are "one superstar away" from being a championship contender, or that they're only missing "one piece," I'm here to tell you that they're probably correct.
The divergence between those national opinions and my opinion is that I'm okay with that home run (or "fireworks" as majority owner Wyc Grousbeck promised a year ago) coming later. Remember when LeBron James won his second championship in the finale of an epic seven-game series against the San Antonio Spurs in 2013? He famously said after the series,
I’m LeBron James from Akron, Ohio, from the inner city. I’m not even supposed to be here.
As much as it pains me to quote the single biggest playoff enemy of the Boston Celtics in the last decade, it accurately sums up Boston's current position. Two years ago, the Celtics were holding workouts to see who they'd pick with the sixth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft after a train-wreck season highlighted by a Jeff Green game-winner. At the time, the fanbase was more divided than ever having to pick between rooting to lose and rooting to win. Two years later, they wrapped up a 48-win season building off of the momentum of last year's 40-win team. Solid progression, and it came at a rate that no one expected. For the most part, especially after trading away Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, we seemed to expect another few years of mediocrity. That's not what we got, and the team pulled together to put a fun and competitive product on the court while still retaining future assets. What's not to love?
Why ruin it?
For most other teams, a 48-win season is a success, especially for a rebuilding team. If, say, the Orlando Magic won that many games this year, we'd be touting them as one of the greatest stories of the season. They didn't; Boston did. Why don't they get the same hooplah? Because instead of relying on player development like Orlando is/will likely continue to do, the Celtics have led people to believe that there has to be a major move to be made. In other words, there's no patience when it comes to Boston. And that's fine because as fans of the first team in green, we've been spoiled with a rich history and a near-constant state of contending (the 90s never happened). Eventually, a major move will be made and Boston will return to being one of the top-3 teams in the NBA. They've positioned themselves to do that.
The Celtics have gotten here through making smart, future-proofed moves. The Celtics became a 48-win team because of a roster that overachieved greatly last year and improved heading into this year. That's a big deal for people who aren't so laser focused on the pursuit of another star. The truth is, unless there's some major falling out somewhere or Kevin Durant miraculously chooses to forego a lot of money this summer to play for Boston (pending other moves), a major star isn't coming in a blockbuster. None appear to be available. If Ainge makes a major move, it'll be for a guy who isn't a star yet (a la James Harden). I'm here to tell you that's okay.
Boston has the Brooklyn Nets' draft picks for the next two seasons after their #3 selection this month. They have all major players (the ones behind their 48-win season) locked up on contract until at least 2018. All of those players are still young with room to improve. 50-win teams are generally considered playoff contenders (this year's OKC Thunder won 55 games). The point is there is no need to rush.
Ainge can afford to take his time and try to hit home runs with the Nets picks, especially in next year's super deep draft. Ainge can try again in 2018. In 2019, the Celtics may have Memphis' pick conveyed to them, and who knows where that team will be a few years from now. Ainge doesn't have to gamble. He set himself up to take his time to get Boston back to contender status while the players on the court continue to pave their own way there. Because of that, Ainge can draft for upside.
There's no pressure to win now with a limited window that's closing. Ainge has opened the window, and unless he gambles away all of those assets, that window isn't closing soon. With the third pick, he doesn't need the most NBA-ready player. He needs someone who could develop into the star they're looking for. The entire Celtics roster is composed of NBA-ready role players. Ainge can approach this year looking for a player who has the highest ceiling.
What if he doesn't pan out? That's fine; he still gets a useful NBA player and/or a trade asset. He also gets the chance to try again next year, or consolidate with trades. If it does pan out, a near-50-win team gets even scarier.
All of this gets thrown out the window if Ainge has the sure-fire opportunity to get a bonafide superstar like Kevin Durant this summer (not likely). That makes sense because you know what you're getting for a superstar who already has been league MVP and is only 27. That shortens the window, but it also gives a near sure-fire attempt at Banner 18.
The point is, just wait. Ainge has put himself in this position to get a generational talent. He can continue to look for that while allowing the youngest team in the playoffs this year to continue to develop. The product should be basketball that keeps fans watching for a long time to come. I still have no idea what Ainge will do this summer, but man, it's fun to be here for the ride.