Two things happened last week to get the attention of slumbering Celtics Nation.
The second was the draft lottery, where the curse continued for the Celtics. Instead of getting a lucky bounce they got the sixth pick. That left them one shy of the BIG 5 in this supposedly otherworldly draft. Tank advocates had dreams of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid dancing in their ends, but instead it’ll probably yield a 2014 version of Andrei Kirilenko in Arizona’s Aaron Gordon — a high motor defensive forward and rebounder with questionable shooting ability. Possibly a nice piece for the mix, but it’s hardly worth flushing an entire season down the drain. As I said in October, tanking was hardly a lock to get a top pick, and that’s why I wanted Danny Ainge to start using his horde of first-round picks right away instead of waiting as he’s done. The reasoning was, it’d make Boston a more attractive landing place today for the final big-time piece to make them a contender next year. But now all that stands between them and lotteryland again next year is Danny pulling a KG-Ray Allen rabbit out of his hat.
It’s what makes the first piece of news from last week, that star T-Wolves forward Kevin Love is sick of losing and wants out of Minnesota, a bit galling. If Danny had acted to get the second of the three foundation pieces either last summer or at the trade deadline instead of tanking, they’d be in a much better position to get Love and closer to contending. Time will tell, but I say waiting was a big mistake.
This news leaves two questions to be answered: What to do with the sixth pick, and can get they get Love? Here are a few of the sub-plots to be considered:
What is the Value of the Sixth Pick? The fifth in 2007 yielded Ray Allen, which convinced Kevin Garnett to come after first rejecting the notion. So, sixth in the deeper 2014 draft might be enough to bring an important player in a trade. If they use it, the sixth spot has been mostly an astonishing wasteland of Jan Vesely, Sharone Wright-like bad picks over the last 40 years, although the Celtics have gotten a good player the three times they’ve been there. In the Duncan draft of 1997, they took Ron Mercer, who was a good player there, but when Paul Pierce came a year later he was expendable. A year earlier they took Antoine Walker, who delivered pretty good value until he fell in love with his 3-point shot, which led to his leaving town. Plus, since Kobe Bryant went seven picks later, it could also count as a disaster. The first time they had it was 1979, when they took a fellow named Larry Bird, who turned out OK, don’t you think?
Is It Feasible to Get Love? Danny has the ammo to get it done, so it’s possible. But long-term, unless he gets a more reliable wing scorer and better defensive center, the real question is why would a guy who’s sick of losing sign an extension with a team that lost 16 more games than the one he wants to get away from?
How Good is He? I loved (no pun intended) how he played in the Olympics when he was the best rebounder and blended nicely with the other big-time scorers — he’s a team player. But the question is if he’s so good, how come he’s never been to the playoffs? The answer: Like almost everyone, he needs to have enough good players around him to win. That makes him in my estimation a high-end foundation player and not a franchise player.
What is a Franchise Player? There are two types. In the first category are Lew Alcindor, Larry Bird, Shaq and Tim Duncan, whose arrival on a team led to a gigantic leap in wins over the previous year. The second is a big acquisition of a big-time player that got a team over the top, like KG in Boston in 2007, when they went from 16 wins to 67. Though it’s important to remember while KG changed the culture, another big-time player in Ray Allen was also added to the team.
Consequences of Trading for Him: There’s going to be a lot of competition, which will make it even more expensive. Paying too high a price could make it harder to get that needed third foundation player. It’s going to include first-round draft picks for sure and most likely Jared Sullinger. I’m OK with the sixth pick and Sully being in a deal, but not Sully, Kelly Olynyk, the sixth and two other first picks as I’ve heard. They also have $5 million in salary cap relief to dangle in Keith Bogans’ non-guaranteed contract. The first-round picks I won’t give up are the ones from New Jersey, because with KG likely retiring and Paul Pierce a free agent, they’re headed for the lottery, which could make them good fortification picks for a contender.
Should They Pull The Trigger If They Can? In my master plan I viewed him as a final piece to the puzzle and had him on the radar as a free agent target for next summer when all he’d cost is money/cap space and not the player/draft pick assets he’ll cost now. But if you wait for that, he’ll probably be taken off the market by whoever trades for him. So as long as the price still allows them to get the other needed pieces from Danny’s cache, go for it.
The Contenders: If he stays a free agent: the Lakers, who have big cap space now. But if not: San Antonio — if Tim Duncan retires. Golden State, who wants him bad. But the No. 1 competitor is the Clippers, who could go straight up for Blake Griffin to give Minnesota a surefire talent/drawing card in return.
Email Dave Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.