There was no Porzingis, no Butler, and no draft-night fireworks for the Boston Celtics. For the second straight year, the Cs used their lottery pick earned in the Garnett, Pierce and Terry trade to monotonously select a small forward coming out of college, despite a plethora of intriguing rumors centered around their high draft position. The pre-draft speculation got far more interesting on Thursday with the New York Knicks’ former President Phil Jackson announcing that the team would be entertaining trade offers on big man and budding superstar Kristaps Porzingis. Given the Celtics’ recent move of trading down to the number three draft spot, many believed that if Porzingis were to move, Boston would be a potential suitable location. On draft night, another rumor popped up involving the Celtics. Prior to his move to the Timberwolves, the Bulls reportedly offered to trade Jimmy Butler to the Celtics for the number three pick in this year’s draft, but Boston declined. While another year of drafting and developing may be the boring route to take, it is the right move for a team that should not be in win-now mode.
Despite their success this past season, the Celtics are currently building for the future. The 2014 trade with the Brooklyn Nets has allowed the Celtics to be a competitive team while they are rebuilding their young talent, which will eventually give them a chance to win a title. Notice how I called them a competitive team, not a contending team. In the modern NBA, there are two and a half teams in true contention for the title; Golden State, Cleveland and San Antonio. While the Spurs lag behind the top two, it is difficult for me to rule them out entirely. The playoffs say everything you need to know about the state on the NBA. This year, there was only one series upset in the entire tournament, with the fifth seeded Utah Jazz defeating the fourth seeded L.A. Clippers in seven games (I don’t count the Eastern Conference Finals). The last three years have featured the exact same Finals match-up. The NBA has become the worst thing a league can be: predictable. Almost a year before next year’s Finals, I predict that the Golden State Warriors will defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers to claim their second straight title, their third in four years.
The Celtics should take the state of the league into account when building their team this offseason. While their current success is exciting, the team cannot risk its chance to win a title four or five years from now in order to reach the Eastern Conference Finals now. This is not an argument for tanking, it is an argument for not being stupid. As a Celtics fan, I was praying for Porzingis to make a move to Boston, mostly because he is 22 years old. If another young, proven player is on the move, the team should use their assets to make the deal happen. However, I am not willing to give up the number three pick in a deep draft for two years of Jimmy Butler (before his contract expires and likely joins a super-team of his own). I would rather see Jayson Tatum in a Celtics uniform than Jimmy Butler, because Tatum has chance to play a role in a championship. The goal of the organization should be titles, not marginal competition. While that competition is great in the short-term, this team has amassed too many assets and has had too much of a winning history to be thinking about Eastern Conference Finals appearances over banners.
With Paul George off the table as of Friday night, the Celtics must turn towards free agency. While this is an option which will allow Boston to win in the short-term without giving up assets which may win them a championship in the future, drawing free agents to Boston has always been a challenge. In his 14-year tenure as the Celtics’ General Manager, Danny Ainge has hardly been known for his free agent signings. Before last years’ signing of Al Horford, Ainge’s notable free agents have included Rasheed Wallace and an extremely washed up Shaq. Given recent history, Celtics fans should be reluctant to fall into the whirlwind of free agent rumors. That being said, it is hard not to fall into the trap. Boston is currently one of three teams that will have a meeting with Gordon Hayward this off-season. Compared to the Jazz and the Heat, the Celtics are the best fit for Hayward from a basketball standpoint. Adding him would likely solidify the Celtics as the second best team in the East, and moving out of the West would keep Hayward away from the Golden State Goliath that swept his Jazz in the Conference Semifinals. Furthermore, the small forward is proven to work well in Brad Stevens’ system from his days playing under him at Butler.
If the Cs’ free agent woes continue and they are unable to sign Hayward, there are a few mid-level players that Boston should consider. Both Rudy Gay and Danilo Gallinari have been linked to the Celtics. I would be hesitant to sign either player to a long-term contract which would prevent the team from making moves in the future; I believe they would both be effective signings to help the team in the short-run and players would give the team a scoring boost as well as provide a height advantage over current small forward Jae Crowder (especially the 6’10” Gallinari). Despite these potential improvements and the fact that there are moves to make this offseason for the Celtics, who should look to upgrade at the small forward position, these moves could bind them financially from taking that next step of being able to vie for a spot in the Finals. They should remain the favorite for landing Gordon Hayward this July, and at the very least make a smaller acquisition if their bigger plans fall through. However, if this is another offseason of disappointment, the franchise should refrain from over-extending itself for a mediocre free agent. As far as this Celtics team is concerned, doing nothing is better than doing something which will prevent them from signing a marque free agent in five years.