No two people walk the same path through life, just as no two NBA teams rebuild their roster the same. The league today stands in three tiers of teams; Contenders (teams that have a shot at winning), Pretenders (bottom seed playoffs, playoff hopefuls), and the Rebuilders (teams not trying to make the playoffs for the sake of lottery dreams).
Rebuilding methods have long been discussed on twitter, reddit and anywhere else a forum exists for such dialogue.
However which way you feel about the proper way to build a team or acquire that superstar, the Celtics are doing it their way; upgrading assets through players with healthy contracts or draft picks. Last year’s team performed like the Indians in the movie Major League, a team expecting to lose but banded together out of determination to make the playoffs. This caused a lot of moans and groans from the camp “build through the draft lottery”.
Danny Ainge knows (see 2007) that having great odds in the lottery won’t guarantee you a super star (Celtics had the 2nd best odds and landed the 5th pick). People who didn’t like the Celtics making the playoffs believed it would hamper their chances at lottery (which it did) and they blame Ainge’s trade for Isaiah Thomas, who has a very attractive contract and produces with the top level players in the fourth quarter. Isaiah’s arrival in Boston started the turn and made this team a playoff team.
The same people who blame Ainge for this also forget he moved Rondo and Green, two quality players who would have helped them fight for an 8th seed regardless of the moves. Instead, he trades those players in a series of trades that ended with Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and more draft picks, bringing their total number of picks over the next three season to potentially (because of all the rules with protecting draft picks) 14 total picks, seven of these being first rounders with potentially four first rounders in 2016.
What I say to the camp “build through the draft” that disapprove of his job this season, look at the number of draft picks he has next year. Granted, the Celtics failed to move up in the draft this year but you can’t blame Ainge especially hearing the type of deals that were turned down for a player like Frank Kaminsky. Ainge is giving himself the best chance to improve through various methods, by drafting and trading.
I won’t even jump into the debate regarding playoff experience and the importance of it because you have two sides, at least in my eyes. Analytic nerds who swear by mathematics over the eye test versus the “old school” thought of watching games. I’ve asked many people around the game this question and every single one of them whom has ever coaches or played will tell you the importance of playoff experience. However, playoff experience doesn’t land you a lottery pick and that’s the analytics side of the debate.
How good can the Celtics be next year is one of the most interesting questions I find heading into this season? This is a team with a coach who’s received praise from some of the league’s best players.
“I highly respect their coaching staff and especially their head coach,” James said. “A very well-coached team, he put those guys out there every night and put them in position to win the game and I think Brad Stevens is a very good young coach in our league.”
He has also has received praise from various coaches around the league.
“It’s a maturation for the Celtics,” Hubie Brown said. “Basically a new system that Brad’s putting in and they’re starting to figure it out more and more all the time. But the good thing is while they’re figuring things out, getting used to each other in a system, they’re bringing their energy and competitiveness every night.”
“They kept fighting. That’s what makes their team impressive with Brad (Stevens) and his staff. They really do a good job of fighting and competing. They stayed with us and made it uncomfortable in the end,” said Kerr.
There is no doubt that Brad Stevens has been the right man for this transition. This is a time where Ainge will be shuffling the roster around, bringing in a lot of young guys hoping to land a star or great role player, and trying to fit into the modern style of the NBA, a faster paced offense, making Stevens a perfect fit.
I believe that a lot of people overlook systems when it comes to building a team. We have seen many great stars (Carmelo Anthony anyone?) come into this league with no success. However, we have seen teams use a system and be competitive each year, even with their stars aging and slowly declining (Spurs, Bulls). That is why it’s important to build a team through various methods, drafting and improving assets through acquisitions.
Ainge has put together a team that is more suitable for Stevens style of play. He moved players that didn’t fit the hybrid system and found players that would. The style of offense Stevens uses is a flex offense with a lot of motion. As noted by many scouts last year, the system is relatively easy but Stevens ability to throw in many little tweaks and wrinkles is what makes it effective. On top of that, the players rarely vary from the instructions.
Note: The Flex Offense is a system that was developed in the 70’s. It is a patterned offense relying on cuts across the key (called a “flex cut”) and down screens to create a “pick-the-picker” action.
Winning 40 games last year when the Celtics had over 40 different guys on the roster at one point or another is pretty remarkable. To have everyone buy in is one of the hardest things to do. Most teams do not run a solid 10-man rotation. A lot of opponents mentioned that the Celtics play hard and fast, a tribute to Stevens style. They didn’t mean that he pumped his players to try harder by giving rally speeches. It means that Stevens was able to use a 10 man rotation to keep everyone fresh and competitive knowing they need to prove they deserved more playing time.
This year, the additions of guys like David Lee, Amir Johnson, Terry Rozier, Perry Jones and a slimmer Jared Sullinger should help this team improve. Especially with four of these forwards mentioned being able to get up and down the court quickly (edit: 3 forwards, Sully’s condition is to be determined). That differs from the half court style forwards like Brandan Bass and half court guard like Rajon Rondo. Ainge drafted the speedster Rozier (whom a lot of people were upset with the selection) because he fits the style of play Stevens wants from his guards.
Building a team is no easy task. You have to give yourself an opportunity at the draft lottery (7 first rounders in the next 3 years), a potential trade (wait for a superstar to become available, i.e.: 2007 with Garnett) and give yourself the ability to sign a free agent (2016 offseason the Celtics will have an estimated $28 million available while only losing Lee, Turner, Zeller, Sullinger and Jones). Ainge has done very well at giving the Celtics a shot at landing a star through the three methods and that is all you can ask for, all while putting a competitive product out on the court each and every night.