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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Celtics Lack of Trades Affects Long And Short Term Outlook

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While watching the Celtics lose to playoff teams in late February, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread. The team really has no hope to go far in the playoffs this year, and they might be stuck in this position. As teams like Toronto and Washington take steps to solidify their rosters for the rights to challenge the Cavaliers, the Celtics idly sat on their hands. Celtics GM Danny Ainge is relying on the horde of draft picks at his arsenal to come through, and the development of young players like Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart to continue, but this thought process may be flawed, for the short term, and the long term.
Short Term
By not making a trade on this year’s trade deadline, the Celtics have doomed themselves for another demoralizing early playoff exit. Last year, the Celtics lacked scoring, but could pull off Iron Man-type games where they could lock down the other team, and have a chance of winning scoring in the high 90s, but this is completely unsustainable against playoff teams who can rely on guys like Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry to pick up buckets late in the fourth.
Last year, it didn’t even take a Kyle Lowry to help their team rack up triple digit scores against the C’s; Kent Bazemore and Paul Millsap were able to out-rebound and out-hustle the young Celtics last year. So what did the Celtics do after finally shedding Jared Sullinger and not bidding on Evan Turner? They picked up the worst combination of those two guys, the ever so soft, I don’t feel comfortable playing center, Al Horford.
In last year’s playoff series, Al Horford averaged 12 points and eight rebounds per game, fewer points than Evan Turner averaged, and fewer rebounds than Turner and Sullinger averaged. Yet he’s getting paid much more than both of those guys. I’m not insinuating that the Celtics should have resigned Turner and Sullinger, but to have this delusion that Al Horford will take the Celtics farther in the playoffs just isn’t realistic.
Horford has shown very consistently over the years that he is a solid basketball player, but has a glaring tendency to disappear when it matters. Green Teamers need to come to the conclusion that Al Horford was failed bait for the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, and cannot get this team over Toronto or Washington, teams that can actually score and rebound in the clutch. Horford needs someone like Nerlens Noels to eat up rebounds, or even a Taj Gibson, players who can do the dirty work that Horford is too soft to do. The 76ers and Bulls traded those respective players for packages the Celtics easily could have offered.
I’m not going to speculate about Demarcus Cousins, because its clear Brad Stevens did not want his presence in the locker room, but Noels and Gibson are model locker room guys, and could fit in the nightly rotation. The need for a good rebounder who can score a little is so paramount to the Celtics, because it would allow the team to pace themselves, and not rely on Isaiah Thomas to beat up his body carrying the Celtics on his back. Which brings me to the long term.      
             
Long Term
Isaiah Thomas cannot carry the Celtics alone in the long term, and will not be a piece to build around in two more years. Before I can continue, I have to say I love Isaiah Thomas. He gives 5’10 guys like me mountains of inspiration, and the guy clearly bleeds green, and is an exemplary Celtic. But to say the exciting way he plays will be sustainable for two more years is a hard gamble I wouldn’t take.
Allen Iverson was able to sustain his playmaking ability into his 30s, but Allen Iverson was also a once-in-a-generation talent. Allen was able to continue his scoring deep into the playoffs, something Thomas has not shown yet in his career now, while he is at his arguable peak. Thomas’ cheap contract will also be expiring in two years; will the Celtics be able to justify paying a 30-year-old who relies on quickness and his ability to get to the rim to score? I’m not doubting Thomas won’t be a solid contributor off the bench in two years, but he won’t be a player who can be considered a “Big 3” by then, and as I have already mentioned, Al Horford isn’t a part of that club either. This leaves the Celtics with solid rotational players and depth, but no player with an all around solid game who can be relied upon in the clutch.
So where are the guys who can score consistently, or grab clutch offensive rebounds to keep the team in playoff games? If Ainge won’t trade his draft picks, it means he wants to take the long approach, and also hope the Celtics have some luck in the lottery process.
This is a smart, safe way to build a team, and it could totally play off in the long run, but it involves a lot of luck; small missteps along the way that can throw off the whole process are completely possible, and more probable. Ainge is no stranger to drafting promising players who end up being great rotational players, but stay stuck in that role. Jeff Green is an example of a player drafted in the top 10 who looked like a great prospect for many years, but was never able to be consistent.
This years draft looks very strong, but drafting the right guy and hoping he develops into a Paul George isn’t done every year. Even if the team can draft the right guy, by the time that player develops, the rest of the team will have aged too much, or become too expensive. The Celtics seem locked in a cycle of being young and very promising, but its a promise they won’t deliver upon if they don’t make the kind of moves that brought players like Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen into town.
I’ll continue to watch the Celtics and hope they can pull off some miracles and challenge Lebron for the East, but when they inevitably fail, I want to see Ainge be aggressive again, and put proven players around Isaiah Thomas, while he can still average 30 points per game. Maybe then the Celtics’ promising future can finally become a fruitful present.