Running with the rebuilds

Running with the rebuilds
March 28, 2014, 2:15 pm
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NBA DRAFT LOTTERY ODDS
PICK TEAM W/L TOP 3 #1 PICK
1 Milwaukee 15-67 64.3% 25.0%
2 Philadelphia 19-63 55.8% 19.9%
3 Orlando 23-59 46.9% 15.6%
4 Utah 25-57 33.7% 10.4%
5 Boston 25-57 33.4% 10.3%
6 LA Lakers 27-55 21.5% 6.3%
7 Sacramento 28-54 15.0% 4.3%
8 Detroit 29-53 9.9% 2.8%
9 Cleveland 33-49 6.1% 1.7%
10 Philadelphia (from NOR) 34-48 4.0% 1.1%
11 Denver 36-46 2.9% 0.8%
12 Orlando (from NY) 37-45 2.5% 0.7%
13 Minnesota 40-42 2.2% 0.6%
14 Phoenix 48-34 1.8% 0.5%
NOTES
  • The Celtics will also have the 17th pick from Brooklyn

Today — Friday, March 28 — is the deadline for Celtics season-ticket holders to renew their seats for next year, and with that in mind, the franchise has spent these last few weeks in an all out full court press. They’ve been everywhere. It’s like Boston’s version of 40 Minutes of Hell, with Wyc Grousbeck and Brad Stevens in the backcourt, Danny Ainge and Rich Gotham at the forwards and — THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE — nine future first round picks, connected like Voltron, taking on the form of hope.
 
From a team perspective, it’s too bad that the deadline falls during this depressing lull between the trade deadline and the lottery, but now that we’re here, one of the top priorities is to remind and assure fans that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and that — most importantly — the Celtics are well on their way to breaking through.
 
And you know what? They’re not lying. The future does look bright. And the franchise has taken every opportunity to hammer that point home. We’ll call it Operation: Shmooze and Soothe.
 
They’ve held private meet-and-greets between season-ticket holders and team executives. They live-streamed a State of the Franchise discussion on Celtics.com between Ainge, Stevens and team president Gotham. They hosted a pre-game open bar and buffet for season-ticket holders before Wednesday night’s loss to the Raptors. Free filet-o-fish sliders for everyone!
 
And in general, the message has been consistent and clear:
 
Look at our assets. Believe in our leaders. Please know that this post-Big 3 Era will not be like the last one. We’re ready for this. We’re worth the investment. And it could pay off sooner rather than later.
 
"We’re a patient group,” Grousbeck said earlier this month. “We will take a multiyear plan if that’s what it takes. But I think this June there could be some fireworks. I think this June we’ve got so many pieces to this puzzle that we might be able to shake loose a real piece or two for this team going forward.”
 
It’s impossible to hear or see Grousbeck’s words and not think back to 2007. That’s the last time the Celtics were where they are now — focused on the future and stockpiling assets for a direct route back to the top. And that summer, Boston did exactly what Grousbeck suggested they might do this summer. FIREWORKS. Less than a year later, they were World Champions. From worst to first like no franchise had before, and no franchise has since. And almost a year into this latest rebuild, it’s evident that Ainge is looking to re-trace his own steps.
 
The Celtics aren’t the Thunder — they don’t want to draft a bunch of young guys and sit back as they live and learn and grow into a contender. Nope. The Celtics are the Rockets. They’re lurking in the shadows for a superstar (James Harden) or two (Dwight Howard) to become available, at which point they’ll strike with the power of one thousand first round picks.
 
It’s like the difference between adopting a newborn calf, raising it, feeding it and eventually enjoying a delicious home-cooked steak. Or, just going to Abe and Louie’s, throwing down a wad of saved up cash and ordering a prime porterhouse.
 
Ainge wants the porterhouse. And he’s getting hungry.
 
During the season-ticket holders’ livestream, the conversation inevitably turned to comparisons between now and what happened in that summer of 2007.
 
How realistic is that the Celtics will be able to re-create the magic?
 
“I think we’re in a better position,” Ainge said. “I think it’s similar, though. We did have some good young players in Al Jefferson, who was a wanted commodity around the league. We were able to get Kevin Garnett for Al Jefferson [and] he was a big part of that.
 
“We have a lot of draft picks . . . I think our positioning is better.”
 
But is that true?
 
In terms of assets, sure. It’s hard to argue with nine future first round picks. The 2007 Celtics had nowhere near that kind of firepower. But assets aren’t everything. First of all, the worth of those assets will be determined by who’s actually available. And either way, before we can say that the 2014 Celtics are in a better position to rebuild than the 2007 Celtics, there’s much more that we need to factor into the equation.
 
For instance, these seven Cs —
 
Coach: Who would you rather have in charge: 2007 Doc Rivers or 2014 Brad Stevens?
 
The power of hindsight skews this conversation a little. Back in March of 2007, there weren’t many Doc Rivers supporters left in Boston. Lucky for him, one of them happened to be his boss (Ainge) so he survived a few tough years and reaped the benefits on the other side. And ultimately, it’s impossible to overstate the effect that Rivers had on that title. The Celtics only won because Kevin Garnett went all in. And he only went all in because he was all in on Rivers.
 
Doc sold those guys from the start, and seamlessly connected three future Hall of Famers. Boston hit the ground running, and never looked back. And even when times got tough, they were bound by a deep love and respect for their coach.
 
Does Brad Stevens have that in him?
 
We know he can coach. From a technical stand point, there may not be a brighter young coaching mind in the game. But we know that winning in the NBA is about more than that. It’s about the ability to look a multi-millionaire — a guy whose entire life revolves around the rest of the world kissing his ass — in the eye and saying: “I’m in charge. What I say goes.” Maybe (and hopefully) not in those words, but that’s the message that needs to get across.
 
If the Celtics were to follow the Thunder model and bring in young players for Stevens to mold, that’s one thing. But it’s another to bring in high-priced already-molded minds into the fray and expect the young coach to instantly re-mold them in his own form. And if the Celtics go the FIREWORKS route, that’s the biggest challenge that lies ahead for Brad Stevens.
 
Not saying he’s unprepared to do that, but it’s hard to imagine him being more prepared or capable than Doc Rivers was.
 
Edge: 2007
 
Captain: We’re talking about THE MAN. That rock. That foundation. The great player who will draw other great players to Boston, and then make the necessary adjustments (playing style and ego) once those great players arrive.
 
In March of 2007, Paul Pierce was 29 years old, and at a breaking point with the franchise. Today, Rajon Rondo just recently turned 28, and while he’s obviously had his issues, the situation still isn’t as dire as it got with No. 34.
 
The fact that Pierce was able to overcome what he did, has to leave you confident in Rondo’s ability to do the same. It does for me. I believe Rondo can lead this team. And he will, if given the chance.
 
But in pure basketball terms, who would you rather build around:
 
29-year-old Paul Pierce or 28-year-old Rajon Rondo?
 
I’ll take Pierce, and not as a slight to Rondo, but out of profound respect for just how great The Truth was in his prime. He and Rondo obviously affect games in their own unique way, but Paul’s more consistent body of work and presence as an undeniable go-to-guy gives him the edge.
 
Edge: 2007
 
Centerpiece: First round picks can only go so far. In order to make a huge splash on the trade market, you need something real. A tangible talent that will pay the other side dividends right away.
 
In 2007, the Celtics had Al Jefferson — one of the best young bigs in the game. A player that you could sell as the future of a franchise. This year, the closest thing Boston has is Jared Sullinger. And listen, the fact that we’re even mentioning Sullinger in the same breathe as young Al Jefferson is a victory for the Celtics. It’s a luxury that the team never imagined it would have a little over a year after Sullinger underwent major back surgery.
 
But he’s not Al Jefferson. And until Sullinger fully commits to getting his body right, the comparisons should probably take a siesta. That said, there’s reason to believe that Sullinger will get it together. In general, he seems to get it. He cares. And once everything clicks, get ready for great things. Even if they don’t happen in a Celtics uniform.
 
Edge: 2007
 
Competition: Ultimately, it won’t matter if the next great Celtics team is better or worse than the 2008 Champs. That team doesn’t exist anymore. The Celtics have to be the best team in today’s NBA. If a title is the goal, competition matters.
 
In 2007, the East was ripe for a takeover. You had the Pistons on top, but almost three years removed from their title and most certainly on the way down. You had two budding Hall of Famers — LeBron James and Dwight Howard — still a few years away from really coming into their own (and finding the supporting cast to get them over the hump). Basically, the Eastern Conference torch was blowing in the wind, and Ainge struck gold at the perfect time.
 
In 2014, LeBron has arrived. Who knows where he might play next, but as long as he’s in the Eastern Conference, the crown will go through him. Meanwhile, the Pacers won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. The Bulls (depending on Derrick Rose) have the talent and cap room to be an instant contender next season and beyond.
 
And if you can get by LeBron in the East (assuming he’s there), you’ll have Kevin Durant (who’s just about to reach the height of his powers) waiting for you on the other side.
 
Edge: 2007
 
Core: In 2007, the Celtics traded Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes and Sebastian Telfair, and still had Tony Allen, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe and Brian Scalabrine (laugh all you want, but he played an important role) left on the team. Five guys — and two starters — still good enough to contribute to a title.
 
In 2014, let’s say they trade Sullinger (Big Al), Avery Bradley (Delonte), Jeff Green (Wally), Kelly Olynyk (Gomes) and Phil Pressey (Telfair). Those are obviously very general comparisons, and since there’s not anyone that comes close to Gerald Green, let’s say he’s another first round pick. Now who’s left on the Celtics roster?
 
Brandon Bass? Gerald Wallace? Jerryd Bayless? Kris Humphries? The last two are about to hit unrestricted free agency, so who know what will happen with them. Either way, this roster isn’t quite as deep as the 2007 crew — and those guys still had to find Eddie House, James Posey and (eventually) PJ Brown to make things right.
 
Edge: 2007
 
Crop: The 2014 Celtics can only improve as much as the market will let them. They could have every first round pick in the world and a roster full young assets, but they can only trade for the right guy if the right guy is available.
 
In 2007, Kevin Garnett was the right guy. And it’s really important to remember just how right he was. Just how great he was. As far as I’m concerned, there are only three active NBA players who could join a roster and change everything the way that Garnett did: LeBron, Durant and Joakim Noah. And obviously, Noah is a bit of a stretch. But in terms of attitude, effort and example, he’s the closest thing to KG.
 
Kevin Love is a great, great player. And at only 25 years old, you can bet he’ll only get better. But he’s not Garnett. And where’s Ray Allen? Who is Ray Allen? Of course, we’ll see what the future holds. Crazy things can happen. If I had told you in March 2007 that Garnett and Allen would play for the Celtics that next season, you would’ve slapped me in the face.
 
But in terms of things happening right NOW. In terms of the Celtics lighting off some fireworks this June and walking away with a team that’s as capable of winning a title as that the 2007-2008 crew? I don’t see it.
 
I’m not so sure they’re in a better position now than they were back then. To say otherwise is to underestimate how much timing and good fortune played into that last rebuild. How perfectly the stars aligned on so many levels.
 
That Celtics team went from 24 wins and (after the lottery) so little hope for the future to 66 wins and a championship parade. We might never see anything like that again in the NBA, never mind just here in Boston.
 
But you know what? That’s OK. I’m not trying to be the bearer of bad news, because I don’t think the news is bad for Boston. Even if they’re not in as good of a position as they were in 2007, they’re still in a pretty damn good place. When you look around at the rest of the league’s rebuilding projects, you’re hard-pressed to find another team better suited to turn this thing around. Their combination of financial flexibility, young talent and YES, all those first round picks is unmatched. It’s exciting. This is going to be fun.
 
If you ask me, and you’re a fan, there’s no question that the Celtics are worth the investment. There’s reason to believe in the direction they’re headed and the guys in charge seeing them through.
 
I’m renewing my tickets.
 
But I’m not holding my breathe for the ultimate payoff.
 
Not yet.