Celtics fast tracking rebuild thanks to Trader Danny
BOSTON -- Trader Danny, the man that swindled his old pal Kevin McHale and the Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett, who jacked three first-round picks from Billy King and the Nets for the shell of Garnett and a faded Paul Pierce, who got the Clippers to cough up a first rounder for Doc Rivers, was at it again on Wednesday. Danny Ainge, the Celtics' wheeling and dealing president, shipped Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks to Golden State in a three-team deal that brought Joel Anthony, a second-round pick and a conditional first-round pick back to Boston.
What, you don't care? You will. In a matter of months, Ainge has deconstructed the last pieces of a proud title contender and put the Celtics in position to be back in the playoff picture in a year and, with a little luck, in conference contention soon after.
Look at the assets the Celtics now have to play with. They have a pair of first-round picks in '14, '15 and '16. That conditional first-round pick from Philadelphia will transfer to Boston if Philly makes the playoffs this season (not happening) or next (not out of the realm of possibility), and becomes two second rounders if they don't. And speaking of second-round picks, the Celtics have a haul of them over the next few years, too, including the '16 second rounder Miami sent their way for taking Anthony's salary off its books.
The Celtics are spiraling towards the Eastern Conference cellar -- Wednesday's 88-83 win over Toronto snapped a nine-game losing streak and improved Boston to 14-26 on the season -- but that doesn't mean the roster is devoid of talent. Far from it. Against Toronto, Jared Sullinger, the maligned ex-Buckeye whose balky back caused him to slip all the way to No. 21 in the 2012 draft, posted 25 points and 20 rebounds. Often playing out of position, Sullinger has had a strong ssecond season, and if he stays healthy can entrench himself at power forward for years to come. Throw in Avery Bradley (who has added a polished perimeter game to his bulldog defense), Kelly Olynyk (inconsistent, but showing flashes of offensive potential) and Vitor Favarani (same) and Boston has a decent young nucleus for Ainge to play with.
That's what Ainge will do, of course. You don't collect this many assets to keep them. You do what Ainge did in 2007, when he traded five players and two first-round picks to Minnesota for Garnett, right after he shipped the rights to Jeff Green (he's back too, by the way) to Seattle in a package for Ray Allen.
Those moves worked out alright, didn't they?
Ainge is going to go star hunting, and with what he has to deal he may be able to get more than one. There is plenty of buzz that Ainge likes Utah's Gordon Hayward, the Brad Stevens-coached Butler product who will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. There are the 2015 free agents like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge, who could be in play if Minnesota and Portland fear they may not be able to keep them. And there is always that wild card, the star you don't think is available until a team suddenly tells you they are. Just ask the Nets, who had just been beat by the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony when they found out Deron Williams was on the market.
Yes, the Celtics are well positioned to rebuild rapidly, and there is really only one way Ainge can screw it up: Trading Rajon Rondo. Across the league, rival executives believe that Ainge will eventually put Rondo on the trade block. He turns 28 next month, is a four-time All-Star, a basketball maestro (Erik Spoelstra's words, not mine) and plays the NBA's most valuable position. When Rondo proves he is fully recovered from an ACL injury -- and there is no reason to think he won't -- he will instantly become one of the most coveted trade pieces out there.
So why trade him? Critics of Rondo say he is high maintenance. How many stars are not? Chris Paul forced Vinny Del Negro out and has battled with Blake Griffin. The Big Three in Miami were griping about Spoelstra after only about a month of playing for him. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard just muddled through one of the most dysfunctional seasons in history as teammates. Is Rondo a natural leader? Probably not. Is he, when healthy, one of the five best players at his position? Absolutely. Before Boston decides to deal him, they should think long and hard about how difficult it will be to replace him.
You build around players like Rondo, who by the way can't be a free agent until the summer of '15. You keep this year's pick, hope the team sinks far enough in the standings to get into the Jabari Parker-Joel Embiid-Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes and you build around them. You have a coach who excels at player development. Some in the national media (cough, cough) expressed skepticism that Stevens could make the jump from mid-major Butler to the NBA, without a minute of assistant coaching experience. But Stevens developed Crawford from a gunner the Wizards were willing to hand over for spare parts last season into a playmaker with a better assist-to-turnover ratio than Jrue Holiday, Tony Parker and Damian Lillard. That's impressive.
More changes are a coming in Boston, perhaps before next month's trade deadline -- Kris Humphries and his $12 million expiring contract have been getting an awful lot of playing time over the last month -- perhaps over the summer, perhaps early next season. Trader Danny is armed to the teeth with assets, and it won't be long before the type of player comes on the market that will make him want to pull the trigger.