The Celtics made the Eastern Conference Finals with the roster of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, and Al Horford. When they finished with 25 wins just three years ago, I never imagined that they’d be where they are now, especially considering who they are doing it with. Despite this unforeseen success, this success is not bound to last, and if it does, Lebron will still be there to keep us at bay.
“Why don’t we parlay the #1 pick for Paul George or Jimmy Butler?” you’ll probably say in response. That would surely put us in contention, right? Having either of these players would surely catapult this team to elite status, for the time being. I want this team to have sustained, long-term success. With a #1 pick in their grasp, and a draft that appears to have two possible stars in the making, the Celtics could continue on the route their on and prepare this team for years to come. Here are a few reasons that back up my reasoning for using the #1 pick:
Lebron is Not Slowing Down
For all you New England Patriots that read this (including myself), consider Tom Brady at the age of 39 saying he plans on playing another 2-4 years, with no immediate signs of falling off his elite status. Lebron James is 32 and playing the more refined basketball of his career. As much as I hate to compare the two, who’s to say Lebron can’t continue to produce the way Brady is at the age 39? If you’re the Celtics, you need to plan for the worst, and that is Lebron playing at an elite level for 6-8 more years. Not to mention other teams in the Eastern Conference are quietly building their own teams for the post-Lebron (Milwaukee Bucks & Philadelphia 76ers primarily).
This isn’t to say the Celtics shouldn’t go after a strong free agent this off season. It’s feasible to sign a max contract and still retain Isaiah Thomas after next year. At the time Horford’s contract runs out, there will be cap room to retain whoever blossoms out of the two(maybe three) top five picks we will have on this roster.
Isaiah Thomas (and others) are due for a Pay Day
Along with Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart will all be free agents at the end of next season. Thomas will get a max contract (whether is with this team or another), Avery Bradley could very well earn $20 million+/year, and Smart could exceed $15+/year with an excellent showing next year. It’s unlikely they’d get much for either in a trade that doesn’t include the #1 pick, so the added insurance of another top five pick makes letting two of these three guys go a little easier. It also opens up minutes for Jaylen Brown or Markelle Fultz/Lonzo Ball to grow (Please God, let it be Fultz) to grow in a starting or six-man role.
If the plan is short-term, you cash in Avery/Marcus along with the #1 pick this year for an elite player. Long-term plan, you keep the core of this team intact for now, and let go of whoever management deems to be expendable in next year’s off season. This team needs to be Golden State-level to compete with Lebron and the Cavaliers, but how much of the team would they need to trade to get there?
Trust the Process 2.0
Not even the Philadelphia 76ers can simultaneously rebuild while also remaining competitive. That’s the opportunity the Celtics have been presented with. The team created in 2008 wan an “all-in” move, a last ditch effort to get into title contention before Paul Pierce would begin to decline. They didn’t have multiple top-five picks at their disposal and they certainly didn’t have Lebron at his peak. Cashing in our chips with the Lebron at his peak and Golden State playing like the best team ever would be silly. You cash in your chips out of desperation, when it is the best possible option presented.
Ainge has reached the hardest stage of the rebuild as there truly is no perfect move. With the options presented, there are plenty of variables that could affect the trajectory of this team. The optimal route to take is the one that gives the Celtics the most control. Drafting potential superstars is what Brad Steven’s would want as a coach because they are impressionable. They have minimal biases that a veteran superstar coming to this team for the first time would have.
While potential doesn’t always matter, the options being presented to the Celtics provide immense potential for a bright future.