The Boston Celtics are in a unique situation. They are currently the second seed in the Eastern Conference and, thanks to the Brooklyn Nets, have the best odds of landing the first overall pick in the upcoming, loaded NBA draft. Not only do they have a chance to add a future superstar via the 2017 draft, but they have the 2018 Nets pick, projected in the top 5 again, and the third overall pick from the 2016 draft, Jaylen Brown, who is a Rookie of the Year candidate this season. Clearly the future is bright, but so is the present: Isaiah Thomas is second in the league in scoring, Al Horford is one of the best big men in the game, Jae Crowder is shooting an incredible .46/.40/.84, and Avery Bradley has continued to play at an all-NBA defensive level and has drastically improved his offensive game this season. Their bench is one of the deepest in the league, and Brad Stevens appears to be the next great NBA mind. So, at first glance, the idea of trading for Paul George or Jimmy Butler would seem to elevate an already good team to a great one. However, a look around the league shows why the Celtics brass decided to stand pat last month.
Things are good for Boston. However, things are better elsewhere. In this NBA super-team era, only teams with multiple superstars will raise the O’Brien trophy. Of course, the Warriors top the list given a starting lineup featuring four All-Stars, but the Spurs, Clippers, and Cavaliers also possess multiple stars in the midst of their primes. As good as Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford are, the Celtics realistically do not have enough firepower to make a run in June. The Warriors and Cavaliers control the near future. With their current roster, the Celtics can challenge the Cavaliers, but they are certainly not the top dog in the east. So, the question becomes: when should the Celtics make their championship push? Do they go all in now hoping to overcome the Cavs, or do they bide their time, wait for LeBron to begin his decline, and hope that their young players turn into studs?
Given their behavior at this past trade deadline, it would appear that the Celtics are leaning towards the latter. Although they can make another run at Jimmy Butler or Paul George via trade this summer, the Bulls and Pacers will certainly be asking for a similar package to what the Celtics refused in February: a combination of Jaylen Brown and Nets pick(s). While perhaps boring, this choice was prudent. Maybe Butler or George would have pushed the Celtics past the Cavs this year, but then what? The Warriors would be incredibly tough to compete with even with either Boston addition. Instead, the Celtics can go after Gordon Hayward this summer without having to mortgage their future.
The Celtics are a few pieces away from becoming true title contenders, but given the current NBA landscape, it doesn’t make sense to give up a bright future for a few seasons of second place finishes at best. Pundits have long been using the term “treasure trove of assets” when describing the Celtics’ stash of picks and quality players on team-friendly contracts. Fans and analysts have been waiting for the day that the front office pulls off a blockbuster deal, shipping away those assets for a proven star. However, what fans don’t always consider is that these assets could turn into multiple superstars in a few years. As it stands, the Celtics can give the Cavs trouble and maybe steal a series. But a future Celtic team featuring Thomas, Brown, Marcus Smart, Markelle Fultz, and DeAndre Ayton would be dominant. Of course, the NBA draft lottery guarantees nothing, but three consecutive top 5 picks joining a group of solid veterans is a promising scenario. The Celtics present is bright, but the Celtics future is brighter.
- Will McBrian