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Can My Celtics Make It Back?
As of Sunday night, Boston Celtics are just half a game ahead of Miami in the playoff race for the eighth slot with five games left in the season. There have been many columns stating maybe the Celtics should tank the last five games as to gain three or four earlier spot in the draft. This leaves the question on what does it take to win a NBA title.
There are many ways to hit the target and the first rule is to have good management. In Boston, Danny Ainge has shown that he can win an NBA title. In 2007, the Celtics were headed toward fighting for the last lottery pick and Ainge told his coach, Doc Rivers, play the young guys and tank the season even though he probably didn’t put it that directly or at least he didn’t in public. This was the draft that featured two possible franchise players, Greg Odom and Kevin Durant. Unfortunately, the ping pong balls came up badly as the Celtic missed out on both, so Ainge traded away his young players and draft choices and came up with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to go with Paul Pierce. The rest is history. Ainge had plan A, build through the draft and had he gotten Kevin Durant, he could have combined Durant with Al Jefferson, an up and coming power forward along with Pierce and young Rajon Rondo but once it became clear there was no franchise players beyond the second slot; Ainge went to Plan B that included trading his young players and draft picks to obtain Ray Allen and Kevin Garnet. To show how building through the draft is risky proposition, Greg Odom suffered serious injuries and never fulfilled his potential but Durant went on to become a superstar first at Seattle and then Oklahoma City. 2007 was a 50/50 proposition that you would have succeeded with either Odom or Durant.
San Antonio built through the draft and used trades to pick up role players as needed. The Spurs had one advantage, the player they drafted first to begin their present run was Tim Duncan, who teamed with David Robinson to win their first of five title in 1999 and later title runs were aided by Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard; players obtained through the draft. Spurs have developed a great scouting system and been able to obtain excellent prospect overseas.
Miami Heat went the free agency route but when your free agents signed are Lebron James and Chris Bosh, free agency works. But if you signed Josh Smith as Pistons did, then it can backfire. Not that Smith is a bad player, he is not but he was not a franchise player but he was paid as one. When you signed a good player superstar money, you also hurt your ability to build a roster around that player. Cavaliers have been building through the draft since they lost James to Miami and this past Spring, they got yet another first round draft pick, but last year they won the Free Agency sweepstake as Lebron James went back to Cleveland. They traded their first round draft pick to Minnesota, who is forever rebuilding through the draft, for Kevin Love. For four years, Cavaliers were given lottery picks and before James came back they were still quite a bit short of being a contender, if not even a playoff team. Cavaliers showed the limitation of building through the draft for while they picked Kyrie Irving, who has developed one of best point guard; they also drafted Anthony Bennett, who has yet to develop and is now in Minnesota.
Being a Boston Celtic fan, I am anxious to see banner number 18 and Boston Danny Ainge has shown to be a good judge of talent in both drafting and picking up players. Grabbing Brad Stevens may have been his best move over the past couple of years but the past two years shown the limitation of the draft as once again the ping pong balls did not go the Celtic ways. So we will see how good Sullinger, Olynik and Marcus Smart developed over the next few years but they have a young coach who has adopted to the NBA game.
College coaches have often not succeeded in the NBA but part of the problem was that many successful college coaches also want a hand in selecting players. It was said that Rick Pitino the coach was undermine by the players that Rick Pitino the General Manager selected. Stevens was selected to coach but it was understood that Stevens handles the X and O’s on the basketball court and Ainge handles player selection.
Another aspect is that Ainge is not afraid to let players go and when it came time to rebuild, he was ready to part with Pierce and Garnett. This past year, he traded away Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo to continue the rebuilding process. Green has yet to make his mark on Memphis and Rondo has shown that he was not the superstar he was before his knee injuries and Ainge was not going to pay him the Max in free agency to keep him in Boston.
There are many ways to build an NBA champions but the key to rebuilding is the front office. A mediocre front office and you will always have lottery picks because you will be finishing last or near to last year in and year out. Minnesota Timberwolves, Post Garnett. When the Cavaliers resigned James, they went from lottery contenders to NBA championship contender. San Antonio has had a great front office for two decades and during the Duncan era, has consistently contended for NBA Titles. Even as Duncan and Ginobili has moved beyond their prime, Spurs still kept in contention by drafting good players to support Duncan and it doesn’t hurt to have Greg Popovich, NBA best coach, leading the team.
Ainge has shown to be good if not occasionally unorthodox General Manger and Brad Stevens may prove to the second coming of Popovich over the next decade, so the Celtics will be contenders again since they have what is needed most; a good front office.