Unsurprisingly, the Boston Celtics didn’t make a splash in free agency this summer. Danny Ainge wasn’t meeting with LaMarcus Aldridge, and Isaiah Thomas wasn’t out to dinner with DeAndre Jordan. Greg Monroe wasn’t in rumors connected to this team. Not one big name was even interested in Boston this summer, and that’s just the way it goes.
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That’s not a bad thing, though. Brad Stevens has found a young, talented roster that works for where the Celtics are right now. There are some issues on this roster, but the Celtics aren’t looking for Jordan to fix the interior defense.
Ainge isn’t the type of general manager renowned for his charisma in negotiations with big names, miraculously luring them to Beantown. That’s just not how he operates. However, he does operate in a long and steady process of acquiring assets, slowly building a contender.
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This method has been under fire when put to extremes, like Sam Hinkie has done with the Philadelphia 76ers, but Ainge has perfected the process by building up a stockpile of young players and draft picks, while trading away players right before their prime ends.
Let’s step back a few months, back to late December. Rajon Rondo, an enigmatic but talented point guard and the last member of the 2008 title team, is traded to the Dallas Mavericks after a pretty disappointing season. Most Celtics fans are enraged with the front office after this trade, that appeared to be heavily lopsided.
All the Celtics received were players seen as bench players, and above the deal was centered around just draft picks. How could they only get that for Rondo?
Some time passes, and the Mavericks come to know the secret of Rajon Rondo: he’s just not the same as before. The Mavericks did not receive 2008 Rondo, they received a new disaster.
Seen as a talented young star before the dismantling of the Big 3 and an ACL injury, Rondo just wasn’t the same after. He didn’t do anything but pass. Assists were his sole motivation, scoring was secondary. Even then, he barely could score. Point guards who can’t shoot are a thing of the past, as the league shifts towards a more shooting-centered game.
The league’s MVP, Stephen Curry, is a point guard who excels at shooting, and makes plays. Rondo’s game worked a few years ago, with three Hall of Famers catching his passes, but it was a disaster in Dallas.
Feuds with Rick Carlisle, disappointing games, and the worst playoff performance of his career came on the Mavericks for Rondo. He did not become the offensive catalyst that would make the Mavericks contenders, he instead became a burden that got benched in Dallas’s first-round loss against the Houston Rockets.
Back to what the Celtics got, things also changed. Jae Crowder, who was just a bench player before the trade, showed off his rabid defense and became a key player for the Celtics. Brandan Wright just wasn’t going to play in the loaded frontcourt Boston had, so he was in turn flipped for two second-round picks.
The picks? Boston received two first-rounders, a 2015 protected pick that Dallas ended up keeping, but they also received a 2016 top-seven protected pick, which may fall into Danny Ainge’s hands come draft night.
Following the last-minute change of heart by Jordan, who went back on his commitment to sign with Dallas and returned to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Mavs were left with only Wesley Matthews being signed, and lost their star big man Tyson Chandler to the Suns.
The Mavs, however, won’t be joining the ranks of the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers, teams that continuously gun for the first pick in the draft and do anything necessary to attain it.
Especially with the potential of the recently waived Deron Williams signing in Dallas, the Mavs look more like a team just out of the playoffs, like the Miami Heat or the Charlotte Hornets were this year. Those two teams got the 10th and ninth picks, respectively.
They’re not stopping with just the Mavericks pick either. Remember over the summer in 2013, when the Celtics made a similar trade that they made with the Mavericks, that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to Brooklyn in a salary dump when Danny Ainge thought they were past their prime.
Another controversial, yet highly effective trade that netted the Celtics some players that they flipped for better assets, and THREE first-round picks, one of them in 2016’s draft. The Nets are just looking to develop the young talent in rookies Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Ryan Boatright, but there’s little talent to contend in the playoffs this season.
For the past few years, the priority has been to just be financially stable, and to disassemble the most expensive team ever constructed.
With the buyout of Williams and the trade of Mason Plumlee to the Blazers, the Nets look like they might be entering tank mode for the upcoming season. The pick they trade the Celtics is unprotected, so the Celtics could possibly get a top pick in the draft if the ping pong balls land the right way.
So, when evaluating this year’s offseason, go beyond the acquisitions of David Lee and Amir Johnson. It wasn’t about re-signing Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko, or even the draft.
It’s about what happened inadvertently, the build up of all of Danny Ainge’s work over the past year, transforming a team that struggled into a totally different squad with a bright future, and a situation that could land the Celtics two great young players next year.
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