Friday, May 30, 2014

The Celtics, The Draft Lottery, And Time Loops

The Celtics are re-building around Rajon Rondo. But what if they change their plans?
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

"Time is a flat circle. Everything we've ever done or will do, we're going to do over again." -Nietzsche

In 2007, the Boston Celtics finished 24-58, the second-worst record in the league. Waiting for them in the draft that summer were Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, widely considered to be among the best 1-2 in any draft in over a decade. The Celtics had roughly a 39 percent chance at a top-two pick (which seems ridiculous, considering they had the 2nd-worst record, but that's beside the point). We all know what happened. Three teams (Portland, Seattle, and Atlanta) jumped Memphis (who had the worst record) into the top three, and Boston was left with the 5th pick.

The Celtics at the time had a rather disgruntled star in Paul Pierce. The Celtics had made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002, but hadn't had nearly as much success since - they're playoff record over the next five years was 7-14, and they missed the playoffs in both 2006 and 2007. Pierce would turn 30 during the 2007-2008 season, so the Celtics decided a full-scale rebuild wasn't an option - by the time their young players were ready, Pierce would be too old to carry them. So instead of building for the future, they flipped the pick to Seattle for Ray Allen. A few weeks later, they traded their youngest, most valuable asset (Al Jefferson, who averaged a 16/11 in 2007) for Kevin Garnett. They had their "big three" and the rest, as they say, is history.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The 2014 Celtics finished 25-57, and feature a (reportedly) disgruntled star in Rajon Rondo. Rondo isn't quite as old as Pierce was (Rondo is only 27), but he's coming off a torn ACL. The Celtics didn't have quite as good odds for a top-two pick (tied for the fourth-worst record, it was roughly a 21 percent chance), but this 2014 draft is considered to have an especially strong top three, and Boston's odds for a top-three pick were a bit better - slightly over 33 percent. But we know what happened. Cleveland leapfrogged everybody and everyone else followed in order behind them, and Boston ends up with the sixth pick.

So here's the question - do we see a repeat of 2007?

The Celtics have a number of young assets - Jared Sullinger, last year's first-round pick Kelly Olynyk, two picks in this years draft (No's. 6 and 17), two picks next year (their own and the Clippers'), and two picks in 2016 (their own and Brooklyn's). They could package any number of those to try to acquire a second star to run with Rondo. In continuing the "time is a flat circle" theme, another star Minnesota big man seems to want to skip town and join a team where he has a better chance of making the playoffs.

For Boston, though, I don't think the No. 6 pick, Jared Sullinger, salary filler, and future picks is enough of a carrot to get Kevin Love. I think Minnesota would much rather try to land a 600-pound Marlin (one big asset) than two dozen trout (several smaller assets).

So what if Boston went the other way?

Instead of packaging their assets to find Rondo a running mate, what if they shipped Rondo out and went to a full-scale rebuild?

Let's assume the following scenario:

Cleveland thinks that they have a legitimate shot at re-signing LeBron, either this summer or next summer (whenever it is that he opts out of his contract - he has two Early Termination Options that he can exercise either after this season or after next season). On top of that, they assume that LeBron would rather play with veterans than young, still-developing players. Or that he'd rather play with teammates with postseason, or even better, championship experience. So, would Cleveland trade Kyrie Irving (and Anderson Varejao's waiveable contract) for Rajon Rondo and a few sweeteners (say, Boston's No. 17 pick this year, and the pick that Boston is owed from the Clippers in 2015)? Maybe not, but what if Boston threw in Keith Bogans waiveable contract and agreed to take back Jarrett Jack's albatross? There are a few kinks to be worked out, but the framework is in place.

What if Indiana wants to make a few changes this summer, and decides that (a) they want a point guard who can reliably create shots (something they currently lack), and (b) Lance Stephenson will be a bit too expensive for their tastes. Would they trade George Hill and a sign-and-trade'd Lance Stephenson for Rondo, Jeff Green, and Keith Bogans? They're already big - this would make them even bigger. Paul George would move back to shooting guard.

What about Rondo and Bogans to Sacramento for Carl Landry's ugly contract, Derrick Williams, and two of three from the group of Ben McLemore, the No. 8 pick in the 2014 draft, or Sacramento's 2015 No. 1 (let's say, with top-three protection)?

There are some deals out there. Whether or not Boston looks into them is the question. If they can't acquire Love (and it doesn't seem likely, at least right now), I think their best course of action would be to flip Rondo for the best package available.

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