Once again, Boston Celtics' Prez/GM Danny Ainge has made a shrewd, if controversial move.
The Celtics had the #1 overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Besides a little luck in the draft lottery, this was the result of Ainge's maneuvering in recent years past.
Years ago he realized the Celtics were pretty much dead in the water. Too many aging players at ridiculous salaries. So he traded them off for future draft picks while clearing a ton of salary cap room in the process.
Sure, he knew the team would stink for a while -- and it did. But he was looking years down the road. By stockpiling draft picks and making the Celtics a much younger team -- not to mention hiring a super-bright young mind in Brad Stevens as head coach -- Ainge was planning for the future.
True, the Celtics compiled the best regular season record in the NBA's eastern conference this past season. But few would doubt, likely including Ainge himself, that the Beaners weren't on the same level as Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Indeed, come playoff time, the Cavs slapped the Celts aside 3-1 in the eastern conference finals. When crunch time came, the Celts, though very good in their own right, weren't up to the task -- just yet.
And now he has traded that overall #1 pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. Who would do such a crazy thing?
But that is where Ainge's genius is showing once again. In return for that #1, Boston got the #3 overall pick in return -- PLUS another first round pick from Philly next year. Add that to the Celtics already having yet ANOTHER first round pick they acquired from the New Jersey Nets a couple years ago. Chances are, both Philly and NJ aren't going to be very good any time soon, so those picks will be high.
It's widely assumed the 76ers will go after one Markell Fultz, deemed the best overall player. At the #2 pick in the draft, the LA Lakers are assumed to have locked in on Lonzo Bell. Whoever Ainge and the Celtics determine to be the third best college player in America, or a foreign national for that matter -- you can pretty well rest assured that he will be yet another very solid brick in the house that Ainge is slowly building.
Even if Boston had a shot at Bell, chances are they would pass. Lonzo and the daddy-circus he would bring to town just wouldn't fit in Boston. The Bells are much more suited for a circus-like atmosphere -- hence the Lakers are perfect.
Hark back to the 80's, when both the Lakers and Celtics had formidable teams, though of very different natures. Out west, they even called themselves "showtime". High profile, lots of glamor and glitz with such players as Jabbar, Magic, and Worthy. Movie stars galore at courtside.
Meanwhile, the Celtics featured a more blue-collar, down and dirty going to work trio in Parrish, McHale, and Bird. It remains debatable which teams of that era were the best overall, but it could fairly be said they had some epic battles between them. And yes, back in those days, there was none of this nice-guy fraternizing with the competition. They flat-out didn't like each other and made no bones about it. Period.
But back to Ainge. He realizes that though his team is pretty good, they're not likely going to be able to compete with Lebron and the Cavs for the next couple years.
And there's the thing. James is getting up there is basketball years and it won't be long before his skills start to diminish. Father Time plays no favorites. When that happens, the Cavs will start trending downward quickly. Delete LJ from the equation and Cleveland becomes a rather ordinary team at best. At the same time, Boston will be on the upswing given all the draft picks Ainge has stockpiled and used wisely to date. There is no reason to think the other ones he amassed in this recent deal won't be used to procure not only talented players, but those that fit well within the system Brad Stevens has installed. Philly can make a splash with Fultz as the #1 pick, but given the rest of their roster, they're not going to be serious contenders any year soon.
Bottom line? Nope, the Boston Celtics won't be winning the NBA championship next season either. And as long as the Golden State Warriors can keep their team together, no given in future years, they'll remain a formidable opponent for any team that emerges from the east.
But make no mistake. Danny Ainge is quietly, shrewdly rebuilding the Boston Celtics, and they will be a force to be reckoned with in a few short years.
Brick by brick might not be sexy, but in the long run it usually proves to be fairly durable.