Let’s get a few things out there right away. I am a long time Celtics fan and season ticket holder. I prefer to see them win every game they play. The fast start to this season has been a pleasant surprise but I’m also a fan that’s invested in the long-term success and viability as a true contender. There, now we can move on. I don’t condone outright “tanking” when the organization from top to bottom just intentionally loses games. In 1997 they tried this with M.L. Carr as coach and “built” an atrocious roster. ML tanked big time and it’s been well documented. In 2007 they didn’t tank initially. They had every intention of making the playoffs, but got off to a slow start, then Pierce broke his foot, TA tore his ACL, the 18-game losing streak happened (and so did Oden and Durant). So that’s why you would read the Ryan Gomes quotes about playing for lottery picks and ping pong balls.
Fast-forward 6 years, one title, one finals appearance and a ton of wonderful memories, it’s a golden opportunity to quickly become a contender again. But not just a quick handful of years like the New Big Three. It’s especially important because in this new age NBA/CBA era, it’s simply not feasible or sustainable to do what they did when they became an overnight powerhouse by getting Ray Allen and KG. That team had three max players with a lot of fantastic (and well-paid) role players. Before, you had several exceptions and you could simply write a luxury tax check or absorb larger contracts (in terms of either dollars or years) to add players and keep it going (like they and the Lakers did). But because of a harder cap and a dreaded repeater tax that not only is brutal financially, but it literally strips you of those exception options to use.
In this current scenario, a perfect world would be for the Celtics to re-sign Rondo as their max guy (with lesser penalties since he is their own player and they have his Bird rights), retain the younger players you really want as pieces (Sullinger, Bradley for example) at reasonable second-contracts and deal away the other assets for other pieces. But hitting lottery gold in the form of a Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle is huge because they are potentially franchise level players at MINIMUM NBA money for the first few years and several after that since the incentives for those players to remain on their own teams is very high. Some notable players that stayed with their original team for their first 6-7 years (or will) because of those CBA advantages: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Chris Bosh, Rajon Rondo, Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, Anthony Davis (not official yet but shocked if Pelicans don’t max him out), LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Tony Parker, etc. So essentially, you’d potentially have your two max level guys (Rondo, lottery player X) during Rondo’s prime plus solid pieces like AB and Sully. Lottery Player X COULD be giving you max production at minimum or low(ish) level money. You’d also still have all of those picks and other players to use as chips. Now, if you keep winning and make the playoffs you’re forced to get more creative and make things incredibly more difficult.
Sure, you could cash in all of those chips in the best case scenario, say by trading for Kevin Love for example. But he’d likely cost you a similar package that the KG one did in 2007. It’d be something like Sully, Wallace’s contract, multiple picks, etc. So now you’d have Love and maybe Rondo at near max dollars and little left to fill the roster with, especially long term (which is the Lakers issue with Kobe re-signing as well as if they intend to keep Pau AND add another guy). Or you try to get Love but you have to gut your roster and you can’t keep Rondo + another guy.
The inherent problem is the NBA’s CBA and the draft/lottery system. There is more incentive to get younger players on low-level rookie deals more than ever because you pay them cheap money compared to their (probable) real value. It’s not ideal but it’s the reality. For me, I’m a life-long hardcore Celtics fan that’s invested in the long-term success. I don’t care about any other teams or sports really, so there’s no need to sell me on anything other than having a logical plan in place to be a contender (if you presently aren’t one). I have full faith in Danny Ainge and his staff. He made a fantastic move by replacing Doc Rivers with Brad Stevens so getting that coach you need is already done. You have one franchise player in Rondo (when healthy) so you need to keep him and build around him. You also have several solid young players and other assets (picks) so now, it would be perfect to land one of these blue chippers.
I understand that it’s not guaranteed (I lived through it twice) but the NBA landscape is different now and it would be better to at least have a chance at it. Making the playoffs would be a disaster for this year because Ainge is not going to try to obtain players to IMPROVE the team (they NEED to avoid the tax this year) so what good is it to AT BEST lose to Miami or Indiana? Ok, so anything can happen like Paul George getting hurt or LeBron spraining an ankle (he’s a cyborg anyway so he’d just regenerate a new part on demand). Sure, you get these young guys invaluable playoff experience but how many of them do you plan on keeping for your next, true contender? It didn’t matter for the 2008 team that Doc, Rondo, Perk and TA endured that brutal 2007 season. In fact they’ve said it helped them.
I know it’s not easy but this is my ideal, dream scenario. I’m not pro-tanking at all and unless the embarrassing teams in the east can actually start winning games, I just don’t know how you give yourself a chance at the roulette wheel. Maybe like all of the rumors are true, Ainge will simply “trade out” of the playoffs and give Brad Stevens even less good players to work with. At this point, it’s more like Russian Roulette but hey, Danny is a gambler!