On Thursday, December 18th the Boston Celtics finally did what they’ve been rumored to do for three years now – they finally executed a Rajon Rondo trade. Before the 2013-2014 season, the Celtics effectively “blew up” their team with trades of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and by allowing Doc Rivers to leave for Los Angeles. Ever since, Boston has stockpiling picks (mostly from the Brooklyn Nets) in an attempt to rebuild – but they’ve held on to Rondo.
Holding on to Rondo this long is not an unusual move on their part. Currently the Knicks and Lakers both retain all-stars while rebuilding – not bringing in a second star for now, and working to implement a new coaching structure while cultivating youth in the organization. With the advent of the 76ers and their all-out tanking, though, is this the best way to rebuild?
The Boston Celtics rebuilding plan has revolved around draft picks – lots of them. In the next four years the Celtics currently have:
- 2015: Likely two first round picks, likely three second round picks (five total).
- 2016: Likely three first round picks, likely five second round picks (eight total).
- 2017: Likely one first round pick, likely two second round picks (three total).
- 2018: Likely two first round picks, likely one second round pick (three total).
That means over the next four years, the Celtics likely have nineteen (19) total picks – an astronomically crazy number when all things are considered. If gathering picks is the goal, the Celtics are truly succeeding.
But gathering picks is only one part of it. Let’s look at the two teams with the best records in the NBA right now, the Warriors and the Grizzlies, to see how their players were drafted.
The Warriors currently have a starting five ALL drafted by Golden State (if we exclude Bogut who is out with injury). This is pretty unique, but relies on the fact that they are getting production out of guys who wouldn’t normally be considered “stars” – Draymond Green, Festus Ezeli, and Harrison Barnes (even though he was drafted 7th in 2012, I wouldn’t say he’s been off-the-charts since then – but he’s solid). Part of the allure of Golden State, however, is their depth – practically sporting two full teams when everyone is healthy. The second line (including Bogut for now) features ZERO Golden State picks, and includes David Lee, Iguodala, and Bogut – all of whom could be considered stars (and make over $12 million a year).
The Grizzlies, like most teams with only a few “home-grown” players, have only Mike Conley and rookie Jordan Adams as draftees. The entirety of the rest of the team was drafted elsewhere, including most notably Marc Gasol (48th in ’07 to the Lakers) and Zach Randolph (19th in ’01 to Portland).
What we learn is that a great team is RARELY made up by a majority of players who were drafted by that team. The other notable insight is that players drafted in the second-round are rarely on rosters of good teams – the Warriors have two players drafted in the second round (Draymond Green the only on in the regular rotation) and the Grizzlies have four (only Gasol and Nick Calathes in the rotation).
Successful teams aren’t made from draft picks – they’re made from players, which means the Celtics need to either turn the picks into great players through the draft or through trades.
This is what they did in their previous championship run, where they built a “big-three” around Paul Pierce:
- Obtained Kevin Garnett with a first-round pick plus Sebastian Telfair, Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, and Ryan Gomes
- Obtained Ray Allen with Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and the rights to Jeff Green
This gave them a “big three” with which to make a run – netting them the 2008 championship. So who is the basis for this new “big three”?
The thought for the last year or so was that Rondo was that foundation player, and the picks obtained would be key to drafting or obtaining players around him. Now, we have to take another look. Are Jared Sullener or Kelly Olynyk the foundation to a championship?
Paul Pierce was the previous anchor, but was in his 9th year with the Celtics when they won the title in 2008. He was the guy who withstood the bad years (remember Pitino?) and led the team back. But that was NINE years – too long for many to wait for another championship.
Perhaps they are hoping for a Golden State model – where a late first rounder surprises and becomes a break-out star pushing your team over the edge. Ezeli and Green were both drafted in 2012, so the assessment is generally fast, and draft picks give you players at a cheap salary (for now).
Either way, the Boston Celtics rebuilding plan is and will continue to be an interesting study in NBA team-building. Over the coming years we’ll get to see how Danny Ainge continues to redefine one of the great legacy franchises.