“Clearly, we have to be more athletic next year.” — Doc Rivers
Not true, Doc. You have to be more athletic the year after next.
Over the next 18 months, by the start of the 2012-13 season, Danny Ainge has to put together a frontline that fits the modern NBA. That means he has to completely recast his 2010-11 group, which was heavy on the aged and the tweener.
In their place, Ainge has to find youth, height, length and athleticism, along with some measure of toughness, and construct the kind of group that can compete with Chicago’s Joakim Noah–Taj Gibson–Carlos Boozer–Omer Asik quartet (not to mention Luol Deng).
Looking west, Ainge must also know that the road to the title will soon run through Oklahoma City, and a frontline manned by Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison.
It’s no small task to put together a frontline that can compete with those groups. More than a little fortune will be required.
Not only that, next year feels like a distraction from this process.
Ainge is serving two masters here. On one hand, the big three will surely attack 2012 like it’s their final shot at a title, even if many think the window is already closed. But Ainge has to honor them — and Doc Rivers — with a supporting cast that gives the C’s a fighting shot against Chicago and Miami. On the other hand, I’d argue it’s far more important for Boston to preserve 2012 cap room and a run at an elite player (which includes not just Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Dwight Howard, but any other stars available in trade before or after next summer) than it is to outbid some team for, say, Thaddeus Young.
This is where it may actually be useful that Boston is capped out for one more year and can’t afford Young. It gives Ainge plausible deniability if he’s already looking past next year’s final hurrah and to the core of the next Celtics’ era.
This summer, Ainge can load up on rotation players with one-year deals, maybe pick an energy big or two off the scrap heap, and failing some sort of 2012 trade deadline miracle where he snags a star, Ainge can sit back and watch as Boston whimpers its way out of the 2012 playoffs.
That may not be the most satisfying move, but it could be the right one.
One of Ainge’s greatest strengths as a GM is his focus on the long term. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he was more unconcerned about next year than he’d ever let on in public. After all, Ainge was complicit in (or leading) the Celtics’ efforts to tank their way into Durant or Greg Oden back in 2007. He headed the braintrust that targeted Kevin Garnett as early as 2003. He was the one who saw Al Jefferson, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, etc. as assets as much as players to build around.
There is a huge opportunity with this frontline. Save for Paul Pierce at the SF, it could be all new a year from now. In a good way. But if Ainge weighs a final run by the big three too heavily and, for example, decides he needs Nenad Krstic for another four years, he could sabotage the Celtics’ pursuit of a new franchise player.
So, because I know there’s a defensible counterargument to my take, consider that your morning question. How do you weigh the need to compete next year with the desire to position the C’s for a star acquisition in the years to come?