Since the start of free agency, Danny Ainge has built up the deepest Boston team of the Kevin Garnett era. Even with a few roster spots still in flux, the Celtics are younger and more athletic, and more capable of matching up with the NBA Champion Heat should they meet in the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.
With Courtney Lee now formally inbound, it’s easy to get all flushed thinking of the lineups Doc Rivers can put together. In particular, the suddenly youthful Celtics can go small, they can go uptempo and for the first time in years, they can do both credibly.
Ainge has had a dynamite offseason.
But this is not about that.
This is about how Ainge has sneakily positioned the Celtics to be a player to acquire another top-of-the-rotation talent somewhere before the trading deadline in 2013.
For the last half-decade, Ainge has had few options to upgrade his team in-season, because his roster was stocked with expensive core players (the former Big Four) and a largely unimpressive assortment of ne’er do well rookies, marginal veterans and old, fat big men. He couldn’t move his best assets for fear of undoing the very thing that made the team successful, and nobody wanted to trade for the Eddie Houses and Nate Robinsons of the world. At least, nobody wanted to give up anything good for them. This is why Ray Allen kept appearing in trade rumors. He was appealing to other teams, but, as his Boston tenure wore on, increasingly inessential. Nobody else on the roster fit both those bills.
Look what Ainge (reportedly) just did to acquire Lee. He turned quantity into quality. He morphed JaJuan Johnson (a tweener with a limited NBA future), E’Twaun Moore (the definition of a garbage time all-star), Sean Williams (an enigma) and Sasha Pavlovic (a non-entity) into a quality seventh man. Lee is no all-star but he’s miles above any of the four guys it cost to get him. He’s also the only one likely to see playing time when the games count.
The Rockets were going to lose Lee no matter what, but Ainge basically repeated the same move he pulled on Kevin McHale in 2007, when he turned Al Jefferson and a bunch of NBA marginalia into one of the greatest defensive players to ever headbutt a stanchion.
These moves are notable because the Celtics still wouldn’t be favored against Miami in the spring of 2013, given their current rosters. Miami still has too much marquee talent capable of playing 40+ minutes per game without dropping off in efficiency. Boston’s best guys, save Rondo, are still Garnett and Paul Pierce, both of whom will continue to wear down over a game and a series.
But this may only be the first stage of the reload. Boston now has attractive, reasonably priced, young assets that could be packaged for a star, should one become available.
Would it be lunacy for the Celtics to consider moving some combination of Lee, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Jason Terry, Fab Melo, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley?
Maybe it would. Maybe the best strategy in pursuit of banner #18 is a deep roster of mid-level talents to support PP, KG and RR.
But maybe the Celtics are still a star player away from re-emerging as a frontrunner for the 2013 title.
If you’re open to that line of thinking, try looking at the current guys on the roster as nothing more than assets stacked on the table in front of gambler Danny. If there’s one thing we know about that guy, it’s that he’s always looking for that next big score.