This recent win streak as opened so many doors in the mansion of opportunity. Blowing out two preseason playoff hopefuls in successive games has gotten the “win-now” crowd in a tizzy and made the “tank-now” contingent noticeably silent. The unfortunate truth is that for all the excitement and dominance the Celtics have shown fans in the past two games there is still a ceiling for this team. A ceiling fit with jagged edges, spikes, and various other unpleasantries.
The hard truth is that on paper and in practice, this Celtics team is very reminiscent of the 2011-2012 Denver Nuggets. The closest thing that Nuggets team had to a star on the level of Rajon Rondo was Nene. Nene, as you will remember, was signed to a massive deal prior to that season. Then, feeling some intense buyers remorse, the Denver Nuggets front office sent Nene to Washington for Javale McGee and all of his
Shaqtin’ a Foolishness. Without Nene, the Nuggets had (and still continue to have) a roster full of solid but not star players.
That season, the Nuggets finished 38-28 and ended up with the 20th overall pick (Evan Fournier, drafted one pick ahead of the Celtics Jared Sullinger). The next season was much better (57-25) but an early playoff exit spelled the end of George Karl’s tenure with the team. If the Celtics win 57 games next year Brad Stevens won’t be fired, but will the Celtics be any closer to contending for a championship? Are the Nuggets serious contenders?
Building from the middle is hard. Building a team from any position requires a savvy front office; something the Celtics have. Having a better draft pick this season can only help the Celtics chances of a) getting a good player; or b) getting good value for that pick. That said, Danny Ainge has positioned this team in the better half of the middle. Much like the Houston Rockets of a few years ago, he has a healthy stockpile of draft picks and young players at his disposal. He can allow these players to grow and draft compliments around them or he can package these assets for former lottery picks and superstars. The Celtics control their own destiny at this point. Which is why at this point instead of being a Negative Nancy, I would rather be a Metaphysical Mancy. As you chart out the all the potential paths the Celtics could take to get to their next contending team, it’s important to remember that so many things are out of their control. Ainge can’t make the players play badly. Or make Stevens intentionally throw games. He also can’t make other GMs give up lottery picks for players he wouldn’t mind parting with.
With that, I leave you with a critical reading of John Donne’s Ascension Sonnet. A Sonnet which foretold this Celtics season with striking accuracy.
“Ascension” by John Donne. The VII Sonnet in Donne’s “La Corona”
Salute the last, and everlasting day,
Joy at the uprising of this Sun, and Son,
Here Donne is referencing the Celtics rise from their prospective bottom 5 finish to their recent success. The “Sun” represents the Celtics overall success while the “Son” is directly referencing Brad Steven’s young age.
Ye whose true tears, or tribulation
“Whose” is a direct reference to Celtics fans’ recent sadness in the departure of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett
Have purely wash’d, or burnt your drossy clay.
Behold, the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which He treads upon;
Nor doth he by ascending show alone,
But first He, and He first enters the way.
Here Donne reminds us that the Celtics aren’t achieving their success purely by themselves. They have the basketball Gods to thank for things like lucky bounces, favorable calls, and 50-50 balls won.
O strong Ram, which hast batter’d heaven for me!
The Strong Ram: Jared Sullinger
Mild lamb, which with Thy Blood hast mark’d the path!
The Mild Ram: Avery Bradley
Bright Torch, which shinest, that I the way may see!
O, with Thy own Blood quench Thy own just wrath;
And if Thy Holy Spirit my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise
The Torch leading the way is a reference to Danny Ainge. In the last four lines Donne is describing the battle between the desire to tank the season and rebuild versus being a successful basketball team. Ultimately, Donne shows his faith in Ainge by stating that he will be responsible for the divine resurrection of this Celtics team; in one way or another.