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“Ascension” Celtics Style

 

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.

  • High Rollers

    You know things are going well when Brendan turns to poems of resurrection and redemption for Celtic analysis.

    This piece rocks for a little something different, Metaphysical Mancy!

    • http://CelticsHub.com Brendan Jackson

      Thanks!

  • High Rollers

    Not unrelated, though, and something to keep in mind as the season unfolds for better or worse, Donne also wrote the (ironically) immortal lines, “Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for Thee.”

    Now… Back to Ascension!

  • skeeds

    Of course building from the middle is hard. But is building from the bottom easy?
    People (and I'm referring to tank-evangelists here), confuse 2 extremely different concepts. Drafting great players does NOT mean you have a great team. It doesn't mean you will eventually built one either. Whoever you draft has a 90% (made up stat but I bet it holds) of spending his best years elsewhere. ESPECIALLY if he turns out to be a star.
    What we're also slow to comprehend is that "middle" teams have shown an extremely higher ability in pulling talent their way lately, exactly because they're not useless. The Rockets have been in the middle for ages. But that's precisely what got them Dwight Howard. Players have a different mentality towards their goals and careers. Media exposure has made actual success as profitable as huge contracts.
    Of all times, this might be the best time to be in the middle, with enough flexibility to be able to make moves, and enough power in your punch to convince that you're for real.

    • http://CelticsHub.com Brendan Jackson

      I think the only thing that got them Dwight Howard was James Harden, a young star player in the making. Rondo may be a star, but he's not young and he's not bringing a Dwight Howard-type player. Indiana built from the middle but got SOOOO lucky. They hit on Paul George, Lance Stephenson, and Roy Hibbert and the best free agent they have gotten in the past 5 years has been has been David West. Find me another team that has built their team from the middle without a lottery pick (theirs or someone elses). Even if you didn't want any of the lottery rookies in this up coming draft, if you got a top pick you could name your price.

      • tbunny

        That's the thing, to build a contender you need to get lucky. Winning championships is very very hard. I don't think there is any one way to get to be a contender. Having lottery picks can help, but having a great coach, great GM has to matter just as much or more. Maybe LA can do it by buying the best, but look at teams that try to buy a championship, like the Knicks. How lucky was Miami that Lebron and Wade wanted to play together and they were all willing to take a pay cut? Very very lucky. How lucky were the Celtics to put together the KG and the Allen deals? Very very lucky.

      • hax

        Carmelo wants to play with Rondo, and I think he'd take this team in free agency over 'don't worry, we'll fire this coach as a scapegoat, and have free agent money in 2015, be patient, not like your prime years are flying by or anything' Knicks.

      • Ryan Huber

        Lucky? The Pacers built from the middle successfully because the basketball Jesus hit on nearly every decision he made; this is because he is the Legend. How dare you blaspheme the only One to win MVPs, Championships, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the year? How dare you!? On an entirely different note, if you guys need an editor, shoot me an e-mail. Nice work here. I leave you with my favorite John Donne poem, which he wrote after being force fully separated from his wife:

        "John Donne, Anne Donne, undone."

    • Ray

      The Celtics are not the Rockets. The Rockets had cap space to fit a max contract; the Celtics do not. The Rockets were a team that remained above .500 for many years in a competitive Western conference. The Celtics are below .500 in a horrific Eastern conference. The Rockets had a fun young superstar in James Harden when they signed Howard. The Celtics have a cantankerous Rajon Rondo who is, at best, a non-traditional superstar and is coming off surgery (although that will likely no longer be an issue by the time it is relevant). The Rockets traded a lottery pick (among other things) to get James Harden. The Celtics do not have a lottery pick in their future currently. The Rockets took a couple of trips to the lottery (2010, 2011, 2012) before getting Harden and Howard.

      Most importantly, the Rockets have been rebuilding from the middle since 2009. The Celtics have been at it for 6 months. There are many ways to build an NBA contender (see OKC, Miami, San Antonio, the LA Lakers), but all of them are going to take time. You said yourself, the Rockets have been in the middle for ages.

      I have no problem with the strategy of building up assets with the intention of trading them for a star or using them to lure stars in free agency. That strategy has worked in the past. But it requires that you have assets. Right now, the cupboard is bare. Suppose Minnesota opened up bidding for Kevin Love this afternoon. Could Boston outbid Orlando? What about Cleveland? What about Philly? Or even Atlanta (Brooklyn's pick plus Millsap)?

      That's why I think the best course for the team this year is to get a lottery pick. You are not impressing anybody by being a .500 team in the worst conference in the history of the NBA. The cap situation is not getting better for two offseasons. They are not going to be able to put together a trade package for any superstar (without giving up Rondo, which is a separate discussion. i.e. do you want Rondo or player X as your foundation?). Now, whether you keep the pick or flip it now or later is another discussion entirely. That's what you seem to confuse – getting a lottery pick and what you do with it are two separate things.

      • skeeds

        Depending on how you view things, the Celtics might have no similarity with the Rockets, they might be exactly the same team. Harden is an exciting young superstar. Rondo is too. Proven winner too. The Rockets had a ton of assets to trade, we… don't? Crawford, Bradley, Green, Sully, Olynick, Bass, even Lee and Faverani, not to mention a ton of first round pics.
        I was not making a direct comparison. Obviously. I was just pointing to the fact that especially for attracting proven stars, being an almost good team makes you 100 times more enticing than being a horible team.
        If Kevin Love was being traded right now, yes, horrible teams with probable lottery pics would be top of the Wolves list. If it's a sign a trade though, you bet he has a say, if he refuses to sign an extension otherwise (a la Carmelo). And then Ainge has more chance of recruiting him than anyone.
        I don't disagree at all that getting a lottery pick would be fantastic, even though I am 99% sure Ainge would flip it for some ridiculous returns, tricking one of the stupider GM's of the league that it's better than what they already have.
        I'm just saying that it's as good a plan as any, especially given our situation right now. When you're a middle of the pack team, that is what it is. No one on that roster will lay back and endanger his career so that the team gets in the lottery. Brad Stevens too. This is a business. If Ainge wants to tank he needs to unload everyone. And he knows this. Expecting them not to perform so that the team gets better is like a boss asking his employees to work less so that he has an excuse to fire them.

  • hax

    Keep in mind the Nuggets barely lost at home, and the only reason they fell apart in the post season was because they were just you know…missing their leading scorer.

    Look at the championship Pistons team of the early-mid 2000's. Billups/Hamilton/Wallace/Wallace/Prince. No hall of famers. None of those 5 are special players. All-stars and fringe all-stars at best. But they had great chemistry and hustle, and that was enough. We are in an era of super teams, like the Heat. But that also means we are a broken leg James away from gliding past the Heat.

    • http://CelticsHub.com Brendan Jackson

      That Pistons team is a good example….of the only team in NBA History to do what they did. Not exactly a high probability of success. I would also argue that Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups, and Rip Hamilton were all better players than everyone on this Celtics team aside from Rondo.

      A James injury would be huge. The Celtics are not close to gliding past anyone but it's crazy to think that an injury to James would instantly make Indiana the favorites in the East and make everything else wide open.

      As for the Nuggs, I'd say they weren't going anywhere even with Gallo. Plus, the C's have a Gallo right now (Rondo).

      • The Cardinal

        Perhaps today, tomorrow or this season no one else is the equal of those three Pistons (I dunno – I belive it's too early to make those kind of comparisons), but who's to say that will be the case next season? Who's to say Jordan Crawford doesn't surpass Rip Hamilton in one or two seasons from now, or that Jared Sullinger or Kelly Olynk doesn't surpass Rasheed Wallace in one or two seasons from now? All the Piston guys were in their prime age-wise, while all the Celtics that have shown the potential for upside – with the possible exception of Jeff Green – have yet to reach the age Billups, Hamilton and Wallace were when they made it to the finals in successive seasons.

        No matter how hard the pro-tank and sorta leaning that way folks try to convince us that tanking is the best way to build a championship squad, the facts say otherwise. Honestly, look at how many teams have drafted their way to a championship from rock bottom or after a fire sale vs. how many teams maintained a so-called mediocre core, patiently strove for financial flexibility while keeping that core, and then through trade and free agency additions went on to win a championship? The empirical evidence is overwhelmingly against tanking. In addition, when you have truly knowledgeable and respected guys like Tommy Heinsohn repeatedly saying that tanking is a terrible idea, then it probably pays to take that advice seriously.

        A middling squad of talent is a liability only if management has no clear vision on how to proceed to the next level (see Atlanta and Denver as prime examples). Compare that to the way Ainge rebuilt a less-than-middling 2006-2007 Celtics squad into a 2007-2008 champion – bubba, that's how it's done! With the rare exception of a Tim Duncan,draft picks are better used as currency, and 1) we saw how well the C's strategy to get Mr. Duncan worked out, and 2) there is no Duncan in this draft class.

        The year we missed out on Duncan, we the Celtics did one of the most obvious tank jobs of all times. We then drafted Chauncey Billups at #3 and Ron Mercer at #6 – yes, Ron frickin' Mercer! Billups was promptly traded before the trade deadline during his rookie season and Ron Mercer was out of the NBA a few short seasons later, so what did we have to show for those high draft picks over the next 9 or so seasons? Zip, zippo, nada!!!

      • skeeds

        Ah come on dude. You are generalizing too much. The Pistons are the only team to get a champions with no stars. The Lakers are the only team to build without the lottery.
        The Heat drafted Wade in the lottery more than 10 years ago. Does that account for their success right now? The Spurs drafted Timmy 20 years ago, is that the one decisive difference they have, or the fact that they've been drafting smartly and making good moves ever since? Every team is "the only one to do what they did" in some way or another. Given that picks are the most traded asset it goes without saying that somewhere in the process of building a team, it's almost impossible for a lottery pick, or player drafted in the lottery not to have been included!
        It would be much much easier (and statistically more solid) to mention all the teams that had several lottery picks in a row and failed to make it to the playoffs even. But generalizing and saying that lottery picks are trash because most teams that get them make nothing of it, would be equally misguided.

  • hax

    Also, playing the Nets tonight. If Pierce plays, we get to see Sully & Green vs. KG & Pierce.
    It's the ultimate test. I'd be happy to see Sully/Green dominate, but also sad at the decline of our heroes over there in Brooklyn.

  • tbunny

    Let's look at the lottery since Tim Duncan was picked:

    1997San Antonio SpursTim Duncan
    Championships: YES!! Relevance: YES!!!

    1998Los Angeles ClippersMichael Olowokandi
    Championships: No Relevance: No

    1999Chicago BullsElton Brand
    Championships: No Relevance: No
    2000New Jersey NetsKenyon Martin
    Championships: No Relevance: No

    2001Washington WizardsKwame Brown
    Championships: Hell No Relevance: No

    2002Houston Rockets Yao Ming
    Championships: No Relevance: Yes

    2003Cleveland CavaliersLeBron James
    Championships: Yes! but not for the Cavs! Relevance: Yes

    2004Orlando MagicDwight Howard
    Championships: No Relevance: Yes

    2005Milwaukee BucksAndrew Bogut
    Championships: No Relevance: No

    2006Toronto RaptorsAndrea Bargnani
    Championships: No Relevance: No

    2007Portland Trail Blazers Greg Oden
    Championships: No Relevance: No

    2008Chicago BullsDerrick Rose
    Championships: No Relevance: No

    2009Los Angeles Clippers Blake Griffin
    Championships: No Relevance: Yes (But Chris Paul…)

    2010Washington WizardsJohn Wall
    Championships: No Relevance: Not yet

    2011Los Angeles Clippers(traded to the Cleveland CavaliersKyrie Irving
    Championships: No Relevance: No

    2012New Orleans HornetsAnthony Davis
    Championships: No Relevance: Maybe?

    2013Cleveland CavaliersAnthony Bennett
    Championships: No Relevance: No

    I'm only talking about the first pick here. Of those, 2 won championships, but only 1 for the team that picked him. Most didn't even make their teams relevant. It would be interesting to see what percentage of all-stars are lottery picks for instance (ok, found this: http://www.brightsideofthesun.com/2013/2/10/39746… which says that only 28% of lottery picks make even 1 all star game, and that's not even excluding lottery picks who made it for a different team from the team that picked them).

    Anyway, there are very very few sure things in the draft, known as such at the time.

    • tbunny

      Whoops, obviously Derrick Rose made the Bulls relevant.

    • hax

      and 1 of those 2 'championships' didn't do it for the team that drafted him.
      So basically 15 years of 1st round picks not winning championships with the team that drafted them.

  • Thomas

    Definitely a dichotomy amongst Celtics fans this year. When the C's started 0-4, Celtics Hub posted negative articles about how they were an awful team, then when they began exceeding expectations, Celtics Hub posted negative articles about how they wouldn't get a high first-round pick.

    Well, with Danny Ainge, it's all about value. The pro-tankers will not get their wish, in that Ainge will not dump veterans for nothing just to get a higher draft pick. Nor will the win-now crowd get their wish by Ainge turning down a good deal for a guy like Bass/Lee to increase the team's playoff's chances. Being a slave to either strategy is problematic.

    Similarly, a coach of Stevens caliber will not throw games for a chance at a higher pick nor will he stunt the development of younger players for the sake of playoff seeding. Nor should he.

    I get where the pro-tanking and win-now crowds are coming from, and one of these crowds will always have the opportunity to be negative, but the truth is, neither strategy is a guaranteed path toward championship contention. You have to compromise, mix and match, develop, and be opportunistic. That's what the front office and coaching staff is doing.

    • hax

      I'm not in a crowd, but I'm always optimistic. :) We start losing? Wiggins yay, beginning of a Celtics dynasty!
      Beat Knicks by 41 and open a 1 game lead in the division? #18 this year, baby, let's go!
      Finish 9th and fail to make play-offs or get a high pick? We have assets to trade and make a veteran core or a complete rookie rebuild!

  • Mugsy5

    Wonder if we could use our draft picks and a few players to get DeMarcus Cousins? Lol Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and DeMarcus Cousins could be a big three.

  • Ryan

    I think most of us can agree that, although it was extremely painful to watch Paul and KG (and Doc) go elsewhere, Danny has been killing it more often than not. As a reminder:

    He got Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins
    He picked Sullinger way out of the lottery
    Ditto for Avery Bradley

    He hired Brad Stevens, who seems to have immediately become a top-10 coach in the league.
    Stevens is making Jordan Crawford (who Ainge got for a nickel) look like a legit starting point guard in the NBA (huge increase in asset value)
    It looks like he'll get some kind of return on Humphries/Lee/Bass, as all of their value is in the rise.

    Rondo is not back yet.
    Sullinger gets better every day, and he's pissed.
    The Celtics have a crapload of draft picks in the next few years.
    We don't even know what Kelly Olynyk is yet.
    What kind of fan base expects to change over from one championship contending era to another in less than 3 years? We may be looking at just that; we shall see. I, for one, have confidence in Danny and Brad. If one big thing goes right (like the Nets sucking for the next 4 years), we may be looking at one of the more impressive rebuilds in NBA history. I don't think you have to tank to get there, not with the group currently running the Celts. This may be blind optimism, but I'm having fun watching this season unfold.

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