The 2015-16 NBA Season starts soon, preseason hoops are in full swing, and playoff prognostications have begun in earnest. Because season previews can get bogged down by team-specific minutiae, and we cover every basketball team, we’re providing our readers reasons why you should care about all 30 teams in the Association.
Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens and the Celtics are currently treading water. Sure, they’re in a shallower pool than someone like the Hornets, but everyone’s in the East, which is the kiddie pool in this overlong analogy. They’ve got a good enough group and a smart enough coach to make the playoffs in the awful East, but they’re one or two stars away from getting taken seriously.
That’s not such a bad thing, either. Sure, Kevin Durant is a free agent next summer and LeBron could be, but, realistically speaking, Danny Ainge isn’t going to land one of the top-two players in the NBA. But could he swing a trade for, let’s say, DeMarcus Cousins at the deadline and offload his stockpile of picks to add a star to the mix?
The Kings are such a soap opera, there’s no telling what Vivek and Vlade might do. And while five or six teams might capture the Western Conference in any given year, the addition of a player like Cousins to a team like these Celtics — if it were a straight-up picks-for-Boggie flip, with maybe David Lee’s deal thrown in to make the contracts work — would put them on the same level of the Wizards, Heat, or Bulls; a contender, but not the favorite, not with LeBron in another superstar á trois .
And that’s where Ainge and Co. currently sit. After wiping clean the rest of the Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett team from a few years ago, especially that last big piece, Rajon Rondo, they’re poised to make a splash. Except there’s no way to know who, or even if, that trade will happen this year or next. Or whether they’ll get lucky over the summer and land a star that way.
Just know that Danny Ainge isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, so if you hear about Carmelo Anthony joining this Celtics team in the new year, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The perfect destination for a superstar looking for the right role players
There are only so many superstars in basketball. Danny Ainge understands that reality, but it certainly hasn’t him stopped him from chasing them. Over the past couple years, the Boston Celtics have come dangerously close to tampering by recruiting Kevin Love, called the Sacramento Kings about the possibility of trading for DeMarcus Cousins, and offered four first-round picks to the Charlotte Hornets for the opportunity to end Justise Winslow’s draft-night slide.
Based on Ainge’s relentless pursuit of a superstar alone, it would be easy to assume his team was at a crossroads. That the Celtics, coming off a 40-42 season, were a team littered with middling veterans bound for years of mediocrity. Boston is in a unique position among franchises positioned for respectability that don’t boast a potentially transcendent player, though, and it’s one far more enviable than the most common alternative.
Why? The Celtics may not have an Andrew Wiggins or even Giannis Antetokounmpo, but still possess a group of youngsters uniquely suited to complementing an alpha dog.
Marcus Smart will eventually be an All-Defense candidate, and he flashed shooting prowess from beyond the arc last season that some thought may never come. Avery Bradley is an older, more consistent, less potentially dynamic player than his backcourt partner. Jae Crowder can capably check multiple positions, and is a reliable three-point jumper away from proving his new contract a steal. Tyler Zeller is an elite mid-range shooter and viable finisher in the frontcourt. And Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, for all of their obvious issues, are undeniably talented offensive players.
Isaiah Thomas, Amir Johnson, Evan Turner, and David Lee will play crucial roles for Boston in 2015-16. If the green and gold make good on so much preseason optimism and emerge as a solid playoff team come spring, the veterans will have been nearly as influential as their younger teammates.
Further establishing their burgeoning culture with more on-court success is vital for the Celtics. Brad Stevens hasn’t only established himself as one of the league’s brightest basketball minds, but also a favorite among his players – and opposing ones. Boston will be absolutely flush with cap space next summer, and still hold the most impressive stable of future draft considerations in the NBA.
If there’s a time that Ainge will finally find the kind of player who’s been so elusive, it may very well be next summer. And with Stevens, a collection of limited but promising young players, and a proven group of solid veterans, 2015-16 could be the season the Celtics reestablish themselves as one of the league’s preeminent destinations for player movement.
And if that occurs, Boston could find itself contending for something more than free agents, disgruntled stars, and a low-rung playoff berth soon enough.
David Lee’s presence
This might turn awkward for David Lee, or at least more awkward than it already must feel.
Lee was of course dealt to Boston after winning a title in Golden State last season. A season, mind you, that he played an integral role in, though just not the type of role anyone would really want to inherit, despite how it all turned out. His preseason injury is what forced Draymond Green into the starting lineup. From there, it was just Kerr going with the best lineup to open games, and Lee being chill enough not to put up a big stink and derail their run.
But now he’s among a ragtag group of Celtics who have won nothing. Lee’s a two-time all-star. Guess how many all-stars are on this roster? Zero. He plays a position, power forward, where three-point range is rapidly becoming the team-by-team reality. Except, the men behind him on the depth chart — Jared Sullinger, Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson — all shoot the three-ball with a higher frequency and accuracy. (Lee is 1-of-15 from deep…for his entire 10-year career.)
Yet he’s the starter and he’s probably the superior offensive player over all three of those guys behind him in Boston. Danny Ainge and Co. are taking a one-year flier on David, thereby improving an already deep frontcourt without a long-term deal with an aging– he’ll turn 33 this season — power forward who can’t shoot from beyond the arc yet.
There are attributes Lee can provide the young Celtics, though. Primarily, he’s a wealth of valuable experience. Like Ainge himself, Lee is now an NBA champion, and you can’t buy that sort of first-hand look at reaching the top of the NBA Mountain. Ainge last won a title in the 1980s, so Lee should be able to pass along some more contemporary advice to the young core that Ainge wants to pair with a superstar in order to take the next step.
David Lee might be a one-and-done Celtic this season, or someone to make the contract numbers work in a deadline deal this coming February, but he’s also the old man who can teach the kids a thing or two before moving on to his next spot.