Before last night’s win over the Jazz, the Celtics had started out 0-4. In a normal year, that would be extremely disappointing. But under the circumstances, is it such a bad thing?
On one hand, there is talent on the roster and a promising new coach. On the other, that talent is extremely young and their superstar is still recuperating from a torn ACL. Last year, with more or less the same roster (oh and two Hall of Famers), the Celtics were ousted in the first round. The Celts certainly could try their best to win every game this season and bring the injured Rajon Rondo back as fast as possible, but where would that leave them? As the 7th seed and a date with Chicago or Miami? No thank you. The team clearly doesn’t have the horses to compete for a title, so should they even try to win at all?
Under the current format, the blueprint for NBA teams is very simple â€“ be the best or be the very worst. The middle ground is NBA hell, with little to no opportunity for upward mobility by virtue of drafting in the teens year after year. Some teams are content just making the playoffs, but that will not cut it in Boston. In Boston, a first-round exit will barely make a wave. In Boston, championships are the one and only goal.
More than any other league, you need superstars to win in the NBA. The Celtics franchise does have great tradition, but that is not enough to lure a superstar to Boston in free agency. Houston was able to acquire two superstars in a span of 15 months, but they have a lot to offer in terms of nice weather and lack of a state income tax â€“ neither of which Boston can boast. With free agency out of the question, that leaves building through the draft as the best course of action.
For that reason, as a Celtics fan, I am rooting for losses.
Rooting for losses is an excruciating experience for a fan of any team. It feels almost dirty. It may be smart long term, but in the short term, for lack of a better phrase, it sucks. Sport is about winning and losing. You want to win. However, under the current lottery structure, hoping for losses is a necessary evil.
Rooting for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett was easy. Those guys had unmatched loyalty and green blood running through their veins. It seemed like they would be Celtics forever. I don’t exactly have the same sentiments about this year’s Celtics. I’m not even sure who will be on this team two weeks from now. Danny Ainge proved everyone is on the table after his willingness to say goodbye to Doc Rivers, Pierce and KG. Anyone on the roster could be dealt if the right deal presents itself.
I wouldn’t mind seeing management or even new coach Brad Stevens aid the cause, but I certainly don’t want to see players actively trying to lose. As a fan, I still want to see a team that competes night in and night out and guys who work their butts off. I want to see Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley prove they can be key cogs on a contender moving forward. I want to see Jeff Green take another step towards being an upper echelon scorer and defender in the league. I want to see guys like Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries play well, so they can be traded for picks or cap space and given a chance to chase a championship.
I love watching Rondo, but him playing too much this season will be counterproductive. Rondo is so good that he could win games by himself, which unfortunately is not what the Celtics should want this season. They should hold him out as long as he needs to get healthy… and then hold him out even longer. Have him play a few games when he is ready, and then rest him the remainder of the season to try to get as high a pick as possible. If a monster deal arises in the meantime, then Ainge will have to consider it, but Rondo would be a great second banana and could even be the centerpiece of a championship team. I would be more than happy to have him manning the point for the next decade in Celtic green.
As for the here and now, this roster will be overmatched in many games, especially without Rondo. However, I still want them playing hard. As long as Gerald Wallace is around, that shouldn’t be an issue. He has already called his teammates out for lack of effort, and did not earn his “Crash” nickname for nothing. Danny Ainge is certainly working to unload that albatross of a contract, but there are definitely worse guys that a young core could learn from.
Though Wallace has had some harsh words for his teammates, for the most part, it is hard to complain about the Celtics effort through five games this season. The Celts have been in every game thus far and have held or taken a lead at some point in the fourth quarter in each game. Effort isn’t the problem. Coaching isn’t the problem. Talent is the problem. The way to remedy that problem is through high draft picks, and the only way to get high draft picks is by losing a lot of games. Sadly for this proud Celtics fan, that is what the Green must do.
Clearly, the lottery is not a guaranteed system. The Celtics have tried this strategy twice before â€“ with mixed results. For both the 1996-97 season and the 2006-07 season, the Celtics finished with the second-worst record in the league, meaning they had the second-best chance at landing the No. 1 pick. In the ’97 Draft, they slid to the third pick and missed out on Tim Duncan. In ’07, they fell all the way to the fifth pick and missed out on Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Tanking didn’t net them a superstar in either draft, although Chauncey Billups, the Celtics selection in ’97, did evolve into a superstar after he was traded from Boston. The ’97 Draft was a debacle, and the ’07 Draft seemed it would end the same way. However, Danny Ainge was able to flip that pick for Ray Allen, who as part of the Big 3 helped bring the Celtics a title in ’08.
It is not the most honorable way to go about things, but losing this year is the best way for the Celtics to get back to where they want to be – whether it means Andrew Wiggins or Julius Randle or Jabari Parker, or even a package of that pick for a superstar who is ready for a move (Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, and a couple firsts for Kevin Love?). Either way, Ainge has proven he knows what he is doing. Fans trust him after he built the championship team in 2008, and will be behind whatever he does this time.
This year I’ll be rooting in a different way for my Celtics. I’ll still be rooting for the young guys to improve. I’ll still be rooting for the veterans to put up numbers (but only so they can be traded). I’ll still be rooting for innovative sets from Brad Stevens. But I’ll also be rooting for losses. It will be difficult this year, but it will certainly be worth it when Rondo and Wiggins/Randle/Parker are raising the Larry O’Brien trophy hand-in-hand in June of 2017.
Do you ever root for your team to lose games?
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