After the young guns of the Celtics' lineup, there is still a heap of talent up and down, starting with their best offensive player, and late game closer. Isaiah Thomas’ future with the Celtics might be the most interesting to look at. He is a scorer on a great contract, but he plays the same position as Smart, and the argument can be made that he is hindering Smart’s development as a point guard. Thomas’ size makes it nearly impossible for him to guard anyone, but he provides the scoring (19 ppg with C’s) that the Celtics so desperately need. He seemed to find his niche this past season as the sixth man, but with the Rozier pick and the Celtics willingness to trade, Thomas strikes me as someone that could be Trader Danny’s next victim.
The 25-year old Jae Crowder was more or less a throw-in in the Rondo deal that has worked out perfectly for the Celtics. Crowder exemplifies the grit-n-grind C’s fans want to see in their players. He works hard on defense, and even showed his value on that end in the playoffs, doing a decent job covering LeBron. His hard work turned into a big deal this offseason, as mentioned earlier. Though he is strong defensively, Crowder struggles on the offensive end. Crowder shot just 29% from three this season, and he does not penetrate well. Despite his shortcomings in putting the ball on the floor, he finished at a nice 60% clip when he got inside five feet. Crowder is nothing more than a nice bench player, but he will surely get minutes on the Celtics this season.
The Celtics also have five bigs who will be fighting for playing time this season. Lee and Johnson will likely start, with Zeller first off the bench. After that, former first round picks Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk will fight for the remaining minutes. All three of Zeller, Sully, and Olynyk are 25 and under and have proven to be nothing more than role players, likely best coming off the bench. All three can hit a midrange shot (Olynyk can even stretch it out to the three), but none provide the rim protection you look for in a big guy. Zeller and Sullinger become restricted free agents after this season, and whether or not Boston elects to resign them will be very interesting to watch.
The Celtics are (gulp) one of the deepest teams in the league. They do not have nearly enough talent to compete, but they have more B-/C+ players than anyone. Just look at their potential depth chart:
Starters: Smart, Bradley, Crowder, A. Johnson, D. Lee
Backups: Thomas, Turner, Jerebko, Sullinger, Zeller, Olynyk
Extra: Rozier, James Young
The Celtics are 10 deep with all league-average players! Their bench unit could probably take three games from the starters in a seven-game series. Ok, maybe not. But regardless the Celtics have a ton of decent players, a ton of expiring contracts, and a ton of guys 26 years old or younger. If we can conclude anything from this exercise it’s this: you can’t count on rebuilds to go according to plan. The Celtics were trying to bottom out in an effort to get top picks, but still collect as many assets as possible to have the firepower to trade for a star should one become available.
Boston failed to land a top-3 pick, and the jury is still out on how valuable the assets they have truly are. The Celtics have potentially four first round picks in next year’s draft (definitely two; thanks, Brooklyn), they are going to have major cap room next summer (so will pretty much everyone else), and they have enough young assets that they are willing to part with to go after any big name that becomes available. However, the plan all along was to build through the draft. The Celtics are too good to do that now, and are caught in the NBA purgatory of being a 35 - 45 win team. They will in all likelihood, find themselves back in the playoffs only to meet another first round exit at the hands of elite contenders. Their only real hope at getting a top pick is through the picks that Brooklyn owes them (2016 and 2018, pick swap in 2017).
I don’t know what to make of the Celtics going forward, but I do know that they need a franchise player (or two, maybe three) to build around, and they will not be finding that player at 16th in the draft. When looking at the Celtics rebuild so far, you definitely can’t fail them, but giving them a ‘A’ due to their playoff appearance would be a stretch. They’re two years in and have one player who right now is showing signs of being a key cog on a championship contender somewhere down the line. That isn’t terrible (just ask Philly), especially considering how they blew everything up, but the issue is in the fact that they are going to struggle to get more young guys who can develop into special players. Say what you want about Philly, but they are getting top picks every year, something I am envious of as a Celtics fan.
So I guess it’s only fitting that if I am to grade the Celtics rebuild so far I give them a C+. It’s been average, just like their players. There have been a lot of trades and a lot of excitement, but they really don’t have anything to show for it. What they have going for them is a great, young coach, plenty of assets, and a bunch of picks. Maybe the assets turn into something, maybe they don’t. Maybe Brooklyn plummets into the NBA abyss, but probably not. Ainge will do whatever he can to land a star, but as we've seen already, that's easier said than done.