Celtics Offseason Preview

Kevin Wang

Ever since Celtics legend Paul Pierce departed Beantown with Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn four years ago, the C’s have been struggling to find their place in the league. 2014 saw traditional powerhouses Boston, New York and the Los Angeles all fail to reach the postseason. It seemed that the eternally entertaining Celtics-Lakers rivalry would be relegated to who could land the most ping pong balls in the draft lottery.

Fast forward four years, and the Lakers are still in the gutter while the Celtics secured the first seed in the Eastern Conference and the honor of getting demolished by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Finals. All-NBA point guard Isaiah Thomas finished top ten in MVP voting and guard Avery Bradley grew into an elite defensive stopper. Rookie forward Jaylen Brown showcased a ceiling higher than anyone expected during the postseason and could eventually develop into a Jimmy Butler-esque star.

But wait! It gets better! Boston is still reaping the rewards from the 2014 Nets trade where Brooklyn sent over their 2017 first rounder and the rights to swap 2018 first round picks. Luckily for the Celtics, the Nets are moping around at the bottom of the barrel, and Boston now has the first overall pick of the 2017 NBA Draft. With Lonzo Ball expressing unwavering desire to play for the Lakers and refusing a workout with the Celtics, point guard prospect Markelle Fultz will almost certainly be selected first overall. Fultz, one of the most highly touted prospects since LeBron James, has been predicted to blossom into a Russell Westbrook-James Harden hybrid if he reaches his potential. Imagine the elite athleticism of Westbrook combined with the crafty scoring and playmaking of Harden fused into a single MVP-caliber player. Every single Celtics fan should be drooling at that possibility.

That’s why I strongly believe they should ditch Isaiah Thomas this free agency, as he’s up for a new contract. “But Kevin! He’s the fan favorite! He brought us the first seed! I.T. easily deserves a max contract!” And I don’t disagree that he is worthy of a max contract, which would entail approximately $30 million over five years. However, the diminutive 5’9’’ Thomas will only decrease in productivity as his prime reaches an end, and he’s already 28. Do we really want a bench player eating up a third of our salary cap space when he’s 33 and our young prospects are just hitting their strides? Not only would he financially restrict the Celtics, but Thomas’ presence will either block Fultz’s development as a starter or take away minutes as a role player.

However, if general manager Danny Ainge decides to retain Thomas, they’ll probably also try to swing the 2017 first round pick for an established superstar. “That’s great! Imagine if we got Gordon Hayward, a young small forward who can defend, score and make plays! We’re already the first seed, we could be unstoppable!” The only problem is that LeBron James and the stacked Golden State Warriors team still exist. The Celtics could go all in and make a push for the Finals while Thomas is at his peak and 30 year-old center Al Horford hasn’t started declining. But for the past three years, the Warriors and Cavaliers have been meeting in the NBA Finals, and no signs of slowing down anytime soon show from either team.

I offer an alternative path for the Celtics. If they play their cards right, we could see another dynasty of green dominating the 2020s. They’ve got an excellent young coach in Brad Stevens, and now he’s got a Conference Finals appearance under his belt. The Celtics can also play with their cap space to either lure a young premier agent or sign enough veterans to stay competitive. A lineup of Fultz, Bradley, Brown and whoever we take with the Nets’ 2018 pick could lead a star-studded roster similar to the homegrown Oklahoma City Thunder that sticked at the top of the league for five years. All we need to do is lie in wait for a few years. Do you know what else will be happening in a few years? LeBron James will pass 35 years of age and hopefully begin entering his twilight (if it exists.) Warriors guard Stephen Curry will easily demand a max contract, and someone from that loaded squad will be leaving. The level of parity in the league is at an all-time low right now, and the Celtics should bide their time. Enjoy the fruits of Ainge’s labor this year, suffer a few more years of losing to LeBron in the playoffs, and strike when the time is right.