A time comes for every losing team when it dawns on everybody just where the season is headed, which is nowhere, fast. For the Boston Celtics, that time appears to have come.
Frustrations are mounting. Mistakes in otherwise winnable games are piling up. The Celtics are 22-45, well outside the field of teams with any realistic shot at the NBA playoffs, and the players all know it.
The fans know it, too. With a little less than a month remaining in the regular season, casual and expert observers alike are looking ahead to the 2014 NBA Draft, when all the mistakes of seasons past allegedly can be wiped out with one magical pick. When the Celtics drop a tough one like they did Sunday night to the New Orleans Pelicans, the resounding reaction on social media is not anger or sadness, but a collective, “All right!”
More losses mean a better chance at a high lottery pick, but there’s also this to consider: One first-round pick (or two, in Boston’s case) is not enough to turn around this team. For teams in the Celtics’ situation, it seldom is. Out of the last 10 first overall picks — Dwight Howard, Andrew Bogut, Andrea Bargnani, Greg Oden, Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, John Wall, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and Anthony Bennett — there are a lot of so-called stars but just two players currently contributing to a winning team that drafted them. That’s likely to remain the case two or three years down the road for whomever the Celtics draft, assuming they use their picks.
This is one of the aspects that tanking proponents overlook. It’s not a quick process. Anyone on the “Lose, baby, lose!” bandwagon forfeits his ability to whine about the team stinking in 2016-17. Building through the draft is, at best, a two-year proposition.
Yet that’s only the biggest folly fans make. The second biggest is assuming an NFL-type approach to the draft. For instance, the Celtics would love to somehow nab a rim-protecting big man. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s ongoing flirtation with Omer Asik reveals the import the organization places on the position. But the Celtics are far from the point where they can worry about filling specific needs, whether through the draft, trades or free agency.
They have the fifth-worst offensive rating in the NBA. They are the third-worst 3-point shooting team. They get to the foul line more often than just seven other teams, and three teams have given up more threes. The Celtics’ weaknesses are both broad and deep.
This is why a number of mock drafts list the Celtics taking point guards Dante Exum or Marcus Smart given the chance, even with Rajon Rondo already manning the position. The Celtics just need good players. Figuring out how they all fit in can wait.
These final 15 games will be a slog for the Celtics. Once the offseason arrives, the action really will start. Maybe Ainge will take the long view with his silo full of draft picks and build things gradually, or he’ll go for the aggressive, quick fix, as he did in 2007, and revamp the team in a matter of months. Either way, Ainge’s job will not be about simply mixing and matching, or plugging in a piece or two around Rondo, Jared Sullinger or whomever he views as the long-term core.
Addressing needs? Certainly, the Celtics will do that this summer. They can’t help it, after all, since their needs encompass pretty much everything.