Those of you who waited until after the Super Bowl to turn your attention to hoops likely were surprised to take a peek at the NBA standings and see the Boston Celtics sitting just a few games out of a playoff spot more than halfway through the season.
That’s right, even after shipping Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green out of town and employing one of the league’s youngest rosters, the Celtics will enter the All-Star break no more than 3 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff seed in the woeful Eastern Conference.
Now, the Celtics are by no means a favorite to reach the postseason. That would be a stretch as the the team currently is constructed, and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge still has 10 days in which to wheel, deal and trade away more veteran pieces, if he so chooses, before the Feb. 19 trade deadline.
But whether the Celtics will make the playoffs is a argument for another day. We’re here to discuss whether they should.
Would a playoff berth this season be in this team’s best interest? Let’s take a look at some pros and cons.
Why they shouldn’t
Obviously, this Celtics team is not winning an NBA championship. Plus, we’ve been conditioned to believe that teams are far better off falling into the lottery than sneaking into the field as an eighth seed and getting stomped out in the first round.
It’s also important to remember that Boston holds not only its own pick in the 2015 NBA draft, but the Los Angeles Clippers’, as well. That’s not the most desirable selection at the moment (L.A. entered Monday with the league’s eighth-best record), but the Clippers have lost four straight and will be without star forward Blake Griffin for the foreseeable future. Should they fall to ninth or 10th place in the stacked Western Conference — an admittedly unlikely scenario — and the Celtics miss the playoffs, too, Ainge would have two 2015 lottery picks to play with and possibly package as part of a deal for a higher pick or a proven star.
Draft picks are gold for a rebuilding team. The higher, the better.
Why they should
Outside of Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, all signs point to the 2015 draft class being one of the weakest in recent years. And with teams like the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves setting up shop in the NBA basement, the Celtics have about as good a chance of landing the top pick to nab Okafor as they do of hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Even a top-five selection seems unlikely, no matter what Ainge chooses to do with the team’s few remaining vets.
That raises the question of what would benefit this team more: a mid-level lottery pick in a weak draft or the experience of playing meaningful basketball throughout March and into April? For a veteran-laden team, the latter might not be of much consequence, but for one as young as the Celtics, a playoff push — even an unsuccessful one — could be big from a development standpoint.
That applies both to Boston’s nucleus of recent draft picks — Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, etc. — and to its second-year head coach, Brad Stevens.
Verdict: Make the push. This team is far from championship-ready, but packing it in down the stretch only to grab, say, a No. 8 pick as opposed to a No. 16 doesn’t seem worth it, especially with the treasure trove of draft picks Ainge has at his disposal over the next several years.
The Celtics are a long shot to make the playoffs, but they should least give it a try.
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images