Yesterday, the Boston Celtics traded guards Jordan Crawford and Marshon Brooks to the Golden State Warriors. Last week they traded Courtney Lee to the Memphis Grizzlies. For Celtics fans, this is probably not the best time to get too attached to players on the team because they could be gone next week. There have been rumors surrounding Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, and Rajon Rondo all season, as well. That’s what you have to do to rebuild in today’s NBA, and there are few who are better at it than Danny Ainge.
In the early part of the season, Jordan Crawford looked like a legit NBA point guard. After he arrived in Boston when the C’s traded away Jason Collins, I never thought I would use the phrase “legit NBA point guard” to describe Jordan Crawford. He’s undisciplined, he is too much of an impulsive player, and just plays a stupid brand of basketball in general. This, season he seemed like a completely different player. I have to give Brad Stevens a lot of credit on that one. Coach Stevens has gotten as much as he possibly can out of the roster he was given. That’s what Brad Stevens does. He never had a particularly loaded roster at Butler, but he took that program to the NCAA National Championship Game twice. He ultimately fell to the much more talented Duke and UConn teams, but it’s hard to say Stevens was outcoached by the Hall of Famer coaches he faced in those games. He made Crawford look pretty good, but he fell back to earth in December. With Rajon Rondo coming back this week, the Celts don’t need Crawford anymore. I would have been happy if the Celtics cut Crawford over the summer, but Stevens transformed him into an asset that they could get things in return for. They know what he is, and they don’t see him as part of the core of the next great Celtics team, so Danny Ainge pulled the trigger on a deal while his value was at an all time high.
In a rebuilding season, nobody on the Celtics roster should be safe. Rondo is the team’s best player and one of the elite point guards in the game, but he’s also due to hit free agency next year, can’t hit a jump shot, and hasn’t played in a year. The last time Rondo was healthy, the Celtics had a losing record and were out of the playoff picture while Rondo had two future Hall of Famers to dish the ball to in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. For the right return, I would not be shocked to see Ainge deal Rondo away, either.
I would trade Jeff Green in a second. I hated the trade as soon as it happened when Ainge sent Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Green and Nenad Krstic. Perk was a huge part of the Celtics teams that reached the Finals in 2008 and 2010, and Robinson has proven to be a pretty good little player since then. Krstic is currently playing professional basketball in Russia because he couldn’t hack it in the NBA. Because of what they gave up, Jeff Green had to really blow people’s doors off to keep fans satisfied, and he’s never quite gotten there. He shows flashes of brilliance, but he’s not the guy to carry the team on his shoulders that they thought he could be. He’s not on the same level as his former OKC teammates Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. I would not be heartbroken if he got traded.
Besides Rondo, the players I would be most careful about trading are Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, and Kelly Olynyk. These three guys are the young talent to build around, but none are necessarily the next Larry Bird or Paul Pierce, either. Sullinger is emerging in his second NBA season as the best player on the team game in and game out. He can score. He can rebound. He gets in foul trouble, but that’s because he’s been playing motivated, aggressive defense. Sully has been the brightest spot for the Celtics rebuild thus far. Avery Bradley is now the second longest tenured Celtic after Rondo, despite being drafted after the C’s 2010 Finals appearance against the Lakers. He’s a good defensive guard who can occasionally turn great defense into great offense and he’ll be looking for a new contract this offseason. Olynyk is the most intriguing player on the Celtics right now. The 22 year old Canadian seven footer out of Gonzaga has a lot of skill and basketball intelligence, but there are still a lot of growing pains for him as he adjusts to the grind of playing in the NBA. He’s considered by some to be Gonzaga’s best NBA prospect since John Stockton, and the very optimistic think he can become the next Dirk Nowitzki or Larry Bird. Danny Ainge used his only 1st round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, so it’s not likely that he’ll give up on him this early. Rick Pitino traded away Chauncey Billups midway through the first season of his Hall of Fame career, and that’s a big part of why Pitino’s phone calls in Boston end like this these days.
Another guy who intrigues me, but is not quite as safe since the Celtics did not invest as much in him as they did Sully, Bradley, and Olynyk is undrafted rookie point guard Phil Pressey. I have a soft spot for undrafted players in general. I get excited when guys like Wes Welker , LeGarrette Blount, Torey Krug and Brian Rafalski become stars in football and hockey, and this kind of thing doesn’t happen enough in basketball. At 5’11”, Pressey is a smaller than average point guard, but he impressed them in the Orlando Summer League and has made progress learning from Brad Stevens and Rajon Rondo this season. He showed off some of his moves with this behind-the-back pass to Avery Bradley after he got the start in Toronto last night.
What the Celtics have to do right now is acquire assets and create options for themselves. They are much better off now than they were when Danny Ainge took over the Celtics’ basketball operations department in 2003, and hopefully they’ll be a contender sooner than 2017-18 at this rate. Building an NBA roster is as confusing as it is fascinating, and in a lot of ways is more interesting than NBA games themselves. It’s okay to like these Celtics and still root for them to get in better draft position. It’s okay to root for the players on the team, but you shouldn’t lose to much sleep over the players that get traded. It will get better. It’s not clear when. It’s not clear how, but Danny Ainge will make the C’s a winner again.