Around this time last year, I talked about how the Boston Celtics faced a rebuilding phase following the trades of stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets. The trade left the franchise at a crossroads, with many possible paths to return to prominence. The Celtics stumbled to a terrible 25-57 record this season, as many predicted, but the short-term suffering was in service of a larger goal. I thought the team was following a sound strategy by stocking up on draft picks for the next few years to eventually acquire young stars that would help turn the team around. Boston used the first of these draft picks on June 26 to select guards Marcus Smart from Oklahoma State with the sixth overall pick, and James Young from Kentucky with the 17th overall pick.
There is no denying that both these guys are very talented players. Smart and Markel Brown basically were Oklahoma State’s entire offense, averaging 18.0 and 17.2 points per game, respectively. Nobody else on the team averaged as many as 14. Smart even set an OSU record with 39 points in a win over the Memphis Tigers. Smart also played with a bruising, physical style that many associate with a big man, even though he was a point guard. He showed a willingness to bang the boards, ranking second on the team with 5.9 per game. Smart did show some signs of maturity issues at OSU, at one point shoving a Texas Tech fan in the stands after he claimed the man had used a racial slur against him. Texas Tech’s investigation revealed that the fan had not done so, but had provoked Smart. Smart received a technical foul and was suspended for three games, and the fan agreed not to attend any more Texas Tech basketball games for the rest of the season. But this remains Smart’s only major incident, so I don’t necessarily think it’s a huge cause for concern.
James Young had a similarly productive college career at Kentucky. While playing a clear second fiddle to star forward Julius Randle, Young still averaged 14.3 points per game, not far behind Randle. He also shot over 40% from the field, which is impressive for a guard. Unfortunately, Celtics fans will probably not get to see much of him in the summer league, as he is still recovering from lingering effects of a car accident. I think Young could be productive off the bench if he commits to getting healthy again and learning the Celtics’ system.
While both Young and Smart are talented players, it leaves the status of other players in question. Young and Smart are both guards, as are Avery Bradley, the team’s best defender, and Rajon Rondo, the team’s best player. One could argue that Boston needed more big men to complement centers Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger, but there weren’t really many viable options for acquiring that kind of talent in the draft. Kansas star Joel Embiid was off the board, and Noah Vonleh and Jusuf Nurkic are unproven. Frankly, I’m a little glad the Celtics didn’t get Embiid. He’s already injured, and a lot of big men tend to have nagging injuries that can turn them into massive draft busts before too long (I’m looking at you, Greg Oden and Michael Olowakandi). Perhaps the Celtics were just making “value picks,” picking the best players on the board and sorting out their roles on the team later.
There is an alternate theory out there, and there is a fair amount of evidence for it. The Celtics have been acquiring lots of draft picks and redundant players, which could mean that it is stockpiling assets in an attempt to trade for Timberwolves star center Kevin Love. Adding fuel to this rumor, the Celtics acquired another guard, Marcus Thornton, from the Nets in a three-player trade that also brought in center Tyler Zeller and yet another first-round pick (the C’s are poised to have eight first-round picks in the next four drafts… wow!) Love is the kind of player that could transform a franchise, as he has been very productive with Minnesota, but has repeatedly expressed a desire to leave. Boston was linked to Love trade rumors before the draft as well. Bradley or Rondo could be used as chips in this trade, along with possibly Olynyk, Sullinger, Thornton, Zeller, and others. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing any of these players go in exchange for Love, but I think Boston should try to hold on to Rondo and Olynyk if they can. Rondo’s value is obvious, and Olynyk is the kind of hardworking young player that the Celtics need to build a solid locker-room culture around. The thing is, I’m not sure that these assets are attractive enough to entice the Timberwolves to trade their star. Either way, it will be interesting to see what other moves the team makes this offseason.