The panic is palpable in Boston. The #1 seed in the East is down 2-0 to the Bulls. Chicago went 41-41 this season and got into the playoffs on the last night of the season. Here’s how bleak it is for Boston: No #1 seed has trailed a #8 seed 2-0 and come back to win a seven-game series. The Suns did it in 1993 against the Lakers, but it was only a 5-game series.
Boston may be able to rally and win the series, but big-picture, the question is obvious: Boston won 53 games, but only finished 12th in defensive efficiency and 8th in offensive efficiency, and although Isaiah Thomas may finish 5th in the MVP voting, he’s a 5-foot-10 point guard who doesn’t play defense. How does Danny Ainge blow this team up without falling too far?
Three easy steps!
1. TRADE! Determine which guys on the current roster you won’t trade – 20-year old Jaylen Brown is probably it – and then package a draft pick (a Boston pick, which will be a 1st, but not a Top 10 pick) and two of these three in exchange for Gordon Hayward (or Paul George, if you can get him): Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley or Jae Crowder.
2. DRAFT! … Markelle Fultz. I’ve been all over the place on the #1 pick. I believe in Lauri Markkanen and love his upside. And I really think Jayson Tatum will be a big-time star. But here’s why I’ve moved to Fultz in the last 72 hours – because Thomas has one year left on his deal. You aren’t going to trade him. Let Fultz come off the bench as a rookie, no pressure … and then the Celtics let Thomas hit free agency in 2018. Fultz takes over.
3. CALL UP THE YOUNG EUROS! Clear room on the roster – Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson are free agents, so there’s $17 million freed up – for two 2016 1st round picks: 21-year old Guerschon Yabusele, who I guy I work with calls the “French Draymond.” If he trims some of that baby fat, look out. The other player is 6-foot-11 Croatian Ante Zizic. He’s also 20.
The obvious question from Celtics fans: Wait, your rebuilding plan from a 53-win team is to add three players who will be under 22-years old when the season begins?
The counter to that: If you can’t get by the Bulls now, well, the Raptors and Wizards are built for the postseason, and we know the Cavs are going to be better for at least two more years (assuming LeBron stays healthy), so why bring back the same group and not trot out the young kids loaded with potential?
I’ll leave you with one memory: In 2012, the Thunder went to the Finals on the strength of a young, star-studded quartet: 23-year old Kevin Durant, 23-year old Russell Westbrook, 22-year old Serge Ibaka and 22-year old James Harden. In the next four years, they traded Harden, traded Ibaka and lost Durant to free agency. They never got back to the Finals.
Yes, three of those players have since morphed into MVP candidates. There’s no telling Boston’s quartet of Brown/Fultz/French Draymond/Zizic will sniff that level. But you’ve already seen the 2016-2017 Boston core for a couple years now. Are they winning you a title?