Bulpett: Celtics have bigger goals than winning in this year’s playoffs
What if the Celtics get one of the top two or three picks in this June’s draft?
What if they sign a max-level free agent this summer?
What if they make a trade or two that alleviates some of the roster logjam and brings back solid veteran help?
What if Ante Zizic and/or Guerschon Yabusele can contribute as we get deeper into next season?
What if they make themselves into a legitimate threat to be on the schedule in June 2018?
All of which leads to a sixth question: If you’re watching a true contender in Green next year, will you care about what happened in the 2017 playoffs?
With it pretty clear to all but the seriously Green-eyed that these Celts are not where they want or need to be in the grand NBA scheme, there is more and more talk about what they need to accomplish for this to be a “successful” season. That fact is usually raised in the form of “they have to do X, or it will be a failure” is pretty fair evidence that the statement is being made in search of a sizzling take.
Certainly those who follow the club would like to see progress that goes beyond the not-so-insignificant fact that, with one more victory, the C’s will have increased their win total in each of the seasons since the 25-57 dive that followed the dispatching of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. They won 40, then 48 and stand now at 48 with Orlando, the Knicks and Brooklyn still on the schedule.
Then comes the postseason and the presumed need to take a step forward. Injuries hindered them in a six-game loss to Atlanta last season, and they didn’t really belong in the same gym with the Finals-bound Cavaliers in 2015, a 4-0 sweep.
So, yeah, you’d probably want to see the Celts get past the first round this year just for the sake of the optics. When you get past the obvious power of the Cavs, there is simply not a great deal that will separate the rest of the playoff entrants when it comes to talent. Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee should have hammered home this point. The Celtics aren’t that much better than anybody they will face.
The edge in any East matchup not involving Cleveland will, therefore, come down to matchups and execution. A few missed shots here or there, and the Celts could fade from the postseason by the end of April.
If such is the case, the gnashing of teeth will torch the C’s and their coach as regular season wonders. People will question the makeup of the roster, which will be a rather humorous argument, in that the club had essentially admitted already it is not yet fit to contend.
Then, on May 16, the NBA will conduct its draft lottery and the Celtics will be entertaining top prospects for individual and group workouts. Then, on June 22, the league will hold its draft. Then, in July, teams will begin negotiating with free agents. All the while, Danny Ainge will be open for trade business.
Objects in the Celtics followers’ rearview mirror — objects like the 2017 playoffs — will appear more distant than galaxies far, far away. Any postseason disappointment will be further expunged if the Celts have success with the ping-pong balls and in their summer pursuits.
How do we know this to be fact? History.
The 2006-07 Celtics won 24 games, losing 18 straight at one point and telling Pierce to sit out near the end because the club needed him to rest his foot. Either that or they were trying to tank for a better chance in the lottery. But dreams of Kevin Durant or (shudder) Greg Oden drifted away when the Celts, with the second-best odds, saw three teams jump the line and elbow them to the No. 5 pick.
Then there was the draft night trade for Ray Allen. Then there was the deal for Kevin Garnett. Then not a single soul cared about the 2006-07 season and calls for Doc Rivers’ head and Sebastian Telfair starting 30 games. It will certainly be fun for those with a rooting interest to see a long stay at the playoff party this year, but even that won’t signify anything meaningful unless there are offseason victories that follow.
People in these parts enjoyed the 2002 run to the East finals, but there was no question that was a flawed team playing in a flawed conference. And what did that get them other than a delay in recognizing the deeper problems? Ainge understood the mess when he took over a year later, and it’s a good bet he won’t be unduly influenced by what does or doesn’t happen in these playoffs. Will you?