After reading our after-the-season Take 'Em of Trash 'Em polls, some commenters balked at the notion that we lobbied for the return of 10 players from this year's Boston Celtics roster. And you can understand their logic: Why bring back a similar looking team after a 25-57 campaign in which the Celtics posted the third worst winning percentage in team history?
With the usual caveats that nobody knows how this roster will look next season -- fireworks could give this group another makeover, or the team might be content to simply shuffle the deck a bit and add talent to its core -- we don't necessarily believe it's outlandish to think that Boston could compete moving forward with many of the same faces back.
Looking ahead to next season, even if the Celtics make minimal changes, the team is likely to have (1) A healthier Rajon Rondo; (2) A more experienced Brad Stevens; and (3) Two first-round picks, including a lottery selection (assuming they keep the picks). That's a pretty solid base to build off.
After Wednesday's season finale, Rondo, who said he'll offer advice on roster construction, was asked if he'd like to see additions to the roster.
"I think we finished the season with 10 guys, so hopefully we can get five more guys, a strong group of 15 guys," said Rondo.
Pressed on if he'd want big changes, Rondo offered, "Who knows? If it’s one guy that competes, buys into the system, and plays with the team."
The Celtics have two particularly glaring needs: A rim protector (or at least a talented pure center) and a go-to scoring presence that can aid late-game situations. Neither role is particularly easy to fill in the NBA. But let's say the Celtics use their trade exception and some future picks to go pry Omer Asik from Houston, or try to sign-and-trade for someone like free-agent-to-be Marcin Gortat. And let's say the ping-pong balls bounce their way and Boston ends up landing a high pick like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. Even with the return of the 10 players we advocated for in the Take 'Em of Trash 'Em poll, here's a potential depth chart:
Guards: Rondo, Avery Bradley, Phil Pressey
Swingmen: Jeff Green, Jabari Parker, Gerald Wallace, Chris Johnson
Bigs: Omer Asik, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani
The Celtics could fill out their roster with the team's other first-round pick (assuming it keeps the selection) and Ainge could bring back additional talent if able to move the likes of Brandon Bass, Joel Anthony, or Keith Bogans' nonguaranteed contract in deals.
Does that 12-man roster compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference? Absolutely. We can't say it's a conference title contender, but it's in the playoff mix. We can't overstate what having some backline help with do for this defense, and adding another young player with a high ceiling would make the future very bright for Boston.
So much depends on how the ping-pong balls bounce on May 20 and what Ainge is able to do with his stash of assets this offseason.
But even Stevens believes his team will improve based solely on the experiences of this past season.
"First of all, I think that the guys that will be back -- and we don’t know exactly who that will be, right? -- the guys that will be back will be better," said Stevens. "I’ll be better. Does that guarantee that you’re going to be really good, or significantly better? No, because you still have to, night in night out, beat the opponent, who is also improving and also getting better. At the end of the day, a lot of it will be determined on how much we all improve in the course of the offseason and what pieces we add that complement the people that are already here, whether they go-to guys or whether they are complementary guys that just fit well. There’s a chance that we could really be looking at both of those. I think at the end of the day, we’ll see how that shakes itself out.
"But the guys that are here will be better if they are back. And I really feel strongly about that."