Back in late October, before the start of the 2014-15 season and the arrival of a brutal November schedule, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted how, in his final seasons at Butler University, he used to frontload the Bulldogs' schedule with top competition. The reason?
"So that, at Christmas, we could honestly evaluate ourselves," explained Stevens. "I think we're going to be able to do that here, too."
For the second straight season, the Celtics find themselves idle on Christmas. With Boston still navigating the rebuilding path, the Celtics are not one of the selected few to headline the NBA's marquee day that features a five-game national slate.
And Stevens was correct in his prediction that this year's team would be able to honestly evaluate itself at Christmas. In fact, the team got a jump on its holiday assessment. With last week's trade of star point guard Rajon Rondo, and whispers that Boston is still active in pursuit of assets, it's clear the Celtics are a team chasing the vision of a brighter future while dissatisfied with the present.
The Celtics will unwrap their Christmas gifts with a 10-16 record this year. For a team that entered the new season seeking progress, that's a disappointing step backward considering the 12-17 mark it owned at this time last year (all while Rondo was still rehabbing from an ACL injury). Danny Ainge was brutally honest in assessing the team when he elected to move on from Rondo to pursue a new, less defined path to contender status.
The Celtics, by virtue of a dilapidated Eastern Conference, remain on the fringe of the postseason putting green, a mere 1 ½ games behind both Brooklyn and Miami. There remains a chance that, even as Boston makes moves with the future in mind, this team could remain in the playoff hunt. And while that might come at the expense of loftier draft position, it's unlikely the team would fight the idea of learning how to win games and getting a much-needed taste of postseason basketball.
But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. These Celtics, as currently constituted, have a flawed roster that's overcrowded at multiple positions. More moves seem inevitable and those tweaks are likely to only further encourage the team to lean heavily on its youngest players for the sake of development.
With the Cavaliers losing Anderson Varejao for the remainder of the season, there are whispers that Cleveland has been in talks with the Celtics about potential three-team swaps. This is where the dirty work in turning this team around is done, and Ainge must take advantage of eager shoppers.
In the immediate aftermath of the Rondo deal, Ainge suggested that the team would "take a deep breath" and "enjoy the holidays" before plotting the next move. But two recent losses only hammered home how overcrowded Boston's roster is. The Celtics need to make a move to simply ease the burden on Stevens.
Remember that Boston made a pair of trades in early January last season, moving Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks with the goal of decluttering its roster and bringing back some future assets. Overstocked at multiple positions again this year, most notably at the power forward spot, Boston is likely to continue engaging contenders eager to bolster their teams for playoff runs. Celtics fans shouldn't expect high returns as players on a 10-16 team have only so much value. But every little bit helps.
For Celtics fans, this process of exchanging talent for future potential isn't easy to stomach. It was a lot more fun clicking on the TV on Christmas Day and finding Boston among the league's elite.
The Celtics were honest in their evaluation; this isn't where they want to be at Christmas. Sometimes the hardest part in getting where you want to go is admitting the current path isn't the best way to get there.