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One green paperclip: C's rebuilding plan

WALTHAM, Mass. -- A little less than a decade ago a Canadian blogger named Kyle MacDonald started the One Red Paperclip project.

Wrote MacDonald on his blog in July 2005: "This red paperclip is currently sitting on my desk next to my computer. I want to trade this paperclip with you for something bigger or better, maybe a pen, a spoon, or perhaps a boot. If you promise to make the trade, I will come and visit you, wherever you are, to trade. Hope to trade with you soon! --Kyle P.S. I'm going to make a continuous chain of 'up trades' until I get a house. Or an island. Or a house on an island. You get the idea."

Apologies to the Boston Celtics fan(s) who first directed me to the story and compared it to the rebuilding path that Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and his staff have chosen to navigate while retooling the team. But every time Boston makes another deal -- and it made its ninth of the season on Thursday -- the red paperclip story returns to mind.

MacDonald eventually made a series of 14 trades moving from the paperclip to items such as a pen, a generator, a van, a day with Alice Cooper, a KISS motorized snow globe (sweet!) and, finally, a two-story farmhouse in Saskatchewan -- all in less than one year's time.

Let's be absolutely clear here: The Celtics started with something much, much better than a red paperclip. The first domino in Boston's trade-a-palooza goes back to draft night 2013 when Boston parlayed Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce into a monster haul from the shortsighted (and now for sale) Brooklyn Nets.

But as the Celtics wheel and deal -- making four trades in the past five league business days -- we think the red paperclip is a fun comparison for Boston's desire to make a series of "up" moves designed to lead Boston back to the NBA penthouse.

OK, deep breath, Celtics fans. Let's take a minute and sort this all out after an insanely busy week.

We start with a glance at Boston's nine moves this season:

TRADER DANNY AT WORK

The Celtics have made nine trades since July. A look at the activity:

The Celtics executed their ninth trade since the start of the 2014-15 season on Thursday when they completed a three-team swap that delivered recently acquired Austin Rivers to the Los Angeles Clippers and brought back Phoenix's Shavlik Randolph and Los Angeles' Chris Douglas-Roberts, along with a 2017 second-round draft pick.

It's the fifth swap in less than a month's time. Boston has overhauled the top of its roster by sending out stars such as Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, all while the back end of the roster has become a revolving door.

What's important to note here is that, despite all the activity, Boston's nucleus -- outside of Rondo and Green -- has been largely unchanged much of the season. Of the 12 players who dressed for Wednesday's loss, 11 of them were on Boston's roster at the start of the regular season. Jae Crowder -- a key part of the deal that delivered Rondo to Dallas -- is the only true new body.

During their 2014-15 trade spree, the Celtics have dealt away nine players and only one second-round draft pick while bringing back 15 players and what's likely to amount to nine draft picks by the time they are all delivered. Of the players received since September, six have been waived, four have been dealt in follow-up trades, two have stuck (Crowder, Randolph) and one (Prince) will eventually land in one of those categories.

Essentially, Boston has maneuvered with three goals in mind: (1) Bring back future draft picks; (2) create salary cap flexibility in future seasons; and (3) open increased opportunities for the younger players who now comprise the base of this rebuilding project.

A lot of these back-end moves don't register on the (John) Richter scale when measuring magnitude of trades. But what seems most important to focus on is the total accumulation of assets that Boston was able to create, particularly in dealing away stars Rondo and Green.

Remember that both Rondo and Green had the potential to walk away after the season without compensation. Rondo wanted to test unrestricted free agency while seeking a max contract, while Green has a player option that allows him to opt out and seek a bigger, long-term deal. Despite the fact both were essentially rentals on the trade market, Ainge turned those two players into the following:

• Crowder

• 2 first-round picks

• 4 second-round picks

• $20.3 million over three trade exceptions

• $11.9 million in expiring contracts (Prince, Robinson, Randolph, Douglas-Roberts)

If Boston can re-sign Crowder at a reasonable salary, he will be a young rotation player who has already elevated to a starting role. Boston can utilize its three trade exceptions to take on additional salary before this season's trade deadline and possibly pull back even more draft picks. The moves made thus far have dropped Boston's total salary commitment this season (opening that door to help those close to the tax line in return for picks) and positioned the Celtics to have the available money to pursue a big-ticket free agent this offseason.

OK, so it's not a house -- not yet anyway. But the Celtics have slowly (well, not this week) built toward a brighter future. They've given themselves multiple paths to navigate, but also a margin for error, something that most rebuilding teams don't have.

So where do they go from here?

The addition of Randolph provides a serviceable big man who can elevate to a rotation role should a team come calling on Brandon Bass. The backcourt is still a bit overstocked, and the Celtics would listen to most reasonable offers on Marcus Thornton and his bulky expiring deal.

Hop HERE for more on the team's salary cap situation moving forward. With the recent swaps, the Celtics have shrunk their commitment for next season down toward $33.2 million. That's going to leave a good chunk of money to play with. Boston can swing for the fences, or take care of its own backyard (new deals for Jared Sullinger and Crowder?). That number could dive even further if the Celtics are willing to give up assets to shed Gerald Wallace's final season (or consider stretching his cap charge over the next three seasons).

We keep saying it: The Celtics need an awful lot to go right moving forward. Young players really have to use the final 45 games of this season to develop and make the progress that suggests this team can make a leap by adding some key parts moving forward.

It's still going to take some time, but we're intrigued to see what becomes of the green paperclip.

(Update: H/T to paaj13 on Reddit for first pointing out One Red Paperclip)