<
>

Mailbag: #TeamLotto vs. #TeamEightSeed

The Boston Celtics have played nearly .500 ball (7-8) in the month that has passed since they formally delivered Jeff Green to the Memphis Grizzlies. And Boston fans couldn't be more conflicted. While almost all green-teamers are thrilled with the progress and development of the team's young talent -- particularly the daily advancement of rookie point guard Marcus Smart -- and the way this team has been competitive on a nightly basis, many of those same fans look at Boston lurking in playoff contention in the Eastern Conference and actually fear a surge.

And that -- combined with the approaching trade deadline and the vigilance of the James Young Fan Club -- was the hottest topic in this week's Celtics Mailbag. So let's throw down our shovels for a minute and dig our way through your snow-covered letters.

Q: What's better for the future of this team: Missing the playoffs for a lotto pick or making the playoffs for experience? -- @CelticWelch (via Twitter)

A: Here's how I look at it: Even if the Celtics really struggle over the final 30 games of the season, I don't see this team sliding far enough to catch the following teams: Magic, 76ers, Knicks, Lakers, and Timberwolves. And there's a case to be made that, especially in the West, the Jazz, Nuggets, and Kings could all finish with worse records than Boston (and who knows what happens with the Pacers, Nets, and Pistons in the East?)

So let's say that Boston finishes where it currently stands with the ninth-worst record in the league. That would give the Celtics a 1.7 percent chance at the No. 1 pick and a 6.1 percent chance at a top 3 pick. That doing anything for you?

Best-case scenario for #TeamLotto would seemingly be Boston getting down to the sixth-worst record, which is certainly feasible with only 1 ½ games separating them from that spot at the moment, though it's that Western trio of Jazz, Nuggets, and Kings ahead of them. That still leaves Boston with only a 6.3 percent chance at the top spot and a 21.5 percent chance at a top 3 pick. Sure, it's better odds, but remember that Boston tied for the fourth-worst record last season and still ended up at No. 6 overall.

Which is why I'm on #TeamEightSeed. Make no mistake: I think the Celtics absolutely have to consider moving some of their veterans at the deadline. There's still too much of a swingman logjam (more on that later, Young fans) and if Boston can get value on a player like Brandon Bass or Marcus Thornton, it shouldn't hesitate to make that move.

But if the Celtics truly desire to build around this young core of players, then I think the value of simply being in a race for a playoff spot -- whether they get in or not -- and that potential to taste postseason basketball has a much higher likelihood of aiding the team's future than a slight uptick in the percentages of landing a top pick.

And, ultimately, the Celtics have enough future draft picks that, if they desire to move around the draft board and target a particular player, they can make it happen without having to rely on the ping-pong balls.

So why not embrace making a run? Isn't that a whole lot more fun than the alternative?

Q: Is it bad that I still secretly hope the Celtics win every game? I know that's not a popular opinion these days. -- @RobMcCraw (via Twitter)

A: Welcome to #TeamEightSeed, Rob. It also gives us a chance to repurpose all these T-shirts.

Q: I know this is the question on most folks' minds: When are we going to see more of James Young? -- Bobby (Peabody, Mass.)

A: I'm guessing that James Young will only have to wait one more game to ensure more consistent playing time the rest of the 2014-15 campaign (Boston plays Atlanta on Wednesday in its last game before the trade deadline). When Tayshaun Prince was sidelined for four games recently, Young was playing early and often. If the Celtics move either Prince or Thornton at the deadline, then that opens the door for Young to play again. I think it's important that the 19-year-old Young, who has certainly been brought along slowly, gets time late in the year and I believe the Celtics' front office will ensure that happens by clearing the lingering logjam, one way or another. Some fans yearning for a playoff push will wonder if it's better to hold on to a veteran like Prince or Thornton, but if Young develops with more floor time then I'm not sure it impacts a potential playoff push all that much. And youth development has to be a priority regardless of direction, anyhow.

Q: Do you think the Celtics are going to make more trades, or ride out this roster until the season is over? -- @sls1231 (via Twitter)

A: I think if there are trades to be made that can help the team now or in the future, then Danny Ainge will make them. But it won't come at the cost of taking on long-term salary or compromising any of the flexibility the team has worked hard to give itself. So if a contender needs an upgrade and can offer some combination of young talent, draft picks, or expiring contracts, it's fair to assume that veterans like Bass, Thornton, and Prince are available. Their salaries make moves a little tricky, but certainly not impossible. One thing to keep in mind: Boston still has a bunch of trade exceptions and plenty of room under the tax line that could allow them to take back a contract from a contender in return for additional assets.

Q: It amazes me that Brandon Bass is still on this team. I'm surprised that no playoff teams out there have interest in him as a rental. I think he brings a very unique skill set to the table. I think the Celtics should move him, even if they only get a minimal return. Freeing up minutes is more important than a playoff push. Thornton should be moved as well, if possible. Thoughts? -- Phil (Ardmore, Pa.)

A: I've said it often: Bass is seemingly an ideal trade target for contenders that need a defensive-minded 4 that won't rock the boat, will embrace any role you give him, and has a modest expiring contract. It might ultimately come down to need and whether contenders find him to be the best value of available bodies. The Celtics won't give him away, but if the team is committed to more small ball even after Kelly Olynyk returns, then Bass is all the more movable.

Q: Jared Sullinger is showing as our best player. Can he and Kelly Olynyk co-exist (on D)? Early returns say no. Should we move one or them? -- @Rob_Hein (via Twitter)

A: A quick glance at Sullinger/Olynyk combo this season shows the duo playing 374 minutes together over 40 games. Boston is plus-8.3 points per 48 minutes with them on the floor and they actually have a plus-1.8 net rating overall (even if the defensive rating of 105 points per 100 possessions is a bit higher than Brad Stevens might like). I've said it before, I don't think having both is anything to fret at the moment. Let's see how they continue to develop. Olynyk provides an awful lot of flexibility coming off the bench at the moment.

Q: Why does Brad Stevens like Evan Turner so much? Why does he continue to play him so much? He is not only a terrible PG, but his basketball IQ is zero. Phil Pressey is a much better fit for this team than Evan Turnerover. -- EconJunkie (Freehold, N.J.)

A: For a player on a reasonable two-year contract, it's hard for me to quibble too much with Turner's performance. He's provided flexibility, including holding down the point guard spot while Smart got comfortable and now he's slid back to his more natural small forward spot, which has allowed Jae Crowder to thrive in a bench role. The last 15 games (since Green's departure), Turner is giving the Celtics 8.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.7 assists over 27.9 minutes per game. Sure, turnovers are an issue, but he's also one of the few perimeter players that can create off the dribble. He's probably exceeded my initial expectations and he seems to be a good locker room presence.

LIGHTNING ROUND!

Q: Why is Bryce Cotton not on the Celtics yet??? -- @djahnz (via Twitter)

A: Cotton, a Providence product, has certainly had a quality season in the D-League (21.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists over a whopping 40.3 minutes per game). He raised some eyebrows during pre-draft workouts with Boston, excelling in the team's famous sprint drill. Boston is obviously overstocked at guard, but maybe he gets a Tim Frazier-like call-up from another team.

Q: Please rank and give odds -- I am writing from Vegas after all -- for the Celtics players on the likelihood of being traded before the deadline? And is Danny only after draft picks? Or might he actually have his eye on a certain player or two he'd like to trade for? -- Cameron (Las Vegas)

A: Bass 5:3; Prince 4:1; Thornton 7:1; Turner 20:1; Wallace 500:1. Picks have clearly been the preferred method of payment, but young cheap talent is rarely discouraged. If a player who can help the team now -- and into the future -- is available, then there's no reason for Boston to hesitate on its offseason shopping. Boston has trade exceptions, room below the tax, and draft picks to shop now.

Q: It won't happen, but hypothetically, how many of Boston's first-round treasure chest would Anthony Davis be worth? -- Paaj (Boston)

A: All of them.

Q: I thought the D-League changed and became, basically a minor league team. The the Celtics signed [Andre Dawkins] from [Sioux Falls] and the 76ers signed Tim Frazier from the Red Claws. So after all that, what are the rules for the D-league? Could you lose a player if you sent them there? -- Tom (Johnson City, Tenn.)

A: Each team can send a handful of final training camp cuts to their D-League squad as affiliated players, but all D-League players that are not under contract to an NBA team are essentially available to anyone. The affiliated system is simply a way to get players onto your D-League squad and get a closer look at their development, but other teams can pluck them.

Q: How many wins do you think the Celtics need to make the playoffs, and how many do you think they will actually get?

-- Chris (Ypsilanti, Mich.)

A: Hollinger's playoff odds entering Monday's action pegs Miami as the eighth seed at 35 wins. Boston currently projects at 34 wins. If I take a swig of this green Kool-Aid and attempt a haphazard guess on each of Boston's remaining games, I think Boston has potential to go 16-16 the rest of the way -- if it really steps up against Eastern Conference foes -- and that would put them at 35 wins. If nothing else, Boston should hang around in the discussion and that could be just as valuable as actually making the postseason. Heck, maybe that's the best scenario. Then #TeamLotto and #TeamEightSeed both get a little bit of fun.