Five burning questions and answers about the Boston Celtics' immediate future in the wake of their four-game exit from the playoffs and team president Danny Ainge's end-of-season news conference Thursday:
1. Who is the Celtics' dream target in free agency?
Kevin Love is the most common reflex answer you hear these days.
Not so sure, though, that it's the correct answer.
The Celtics certainly want to make a free-agent splash this summer. No less an authority than Ainge was very clear at his farewell address that he knows he has no stars in Boston at the minute and needs to find at least one as soon as possible.
Yet Ainge is realistic. He also knows that Love -- irrespective of anything Kelly Olynyk did to him last weekend -- is going to be very hard to get come July. Which is a sentiment that applies to any of the top free agents.
And this has nothing to do with the long-running narrative about the Celtics and their decades of struggles when trying to sign the biggest names on the open market. It's more about the simple reality that the LaMarcus Aldridges, Marc Gasols and Kawhi Leonards of the world generally look to land with contending teams when deciding to walk away from an incumbent team that has treated them well.
The good news for Boston: Ainge and his staffers are creative and aggressive and understand all of those dynamics as well as anyone else. And that's why the Celtics realize their next major talent infusion is perhaps even more likely to come via trade rather than free-agent signings.
Will they open their war chest of future draft picks to try to pry DeMarcus Cousins away from Sacramento via trade? The early word out there is: Bank on it.
Will they be in the mix for pretty much any name player who unexpectedly comes available in coming months?
Bank on that, too.
An athletic big man or a scoring threat on the wing would appear to be Boston's two most glaring needs, but Ainge likely won't be choosy.
Expect him to try to pounce on the next elite player, at any position, who finds himself being abruptly shopped.
2. Who are the keepers from this band of overachievers?
By now it should be no secret that Ainge is willing to trade anybody or anything he has to in his quest to bring a certifiable franchise player to the Celtics and thus provide the first foundational piece to build around after the glory days of the Garnett-Pierce-Allen-Rondo quartet.
So there's no such thing as an untouchable on the current roster ... unless we expand the conversation to include the young darling in town.
Which could only mean Bill Simmons' beloved Brad Stevens.
Yet it's a misnomer to suggest that the Celtics don't already have players they're fond of.
Although it's true that no one on the present squad projects, at this time, to be a true top-three star on a title contender, there are
several useful players who would either look good in the supporting cast of a contender or show enough potential to merit more evaluation time.
• Before his name wound up in the news because of those unfortunate Game 4 scrapes with Kendrick Perkins and J.R. Smith, soon-to-be restricted free agent Jae Crowder had endeared himself to the point with his scrappy play that there's a solid "gotta keep him" groundswell circulating among Celtics fans.
• Jonas Jerebko showed similar, if less frequent, flashes and generated no shortage of praise from Ainge at the podium on Thursday. James Young, at 19, is too young not to be granted more time to develop. And Isaiah Thomas, widely presumed to have been snapped up by the Celtics largely because of his future traceability, continues to be one of the league's best sixth men and thus has value if he sticks around in both the short and long term ... even though everyone knows he'd rather start.
• It's likewise common knowledge that Ainge is extremely fond of his two ballhawking guards: Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. Their respective offensive limitations are undeniable, but Bradley and Smart are at the heart of Ainge's thinking when he makes the case that the team LeBron James' Cavs just swept might not be "as far as away as the world thinks."
3. Everyone talks about all the draft picks Boston has stockpiled. How many do they actually have?
I could try to answer this one myself.
Or I could defer to our pal Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com and the comprehensive list he keeps on his Celtics blog.
Just click here. He breaks it down as well as anyone can.
4. How valuable, really, is a pick stash that deep?
It's fodder for a good debate, since the overwhelming majority of the picks Boston can offer in trades will fall outside of the lottery.
And NBA math generally tells us that, in the modern draft, maybe 20 percent of players picked from No. 18 down actually become rotation players in this league.
That said ...
First-round draft picks, wherever they fall, still equate to hope for a good number of NBA executives and fans. Teams that have spare first-rounders to offer can thus almost always wedge their way into fruitful trade talks, because most clubs still like the idea of acquiring first-rounders in the hope of drafting potentially productive players who'll be on rookie-scale salaries for at least three seasons out of the gate.
The evidence? Potential late first-round picks in February triggered deadline-day deals for the likes of Arron Afflalo and Enes Kanter ... as well as a certain Jeff Green leaving Boston in a pre-deadline deal.
So ... put me in the camp that says having so many picks available to shop most certainly does give Boston more options than teams that are pick-shy.
5. What is Ainge's approval rating in Boston these days?
Pretty darn high.
The title team he assembled might have won only one championship, true, but those Celtics enjoyed a run that lasted all the way to the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.
The current team, meanwhile, overachieved even after the deals to ship out Rajon Rondo and Green that triggered the rebuild that's moving faster than expected.
And Ainge actually does have one franchise cornerstone on the roster already in Stevens, who hasn't yet seen his 40th birthday but routinely wins rave reviews for his X's-and-O's impact.
So, yes, Bostonians approve.