While the Cleveland Cavaliers are celebrating an epic come-from-behind NBA Finals victory over the Golden State Warriors, the best regular season team in history, there is a threat emerging in the Eastern Conference and they’re looking to dethrone the new champions.
The Boston Celtics, coming off their second straight playoff appearance, recorded 48 victories this past season and – in a rarity for team’s with success – own a lottery pick in this year’s draft.
And not only is Boston in the lottery, the Celtics own the third pick of the draft and two other first round picks (No. 16 and No. 23) for extra measure. The team is also projected to have between $16 million to $50 million in salary cap room this summer to dip their toes into the free agency market to bolster the rotation.
There are three ways for a franchise to improve in the NBA – the draft, free agency and trades. The Celtics are positioned well in all three areas to jump into the realm of the elite next season if president of basketball operations Danny Ainge can successfully maximize his current assets and strengths.
Leading up to the draft, there have been plenty of rumors surrounding the No. 3 overall pick and whether the Celtics would keep it or look to package it for a more NBA-ready performer. Heading into the draft, it appears the Celtics have been unable to find a willing dance partner to make a blockbuster deal.
This puts the Celtics in a similar position as they were leading up to the 2007-08 campaign. The Celtics were coming off of a 24-win season, but armed with a top five pick in the draft. Ainge wasn’t able to strike a deal before the draft and ultimately selected forward Jeff Green with the pick. Then the club leveraged Green, along with Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and a 2008 second round draft pick in order to acquire future Hall of Famer Ray Allen from the Seattle SuperSonics. One month later, the club was able to acquire future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves and the team rollicked through the regular season and won a title.
So while on the surface it appears the Celtics’ overtures at opposing teams have fallen on deaf ears leading up to the draft, Ainge has been in this territory before and was able to dramatically improve his team in the process.
The Celtics can opt to take the best available player at the third spot and still leverage it into an asset that can help the franchise get back into the title hunt quicker. There is no reason to view Ainge being unable to get a taker for the third overall pick before the draft as a negative. There’s plenty of time before training camp begins to work the trade market, add free agents and evaluate your drafted prospects (summer league).
When you look at the top five teams in the Eastern Conference this past season, the Celtics are in a prime position to take leaps.
Yes, Cleveland will enter next season as the clear-cut favorites. But the Toronto Raptors have questions of their own with All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan headed to free agency. The Miami HEAT have free agency questions with emerging center Hassan Whiteside and guard Dwyane Wade looking to cash in, while still being unclear on the long-term future of forward Chris Bosh. In Atlanta, the Hawks have center Al Horford’s free agency looming over the franchise as well as the future of former All-Star Jeff Teague.
As we head into the draft, Boston holds the cards. How the team plays the third overall pick could have a domino effect on the league and position the franchise as the top challengers (in the East) for the newly crowned Cavaliers.
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