HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens still has that six-year contract, which is good, because he still doesn’t have much talent to work with.
The Celtics haven’t stood idly by over the first two weeks of free agency. They re-signed guard Avery Bradley and picked up assets (a first round pick and a trade exception) by helping the Cleveland Cavaliers clear cap space and the Washington Wizards sign Kris Humphries.
The Celtics also added to their young core by drafting Marcus Smart and James Young, and adding Tyler Zeller in the Cleveland trade. They now have six first-round picks under the age of 25 on their roster (the others are Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger).
Celtics president Danny Ainge also has a bunch of extra future first round picks lying around. Few teams are as stocked with assets.
The potential is there for a very good team in the future. But the present is still pretty ugly. And though young players and draft picks are keys to trading for a star, the Celtics lack the one blue-chip asset that would make other teams salivate. If the Timberwolves eventually relent and trade Kevin Love, other teams can offer more tempting packages.
Celtics fans can take comfort in seeing the potential of a Smart/Young backcourt. They can anticipate further development from Olynyk and Sullinger. But they will also be watching a team that will rank in the 20s in offensive efficiency for the fourth straight season.
To succeed offensively, you need two things: a player or two that can draw double-teams and perimeter shooting. The Celtics lack both. They ranked 27th in offensive efficiency last season, and it’s hard to see them being much better this year, even with a healthy Rajon Rondo.
Rondo can be brilliant at times, but without potent scorers around him, he doesn’t put much pressure on opposing defenses. The Celtics were even a bad offensive team in their last two seasons with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. And Rondo made no impact on Boston’s offensive numbers upon his return last season.
Jeff Green has size and talent, but is neither consistent nor efficient. And Bradley is the only player on the roster who shot better than the league average from 3-point range last season.
Defensively, the Celtics have a strength on the wings (with Bradley and Gerald Wallace), but lack rim protection. With a season of Stevens’ system under their belt, they should be better than they were last season (when they ranked 20th) on that end, but probably not any better than the league average.
The 2014-15 Eastern Conference is going to be fascinating. All eight playoff teams from last season are still very much in the mix, while Cleveland and Detroit clearly improved with the additions of the best player in the world and one of the best coaches in the game.
Along with the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic and Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics will likely be watching from afar as those 10 teams (and maybe New York) fight for eight playoff spots.
Ainge’s options were limited this summer. Though it’s been a year since parting with Pierce and Garnett, his payroll is still well over the salary cap. He’ll have some flexibility next summer, but also Rondo to re-sign or let go and Green and Wallace on the books for another season.
So, Stevens will have at least another year to learn the league and implement his system. And it won’t be until at least Year 3 of his contract when we find out if he was worth a six-year commitment.