When the Boston Celtics began their 2014-15 season, there were few prognosticators (including myself) that could foresee this group of players being playoff contenders. The Celtics’ roster was an odd assembly of veteran role players, young (but unproven) young talent, and one All Star (Rajon Rondo). As good as Rondo is and has been, his best days in green were feeding the ball to three future Hall of Fame players. Given their roster, most believed a high lottery pick would be in the organization’s best interest and likely be in its imminent future. So how did this mix-and-match team reach the point; where one week from season’s end, the Celtics are in the Eastern Conference’s 8th seed with the potential of ascending as high as 6th?
First of all; it is important to state what many will view to be obvious. The NBA Eastern Conference is top-heavy and weak. While the Western Conference will likely have two non-playoff teams with a .500 record or better, there will be potentially three Eastern Conference playoff teams with a sub-.500 record.
There is an old adage; it is not about the destination but rather the journey. For this season’s Boston Celtics, their journey has taken several detours that could still result in playoff basketball being played at TD Garden.
The Celtics front office added an air of mystery surrounding their regular season quest. It seemed early into the campaign, the front office acted as if the time was right to move on from their recent successful past in order to accelerate their future. As part of the countless transactions that occurred this year; there were four trades conducted, there were three of which were instrumental in shaping the roster from a lottery team into a playoff contender.
On December 18th (Celtics record at the time 9-14), Boston would trade All Star Rondo (forward Dwight Powell included as salary filler) to Dallas as part of a three-team deal. In return Boston would obtain four players, including Jae Crowder and Brandon Wright. At the time, it seemed like an early move to plummet in the standings while freeing up future cap space. What few of us realized at the time was Crowder would evolve into a valuable cog in the Celtics playoff march; while Wright would be a key piece in another (January 12) deal that would jettison perpetual teaser Jeff Green to Memphis in yet another three-team trade. At the time of the January 12th deal, the Celtics had fallen further in the standings; possessing a 13-23 record. All signs pointed to the slide continuing as the season progressed.
Between January 12 and February 19, Boston were surprisingly playing close to .500 basketball (7-8 record). The third and final of the major moves (February 19), would change the Celtics short-term fortunes dramatically; as recently acquired Tayshaun Prince’s salary (from Memphis), along with off-season free agent signee Marcus Thornton would be shipped in (yes you guessed it) another three-team deal. In return, the Celtics obtained diminutive point guard Isaiah Thomas.
From February 19th to the present, the Boston Celtics record is 13-11; elevating the team to the 8th seed in the playoff race. The play of Thomas (18.9 PPG with Boston) off the bench has solidified the backcourt rotation; while Crowder has contributed 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds as a borderline starter/reserve forward. The Celtics’ roster versatility and athleticism has fit head coach Brad Stevens’ style of play to a tee. In addition, the team obtained more role players through these trades; each of which will never be a household name but has had a shining moment or two as contributors to a team win.
Is this playoff push a good thing for the franchise? Many would argue that the Celtics would be best served gaining more young talent. But some (myself included) believe that there is no better way to set a championship atmosphere than to pull out all the stops and make the improbable, possible. Even though the NBA draft is filled with promise, there are no clear-cut guarantees that; (1) Boston would get a high lottery pick, and (2) the drafted player would ever attain the success that his promise implied.
A playoff berth could easily end in a series sweep. It is also possible that Boston could steal a game or two; pushing their superior conference foes (Atlanta, Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto) to a lengthy series. I for one am a believer that a short but intense playoff experience will generate far more of a development experience than a full 82-game schedule combined. The tone set by a Boston Celtics playoff appearance will further cement Danny Ainge’s reputation as an elite front office mastermind. At the same time, all the effort and energy head coach Brad Stevens has expended has rubbed off on his players; providing each hope that brighter days are ahead for one of the league’s most successful franchise. During the entire season, Celtics players have spoken out regarding the respect they have for their fiery bench general.
All signs point to the Celtics being a better team for their experience to date, not to mention what a playoff berth would result in. While the franchise’s success achieved this year pales in comparison to their championship predecessors, it is no less valuable in the development and evolution of this team in the year’s to come. Better days are ahead for the Boston Celtics; and look no farther than what transpired in the 2014-15 campaign as playing a major role. For that reason alone, I urge the Celtics to go all-in for a playoff berth. There are no sure things in today’s world; grab for the brass ring every time you are within reach.