On a night when they had a chance to change the recent perception that they are a franchise in chaos, the Celtics used their first-round picks on talented players who can contribute immediately, an astute move.
If the Celtics are going to be a considerably different team next season, they might as well be younger, and more likeable. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge used two of the team’s three first-round picks on Indiana’s Romeo Langford and Tennessee’s Grant Williams, who could perhaps become rotation players in the near future.
And then they invested their first second-round pick on Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, an Isaiah Thomas clone who dropped 42 on eventual national champion Virginia in the NCAA Tournament.
With Kyrie Irving and Al Horford likely gone, and the Celtics’ chances of competing for a title next season disintegrating, they might as well start rebuilding the foundation and start loading the roster with fresh faces, new voices, and desires for greatness.
Williams and Langford don’t know anything about what happened last season. They are just excited to get drafted, to play in the NBA and for a franchise as prestigious as the Celtics.
It’s time for the Celtics to make the best out of an unenviable situation and scrape up all of their cap space. They added to that lot by moving the popular Aron Baynes to the Phoenix Suns. Now they can bring in as many rookies as they need to compete for jobs.
It’s time for the Celtics to reboot by opening roles to whoever is the best candidate, regardless of when or where they were drafted. That means Guerschon Yabusele isn’t guaranteed a job because his contract is guaranteed. It means an expanded role for Semi Ojeleye and perhaps more minutes for Daniel Theis, maybe an opportunity to bring back Marcus Morris or perhaps spend their cap space on a maximum player.
Thursday was the fresh start the Celtics were looking for. Of course they are reeling. They didn’t expect Horford to consider other options after opting out of his contract. They didn’t expect him to not to come back, but it’s happening.
Irving is likely headed for the Brooklyn Nets or somewhere else besides Boston. The Celtics have been staggered in the past week but no one is going to feel sorry for the franchise with 17 championships, who were favorites to go to the NBA Finals last season and failed miserably, and with the wunderkind coach that some around the league believe has received too much praise too fast.
“Everything is an opportunity,” coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s been pretty well documented how this year went, how in the moment it was really disappointing and it was something that we all would say [we] were disappointed by.
“I think if I take a step back and look at it from a big-picture standpoint you say OK, the last three years we’ve been to a couple of Eastern Conference finals and second round, it wouldn’t feel as bad. Obviously with the way this particular year went, it didn’t feel good. With that said, even when we’re in a position where we’ll have some uncertainty as we move forward, we’re in pretty good shape. Obviously these are new opportunities, opportunities to evaluate where we are.”
While the potential departures of Horford and Irving will be quite costly, the Celtics had to move on, realize that they still have assets — although it would be nice if they used those assets soon — and enough talent to compete and recover from last season.
The draft is an opportunity for all 30 teams to make splashes and be significant, if only for one night. It’s a chance to reset, draft new players who could make immediate impacts and change perceptions.
Last year was last year. It was a major disappointment. It didn’t work out for the Celtics. They didn’t get along. They didn’t play well. Irving pointed fingers at his teammates and most pointed their fingers right back. And finally, when it appeared that Irving’s eventual departure would be the Celtics’ biggest obstacle this summer, Horford opts out and then figures there are better situations to finish his career.
It was a hurtful blow. But Langford, Williams and Edwards don’t know anything about that. All they know is the Celtics drafted them and they have a chance to chase their dreams playing for one of the better coaches in the NBA and for one of the better teams in the NBA.
The residue from last season has to be left in last season. Lessons have to be learned from Ainge to Stevens to the players, but it’s time for a fresh start in Boston.
The Celtics will have to again build a championship contender and while they may be a few years away, it’s closer than it was on Wednesday. The Celtics can’t lament the past, just learn from their mistakes.