With the NBA Draft taking place on Thursday, June 26th, the Boston Celtics hold the 6th and 17th pick (along with a bevy of future draft picks and other assets) and as such have some options not just on draft night, but the entire off-season and right up till the February 2015 deadline this upcoming season. Whether they keep their picks, trade them, or some combination thereof one thing is for certain; whatever the Celtics decide will determine what direction the franchise takes for the next few years. Last month, we had a little fun with my two biggest passions, NBA Basketball and Hip Hop, by setting each Conference Finals participant to a particular rap lyric. With that in mind let’s examine 4 potential moves the Celtics can make come draft night and beyond, discussed within the context of Rap song titles that speak to each particular situation.
Note: For this piece, we’ve chosen to connect the dots via the song title, not necessarily the context within the song itself. Matching an entire track’s lyrical content to hypothetical draft night scenarios would prove to be an exercise in futility, so again we’re focusing on the track titles here, not necessarily the track’s lyrics.
Scenario # 1 – Joel Embiid, who we learned this past week has a broken foot and will be out 4-6 months, falls in the draft and the Celtics select him with the 6th pick.
Rap Song Title: ‘The Breaks’ by Kurtis Blow
No bigger development has occurred since we last explored Danny Ainge’s options in this year’s draft than consensus top 2 pick, Kansas center Joel Embiid breaking his right foot and subsequently undergoing a surgical procedure to insert 2 screws in his navicular bone. With a 4-6 month timetable for recovery, Joel’s services will be available to whatever team drafts him before next year’s All Star break. That is of course, barring any other setbacks. And here’s where this scenario gets interesting for Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
While Michael Jordan had a similar surgery his 2nd year in the league and not only recovered nicely but went on to become the greatest player of all time, history has not been kind to big men, specifically centers who’ve had foot & leg issues with subsequent corrective surgeries. The most recent example of the big men with bad feet phenomenon is Greg Oden, who in the weeks preceding the 2007 draft was being mentioned with such greats as Shaquille O’Neal and Bill Russell as the next great center in a league where true centers don’t come around too often anymore. Drafted with the number 1 pick (ahead of 2014 MVP Kevin Durant, ouch!), Greg Oden has undeniably been one of the bigger busts in NBA history, failing to not only live up to the hype as a top pick, but to any reasonable expectations whatsoever. He’s never played so much as a third of a season, has had injury and procedure after injury and procedure, and was last seen in street clothes on the Miami Heat bench during the NBA Finals, once again unable to contribute to a team that desperately could have used his size against the great Tim Duncan and eventual Champion San Antonio Spurs.
But the big men with debilitating foot and leg issues list doesn’t stop at Greg Oden. Think 1974 1st round pick of the Portland Trailblazers, Bill Walton, who after 2 injury plagued seasons was able to put up one mostly healthy season (playing 65 games in the ’76/’77 season en route to an MVP award capped off with an NBA Championship and the NBA Finals MVP award), but fell to injuries again after a 50-10 start the following year and was never able to regain his dominance. Think Sam Bowie, also drafted by the Portland Trailblazers in 1984 with the 2nd pick (ahead of 5 time MVP and 6 time NBA Champion Michael Jordan, ouch!). Bowie’s foot and leg woes hampered him almost immediately, causing him to miss significant time during his formative years in the league and debilitating him to the point where he, much like Oden, would never fulfill his promise as a great (or even halfway productive) center. 1989’s top pick, Pervis Ellison who the Sacramento Kings selected with hopes he’d become a franchise center (over such standout All Star caliber talents as Sean Elliot, Glen Rice, Tim Hardaway, and Shawn Kemp, ouch!) never fulfilled his potential due to knee and toe injuries. In 1998 The Los Angeles Clippers used the first pick to draft big man Michael Olowokandi (ahead of future Hall of Famers & NBA Finals MVPs Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki, ouch!), another huge bust as leg & knee injuries prevent the ‘Kandi Man’ from ever fulfilling his promise as a productive NBA center.
That brings us back to Kurtis Blow’s classic record, “The Breaks'” and, of course, Joel Embiid and his break, or broken foot if you will. As Kurtis put it, “breaks to make you a superstar / breaks to win and breaks to lose / but these here breaks will rock your shoes!” If Embiid falls to the Celtics at #6, do they pull the trigger or pass on him too? Is his broken foot a good break for the Celtics? Or might selecting him at 6 if he’s still available prove to be a bad break for the 17 time NBA Champions, not unlike the Trailblazers, Clippers, and Kings noted above? Embiid at 6 might be too tantalizing to pass up, but selecting him would come with the constant worry of whether or not he’ll get and/or stay healthy, not to mention a potential ‘ouch!’ scenario where some guy picked after him goes on to become an All Star. Only time will tell, but I really hope it doesn’t come down to making this decision, mainly because our next 2 scenarios are much more appealing and would set the Celtics on course to contend for a title much sooner.
Scenario # 2 – Celtics trade #6 pick, #17 pick, and anyone not named Rajon Rondo to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love.
Rap Song Title: ‘Game of Love’ by Eminem ft. Kendrick Lamar
As I wrote a few weeks ago, “as a fan, I want to win and I want to win NOW. So the Kevin Love deal makes perfect sense if Danny can get it done. Lets face it, it makes too much sense – granted in an irrational Boston sport’s fan kind of way. Minnesota was not only the trade partner that got us the ’08 Championship, but in 2003 its baseball franchise (the Twins) was where David Ortiz came from, resulting in 3 Red Sox World Series wins since 2004. Also, doesn’t the transition from Kevin McHale, to Kevin Garnett, to Kevin Love (all power forwards) HAVE TO HAPPEN??? Doesn’t that just seem like the perfect direction for this franchise to take?” While my sentiment about this deal making perfect sense for the Celtics still stands, with several teams, most notably the Golden State Warriors, having entered the Kevin Love sweepstakes over the past few weeks, a Love to the Celtics trade is less a sure thing now than previously thought. Will the Warriors actually give up Klay Thompson and other assets to acquire Love? Will the Bulls make a push? Will the Lakers get involved?
Every day that passes seems to bring about a new rumor about a potential Kevin Love trade, and that’s exactly why the ‘Game of Love’ title fits perfectly here. Make no mistake about it, this Kevin Love to whomever scenario is a huge game being played by Timberwolves management as well as any team lobbying for the power forward’s services. At first the Warriors indicated 2nd year guard and phenomenal shooter, Klay Thompson was off the table. They’ve since changed their stance, or so the media reports. The Celtics, while not overtly stating it, would likely put together just about any package imaginable not involving Rondo to land Love. The Bulls have some pieces they can offer without drastically reshaping their team, as do several other teams. So again, the Kevin Love sweepstakes is one big ‘Game of Love’ if you will, and it’ll be interesting to see who wins, or if the Timberwolves end up trading him at all for that matter. They could in theory hold out on any trade offers and try to convince Kevin Love to resign after his contract is up this season. And if they don’t trade him now and can’t convince him to stay, they have until the February trade deadline next season to pull the trigger on a deal. As such, as much as I’d love for Kevin Love to end up with the Celtics on draft night, we may have to wait several months before this ‘Game of Love’ plays itself out. Stay tuned.
Scenario # 3 – Celtics trade for Kevin Love AND sign Carmelo Anthony as a free agent, establishing a new Big 3 of Love, ‘Melo, and Rondo.
Rap Song Title: ‘Love’s Gonna Get’cha’ by KRS One
When further discussing a potential Kevin Love to Boston deal a few weeks ago I gathered that “if they do get Kevin Love, the combination of him and Rondo with either Sullinger, Bradley, or Green as the third banana immediately makes the Celtics at worst a top 5 team in the East next year. They’d eventually need to lure another All Star over to create a legit Big 3, but getting Love would expedite that process as top-tier talent would be enticed by the prospects of playing alongside a pass-first assist machine in Rondo and a guy who cleans up the boards as well as any big in the league in Love.” At the time, Carmelo Anthony wasn’t really in the forefront of my thoughts. While I had heard rumblings that the Celtics might try to lure him, I thought it an extreme long-shot at best. Truth be told, I still think it’s a long-shot but let’s examine it a bit more closely anyways.
Many speculated that Carmelo Anthony would opt out of the final year of his contract with the New York Knicks to test free agency. Let’s face it, as disappointing as the Knicks were last year (and have been historically), this doesn’t come as a shock. Even the recent hiring of Phil Jackson into Knicks’ management wasn’t enough for Carmelo, who just a few years ago practically forced the Denver Nuggets’ hand into trading him to the Knicks (and who’s a New Yorker by birth), to commit to the franchise long-term. Also worth mentioning, Rajon Rondo and Carmelo Anthony both attended Oak Hill Academy and purportedly communicate quite a bit off the court. Rondo’s even hinted more than once at the Cs making a push for Carmelo’s services.
So why “Love’s Gonna Get’cha” as our track of choice for this scenario? Because there’s no way ‘Melo even considers signing with the Celtics UNLESS the Kevin Love to Boston domino drops first. Not unlike in ’08, when the Celtics acquisition of Ray Allen on draft night was enough to convince Kevin Garnett that coming to Boston was a good thing (as evidenced by the contract extension he signed once traded), Kevin Love would have to already be a Celtic in order to persuade Carmelo to sign with Gang Green. As noted above, the prospect of playing with a true point guard in Rondo (a two-time assist champion who’s averaged 8.4 dimes per game) and a top tier low post presence like Kevin Love (who averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds last year and was also 3rd in Player Efficiency Rating behind only Kevin Durant and Lebron James, yikes!) might actually be enough to lure a life long New Yorker to Boston.
At this point in ‘Melo’s career, winning is the only thing that should matter. He’s earned a ton of money (and will no doubt receive another hefty pay-day this summer) and is a perennial All Star and All League performer who’s widely regarded as one of the top scorers and clutch performers in the game. But he’s never had much success in the playoffs and hasn’t even sniffed the Conference Finals (much less the Championship round). A Big 3 of Rondo, Love, & ‘Melo would surely put the Celtics in position to contend for a title for the next few 3-4 years at least, as neither guy is currently over 28 years old. But again, if Love doesn’t end up in Boston, no way ‘Melo signs with the Celtics. However, if Danny Ainge CAN in fact acquire Love, ‘Melo to Boston might not be a pipe dream after all, bringing new meaning to the saying which KRS One used for his classic track, ‘Love’s Gonna Get’cha’ (i.e. Kevin Love will get ‘Melo to Boston).
Scenario # 4 – Boston trades for nobody, keeps its picks, and trades Rajon Rondo for more assets.
Rap Song Title: ‘Destroy And Rebuild’ by Nas
Our final scenario is my least favorite by far and this track title encompasses the situation in question more so than any of the other 3. If the Celtics can’t acquire Kevin Love or any franchise player at the draft, then it makes most sense for them to keep their picks and develop their draftees alongside current young standouts Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk to spearhead a true youth movement. Doing so however would pretty much ensure that they’d have to trade Rajon Rondo as well. Rondo is under contract through next season and while he’s indicated that he’d like to remain with the Celtics, he’s also stated that he will be testing the free agent market next summer. And why wouldn’t he? His 8 years in the league have earned him that right.
The only remaining member from the 2008 team that won the Celtics its 17th banner, Rondo is currently the face of the most decorated franchise in the NBA. That’s a pretty solid title to hold. That said, I highly doubt that at 28 years old he’s willing to play out his prime years with a team full of young talents who may prove to be exciting, but likely won’t be ready to contend for a Championship for another 3-4 years. So if Danny can’t secure Love, ‘Melo, or anyone else who can help the Celtics compete for a title now, then you pretty much have to go into “Destroy And Rebuild” mode, trading Rondo for even more assets (rather than risk losing him with no compensation in free agency next Summer), and effectively destroying what’s left of the ’08 magic to rebuild from the ground up. Again, this is definitely my least favorite scenario, in part because I love Rondo’s game but also because it means the Celtics won’t be in Championship talks till 2017ish at the earliest, and that’s assuming these young guys actually work out.
All in all, whether the “The Breaks” end up working in the Celtics’ favor or Ainge decides that the he ultimately has to “Destroy And Rebuild” the franchise, we know this much; with so many high-profile talents available this year, the 2014 NBA Draft is primed to not only shape the future of the Boston Celtics, but the NBA as a whole. I for one cannot wait to see how it all plays out. And if for some reason you haven’t grasped what I’d like to see happen, I’ll leave you with one more song title that speaks to my bias. You guessed it, come draft night, Scholar is absolutely a ‘Sucka For Love’.