The Celtics won again tonight. They continue to hover just beyond that 8th playoff spot, despite Danny Ainge doing everything he can to tank. If the Celtics were trying to make the playoffs, a trade right now for a guy like Jeff Green might make sense, wouldn’t it? We’re not trying to make the playoffs, and you have to wonder if Danny is going to trade guys like Zeller, Prince, Bradley, and Bass because they are actually helping the team win.
If tanking works and we start winning in 3 years, I still would question whether it was worth 5 years of constant tanking.
But I’m starting to wonder if tanking was a strategy of the early 2010s and not the mid 2010s and beyond. Because in 2010, LeBron and Kobe dominated over anyone and everyone, and to compete, you had to have a star of that magnitude. The NBA in 2010 was a star’s league. But is it now? LeBron looks like a 30 year old LeBron, which is the best player in the NBA but not insurmountable. Stephen Curry is a worthy MVP, but the Warriors aren’t going to win on his back (he may not even be the MVP on his team). The two best records in the NBA belong to teams, most notably the Atlanta Hawks with a team of “who?”
This new team model ought to mean that tanking for superstars is kind of a waste. Atlanta and Golden State’s strategy of building around a group of very good players and let them jell can now work. If the Celtics hadn’t started tanking two years ago, could they be competing now? KG is in major decline; Pierce isn’t going to carry the team anymore. But with a trade here, a free agent signing there, the basic core of that team could have been competitive. Play the salary cap and free agent market correctly, and you can overcome a lack of top draft pics. And without a great Miami Heat team, or a great OKC, or a great LA Lakers, or a great D-Rose led Chicago Bulls, they could be competing to win right now, certainly not as the odds on favorite, but as a scrappy team that would be in the running.
Instead, the conventional wisdom has so declared that “mediocre” teams can’t win, and that it’s championship with superstars or bust, that Danny gets a completely free pass to gut this team for years all on the possibility that this might work because it has worked for…. OKC? There’s no way Danny would have kept this current Hawks team together, and I’m not sure he wouldn’t have given up on the Warriors too. Curry didn’t become a star overnight and they arguably hit a ceiling last year with guys like Lee and Iguodala starting to decline. He certainly would have traded Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli how many years ago?