Celtics Can Follow Spurs & Pacers Models For Rebuilding
The Boston Celtics will be facing the challenge of rebuilding their roster into a championship contender this summer.
There are mixed reports of Paul Pierce being either bought out for $5 million or traded because he has an expiring contract with a buy-out clause. The more likely scenario is the Celtics will trade the 15-year veteran. This will force them to remake their roster, but the challenge will not be as daunting because they still have point guard Rajon Rondo and head coach Doc Rivers.
Two of the remaining three teams in the NBA playoffs are examples for the Celtics to look toward in restocking their talent.
The San Antonio Spurs much like the Celtics had an aging 7-footer in David Robinson in 1997. The Spurs were fortunate to land the top pick in that draft as they won the Tim Duncan Sweepstakes. In the next six seasons, the Spurs had one of the best frontcourts in the game with Robinson and Duncan. They won a championship in the lockout-shortened 1998-’99 season over the New York Knicks. When Robinson retired, the Spurs were forced to find a new avenue to build their team. Tony Parker fell to the Spurs in the 2001 NBA Draft as the 28th overall selection. Parker came from playing in France and was an unknown prospect compared to other point guards like Joseph Forte (University of North Carolina) and Jamaal Tinsley (Iowa State) who played in the United States. Forte was selected with the 21st overall pick by the Celtics and he played a total of 25 games in the NBA with just eight for the Celtics in 2001-’02. Tinsley was drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies, but he was traded to the Indiana Pacers on draft night. Parker has become one of the best point guards in the league as he has helped the Spurs win two championships (2004-’05 and 2006-’07). Manu Ginobili was taken by the Spurs in the second round in 1999 in the second round with the 57th pick, but the crafty Argentinan played overseas until the 2002-’03 season when he began his career with the Spurs. Ginobili has become one of the best scorers off the bench. Another foreign player that the Spurs plucked in the NBA Draft is contributing to the Spurs’ run to the NBA Finals in Tiago Splitter. Like Ginobili, the 6-11 center from Brazil was drafted in 2007, but he played in international competition until he joined the Spurs in 2010-’11. The two constants have been Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich.
The Spurs’ success has come from mostly drafting and developing players. They have enjoyed stability at the top of the organization with Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford running the team. Duncan continues to play at a high level despite being 37 years old because Popovich rests his star players during the season to keep them fresh for the postseason (Doesn’t that sound familiar? Isn’t this what the Celtics are doing with Kevin Garnett and Pierce?). They have made some shrewd trades when they sent reserve point guard George Hill to the Pacers for the 15th overall pick (Kawhi Leonard) in the 2011 Draft and their second-round choice. Danny Green fell out of favor after being taken by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2009 Draft, but the Spurs picked him up. Green has become a starter for the Spurs and a solid perimeter defender who averaged 10.5 points per game this year.
Meanwhile the Pacers are even in their series with the Miami Heat at two games apiece in the Eastern Conference finals. The Pacers also built their team through the draft, but they don’t have any top-five selections on their team. Paul George (10th selection in 2010), Roy Hibbert (17th pick in 2008), and Tyler Hansbrough (13th choice in 2009) are all key players who have helped the Pacers come out of the mess that this organization went through in Detroit. George has become a rising superstar as he won the Most Improved Player this year and has helped the Pacers recover from the injuries to former leading scorer Danny Granger. Hibbert was viewed as being too slow when he played for Georgetown University, but he is becoming one of the top centers in the league. There is nobody on the Heat who can cover the 7-foot-2-inch Hibbert in the post unless he gets into foul trouble. Hansbrough was one of the most heralded players when he played at North Carolina, but he has been reserved to the bench in the NBA. His hustle and physicality cause frustration for his opponents. He made his presence known in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals when Heat forward Chris Andersen was called for a technical foul when he pushed Hansbrough after a play. Lance Stephenson was drafted with the 10th pick in the second round in 2010. Nearly two months later, Stephenson was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend on Coney Island. The Pacers held onto him and even though he is a wild card on the court, the 6-5 guard has inserted himself into the starting lineup for the Pacers. He is having a coming-out party in this postseason where he is averaging 10.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists in 16 games. The Pacers also made a trade for starting point guard, Hill, and they signed forward David West to a two-year deal in 2011. Both of these deals gave the Pacer’s veteran complimentary pieces to their young team. They also signed guard D.J. Augustin and forward Sam Young who are both contributing valuable minutes to the Pacers’ run.
Both the Spurs and the Pacers play in small media markets that allow their organizations to be patient in developing players. They have built quick, athletic teams who could play each other in the NBA Finals if the Pacers are able to win two of the next three games against the Heat. The Spurs and Pacers are both among the better defensive teams in the league.
The Celtics appear to be in good shape with their roster as long as their young core continues to develop together. Avery Bradley has become one of the best on-ball defenders in the league and even though Bradley struggled with his outside shot late in the season, his defense can be contagious. Bradley also needs to learn to stay on the court because his physical defense causes injuries and foul problems. Jared Sullinger showed his ability to score inside and rebound. Sullinger must push his opponents discreetly out of the paint by using his body because the officials called him for a foul any time he made slightly excessive contact. Jeff Green will most likely become the replacement for Pierce to create his own shots, but Rondo and Green will need to learn to play alongside each other in the half-court offense. Green has to improve his rebounding. Brandon Bass has played well in the postseason, but he has to show more consistency in the regular season. Garnett will need to be talked into coming back, with or without Pierce. If Garnett does not come back, the Celtics will need to quickly find a replacement because they have little depth in the frontcourt. With the 16th pick in this June’s draft, the Celtics must find a diamond in the rough like the Pacers and Spurs have done when they were not in the lottery.
As Danny Ainge said, the Celtics need a lot more work to become relevant in the Eastern Conference again. It will not be easy, but the Pacers and Spurs are two teams to look at when they rebuild their team. The Spurs had sustained success because of stability and the Pacers were able to make the right moves through the draft and player evaluation in trades and free agency.