O'Connor: With patience, Celtics still in position to build something special

O'Connor: With patience, Celtics still in position to build something special

After the Boston Celtics came so close to landing Kevin Durant, you can’t blame fans for wanting Danny Ainge to cash in Boston’s assets by taking advantage of the stumbling Thunder for Russell Westbrook, or pushing the Bulls to deal Jimmy Butler.

It wouldn’t be that easy though. Thunder general manager Sam Presti is one of the keenest executives in the NBA and won’t give Westbrook away for cheap. Besides, there’s no denying Westbrook is a superb talent, but he’s reckless and inefficient. As for Butler, the Bulls have already proven it’ll take a king’s ransom to acquire him.

Equally true, Ainge and the Celtics have shown they won’t make any rash decisions. Unless the demand for those stars is reasonable -- and it won’t be -- then the smartest wager is to hold on tight to the good thing they have going.

That means bringing back Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson on their value contracts, and going into the 2016 season with a roster similar to the one they ran onto the court last year -- but now with Al Horford bolstering the frontcourt. It’d make sense to add a player that rebounds like a vacuum, but beyond that there aren’t many moves worth making.

The key is to retain flexibility, so signing any free agents still on the market to contracts longer than one year isn’t a realistic option. The whole goal here is to land a transcendent player and put themselves in the conversation as championship contenders. Horford gets them closer, but he’s still not the guy.

By the 2017 trade deadline, maybe Clippers big Blake Griffin or Jazz wing Gordon Hayward, who are both unrestricted free agents next summer, become available. But the Celtics would be in the same exact scenario they were last year when they reportedly inquired about Horford. The Clippers and Jazz would ask for the 2017 Nets first (and more), just like the Hawks asked for the 2016 Nets pick.

Celtics fans flipped out when they didn’t give it up for Horford, but it worked out since they signed him in free agency while giving nothing back. They would likely take a similar approach again unless a supreme opportunity is there for a player under contract beyond the season, like Butler, DeMarcus Cousins, or James Harden.

This all hinges on the Nets actually being terrible again. They’ve made some intriguing moves this summer, but their roster is still in shambles and the other bad teams have gotten clearly better. It’s conceivable that the Nets will be worse in 2017 than they were in 2016.

Even if they are better though, the 2017 draft class is deep enough that a pick in the mid-lottery would still have tremendous value. So dealing that selection would be a shortsighted decision when it could be the ticket to landing that superstar that makes them a threat to win it all.

The 2017 draft class is littered with elite talent, highlighted by Duke forwards Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum. Not only could those players -- along with the others available -- be the guy the Celtics need, but they’d come on a rookie contract.

That’s the added bonus of taking this path. They could add a potential centerpiece through the draft and still have the assets and the cap space to make a move for a proven superstar through free agency or trades.

That brings us back to the same players everyone wants the Celtics to target through trades. The 2017 free agent class features Westbrook, Griffin, Hayward, Paul Millsap, and Serge Ibaka. Looking ahead to 2018, there’s Harden and Cousins. The menu gets longer when you include the long list of restricted free agents.

It might sound like a fantasy, but the Boston Celtics are still in a position to build something special. They just need their skeleton key, which they can find in multiple ways.

Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter: @KevinOConnorNBA

Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

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Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

Isaiah Thomas back in green? Maybe there's a chance after all.

The former Celtics guard, now with the Lakers, started a Q&A session on Twitter and was asked whether he'd consider returning to Boston this offseason. This was his answer...

That's not a no.

Thomas has had a rough go of it since leaving the Celtics. His brief tenure in Cleveland didn't go according to plan, and things haven't gotten a whole lot better out in L.A. The 29-year-old is averaging 15.3 points per game just a year after averaging 28.9 with Boston.

Let the speculation begin.


Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Al Horford understands that there’s plenty of blame pie to go around following Boston’s 108-89 loss to New Orleans. 

Considering how Pelicans stud Anthony Davis dominated the game on so many levels Sunday night, Horford was quick to acknowledge his role in the loss. 

“He (Davis) was able to get behind our defense a lot,” Horford told reporters after the loss. “Some mistakes on my end; gotta give him credit. He dominated tonight. I’ll definitely take the blame for that.”

Davis finished with a double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds, a total that would have been higher if not for the game being so lopsided which allowed Davis to head to the bench early in the fourth. 

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And Horford’s struggles defensively were just as problematic on offense as the five-time All-Star tallied just six points on 3-for-11 shooting to go with four rebounds and three assists. 

Boston has been a team whose collective sums have fueled their success. 

But Horford understands he has to be a high impact performer, a job that’s even more vital when key starters like Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) and Jaylen Brown (concussion) are out as well as top reserves Marcus Smart (right thumb) and Daniel Theis (torn meniscus). 

And by Horford’s own admission, he just didn’t bring it on Sunday at a level to give him and the Celtics a legit shot at winning the game.

“Defensively we had too many breakdowns,” Horford said. “And the game got away from us in the second half. So there’s no excuses. I didn’t give us a chance, either; missing a lot of looks offensively. I just need to be better.”

And he’ll have to be if Boston (47-23) is to get back on track with a win on Tuesday against a talented Oklahoma City squad led by Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. 

At full strength, the Thunder would be a significant challenge for the Celtics. 

But having a roster with a number of key players out with injuries, it becomes even more imperative for Boston’s top players to elevate their play. 

And as you scan this Celtics roster and examine those who are healthy enough to play, it’s clear that Horford more than any other Boston player, has to find a way to become more impactful.

Certainly, more points and rebounds would help. 

But as we’ve seen time and time again with Horford, often his greatest contributions to winning games don’t necessarily show up in the final box score. 

That being said, a six-point, four-rebound game doesn’t cut it. 

Horford has to be better, something he knows better than anyone. 

“I’ll definitely look at the film and see how I can be better individually,” Horford said. “The good thing about the NBA, is we have a chance to play on Tuesday. Hopefully we’ll learn from this game and be ready to go Tuesday at home.”