Celtics' strategy: Make themselves good and attractive


Celtics' strategy: Make themselves good and attractive

SALT LAKE CITY -- NBA players are often viewed in the same light as straight-off-the-assembly line vehicles. The newer the better, right?

But when it comes to winning in the NBA, that is so far from the truth.

That’s why this upcoming season is absolutely pivotal in the Celtics’ quest to fast track their way back to being an elite team in the Eastern Conference.

Boston potentially will have upwards of $40-plus million to spend on free agents next offseason, due to likely transactions and the league’s new TV deal, which is set to kick in the summer of 2016 and is projected to generate an $89 million salary cap.

However, as the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks proved this offseason, cap space alone won’t get you the top free agents.

Players want to still get paid, yes. But they're also are giving a lot more thought to finding winning situations.

That’s how the Milwaukee Bucks were able to convince Greg Monroe, one of the more coveted big men on the free-agent market this summer, to sign with them despite his being wooed by the Knicks and Lakers -- two of the league’s most storied franchises, but also two of its present-day bottom feeders.

David West opted out of the final year of his contract with the Indiana Pacers, which would have paid him $12.6 million, to sign a one-year, $1.5 million veteran’s minimum deal with the San Antonio Spurs.

The Celtics are hoping that by developing a solid young core that also includes a few talented veterans, it will be enough to convince at least one of the gems in the 2016 free agent class -- Kevin Durant, for example -- to sign with Boston.

Simply put, the Celtics have to win games in 2015-16 -- certainly more than they did in 2014-15 -- if they're going to have a shot at using all of that increased salary cap cheddar on high-impact, difference-makers next summer in a free-agent class that includes Atlanta’s Al Horford, Chicago’s Joakim Noah, Memphis’ Mike Conley and Milwaukee’s O.J. Mayo, who is a player Danny Ainge and the Celtics have come close to trading for in the past.

And while the increased salary cap next summer will create increased competition, this summer has proven to us all that players aren’t nearly as locked into where they play as they are who they are playing with.

That’s why the two biggest additions Boston made this summer, Amir Johnson and David Lee, benefit Boston on several fronts.

Their presence alone makes the Celtics a better, deeper team.  Johnson is a solid man-to-man defender who can also switch out on pick-and-rolls and switch on smaller players and still be relatively effective. Lee’s defense isn’t great, but he's an excellent pick-and-roll finisher and pick-and-pop shooter, who has also been a strong rebounder as evident by his 9.5 rebounds-per-game career average.

Their play around the basket and in the paint should create better looks offensively for Boston’s perimeter players, who struggled mightily last season when it came to making shots. Combine that with what should be one of the league’s best perimeter defensive units (Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Terry Rozier) and the Celtics have the makings of a team that could play its way into the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics aren’t fooling themselves -- or anyone else -- in thinking they're title contenders. But a more successful season will show potential free agents the franchise’s tangible growth, and could position Boston as a place with on-the-rise status.

We saw what that did for Milwaukee, which surprised many in finishing with the sixth-best record last season despite playing most of the season without its prized rookie, Jabari Parker.

And we’ve seen what the alternative has done for New York and the Lakers.

Boston made up its mind last season to not go into tankapalooza mode, and there’s no turning back now. The Celtics have to continue to build off the success of last season, and they're gradually putting a roster together to do just that.

Yes, the C's failed this offseason to land a superstar who could have made them an instant contender.  But with more wins, a huge amount of salary cap space next summer -- and did we mention more wins? -- Boston’s goal of fast-tracking its way back to being an elite team in the NBA by landing one or two maximum salary-esque players becomes a much more realistic possibility.

And that will trump any straight-off-the-assembly line rookie addition.

Bucks fans' chant suggests they're pretty excited to face Celtics

Bucks fans' chant suggests they're pretty excited to face Celtics

As the Milwaukee Bucks put the finishing touches on a first-round sweep, their fans were already looking ahead.

The Bucks officially set up a second-round NBA playoff series with the Boston Celtics by beating the Pistons in Detroit on Monday night. And before that game even finished, fans at a Game 4 watch party in Milwaukee had the C's on their minds.

This is a perfect revenge matchup for the Bucks after Boston ousted them in the first round last season. Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo admitted as much Monday night after his team's series-clinching win.

But here's a quick warning for Bucks fans: Be careful what you wish for. The Celtics are riding high off a first-round sweep of the Indiana Pacers, and the last time another fanbase expressed its desire to play a Boston team was New York Yankees fans ahead of the 2018 American League Division Series. And we all know how that ended.

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Celtics to face Bucks in second round of the NBA playoffs

Celtics to face Bucks in second round of the NBA playoffs

To nobody's surprise, the Boston Celtics are going to play the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the NBA Playoffs.

The Bucks, the East's No. 1 seed, had the best record in the NBA last season (60-22) and faced little resistance in their first-round matchup. They easily swept the Detroit Pistons in four games. The Pistons' star player, Blake Griffin, was far from healthy, and that played a role in the Bucks' series win.

This is the second year in a row that the Celtics will play the Bucks in the playoffs. Last year, the No. 2 seeded Celtics defeated the Bucks in a series that spanned seven games. The home team won every game in that series.

The Bucks will be a tough opponent for the Celtics. Potential league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is a matchup nightmare, and he averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game during the regular season. And around him, the Bucks have solid depth.

In their regular season series, the Celtics posted only a 1-2 record against the Bucks, winning their first meeting in November but coming up just short in their other two games. Antetokounmpo averaged 31 points per game against the Celtics, so slowing him down will be key to finding success in the series.

The Celtics will open on the road in this series, as the first two games will be in Milwaukee. The Celtics will have to ensure that they get off to a solid start and continue to fare well on the road, something they struggled to do last postseason (1-7 record in eight road games, 0-3 in Milwaukee).

BLAKELY: Celtics vs. Bucks playoff history>>>

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