As soon as the Celtics qualified for the playoffs, I immediately started telling people they'd better lose the remainder of their regular season in hopes they can draw the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, because a first round matchup against the Cavaliers is completely worthless. Most everyone seemed to disagree with me. They craved the chance to dust off those "LeBron is a bitch" shirts in the back of their closets. Some (including play-by-play man Mike Gorman) even went so far as to say the Celtics would win that series. This was all a complete fantasy. The C's were outclassed from the opening tip of the matchup and didn't stand a chance, but that's neither here nor there. The question is: would Boston have been better off tanking and trying to secure another high lottery pick, or did they do the right thing in making the playoffs?
The answer to this question has been the fodder for plenty of conversation in New England over the last few weeks. Some say that this playoff "run" was a great opportunity to get experience for some of the Celtics' young players in big time spots. Some say that as fans, it's important to have meaningful games to watch late in the season. On the other hand, some say that a first round sweep accomplishes nothing and just pushes Boston's rebuild back another year, and they'd be better off tanking and hopefully picking up an elite player in the draft. I fall on that side of the argument.
The main reason for this stance is that the players the Celtics are using right now are not long-term members of the franchise. Gerald Wallace, Evan Turner, and Luigi Datome aren't pieces that the franchise is building around. The players that will be here for a long time have not played a particularly high level. If the Celtics made the playoffs with huge contributions from Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and James Young, that would be a different story. Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas seem like strong building blocks for the future, and they're getting playoff experience, but you can't convince me that this team, as it sits, can contend for any significant hardware. Had the Celtics tanked this year and landed a draft pick that could bring a talent like Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor to Boston, they could legitimately contend for a title in the next five years.
Right now this team seems to be sort of stuck in the middle. It's good that they got rid of Rajon Rondo, who wasn't accomplishing anything while he was here, except for breaking his hand in the shower. That's a start, but it would have paid to play the young guys all year and not lean on placeholders like Wallace to get to the playoffs.
Tanking might not be fun for fans who want to see meaningful basketball, but it's the only way Boston can legitimately contend in a league where the team with the better players almost always wins. It's been demonstrated time and time again that big ticket free agents don't come to Boston so the draft is really the Celtics' best hope to get out of the middle of the NBA, and they likely won't be finding franchise type players out of the lottery, where they'll be picking.
I understand that fans want to route for a playoff team—even if that team gets smoked by Cleveland in the first round—but were four games against the Cavs really worth another potentially disappointing season? I'd say no. It would have been better to suffer for another year and possibly contend for a championship down the road. All this season has done is delay that process. Coach Brad Stevens has been the biggest bright spot for the Celtics this season, and my biggest concern is that his patience may wear thin soon and he may seek a job at a contender. If that happens, the Celtics could be entering a pretty gloomy period in their history. It's important to fill the roster with talented young players, and only then will playoff experience matter.