Putting aside the fate of Employee No. 8 for a second, the Celtics now have 14 players who either are signed for next season or will be soon. Maybe Doc Rivers should get them together for the Under-21 World Championships to be held next month in Argentina. That's because of the 14 players, an astonishing nine are either on their rookie contracts or the second-round equivalent.
Those nine represent 90 percent of Danny Ainge's haul in the last three drafts. The only one not still around: Brandon Hunter. We have Marcus Banks and Kendrick Perkins from 2003; Tony Allen, Delonte West, Al Jefferson, and Justin Reed from 2004; and Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, and Orien Greene from 2005.
We know Greene is in the picture for next season because, as colleague Shira Springer reported last week, his postdraft foot surgery was done with the understanding that he'd be healed in time for training camp. You don't operate on low-second-round picks in the summer unless you have plans for them in the fall. Gomes, meanwhile, so impressed the hierarchy with his play in the Las Vegas Summer League that the Celtics are prepared to give him a three-year deal at a shade more than the rookie minimum, which means it likely will have to come out of the team's midlevel exception. (Brian Scalabrine's signing accounted for around $2.5 million of the exception, which is expected to be in the $5 million range. You can move the names around in terms of lineups, but barring a nuclear deal, you're going to see a young team a very young team which is almost assured to take a step back from last season. Unless Green is a surprising revelation, you've got the same group, minus Walker and Gary Payton, plus perhaps a mystery 15th man.
In the Atlantic Division alone, New Jersey has made strides with the commitment from Shareef Abdur-Rahim to join a starting five that will feature Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, and Jason Kidd. The Knicks are still too small and discombobulated, but they seem poised to at least improve on the bench with the likely addition of Larry Brown. Philadelphia appears to be status quo and, well, thank goodness there's always Toronto.
You run into Celtics fans on the street and a lot of them tell you this: At least there's hope now. Maybe there is. But players aren't savings bonds. Go back and find one team that has had an extensive number of draft picks, seen them mature together, and become a championship-level team. It doesn't happen. If it did, the Clippers would be the dynasty in Los Angeles.
A lot of hope is being put on the broad shoulders of Jefferson, who has a chance to be a pretty decent player. But it's absurd to think he's going to morph into Karl Malone any time soon. He couldn't even stay out of foul trouble in the summer league. Ditto for Perkins.
It's really going to be on the fans. They got a taste of the postseason last spring, only to see everything come apart in the first round. But are they willing to sit back and be patient again and hope that all these young players figure it out? Think what last season's team would have been without Payton and Walker. Remember what it was like before Walker came back? Sub-.500 and uninterested crowds.
Maybe the tantalizing upside of Jefferson, Allen, and Green will be sufficient. Maybe West will be what they need at the point. Maybe Paul Pierce, Ricky Davis, and Raef LaFrentz will all improve. Maybe Mark Blount will show up. Maybe Scalabrine will be a find. That's a lot of maybes.
But when nearly two-thirds of your roster has two or fewer years of NBA experience, you're asking for a lot of patience on the part of the coach, the director of basketball operations, the owners, and, especially, the fans. Ainge has made only one move this summer the signing of Scalabrine, who might become a valuable role player. There's still more than two months before the start of camp but if there aren't any more major moves, well, there's always hope.