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The offseason arrives

As I was watching the end of tonight's Celtics demolition, I kept thinking to myself: "What can the Wizards learn from these franchises?"  This is kind of an unfair question, because it's been proven that you can win the title in many different ways, but it's only natural.  When a guitarist looks for inspiration for success, he studies Jimmy Paige or Keith Richards.  When an artist does the same, he studies Van Gough or Michaelangelo. 

There are two ways to think of the Celtics winning the title.  On the one hand, you could argue that it proves that no team should ever be afraid about making big changes.  Boston basically revamped their entire team, and it still came together perfectly.  To apply it to the Wizards, you could say that they should not be so dead-set on maintaining the status quo. Consequently, you could also argue that this year proved the age-old (and mind-bogglingly annoying) adage that "defense wins championships."  Boston had the best defense, LA had the best offense, and Boston emphatically won.  (I'd argue more that the difference between Boston's defense and everyone else's was greater than the difference between LA's offense and everyone else's, for the record).  The Wizards don't play defense right now, ergo they are not a championship team until they ditch their offense-first players and get defensive players.

However, I chose to think of it in another way.  When I think of the Celtics and the Lakers, I think of two teams that were only able to win by stockpiling cheap assets and using them for real upgrades.  Boston's assets were all their young players from previous seasons.  Al Jefferson.  Delonte West.  Ryan Gomes.  Gerald Green.  Sebastian Telfair.  Four of those guys were first-round picks.  One of them, Jefferson, was turning into a really good young big.  It was only because of them (and Theo Ratliff's expiring deal, with an assist from Kevin McHale) that the Celtics got Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.  They also were able to get production out of Rajon Rondo (another mid first-round pick), Kendrick Perkins (ditto) and second-rounders like Leon Powe and Glen Davis.  That's the textbook example of stockpiling and managing asssets.

Both the Celtics and the Lakers got to the point where they could bring in stars without having to trade their own (unless you count Jefferson).  That's how teams improve.  Teams don't improve by trading their stars, they improve by stocking assets around them and using those assets either in trades or to fill specific roles.  Young talent is the most effective talent in this league, because it's cheap and it carries the prospect of future stardom.  All championship teams draft well and use those picks effectively.  Boston and LA are textbook examples of this.

What does that mean?  It means re-signing Arenas and Jamison doesn't automatically mean we can't improve our team down the road.  Both Boston and LA took a lot of lumps, but they persevered by never stopping to stockpile assets.  Ernie Grunfeld needs to step up and do the same this offseason.  He needs to hold onto the 18th pick, draft a useful player, and let him develop.  Maybe guys like Nick Young and Andray Blatche become players, maybe they get moved in two years when AD, Haywood and Etan all expire, but either way, they eventually help you build around your core players.  Trading your core players just brings you back to square one, and I'm not sure we're ready for that.

Again, that's just another way of looking at it, but it's all I was thinking about as the clock ran out.  I saw Paul Pierce, a star who played for so long on crummy teams, who suffered tons of criticism for hurting the rest of the team with his selfish play, who was involved in so many trade rumors and who visibly showed his frustration, win the Most Valuable Player award, and I couldn't help but think about Gilbert Arenas.  Imagine if the Celtics traded Pierce instead of keeping him and building around him?  Certainly the Celtics wouldn't be where they were right now.  Admittedly, Arenas' situation is different because of the knee injuries, but there are some eerie parallels to their situations.  At 26, Arenas still has lots of years left to get to where Pierce is right now.