Danny Ainge said he would never fall into the same trap that plunged the Celtics into NBA purgatory for fifteen long years.
“ I sat with Red (Auerbach) during a Christmas party (in the 1990s),” Ainge, the Celtics general manager, told the Boston Globe in a January interview a year ago. “ Red was talking to Larry, Kevin, and myself and there was a lot of discussion at the time and Red actually shared some of the trade discussions. And I told Red what are you doing? Why are you waiting?”
“ He had a chance to trade Larry (to Indiana) for Chuck Person and Herb Williams and (Steve) Stipanovich and he had a chance to trade Kevin (to Dallas) for Detlef Schrempf and Sam Perkins. I was like are you kidding? I mean I feel that way now. If I were presented with those kind of deals for our aging veterans, it’s a done deal to continue the success.”
Now the Celtics general manager’s word will truly be put to the test. Due to a torn ACL injury suffered by Rajon Rondo, Danny Ainge is now placed in an all too similar predicament. With the Celtics future dangling in the air it may be best for Ainge to stay true to his word. In this case that means letting go of two of his current aged Big Three, in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, to preserve the franchise’s long term goals.
Let’s be honest here, the Boston Celtics were not a championship contender with all-star point guard Rajon Rondo, and they are not going to be one without him. The Celtics were amidst a rather pedestrian season before the Rondo tore his ACL Friday night in Atlanta, a 21-23 record through their first forty-four games. They were on pace for a rather porous eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
The once suffocating defense that had been a staple of past championship quality teams has become a shadow of its former self. Boston now ranks a mediocre thirteenth in the NBA in opponent shooting percentage, twelfth in opponent three-point shooting percentage, and twenty-second in total rebounds per game.
But despite all their flaws the Celtics are still a borderline playoff team, and there is some thought around the team that they can still make an adequate run in the playoffs. Is an adequate playoff run worth mortgaging your franchise’s future over?
That’s for Danny Ainge to decide, but it’s hard to see why it would be. Trading Pierce and Garnett would not only net the Celtics numerous young assets, but it would finally put the long-awaited rebuilding project into action.
Boston has little to no choice but to build their team around point guard Rajon Rondo, as they currently does not possess the pieces to acquire a top twenty quality player and compete immediately. Trading Garnett and Pierce would allow the Celtics to put some young pieces on the court that compliment their twenty-six year old point guard’s game; as well as see what they have in the pieces they will intend to move forward with.
It’s not as if the Celtics will be getting miniscule returns for their aging veterans. Rumors have speculated Boston could receive a player of the caliber of a Eric Bledsoe or Harrison Barnes as well as draft picks for Paul Pierce. Certainly Bledsoe may not fit with the Celtics bundled backcourt of young guards, but he could be an enticing trade piece for the Celtics to dangle. Adding a young player the caliber of a Bledsoe would add a third starting caliber player to the Celtics’ current core of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo.
Speaking of Bradley it is about time the Celtics find out what they have with their twenty-two year old starting shooting guard as well as swingman Jeff Green. The only way to do this is to trade the two players who are stealing the most minutes from the young duo, and who else but Pierce and Garnett would be stealing a majority of their minutes.
Bradley was rather stellar last season when Piece and Garnett were on the bench. He averaged 14.5 points and 3.4 assists on 47% shooting with Pierce on the bench on a per-36 minute basis. With Garnett on the bench, Bradley averaged a rather respectable 15 points on 51% shooting from the floor. Both are major upgrades from Bradley’s 2011-2012 per-36 minute averages of 12.7 points and 2.3 assists on 49.8% shooting from the floor. Eliminating Pierce and Garnett permanently would help the Celtics determine whether those numbers are solid indicators of future success or just pure fallacy.
Green on the other hand has struggled mightily since joining the Celtics, but Boston invested a four year-thirty-six million dollar contract in the Georgetown product this past off-season. The team is facing no other choice but to give Green a fair shot, as he hasn’t succeeded in the bench role given to him during his three-year tenure. Perhaps joining the starting lineup would jumpstart Green and his confidence, and return the twenty-six year old to the days of producing fifteen points on respectable shooting percentages.
The Celtics not only find out what they need to add to a rebuilding roster by trading Pierce and Garnett, but they will improve their 2013 first round draft pick as well. Boston is currently projected to have the fourteenth pick in the 2013 NBA draft. Keeping Pierce and Garnett would nearly ensure the Celtics of the fourteenth pick. But trading the two veterans would give the team a real shot at earning a solid lottery pick. Of the seven teams (Lakers, Mavericks, Timberwolves, Raptors, Pistons, 76ers, and Kings) that sit 5.5 games or fewer behind the Celtics, you could make a solid case that six of those teams could finish ahead of Celtics in the standings at the end of the year. Which could leave Boston with a pick around seventh or eighth in the 2013 draft. Considering the Celtics would be losing two vital players and have played the twentieth toughest schedule thus far it is not too far-fetched for this team to plummet down the standings in the second half.
Yes the 2013 NBA draft may not have the next LeBron James or Kevin Durant, but a top ten pick is a top ten pick. It gives the Celtics a potential edge they would not have at the fourteenth selection. That could be the difference between having high impact rookies like Anthony Bennett or Alex Poythress suiting up in Beantown, and the Celtics adding a rookie who needs some tinkering like James McAdoo or Mason Plumlee.
Not to mention that along with a youth infusion the Celtics would be able to free themselves of some cap consuming contracts. For years Boston’s cap has been tied to the contracts of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, long withholding Danny Ainge from adding a marquee free agent on a luxurious contract. No longer would the Celtics be limited to the mid-level exception.
Paul Pierce is owed more than fifteen million dollars next season, and Kevin Garnett is owed nearly twenty-four million dollars over the next two seasons. The two along with the horrendous contracts handed out to Jeff Green and Brandon Bass are hindering the Celtics cap room, and are major reasons why the Celtics cap room is extremely limited for the 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 seasons. The Celtics may not get a coupe in return for Garnett, but trading the veteran would allow the team to part ways with a Green or Bass which ultimately would clear more cap room. Doing so would open up a sea of opportunities for Boston with free agents such as Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, O.J. Mayo, and Danny Granger set to hit the open market over the next two seasons.
The Celtics had their last stand Sunday in a 100-98 double overtime victory over the Miami Heat, there’s no reason to extend that stand over the course of the remaining thirty-eight games of the season. Boston isn’t a championship contender this season, heck the Celtics aren’t even realistic contenders for the Conference Semifinals. So what’s the point? Why attempt to remain somewhat competitive when you could start your acceleration back up the NBA ladder immediately. The Celtics made their profit over the Big Three years, now they must accept the harsh reality and suffer the wrath of attendance issues that come with rebuilding a franchise. If they don’t the Celtics would be passing at a second chance to acquire young players and draft picks to build a young contender in a matter of years. Is that worth forfeiting for a first round exit at the hands of the defending champion Miami Heat?
If so, the future would look eerily similar to that of the 1990’s Boston Celtics teams that struggled to fill the shoes of the past Big Three that graced TD Garden. Danny Ainge witnessed it once, will he once again? The one guarantee is Ainge will have a much larger say in the future of the Celtics’ Big Three this time around . If the general manager keeps his word the Celtics will certainly reap the benefits down the road.