Please welcome new Chasing 23 Contributor, Matt Bertrand.
Before I delve into my first of what will be a monthly update on my beloved Boston Celtics, I thought a brief introduction was in order. After a 4-year hiatus, my regular contributions to Chasing23.com will signal my re-entry into the basketball blogging world. I was given my first chance to write for Matthew Maurer over at his excellent NBA Draft site, www.thedraftreview.com. Before I had to give it up due to my many commitments (teaching HS History, going to grad school, and coaching HS basketball) I wrote on a number of topics, including:
- Why I hate it when the Celtics draft big white dudes
- Why the NCAA tournament shouldn’t be altered
- Why comparing Kevin Love to Larry Bird was idiotic.
Now that I’ve completed grad school and, at least for the time being, given up coaching, I once again have the time and opportunity to write, and for this I apologize to all who read anything I produce from this point forward.
Another reason for my lengthy introduction to my previous work, is that one article I wrote over at thedraftreview acts as a perfect segue way to discuss the current state of the Boston Celtics. Shortly after the completion of the Kevin Garnett trade in 2007, I analyzed whether there was any historical precedent for what the Celtics were doing. Turned out that there wasn’t, making it more challenging for myself and other Celtics fans to understand what to expect following the trade. I stated in that article that it’d be almost a “mortal lock” for the Celtics to become atrocious in 4-5 years. We are now 4 ½ years removed from the trade for Kevin Garnett, so now we can begin assessing the future of the 2012 Boston Celtics, both this year and going forward.
First of all, the moves made in 2007 were an unquestionable success. Considering that the Celtics won a championship, and have been very good for the past 4 seasons, I can’t imagine that any Celtics fan would want to reverse the very bold moves of Danny Ainge from the summer of 2007. The Celtics at least appear to be holding off “atrocious”, but are certainly in danger of meeting the definition for “mediocre” when all’s said and done this season. In my defense, I never would have imagined Paul Pierce and Ray Allen continuing to play at the level they’ve played at thus far this year. I thought Pierce would be (more) out of shape and clearly past his prime by this point, and that Allen would be enjoying retirement while waiting to become HOF eligible. I also never envisioned Rajon Rondo developing into a superstar. These developments have helped the Celts avoid putridity, at least for 1 more year.
The Celtics would appear to have 3 options as the March 15th trade deadline sits a little less than 2 months away. I’d like to walk through these 3 options and allow the readers to decide for themselves what the proper course of action SHOULD be.
Option 1: Banner 18 or Bust
The Celtics appear to be rounding into shape at the moment. Rajon Rondo and Allen will be returning from injury very soon, and Pierce has been tremendous during the recent winning streak. Doc Rivers, presumably, did not return to Boston to rebuild, but instead coach a championship contending team. The players, almost certainly, believe they have one more run left in them. Unfortunately, the Celtics would seem to have a minimal number of options to actually IMPROVE their team between now and March. However, with the recent contributions of Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, E’Twaun Moore, Mickael Pietrus and Chris Wilcox, the Celtics would appear to have some semblance of depth beyond their aging core of stars. The only trade commodity possessed by the Celtics would be two 1st Round picks (their own and a top-10 protected from the Clippers) which, in all likelihood, will both land in the 14-21 range. As far as a piece, the Celtics’ overwhelming need is for another big who can protect the rim and rebound, which has been a major weakness since last year’s trade of Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green and Nenad Kristic. It’s difficult to speculate at this point what bigs the Celts could snag for one of those picks, but it’s about the only thing they could realistically do to help get this year’s group over the top.
Option 2: Stay the Course
This option would be, obviously, to stand pat, making no moves to improve the team now or for the future. As currently constituted, the Celtics do appear to be a playoff team, but probably not the kind that could get beyond Round 2 (even this may be optimistic). Going this route would, presumably, allow players like Garnett and Allen to make one last title run before their contracts are up at the end of the season, allowing these respected players to end their Celtic careers with dignity.
BTW, I’d be very open to the Celtics bringing Allen back next year; he’s essentially the SAME guy he was 4 years ago, so until they ban him from the NBA for being a mutant, rather than a human like the rest of us, I’d love to see him back. He’s a pleasure to watch play, and carries himself with extraordinary class, so if Ray Allen wants to be a Celtic next year, I’m all for it. Garnett, on the other hand, was recently likened by a co-worker of mine to “Shawn Kemp when he had a drug problem, but if he was thin”. While I don’t necessarily concur with this statement, it’s probably a bad sign when THESE are the people you’re being compared to. Garnett, through no fault of his own, no longer has the athleticism that made him a special player to begin with. He is free to continue playing in the NBA as long as teams are willing to have him around, but I’d strongly prefer it not be in a Celtics uniform next year, as it’s always an awkward dynamic when team leaders no longer have the skills to lead on the field/court (see Varitek, Jason, 2008-Present).
If the Celtics choose to go in this direction, they should be able to keep things relatively interesting for their fans from here on out, and begin the overhaul of their aging roster through free agency next year, since around $40 million will come off the books at the conclusion of the season. With the cap space and 2 mid-round 1st Round picks, as well as an elite PG, the Celtics could probably remain competitive, though they’d run the risk of an extended period of mediocrity if things didn’t play out perfectly.
Option 3: Blow it Up
If things for the Celtics take a turn for the worst over the next month or so, this option may be too tempting for a wheeler-dealer like Danny Ainge to resist. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Jermaine O’Neal all have expiring contracts, and Paul Pierce’s trade value is, understandably, at the highest it will be for the remainder of his career, so Ainge would have plenty of moveable assets if the mood struck him. Moving Pierce would probably be unlikely, given the loyalty existing between both parties. Ainge has also come VERY close to moving Rondo a number of times, but elite point guards don’t grow on trees, so this is a move I’d have a tough time endorsing. As a matter of fact, outside of Doc Rivers (who is rumored to be a coach that MANY players would like to play for), Rondo may very well be the best recruiting tool the Celtics have to get free agents to come to a city that is not exactly a destination city for NBA players. I’d have to imagine that there are plenty of players who would much rather play with an elite player who wants to get them shots rather than standing around watching the Tyreke Evans’ of the world hoist up shots as their teams “point guard”.
If the Celts were to move all 3 expiring contracts and Pierce (not likely, but may as well play out the extreme version) for some combination of youth, athleticism, and draft picks, they could use the remainder of the season to assess their current youth (Bradley, Moore, JaJuan Johnson, Greg Stiemsma) and whatever players they received back in the trades. Their plan going forward, at least in my estimation, would then be to assemble a roster that best takes advantage of their superstar’s (Rondo) skill set. If the Celtics had a young roster with athletes, a couple of shooters, a couple of bigs, and a crunch-time scorer (Pierce…but not ACTUALLY Pierce) they could become an exciting contender sooner than later in the post Big 3 years.
The next month will have an enormous impact over which of these options the Celtics and Danny Ainge choose to pursue, so Celtics plans have plenty of reason to follow their team closely leading up to March 15th.