The big three era at Boston is coming to an end. No matter how you choose to look at it or however hard you try to ignore it, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are playing in their last season together for the Celtics.
Having won a championship and changing the face of basketball forever, the big three's legacy will live on long after they have all retired from the sport. The idea that three superstars, three future Hall of Famers, could get together and put their egos aside in an attempt to win the rings they had been searching their whole careers for was revolutionary.
The Celtics this season have turned things around after a slow start and the five starters should be allowed to complete the season and have one final hurrah in the playoffs. What General Manager Danny Ainge is planning for the big three this season is anyone's guess, but after giving the Boston fans so much, Allen, Garnett and Pierce should be presented with the chance to go out in a blaze of glory.
Trading any of the big three now, or before the season ends, isn't going to bring in Dwight Howard. No matter how much Celtics fans would love to see him in the green of Boston, the Celtics do not have enough value to give the Orlando Magic and Howard has expressed his preference to move elsewhere.
Ainge may be trying to squeeze a trade out of somewhere and might even be looking to swap Rajon Rondo but the smart money says that the Celtics should look to build in the offseason and structure a team around Rondo and Jeff Green.
If the Celtics keep their bench and aim to design a team that fits around Rondo and Green, who can they realistically expect to get? While Doc Rivers would love to have any of the starters from the All-Star game, they are all way beyond the trade value the Celtics have to barter with.
Rather than waste your time on fantasy picks such as Kevin Love, LeBron James or Blake Griffin, (there is no way that any one of those players is going to be traded away by their team), here are six possible trades that the C's could make in the offseason and who would give them a real shot at the championship next season.
Third behind only Kobe Byrant, LA Lakers and Kevin Martin, Houston Rockets, in points scored per game amongst all shooting guards, Mayo has racked up figures this term of 12.6 PPG, with 3.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists a night.
Mayo is a dynamic young SG who knows where the basket is and his natural ability would be welcomed at the TD Garden. Replacing Allen is almost an impossible task, such has been his impact in the NBA over the last 15 years, but trading Jesus Shuttlesworth for Mayo would be a great move for the Celtics.
Mayo has also been all over the Celtic blogosphere the last couple of days saying he'd consider a move to Boston, if he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Ellis has been averaging a staggering 21.3 points per game this season and, while he's not a true shooter like Allen, the Warriors guard is not afraid of taking on defenders and attacking the rim. Ellis does replicate Allen in the way he is able to find space on the floor and can shoot from just about anywhere on the court.
It is quite possible the Golden State Warriors would also be open to trading Ellis for Allen as they already have Stephen Curry at PG, who is a better ball handler and they also have Nate Robinson who can act as cover. Ellis and Rondo would make a nice pairing and the Celtics would have someone who scores points in the paint, something they have been lacking this season.
Ray Allen is still in great shape and could make a real difference to any team who picked him up. Allen could play for at least another four years in a diminished role off the bench. While Mayo or Ellis may not reach the levels of greatest Allen has achieved during his career, either one of them would be a good fit for the Celtics next season and would good some way to replacing the irreplaceable.
The Boston Celtics are not the only team who will be rebuilding this summer if Howard leaves the Magic for the West coast as expected. While nothing yet is set in stone and Orlando could decide to trade Howard to the New Jersey Jets or the New York Knicks, the All-Star Center has strongly hinted that he would prefer a move to LA. The Celtics might help that happen.
While Howard maybe worth more than the Celtics have to offer in trade, Magic's Forward-Center Ryan Anderson's price might be right. The 6 ft 10 in. Anderson is averaging 16.3 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. Figures that are similar to Garnett's.
The Celtics would have to adjust Anderson's play slightly, but a possible starting rotation of Rondo, Green, Anderson, Mayo or Ellis,(plus one other), looks incredibly strong and would likely start as one of the favorites to reach next year's Eastern Conference finals.
A straight player swap probably wouldn't interest Orlando, but a massive multi team deal might make them twitch. A move such as Garnett being traded to the Magic, Allen traded to the Clippers for someone off their bench, Howard traded to the Clippers, the Clippers sending players and picks to the Magic, might just work.
Scola doesn't get much love, but he scores points and can play more than a little defense, something the Celtics always desire in a big man. The 6 ft 9 in. Argentine has averaged 15.0 PPG this season with 5.8 boards a night.
In the rough and tumble of the Eastern Conference, Scola would stand up well to Anderson Varejao, Cleveland Cavaliers and Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls, two forwards who have given the C's so many problems in the past.
When it comes to winning over the Boston fans, Luis Scola would also have a huge advantage other possible alternative bigs, such as the Noah or Varejao, simply because he isn't Noah or Varejao.
The Rockets probably wouldn't be interested in swapping Scola for Garnett, even if the Celtics No. 5 has been the dominant player in the forward position for the past 16 years and no-one else brings as much intensity to a ballgame as KG does.
The Rockets may want to swap more than one player and this could be to Boston's benefit as the Atlantic Division team need other players the Houston side has.
Chase Budinger as the new Paul Pierce? It may sound a little wacky, comparing one of the Celtics greatest ever players to the former University of Arizona man, but it's a move that would make sense for the C's, no matter how strange it looks on paper.
Budinger is in his third year in the NBA and averages 8.3 PPG, but the Rockets small forward is an emerging talent who would work well in any new Boston roster. He matches The Truth in height at 6 ft 7 in., but is 11 years his junior.
Watching Pierce play for another team would feel kind of odd, but Danny Ainge isn't one to let sentimentally stand in the way of progress and swapping the Houston pair of Scola and Budinger for Pierce and Garnett could work well for both teams.
The Celtics starting five for the longer 2012-2013 season therefore if all went to plan could be Rondo, Green, Mayo, Scola and Budinger. Would you take that over the current starters: Rondo, Pierce, Garnett, Allen and O'Neill?
The Timberwolves forward Michael Beasley could follow in Garnett's footsteps and move to Boston. The 6 ft 10 in. would bring fire, fury and passion every night to the parquet floor of the TD Garden, something that Celtic fans demand from those wearing the green and white.
Swapping Beasley for Garnett and a future draft pick would be a good deal for both sides. Garnett could play out his career at the club he started at (though he might not want to) and the Celtics would get a good, young, strong player.
Replacing Allen, Garnett and Pierce is going to be impossible, there is no other way to describe it. How the Celtics handle changing the team from the big three era to the post big three era is going to be significant if they wish to stay relevant in the eastern conference and look to add to their record 17 NBA Championships.
While the six players listed as possible replacements would all be great for the future of the club, we should all continue to enjoy Allen, Garnett and Pierce and celebrate the big three while they are all still together.