Boston Celtics: Best & Worst Case Scenarios Following the All-Star Break
It's no secret that in this lockout-shortened NBA season, the Boston Celtics have not lived up to expectations. Normally a lock for a top seed in the playoffs, they currently stand 15-16 and would be the No. 8 seed were the postseason to start today.
The sad truth is that the original Big Three's age is starting to show. The three members are 34, 35 and 36 and are just starting to slow down.
Yet, if sports history has taught us anything, especially with Boston teams, it's that epic comebacks are always possible. The Celtics are still a talented team and when push comes to shove, they could be a force to be reckoned with were they to go on a hot streak.
At the same time, however, as was the case with the Boston Red Sox last year, teams could be subject to things going horribly wrong. Let's have a look at three instances of each, particularly in the case of the Celtics.
Worst Case: Paul Pierce Is Traded
Earlier this season, Celtics GM Danny Ainge stated that he was open to breaking up the team's legendary trio if it meant a winning future. Sure enough, the speculation started as to who would be traded.
Unfortunately, for Celtics fans, the man most likely to be dealt is fan favorite Paul Pierce. Even at age 34, he's still the one who would surely bring in the best package via trade. This year, the former Kansas Jayhawk is averaging 17.4 points and has been more open to pass, with his 5.3 assists per game.
Pierce is having an off year compared to what fans expect of him, shooting just 42 percent, but take a look at his Big Three teammates. Ray Allen is 36 and while still effective, he's little more than a shooter at this point. 35-year-old Kevin Garnett, he's become a ticking time bomb regarding getting injured.
Thus, with Pierce the most well rounded out of the three and Boston not quite out of the race yet, trading him would send the Celtics into a downward spiral even if it meant potential future success.
Best Case: Rajon Rondo Is Traded
However, Rondo is also one of the most immature players in basketball and recently received a two-game suspension for throwing a ball at a referee (see video). Thus, should the season take a turn for the worse, I wouldn't at all be shocked to see Danny Ainge deal him to another team.
His stat line this year is great for a point man (14.8 points, 9.5 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals). Even though his free-throw shooting surely drives some people insane, he's still talented enough that he could bring in some decent players and maybe even some draft picks.
At that point, the Celtics would only be able to go up.
Worst Case: Rajon Rondo Is Traded
Rondo may have attitude issues, but that doesn't take away from the fact that he's one of the most dynamic point guards in the NBA today. Without him, the Celtics would definitely not have been as good a team as they have been over the past few seasons.
In spite of the package he would bring in, trading him would devastate the fans who have grown to love him. On top of that, suppose the players received in such a deal didn't pan out well?
Suppose that deal did happen. Who's going to man the point in Beantown? Avery Bradley? Keyon Dooling? Come on, now.
No matter how you look at it, Rondo is worth the headache. Point guards like him are rare and should Danny Ainge choose to trade him, it'd be a crying shame.
Best Case: Bon Voyage, Jermaine O'Neal!
It simply astounds me that Jermaine O'Neal is still able to find work in the NBA. He hasn't played more than 70 games since the 2003-2004 season and is a lock to get injured almost every year.
Yet, for some reason, the Celtics are paying him $6.2 million this season for 5.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game.
Thus, if Danny Ainge is looking to dump some payroll, there's no better man to deal than O'Neal. Despite all his negative qualities, he's still averaging 1.6 blocks per contest this year. With many teams in need of that kind of defense, O'Neal could easily be moved for some draft picks to free the Celtics of some dead weight.
Worst Case: Injuries, Injuries and More Injuries
As I mentioned before, age is starting to show among the Big Three. That means an increased likelihood of getting injured and given how the team has performed this year, one man going down could sink all hopes of rebounding.
Whether it's Pierce getting hurt on a flop, Garnett having a nagging injury or even a key bench man like Brandon Bass (who is currently out with a sore knee) going down, the Celtics would lose a lot of depth.
Guys like JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore have potential, but they're both very raw and can't be relied on to carry a team when a star goes down.
Simply put, the core group needs to stay healthy by any means necessary.
Best Case: What's Up, D12?
OK, so the odds of this happening are slim to none. Acquiring Howard would mean giving up at least one of the Big Three, some of the bench players and some draft picks. On top of that, I highly doubt that Ainge would trade that big of a package to a fellow Eastern Conference team.
However, as the Deron Williams trade showed us last year, surprises can happen come the trade deadline. More importantly, the Celtics were in the Chris Paul race at one point this offseason. If you ask me, Paul and Howard are on the same level in terms of what they could bring to a team.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that this trade is going to happen. I'm just saying that should Ainge find a way to work his magic and bring Howard in, even as a rent-a-player, the Celtics could find themselves on a colossal rise up the Eastern Conference rankings and in one of the best possible scenarios.