With the looming retirements and impending free agencies of two thirds of its "Big Three," the Boston Celtics are at a crossroads in their franchise history.
GM Danny Ainge must make the decision of whether to roll the dice this season and make one final push at a championship with the current group or blow things up and rebuild with an eye ahead for the future prosperity of the historic franchise.
This decision is by no means easy; as seen in the ever changing news headlines about what Ainge is planning to do and the potential trades of PG Rajon Rondo and PF Kevin Garnett.
My personal opinion is that a full rebuild is the best option for Boston, but it must be done correctly and not just for the sake of a rebuild.
In the case of Rajon Rondo, I believe that a trade this season is the best option for the team going forwards. I am personally of the opinion that much of the team's and Rondo's personal success has to do with a full core of star players around him, through which he has developed and is reliant on.
I do not see him being able to put the franchise on his back and carry it when Ray Allen and Paul Pierce retire and Kevin Garnett leaves in free agency or also retires. I also do not think it is fair to place the full weight of the team's success on the back of its point guard. This is not an idea that has a history of working well; simply look at the post-Stoudamire Suns, the Deron Williams Nets' and the John Wall Wizards' as some examples among many others.
I would look to move Rajon Rondo to a team in the NBA's cellar, who is in need of a top-five quality PG to build their franchise around with some of the pieces that they already have. The team that immediately comes to my mind is the Charlotte Bobcats.
A trade centered around Charlotte's first round pick, which is going to be top three, PG D.J. Augustin (RFA) and PF Tyrus Thomas would be an appealing trade for both sides. With Charlotte's 1st round pick, the Celtics can then look to draft Kentucky's Anthony Davis with Kansas' Thomas Robinson as a backup plan in case Charlotte loses the lottery.
Depth at the power forward position is something that has been eluding Boston for years and adding either Davis or Robinson provides the Celtics would great talent and youth at the position that would instantly help them on the post.
I would then turn around and trade Tyrus Thomas, a 2nd rounder in 2012 or a 1st in 2013 to Milwaukee for Ersan Ilyasova—a young talented PF adding depth to a core that would include Brandon Bass (after exercising his option) and the newly acquired Davis/Robinson.
This move would allow the C's to use the first 1st round pick they have acquired through previous trades to draft Kendall Marshall, PG UNC with a backup plan of Perry Jones III, PF Baylor if Marshall is already gone.
They can also move up if needed to ensure snaring Marshall by adding additional pieces on the roster such as JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore into a deal to get a higher pick. Moore is more likely to get such a deal done as he has shown he can play and score in the NBA, but a package deal of both players along with the 1st rounder could be enough to move up a few spots and trade picks with a team like Utah.
If Celtics make the playoffs in 2012, they're likely going to finish in the bottom three of the playoff picture without Rondo. That means a first round exit because they'll be facing one of Miami, Chicago or Orlando.
As a result, the Celtics' own first round pick will likely be in the 14-16 pick area. If they feel Jones III will not be available where they select, they can offer newly acquired PG DJ Augustin as compensation to a team looking for quality PG depth along with the draft pick the Celts have to move up in the draft to grab Jones III.
All told, the Celtics could come out of the draft with Anthony Davis/Thomas Robinson, Kendall Marshall, and Perry Jones III. These players provide cost controlled youth and talent, which is the proper way to begin to rebuild a franchise.
After the season, the Celtics can then plan on Ray Allen retiring, Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal hitting free agency, coupling with the trade of Rondo to save $48 million on the cap. This gives them tons of money available to target Dwight Howard, Deron Williams (Player Option), Eric Gordon (RFA), and Brook Lopez (RFA) in free agency.
However, they must understand that Howard and Williams are likely going to be looking to pair up with two additional superstars to create their own "Big Three," so going hard after the less heralded but still supremely talented and young Gordon and Lopez would give them two prized acquisitions.
With the available cap space, Boston can beat the qualifying offers that the pair will likely be looking at as RFA's, hopefully enough to bring them to Boston.
Eric Gordon and Brook Lopez will likely want to test free agency after years of not seeing the playoffs and would possibly be willing to sign in Boston. For depth, Boston can then look to sign Bill Walker as a free agent SF for depth, along with Joel Przybilla for C depth.
Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels are three candidates for re-signing by the Celtics, providing cheap depth players who are familiar with the franchise and its system.
A projected starting Lineup for 2012-2013 with the free agency help outlined above would look as follows:
PG - Avery Bradley
SG - Eric Gordon
SF- Paul Pierce
PF - Anthony Davis/Thomas Robinson/Brandon Bass
C - Brook Lopez.
The point guard position can be further addressed in the following season (2013-2014) with Paul Pierce's massive salary possibly coming off of the book if he chooses to retire.
However, they may find that Bradley has developed far enough and can handle the reigns of the positions on his own. If that is the case, they could also use the Pierce money to upgrade from Jeff Green at the SF position, as the rest of the roster will be set with quality young assets.
Finally, the finished roster for 2012-2013 will look as follows, complete with listed salaries I feel are appropriate of each players on the roster, along with their positions and how the roster will fit into the 2012-2013 NBA salary structure.
PG - Avery Bradley ($1,630,800), Keyon Dooling ($2,246,400), Kendall Marshall ($2,700,000)
SG -Eric Gordon ($5,300,000), Mickael Pietrus ($1,300,000), Marcus Dainels ($1,300,000)
SF - Paul Pierce, ($16,790,345) Jeff Green ($11,139,970), Bill Walker ($1,100,000)
PF - Brandon Bass ($8,075,000 option), Ersan Ilyasova ($2,541,000), A. Davis/T. Robinson ($5,115,000), Jones III ($2,700,000)
C - Brook Lopez ($5,500,000), Joel Przybilla ($900,000)
2012-2013 Supposed Salary Cap: $61,000,000
Total $ used on the cap: $60,263,515 with some money left over to fill additional needs.