NBA Offseason: NBA Offseason: 5 Things the Future Holds for the Celtics
Nearly five years ago, after a failed NBA lottery in which the Boston Celtics went from having a chance to get Kevin Durant or Greg Oden with the projected No.2 pick but fell instead to No.5 to pick Jeff Green, president Danny Ainge made a move that changed the course of the entire franchise.
Many thought that the move would be letting go of the franchise player, Paul Pierce. Instead, Ainge gave Pierce a veteran compliment in fellow All-Star Ray Allen in a trade with Seattle, who did pick Durant. Later in the offseason, Boston used a young potential All-Star in Al Jefferson and a lot of overrated young talents like Gerald Green to get a defensive stud, and arguably the most talented post player in the NBA in Kevin Garnett.
After Garnett won Defensive Player of the Year, the Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in six games to win the 17th championship in franchise history. With Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins continuing to develop in the second year of the Big 3 era, it seemed like there was no chance for them not to win at least another title.
However, the heart and soul of the team, Garnett, began to have constant injury issues that forced Pierce to play power forward at times against the Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic in seven game series. By the third year, there were rumors that Allen and Garnett could be on their way out because of second-half season struggles. But the Celtics ended up playing the Lakers again.
In an eerily similar scenario to the past series against the Miami Heat, Boston was up 3-2 with two games in LA to beat the Lakers for the second time in three years. But Perkins hurt his knee, and his career with the Celtics ended soon after.
Despite injuries to Jermaine O'Neal, Jeff Green, Allen, Rondo and Avery Bradley throughout the season, Boston competed again this season, and went to their third Eastern Conference Finals.
A historic five-year run for many teams was just another chapter of success for Boston, but not enough to join the Larry Bird and Bill Russell-led squads that are forever in NBA lore. But there influence was wide-ranging, as Miami became a new Big 3 in LeBron James' attempt to get past the only hurdle for him to the NBA Finals. Durant helped Oklahoma City become another Big 3 with Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and now both teams are meeting in the NBA Finals.
With a great modern legacy, it is time to see whether the last chapter of Boston's Big 3 (or Big 4) era has been written.
No.1: The Aging (and Possibly Finished) Big 3
Pierce will turn 35 in October, Allen will turn 37 this offseason, and Garnett turned 36 in May. Garnett and Allen are free agents this offseason, and Garnett did not talk to reporters after Game 7, according to ESPN Boston, so there is no indication whether or not that means he is staying or going as of this point.
In the article, Pierce makes it clear he is grateful to KG, and wants him back, but also that he may not be playing much longer, either:
"Well, he's been everything for my career," said Pierce. "Just his locker room presence, his desire, his determination, his leadership. I've said it before, when Kevin first got here, he really changed the culture of everything we did around here -- from the practice habits to on the court, just the discipline."
"He made everybody accountable, from the ball boys to the chefs to the guy who flew the plane. Everybody was accountable," continued Pierce. "It was tremendous to just have him around. The culture he brought -- it would be great for me to end my career with Kevin. I have a couple years left, and who knows what his future's going to bring. Hopefully management can do something to bring him back, maybe add some pieces to this team, that we need, to get over the top. If not, it's been a tremendous run."
According to Yahoo Sports!, Pierce and Allen were nearly traded away at the deadline. Allen could be part of a sign-and-trade with the Memphis Grizzlies for O.J. Mayo since it was a possible deadline deal, while Pierce has only one guaranteed year left on his contract.
According to Pro Basketball Talk, the Heat could make a run at Allen as well. If there is one to go from this Hall-of-Fame trio, Allen will be the most likely one due to age and injury problems.
No.2: Free Agents and Current Cap Situation
If the NBA salary cap remains at $58 million, the Celtics will have around $23 million on a roster that has Rondo, Bradley, Pierce, Brandon Bass, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, according to hoopsworld.com. Bass has a $4.25 million option, and may not be a starter on a lot of teams. However, his playoff performance could give him the opportunity to make more money in free agency.
Assuming he stays, the Celtics have four starters and two first-round picks at No.21 and No.22. Assuming those picks give Boston two bench players like a point guard and swingman, there may be enough money to bring back Garnett for around $8 million and maybe another similar contract to sign an O.J. Mayo or Jamal Crawford to play the sixth-man role.
Pierce has a $15 million salary in 2013-14, but his contract is only guaranteed for $5 million, meaning he could be released to make room for about $10 million in cap space. When looking at the 2013 free agent class, Andrew Bynum, Chris Paul, Kevin Martin, Stephen Jackson, Josh Smith, David West and Al Jefferson could be available. If Ainge wants to pull a Mark Cuban and let both his veteran free agents go in the hopes of grabbing a big fish the way Cuban let Tyson Chandler go to the New York Knicks, he may let Garnett and Allen walk, and release Pierce from his contract next year.
Either way, Ainge does deserve some confidence from fans since he brought the core together, but also some skepticism since they only won one title, and he has almost traded Rondo a few times, it seems.
No.3: Finally, Some Competition in Atlantic Division
With Dwane Casey and Mike Woodson bringing defense to Toronto and New York, respectively, Philadelphia pushing the Celtics to 7 games, and the Nets making their move to Brooklyn while trying to keep Deron Williams, the free pass to the No.4 seed to Boston may have expired.
The Knicks have arguably the two best defensive players in the league with Tyson Chandler and Iman Shumpert, once he gets healthy, to go along with Carmelo, Amare, and the continued development of Jeremy Lin. The Philadelphia 76ers will amnesty Elton Brand, have Lou Williams exercise his opt-out clause, and have more than $25 million in cap room, assuming the salary cap remains the same.
The Nets will go after Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, anybody it takes to keep Williams and keep the new fans in Brooklyn happy. The Toronto Raptors will add Jonas Valanciunas, who is a European big who was drafted fifth last year, and has a nasty streak that he can maybe bring to Andrea Bargnani (ok, that might be much).
With Boston's veteran core getting older and maybe have some changes, all four teams playing against the Celtics in the Atlantic are smelling blood, and are ready to come out of the woodwork. Danny Ainge will have his work cut out to build a team just to win the now-competitive Atlantic Division, let alone compete with the Miami Heat and beat them in a seven-game series.
No.4: Rajon Rondo Being Known as the Best Point Guard in the Game
At 26, Rondo has already passed Bob Couzy for most playoff games with 10+ assists with 40, giving him another franchise record. He may be crazy with the ball sometimes, but nobody sees the game like Rondo, making the fellow Boston combination of Brady to Gronkowski proud with the way he used KG in the postseason.
He averaged 11.9 points and 11.7 assists, which led the league, but his postseason performance of 44 points in Game 2, and battling LeBron James blow for blow proved he may be ready to join the top 10 players and be a possible MVP candidate by next season.
That being said, with three years left on his contract and the possibility that Garnett and Pierce could be done in two years, if Chris Paul won't stay long-term in LA, trade discussions for Paul could begin again. As good as Rondo is, his being unorthodox in terms of both his playing style and brutally honest attitude could be the thing that prevents him from reaching his full potential.
If the thought ever crosses Danny Ainge's mind again, however, he should remember that Rondo was arguably the playoffs MVP, and has the respect of players like LeBron James, which could lead to big-name free agents wanting to join him.
No.5: Doc Rivers' Future
Rivers signed a 5 year, $35 million contract extension last May. He has stated in the past that he may retire in order to watch his son Austin play. He even helped his son prepare for the draft while coaching Boston, according to Yahoo Sports!.
He is only 50, but has both played and coached pro basketball for nearly the last 30 years, and has a great career in broadcasting coming whenever he does decide to retire (he was an analyst for ABC in 2004).
With his favorite trio of players possibly being done in two years, and his son about to be taken in this month's NBA draft, Rivers may not want to go through a roster overhaul that will force him to adjust to new players in two or three years. That being said, it could also have been his last trip to an Eastern Conference Finals, and I don't think Doc wants to coach a team that can't compete for a championship on a year-in year-out basis.