Celtics Reloaded: One Way to Keep Boston a Contender Next Year and Beyond
Imagine what the moment after the Boston Celtics lost game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals might had looked like behind the scenes:
Waiting in the locker room were Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox, Jermaine O’Neal, and Avery Bradley.
After the game, Greg Stiemsma walked gingerly to avoid putting pressure on his foot suffering from plantar fasciitis. Ray Allen soaked his ankle with bone chips in a bucket of ice water, while Paul Pierce and Michael Pietrus each wore an ice bag on their balky knees like it was fashionable.
Health has been Boston’s Achilles heel since they won Banner number 17 in 2008 (note: no player was ever listed on the Celtics’ injury report with an Achilles heel injury last season, but it wouldn’t be surprising if someone had a bad one). From Kevin Garnett’s knee in the 2008-09 season, to Kendrick Perkins in the 2010 Finals, and even Shaquille O’Neal last year, a key Celtic or two failed to finish the season.
Injuries happen. Heart problems should be taken seriously. And it’s harder to play at a high level at an advanced age.
But any talk that the Celtics ran out of gas in Game 7 because they were old is flat out wrong. They ran out of gas because they didn’t have any support from the bench.
The starters did their job, as all five finished in double figures. But two points from Ryan Hollins isn’t going to put any team over the top.
With the right moves, and being blessed with good health, the Celtics can rebound from the emotional loss in the Eastern Conference Finals and again contend for the right to take on the best from the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Without making any ludicrous trade proposals, here is one way to keep the Celtics in contention in 2012-13 and prepare for the next generation.
Shuffle the Big Three
End of an era? Not quite. The Celtics trio of Pierce, Garnett, and Allen has been very successful ever since president of basketball operations Danny Ainge brought them together. Ainge has anticipated the day they wouldn’t play together and timed the splintering for this offseason as Garnett and Allen’s contracts have expired.
But if they’re willing to give Boston a hometown discount and Allen accepts a demotion to the bench, there’s no reason why Ainge shouldn’t bring Garnett and Allen back.
They proved they still have a lot of game left when healthy. More importantly, there isn’t anyone on the roster capable of replacing either immediately.
Ainge needs to find those players this off-season. Ideally, they will spend a year (maybe two) being mentored by the very players they will replace eventually. By the time the young players are ready, they will know what Celtics Pride means and what it takes to be successful in the NBA from two of the best professionals the league has seen during the past 16-plus years.
No Long Goodbyes
Happy trails to Shasha Pavlovic, Marquis Daniels, Michael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling, and Ryan Hollins. They finished on the active roster, but they weren’t consistent impact players. Pietrus and Daniels had a couple of moments in the Playoffs between them, but that was it.
Also never to be seen in Celtic Green again is Jermaine O’Neal. Even when healthy, O’Neal’s defense and rebounding wasn’t worth the roster spot he took up for two years.
Ainge must quit acquiring big men at the end of their careers cold turkey. It worked that one time with P.J. Brown in 2008, but that’s it. No more Shaqs, ‘Sheeds (Rasheed Wallace), Mikkis (Mikki Moore) or Murphys (Troy Murphy). It’s a similar story for the shooting guard/small forward position. Maybe Pietrus comes back for the minimum, but young, athletic wing scorers come first.
Late arrival Sean Williams' contract is good for next year, but might not get out of training camp with a roster spot.
If they have a clean bill of health, bring back Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox and Greg Stiemsma. Both Green and Wilcox had heart surgery last season. If they are fully recovered, bring them back.
Green is a versatile combo forward that can play either small or power. He creates matchup problems as he can overpower many small forwards and is too quick for power forwards. He would be a valuable reserve and possibly an eventual starter.
Just as Wilcox developed chemistry with Rondo, doctors found significant enlargement of Wilcox’s aorta and recommended surgery. It was unfortunate, as he was one of the few big men able to run with Rondo in transition and finish strong with athleticism. It should take Wilcox and Rondo almost no time to start clicking again next season.
Stiemsma doesn’t fill the void at center, but he provides good depth and is already a shot blocker that makes opponents think twice about going into the paint.
Brandon Bass has the option for another year and already said he wants to be back. Rookie guard E’Twan Moore flashed some potential as a capable combo guard. He deserves an extended look during training camp, and a shot to earn a roster spot.
Ainge, a former Major League Baseball draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, has to hit it out the park with all three draft selections. This is one of the deepest drafts in years and the Celtics could potentially come out of it with two star players and a reserve if his scouting is on the money.
Don’t forget that Rondo was the 21th pick overall in 2006. With the 21st and 22nd selections, Ainge can find the athletic scorers that the team desperately needs to come off the bench, with the potential to become starters in the near future.
But Ainge still needs a sure thing. With that in mind, he should pursue Sacramento’s Jason Thompson, a young and athletic big man able to play either center or power forward.
By the end of the season, Thompson was almost a lock for a double-double on a nightly basis. Getting away from the immature DeMarcus Cousins and out of a dysfunctional locker room should help Thompson reach his full potential. Learning from Garnett, and having Rondo setting the table for Thompson would do wonders for the Rider product entering his fourth year.
It's hard to imagine that the Kings would let Thompson get away, but according to the Sacramento Bee, the Kings are interested in pairing Cousins with Connecticut prospect, center Andre Drummond. If the rumor is true, the opportunity to acquire Thompson is there.
The 2012-13 Celtics
If the off-season plays out as suggested, the Celtics depth chart will look like this:
|Point Guard||Rajon Rondo||E'Twan Moore|
|Shooting Guard||Avery Bradley||Ray Allen||draft pick|
|Small Forward||Paul Pierce||Jeff Green||draft pick|
|Power Forward||Jason Thompson||Brandon Bass||JaJuan Johnson|
|Center||Kevin Garnett||Chris Wilcox||Greg Stiemsma||draft pick|
If they stay relatively healthy, Boston remains a contender in the East. More importantly, a young foundation will be in place for when the Big Three era is truly over.