The Boston Celtics came up just short of an NBA Finals appearance in 2012. Now general manager Danny Ainge faces an ultimatum—blow the team up or bolster for another playoff run. The odds are against the C's, but there's reason to believe the team can reorganize without starting from scratch.
Boston proved that age is only a number this year. But unfortunately, salaries are another number that's become a concern. The contracts of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are coming off the books. Consequently, the Celtics' future is up in the air.
According to ESPN.com, only six players are currently under contract for next season: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, JaJuan Johnson, E'twaun Moore, Sean Williams and Avery Bradley. With fresh cap space to play with, fair market signings could revamp the squad for a 2013 playoff run.
That being said, here is how the Celtics can retool without rebuilding.
Declining $4.25 million for the 2012-2013 season puts the Celtics organization in a tough position, but the team will have the means to negotiate a fresh deal.
CSNNE's Blakely reports that the 6'8" forward has a desire to sign a long-term deal with Boston. And after posting a career-best 12.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game, it's hard to argue with him.
After being traded from the Orlando Magic to the Celtics in exchange for Von Wafer and Glen Davis in December, Bass excelled. He found a role at starting power forward when Kevin Garnett moved to center, starting all 20 playoff games.
Bass' agent Tony Dutt feels that there's an excellent chance his client will be back sporting the green and white, per Chris Forsberg of ESPN Boston:
"Obviously, he would love to be back in Boston," Dutt said. "We will inform them that he plans to become an unrestricted free agent, but my gut tells me they are going to want to keep him. And I'm sure he'll have several other teams interested."
If Bass can agree to terms with the Celtics, he could assume a starting job again in the fall. However, he's got to ink some papers before that happens.
Blakely indicates that when Glen Davis agreed to a sign-and-trade to Orlando, he signed a four-year $26 million contract. Bass certainly outplayed Davis this season, so he could be even more costly.
Ray Allen has been a tremendous asset for the Celtics in the twilight of his NBA career. Yet as sad as it may be, the time has come to let Ray walk away.
In his first four seasons with the Celtics, Allen never averaged less than 16.3 points per game. Although during the 2011-2012 season, Allen scored just 14.2 points a contest and was relegated to a reserve role.
Points weren't his only downfall. Allen played in just 46 regular season games and suffered from painful bone spurs in his right ankle. The injury caused the UConn product to shoot only 39.5 percent from the field this postseason.
Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald believes that Allen's age and health make him longshot to re-sign with Boston:
Ray Allen’s return is questionable at best. He wants more security than the Celtics will probably be willing to offer. His recovery from Wednesday’s ankle surgery will also have many general managers asking questions. Allen recovered flawlessly from double ankle surgery in the summer of 2007, but he turns 37 next month.
It will be hard to say goodbye to the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history. But at this point, the Celtics must move on from the future Hall of Fame inductee.
The 21-year-old Avery Bradley cannot replace Allen's sharpshooting, but his defensive prowess is nearly unmatched. If Bradley's shoulders heal properly after surgery, then Boston's future at shooting guard remains bright.
During this year's postseason, Kevin Garnett played like he was age 26—not 36.
The 16-year pro averaged 19.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per playoff game, proving he was capable of transitioning to the center position.
When KG was subbed out of games, Boston struggled to replace his energy on both offense and defense. His wily veteran charisma and crafty post moves are hard to come by. And because of that, Garnett is a top free agent target.
HoopsHype.com's data indicates that Garnett earned $21.2 million last season. Will he ever earn that type of money again? No, well not on the C's at least.
The Big Ticket will receive his share of enticing offers this offseason, and one of those will likely be from the Celtics.
"By all indications, the Celts have made it clear they want Garnett to return for at least the 2012-13 season, and there is strong evidence from those involved that he is more than willing to discuss that possibility," reports the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett.
Garnett's relationship with head coach Doc Rivers is a strong one. However, the soon-to-be Hall of Fame big man will need more than a great coach to spark a return to Boston. He has to sense that the Celtics are still contenders, according to Bulpett.
Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune reports that NBA coach and ex-Celtics adviser Flip Saunders is confident that Garnett will re-sign with Boston. Hartman writes:
Saunders is positive Garnett, who is a free agent, will sign for another year with the Celtics, who have some rebuilding to do.
If No. 5 suits up for the Celtics next year, the team would regain a general on the parquet floor, and a mentor to groom youngsters like JaJuan Johnson.
Although Garnett's decision won't happen over night, Boston needs their age-defying star in order to win basketball games. That will only occur if he can agree to a realistic salary that bodes well for the team.
Missing the entire 2011-2012 season due to heart surgery, the Celtics removed Green's $9 million qualifying offer in January, reports ESPN Boston's Peter May. As a result, the fifth pick in the 2007 NBA draft is a free agent.
Green has played in only 26 regular season games with Boston, averaging 9.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per game.
However, the ex-Georgetown small forward is looking to get back into the swing of things and is luring intrigue from several NBA teams including Boston, according to Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated.
If Green returns to the Celtics, he would give the team a solid mid-range shooter who can start or come off the bench. Brandon Bass played in a similar role last season with the C's, but Green's abilities make him another player to pursue.
In his career, the 25-year-old has averaged 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Coming off such a serious medical procedure, it's interesting to see Green's value go unwavered.
JaJuan Johnson was the Celtics' 2011 first-round draft choice. However, the power forward didn't carve a out role as a rookie.
In a mere 36 regular season games, Johnson averaged just 3.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.
Yet, he showed flashes of production. Against the Chicago Bulls in February, the 6'10" Purdue Boilermaker scored 12 points in 33 minutes. Versus the Milwaukee Bucks in April, Johnson reeled in eight rebounds.
Johnson has a nice 15-foot jump shot which looks almost as smooth as Kevin Garnett's. Not to say the 23-year-old is the second-coming of KG, but he's a gifted shooter for a man of his stature.
Coach Doc Rivers isn't one to play his inexperienced players, but if Johnson can develop a spot in the lineup on the 2012-2013 Celtics, then the team's future is in good hands.
The Celtics became very thin at center as this past season progressed. Behind Kevin Garnett at center, there was Ryan Hollins, Greg Stiemsma and Sean Williams.
Based on NBA experience among the Celtics' reserve centers, Hollins had the most with five years. That lack of reliable depth was revealed whenever Garnett needed a breather or got into foul trouble.
With that in mind, Boston must rejuvenate the backup the center spot by perhaps re-signing incumbents or going after other team's available players.
Here are some budget-conscience big men who might fit with Celtics' future endeavors:
- Chris Wilcox: Age 29, coming off of aortic surgery, career average of 8.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Wilcox spent part of last season with Boston.
- Greg Stiemsma: Age 26, averaged 2.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in his rookie season with Boston. He is a restricted free agent.
- Ryan Hollins: Age 27, career average of 4.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game. Hollins spent part of last season with Boston.
- Semih Erden: Age 25, career average of 3.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. A former Celtics draft pick, Erden played with Boston during the 2010-2011 season.
- Omer Asik: Age 25, career average of 2.9 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. NBA.com's Sam Smith reports the Celtics are considering the Chicago Bulls' 7'0" center.
It may take more than just cost-effective centers to right the Celtics' low-post game, but it all comes back to Garnett and his plans for 2013.
What's the best cure for the Boston's aging and tired legs? Young and fresh ones.
The Celtics have the rights to the two 2012 first-round draft picks: 21 and 22. With these late-first selections, Boston has some leeway for a trade.
Instead of drafting two middle-of-the-road NBA prospects, the C's should move up into the lottery to seize one quality player.
"I'll be surprised if Boston keeps both 21 and 22, but the Celtics need to make sure there is a palatable trade," said ESPN's Andy Katz.
Fazing out of the 2007-2012 Big 3 period, the TD Garden is has evolved into Rajon Rondo's domain. Therefore, GM Danny Ainge should find his All-Star point guard a go-to option for next season and beyond.
If the Celtics can exchange Nos. 21 and 22 with a team like the Phoenix Suns at pick 13, maybe Doc Rivers could be reunited with his son Austin Rivers. Rivers, a 6'5" shooting guard knows how to score at will and averaged 15.4 points per game as a freshman at Duke.
Is that father-son story line too good to be true? That will be decided on June 28.