Boston Celtics: Grading the 5 Biggest Offseason Moves
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After last season's loss to the Miami Heat in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, most NBA experts were ready to declare the window closed on the Celtics' championship aspirations. Two of the Celtics stars (PF/C Kevin Garnett and SG Ray Allen) faced impending free agency, with a third (SF Paul Pierce) rumored to be considering retirement. It felt like the end of an era, with more than a few rebuilding years to come.
Somehow, GM Danny Ainge managed a flurry of bold moves on a tight budget, prying that window back open for at least one more run.
The most important of his offseason moves was the re-signing of Garnett, who agreed to a three-year, $34 million deal. That was the only move Ainge could make that would keep the Celtics in contention in the near future; as such, it's worth a solid A grade.
Once KG was signed, the rest of the team began to fall into place, with Ainge looking to improve upon a bench that struggled to score throughout last season. In the following slides, we'll grade the five biggest Celtics offseason trades/signings (besides the signing of KG) and evaluate Ainge's attempt to reload the Celtics for one more shot at the NBA title.
1) Jason Terry
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When the Celtics realized they needed firepower off the bench, they brought in a Jet.
SG Jason "Jet" Terry, a 12-year veteran of Atlanta and Dallas, signed with the Celtics for three years at the full mid-level exception. Terry will provide instant offense for a bench that struggled to maintain the starters' leads.
Although Terry's three-point shooting is not quite at the level of departed SG Ray Allen (Terry is a 38 percent career three-point shooter, as compared to Allen's 40 percent), he is a great range shooter in his own right and has a reputation for knocking down big shots in pressure situations.
In some ways, Terry is a better fit for the Celtics than Allen next season.
First, Terry is far more willing to come off the bench: Allen found the idea of backing up young SG Avery Bradley so untenable that he took less money to sign with the Miami Heat. By contrast, Terry, who won the NBA Sixth Man award in 2009, thrives as a scorer off the bench: His clutch scoring played a big role in the Dallas Mavericks' 2011 NBA title.
Second, Terry is a far less one-dimensional player than Allen at this point in their respective careers. Allen's decreasing speed and inability to create his own shot led to increasingly stagnant offensive sets for the Celtics.
Oftentimes, when a play was drawn up for Allen, PG Rajon Rondo would have to hold the ball at the top of the key until the shot clock had nearly wound down, waiting for Allen to fight through picks and get open.
Terry, by contrast, is much better off the dribble (he has the requisite handle to play minutes at backup PG) and can create his own shot with ease. He'll be a much better fit for a bench that lacks a leader on offense.
There are some legitimate concerns about Terry's age (he's 35) and the length of his deal, though the extra years may have been necessary in order to convince him to sign in Boston. Given the deal for Courtney Lee, there is also a question as to whether the Celtics should have pursued frontcourt depth with the mid-level exception instead.
Otherwise, this is a great deal for the Celtics, and Ainge deserves a high grade for improving one of the team's biggest weaknesses from the previous season.
2) Jeff Green
There are few players on the Celtics more hotly debated by fans than SF/PF Jeff Green.
Green, who missed all of last season with an aortic aneurysm, is a polarizing player. Some evaluators see a young, athletic prospect who is perfectly suited to run with Rajon Rondo on the fast break, fast enough to spell Paul Pierce at small forward and strong enough to play power forward in a pinch. Others see a tweener who doesn't really play a natural position and has trouble grasping defensive rotations.
Though Green's ceiling remains a mystery, it is clear that he has the potential to play a huge role for the Celtics next season. Last year's team lacked a strong option off the bench at small forward, and coach Doc Rivers could only watch as Pierce broke down at the tail end of last year's playoff run.
With Green in the fold, the Celtics finally have a backup SF with the length and athleticism to disrupt the league's elite forwards. The only issue is the contract: The Celtics took a big risk signing Green to a four-year, $36 million deal.
Unfortunately for them, their present roster construction and limited cap room left them hamstrung; they essentially had to sign Green or lose him for nothing, with few available resources to replace him.
Since the deal fills a big need for the Celtics and allows them to retain a talented 25-year-old prospect, it warrants a solid grade. Still, giving four years to a player coming off heart surgery is a big risk. Hopefully for Celtics fans, a full training camp with Doc Rivers will help Green learn the C's defensive system and come closer to reaching his full potential.
3) Courtney Lee
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When the Celtics acquired SG/SF Courtney Lee through a sign-and-trade with the Houston Rockets, it marked Ainge's best move of their summer.
The Celtics traded 2011 draft picks JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, along with Sean Williams and a future draft pick, for the rights to Lee. With the acquisitions of Lee and Jason Terry, the Celtics will trot out an impressive four-pack of guards, once SG Avery Bradley recovers from double shoulder surgery.
Lee is a terrific athlete who can finish at the rim and can shoot corner threes at an impressive clip (he shot 49 percent from the corner last season, second only to former Celtic Ray Allen). He is also a strong defender on the wing, and gives the Celtics another option (along with Jeff Green) off the bench to defend elite guards and small forwards.
The trade for Lee makes the Celtics backcourt incredibly deep, which should help keep Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce fresh through the playoffs. They gave up two second-year players who had yet to show much improvement in summer leagues, and in exchange they got a player that should be a huge part of their success this season. This trade deserves the highest possible grade for an acquisition given the price and return, even though Lee is far from an elite player.
4) Brandon Bass
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PF Brandon Bass' re-signing went somewhat under the radar, given that he was the starting power forward for the Celtics last season. Bass, who was acquired from the Orlando Magic for Glen Davis last year, averaged 12.5 PPG and 6.2 RPG in the 2011-2012 regular season.
Bass is a valuable young player (27 years old) who knows the Celtics' rotations on defense and has a smooth 15- to 20-foot jumper. He's not without his flaws, however: Bass has a weak perimeter presence on defense, where he gets beaten too often by quicker players.
Still, he provides a strong interior presence that complements Kevin Garnett well, and he was a big part of the Celtics second-ranked defense last season.
Bass is young and talented and provides the Celtics with adequate frontcourt depth. It would have been difficult for the Celtics to replace him without devoting significant resources to the position, and as such, his re-signing at a modest three years, $20 million deserves a solid grade.
5) Chris Wilcox
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Center Chris Wilcox, who signed with the Celtics last year for the veteran minimum, joined Jeff Green on the sidelines last season when he, too, was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm midway through the year.
Wilcox has had almost a year to fully recover, and as such he is a rare commodity for the vet minimum: an athletic big with offensive skills who can rebound off the bench. The Celtics, one of the league's worst teams in rebounding, will be better off with him on the roster as frontcourt depth to help keep Kevin Garnett's minutes down.
If he can regain the midseason form he had before going down with a heart ailment, Wilcox could be a big part of a much-improved bench for the Celtics this year. For the veteran minimum, this is a good move.