Blowing up the Boston Celtics isn't going to be easy. At all.
Boston is prepared to explore any and all avenues after losing Rajon Rondo for the rest of the season with a torn ACL, including the very rebuild it explored only a year ago. Except that rebuild isn't going to be as facile as it could have been last season.
Per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, though the Celtics may toil with restructuring, executing said blueprint could prove near impossible:
Here's the reality: No one in the NBA is waiting with a fistful of talented young players and draft picks for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. No one mortgages franchise futures for aging thirty-something stars. Yes, "let's blow it up and start over" sounds noble in theory, but mostly leaves franchises in a hazy state of disarray for years to come.
"We aren't going anywhere," Rivers told Yahoo! Sports outside his office. "I don't get that thinking. You couldn't get what you wanted [in deals]. I still like our team."
Part of Rivers' words were a natural defiance, a fight-or-flight response out of a most competitive basketball soul. Nevertheless, the financial reality of the NBA has changed the way franchises have to inspect the trading away of assets for futures. When the lottery balls don't deliver LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Derrick Rose, rebuilding can be a long, painful and expensive process.
Courtesy of a ruthless CBA, the NBA is no longer a place where contenders will swap budding young prospects for expensive veterans who may be on their last legs. Especially when those older players' contracts still have plenty of life.
Last season, Boston had the opportunity to blow it up—a legitimate opportunity to wipe the slate clean. It had the expiring contracts of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Brandon Bass and a 34-year-old Paul Pierce who was averaging nearly 20 points per game on 44.3 percent shooting.
Any one (or all) of those expiring deals, along with Pierce, could have been shipped out. Teams looking to clear cap space would have welcomed the presences of Garnett, Allen and Bass for both financial and tactical gain.
But not this year.
Garnett and Bass are now signed to three-year deals, and the aging Jason Terry has joined them. Jeff Green has a four-year pact that he is unlikely to terminate before its completion, and the same can be said of Courtney Lee.
That makes a now 35-year-old Pierce the Celtics' most valuable trade chip. But he's valuable only to an extent. He may be able to snag a slightly younger veteran to help keep Boston afloat and that's about it.
With only $4 million of his $15.3 million salary guaranteed next season, Pierce is of value to any and all teams looking to shed some payroll. That he can still average nearly 20 points a game is merely a bonus.
And yet, are teams about to relinquish any young, up-and-coming talent for his services?
The answer to that ranges from unlikely to not at all. We already know this much.
Remember, the Memphis Grizzlies have already balked at the notion of exchanging Rudy Gay for Pierce, and they're merely looking for a salary dump. Those are supposed to be the easiest kinds of trades to sell. They're essentially fire sales.
The Celtics, however, don't even have enough to offer to get one of those done, which hardly bodes well when scenarios of deeper complexity are posed. It's all well and dandy to support Boston's pursuit of a Gay or DeMarcus Cousins, but it's another thing entirely to mold such conjecture into reality.
Danny Ainge and company know this. They know that they're options are limited, that rebuilding on a whim isn't feasible.
They know they might very well have no other choice but to ride out this Rondo-less wave, as Ainge said per Wojnarowski:
"Here's the thing: If I wanted to say, 'Hey, let's play for the future,' that's hard to do. And if I play only for the 'here and now,' that's hard to do."
Those kinds of trades are hard to do, Ainge meant.
"I'm going to look and see what opportunities are there, like any other year," Ainge said. "Last year, I was close to making a change that I felt would give us a better chance in the here and now, and in the future. And those are hard to do.
If you're the Celtics, "those kinds of trades" Ainge speaks of are nearly impossible to make. And it's unrealistic to believe that Boston will hold a fire sale of its own and assume the take-whatever-you-want-as-long-as-long-you-give-us-draft-picks stance.
Such desperation diminishes the value of whatever Boston is offering. It removes the sense of urgency for suitors to make an acceptable offer.
But let's go against that logic, shall we?
Let's say the the Celtics are able to receive some draft picks in this convoluted process. What happens then?
We don't know, and that's part of the problem.
Stockpiling draft picks means next to nothing. Boston could find the next Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis or LeBron James (laughs), but it could also find the next Darko Milicic as well.
As Ainge went on to admit, "draft picks are hard to come by now," yet selecting the right talent with those hard-to-come-by draft picks is harder still.
Short of cleaning house and starting from scratch during free agency, there is nothing the Celtics can do to guarantee anything. And cleaning house the way the New York Knicks or Miami Heat (sort of) did prior to the summer of 2010 isn't as easy or even possible anymore.
"We're going to figure it out [with these players]," Rivers said.
Mostly because the Celtics may not have a choice.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.
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