The Boston Celtics have been a team on the brink of title contention every year since winning it in 2008. However, Celtics GM Danny Ainge is now at a critical juncture in the team's history: Do they blow up a squad that is five seasons removed from an NBA title, or do they try to make another push at a Larry O'Brien?
Last season, the Celtics were an Avery Bradley injury away from possibly derailing the eventual champion Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
With Bradley on the court, the Celtics are a different team. His game-changing defensive impact frustrates opposing guards, and Bradley can put intense ball pressure on the quickest point guards in the league. That disrupts opposing offenses, makes them take longer to initiate sets, and forces more late shot clock possessions.
In a poll on Celtics blog Hardwood Houdini, over 59 percent of voters said they felt it would be foolish to give up Avery Bradley in any potential deal to land DeMarcus Cousins. The Celtics were reported to have been on the verge of acquiring Cousins, but the deal never materialized.
Such deals, however, are the very ones Danny Ainge has to be considering, whether they involve Bradley or not.
That's because the Celtics rank near the bottom in a number of key statistical areas per TeamRankings.com:
- No. 30 in Rebound Rate (47.8 percent)
- No. 29 in offensive rebounds per game (8.6)
- No. 25 in blocked shots per game (4.2)
- No. 26 in points in the paint (38.1)
Those weaknesses indicate the glaring need for a big man in Beantown. Darko Mlicic's leave of absence left the C's a big body short, and things only got worse with further injuries to Jared Sullinger and point guard Rajon Rondo (who contributes a lot on the boards, as well).
Without Rondo on the court to snag the long rebounds, and Sullinger not on the court for the second unit, the result has been that their rebound rate has fallen even lower in the last three games. They've snagged just over 45 percent of the rebounds in their last three games.
The fact that the Celtics have been able to win games without Rondo does not prove they are a team that can thrive without his playmaking abilities. The reported interest in a Rondo for Dwight Howard swap doesn't hold much merit if Ainge wants to keep the team's identity intact, and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are both pleased with the way No. 9 has run the team.
But the need to acquire a big man is pressing. And if it means Ainge has to trade one of his perimeter players to obtain one, he must do so. Both Bradley and forward Jeff Green hold a lot of value, and at this point, no Celtic should be off limits.
Yes, if Bradley were traded the Celtics would have to get top dollar for his services, but just because he is a potential All-NBA defender doesn't mean he can't be included in a deal that would land the C's a top big man.
Garnett has been forced to play out of position the entire season, and while the 6'11" veteran has held his own, the aforementioned stats indicate the experiment just isn't working.
Fab Melo is still likely one or two seasons away from being an impact player, but has shown considerable promise and posted a triple-double with 13 blocked shots in a D-League game for the Maine Red Claws. Melo has been considered to be a project center, but the Syracuse product could eventually pay big dividends down the road.
As long as Garnett and Pierce are able to play at high levels, though, Ainge needs to make the small tinkers that could push the C's over the top.
The Miami Heat will have a stranglehold on the Eastern Conference until the 2014-15 season when things could possibly change. Until that time, it only makes sense that any team close to winning a title just pushes through the LBJ era as-is.
A speculative deal that would improve Boston's chances would be sending Jeff Green to the Phoenix Suns for the discontented Marcin Gortat.
Many feel Green is an absolute necessity moving forward in the eventual rebuild, but Gortat would provide shot blocking and a level of rebounding production that they just can't get from the 6'8" Green.
Acquiring Gortat would enable the C's to shift Garnett back to the 4-spot, with Jared Sullinger being the third big man in the rotation. At this point, Sullinger should be considered untouchable by Danny Ainge.
Brandon Bass could be shopped, as his current $6.75 million contract expires at the end of next season.
But that should be Ainge's course of actions: add some frontcourt depth at whatever cost, and see how that adjustment enhances the Celtics' title chances.