Over the past few trade deadlines, everyone in Boston seems to be asking the same question: "Is this the year?"
And again this season, the answer was no.
The only move made by the Celtics before this year's deadline was a swap of spare parts. They sent out a couple of benchwarmers (one of whom can't walk), and received an extremely troubled young combo guard with one of the worst shot selections in the league, hardly enough to merit discussion.
Boston has a good team, but even with a healthy Rondo, their odds of making a deep playoff run were slim. It could be argued that this probably should have been the year.
It's obvious that breaking up this core would open wounds. Pierce, Rondo and Garnett won a title together just a few years ago, and all of them are still valuable assets. However, with Rondo out for the season and Garnett and Pierce inevitably on the decline, it may be time to break up this crew.
A problem that precedes any kind of trade discussion is the battle between doing what's best for the team and respecting the players who have earned it. Paul Pierce has played his entire career with the Celtics, and all indicators point to him wanting to retire as a Celtic. Garnett has stated the same.
Dealing either of these players, especially Pierce, would cast a negative light on the franchise, and taking a step back as a fan, it's something that shouldn't happen (It's also important to remember that Garnett has a no-trade clause).
Despite this, basketball is a business. Although there's something, albeit a big something, to be said for courtesy in this case, management needs to continue its efforts in building a successful team in the long term.
Keeping Pierce and KG through this year's deadline doesn't necessarily aid these efforts.
As we quickly figured out during the first half of the season, a nucleus of Pierce, Garnett and Rondo isn't going to be competitive for a championship, and it isn't all that close. Rondo is a great point guard, and he brings a lot to the table, but he can't give this team the boost they need night to night to win games.
At 36 and 35 respectively, KG and Paul Pierce are playing well, meaning both still had value on the trade market. Either one could be enough to push a fringe contender over the top, and this year was potentially Boston's last chance to rebuild.
Any number of things could happen between now and next year. One of them could get hurt, their play could decline severely in the second half, hurting their value, or KG could retire at the end of the year.
These two players' value will decline more and more the longer the Celtics hold onto them, which is why they should have began the rebuilding process today.
There were rumors swirling everywhere over these two guys, particularly KG, as we approached the deadline. There were definitely deals to be made; the Celtics just didn't want to make them.
One specific rumor indicated that KG could be sent to the Clippers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan. While the Celtics would have to take on Jordan's long-term contract, and it's unclear where Bledsoe would fit into the rotation, it gives the Celtics two more young assets with which to begin rebuilding.
When you decide to start over, it's important to acquire a good mix of young talent, draft picks, and cap flexibility to be ready for opportunities as they present themselves. It's all about collecting assets.
There's one interesting trade possibility for Pierce that I haven't seen (and maybe it's because people expect him to stay put). I don't see a reason why Pierce couldn't go to the Spurs.
It works to send Pierce to the Spurs in exchange for Stephen Jackson (expiring), Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, and a few picks. Boston saves $10 million next year while receiving a very promising young forward and potentially a few more assets to help them rebuild.
Obviously the deal works for the Spurs. With a nucleus of Parker, Ginobili, Pierce and Duncan their title odds drastically increase. The deal isn't disrespectful to Pierce, either. They're sending him to one of, if not the league's best franchise, with a very legitimate chance of winning a championship.
No, it's not Boston, but it's a great basketball situation for Pierce.
Another possibility could entail sending Pierce to Phoenix in exchange for Marcin Gortat, a solid, reasonably priced, reasonably young center, Jared Dudley (great role player on a great contract) and Markieff Morris (decent prospect).
They could add three good pieces for the future, and considering Phoenix's unconscionable penchant for making decisions that avoid tanking and help the team remain semi-competitive, even though they're going nowhere, makes this deal possible.
The problem is that Boston probably isn't this cruel. Unless Pierce really wants to play for Phoenix's training staff, I doubt Boston would have sentenced him to a year-and-a-half in Phoenix.
Which deal makes more sense for both sides
Now there's the question of what to do with Rondo. The enigmatic point guard was brought up in trade rumors as the deadline approached, but nothing really came to fruition. Most people probably would expect that the Celtics would try to rebuild around Rondo.
However, moving him may have been the right move, had they decided to being the rebuilding process. Rondo could have garnered quite a haul if they decided to trade him.
Rondo is a great player, but he's a huge table-test guy. He's a great passer and he plays with an extremely high basketball IQ. He has the tools to be a great defender and he's a great rebounder for his position, but there are drawbacks—namely, Rondo can't shoot.
He's always been a bad shooter, and even if his percentages aren't so terrible, he's taking almost all wide-open jumpers because opposing teams aren't guarding him outside of 18 feet. He's a liability at the end of games and he can't be counted on to score consistently.
Good point guards are always in demand, and any number of teams would have been interested in Rondo's services.
Just to throw a few names out there (not to say any of these discussions actually happened), the Celtics could have targeted DeMarcus Cousins, Klay Thompson, Greg Monroe, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, or any number of different packages with any number of different players or picks and expiring contracts.
Even with his injury, Rondo would have been a hot commodity.
The Celtics aren't going to win another championship with the core they have in place. If management values long-term performance over loyalty, they missed their chance to act. It's a tough decision to make, but at this point, the team is only going to fall further into limbo.
Which of the following players should Boston have pursued in exchange for Rondo
Stomaching a postponement of rebuilding until these stars retire has to be tough for fans, and ultimately getting nothing for them sets them back quite a ways.
It all comes down to a hypothetical: If you're a Celtics fan, would you rather have $39 million of Pierce, Garnett and Rondo, or $25 million of DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe, DeMarcus Cousins and Kawhi Leonard (granted they'll have to pay those guys eventually)?
That's not to say that this is an absolute hypothetical; it's not even close, but that's the type of situation the team was looking at. They could trade their two aging stars, or they could have nothing in two short years.
Three straight seven seeds and first-round exits won't please anyone.
When it's over, it's over, and there's nothing that can be done. Boston may never live it down if they trade Pierce, but if Bledsoe and Leonard combine to make 10 All-Star teams, fans and analysts alike will be left to wonder what could have been.