With so much uncertainty surrounding the Boston Celtics after dropping Game 6 at the TD Garden, one fundamental question remains: is this the end of an era?
After Rajon Rondo suffered a devastating ACL injury, it seemed as if Boston could not recover. Despite a surprising surge in Games 4 and 5, the C’s were unable to surmount a comeback largely due to their stagnant offense, as they went through a number of stretches where they simply couldn’t make shots and take care of the ball.
On May 3, the first half against the New York Knicks was no different. The Celtics finished the half with more turnovers than field goals. Despite a nice run behind some great plays by Jeff Green and the defense of Avery Bradley, the Celtics watched their season come to an end, albeit a few days late given the funeral was supposed to be Wednesday according to Kenyon Martin and the rest of the Knicks.
So now that this season is over in Boston, what’s next? Kevin Garnett is strongly considering retirement. Paul Pierce is in the last year of his contract, but it is only partially guaranteed, making him an attractive asset on the trade market if he doesn't retire. The Celtics could also choose to simply buy him out for $5 million, creating a net savings of more than $10 million for the team. But is it time to turn the page already?
I hate to admit it, but it’s time. First of all, I expect KG to retire and would be moderately surprised if he decided to return to the court for next season. If Garnett leaves, you have to contemplate transitioning into a younger team and creating a new identity.
If Pierce decides to retire as well, that would allow Boston to fully accept that it’s going to be a different team next year. However, if he does decide to continue playing, the Celtics find themselves in a difficult position. Do they let go of their franchise player of over a decade or do they cling onto him for another year and accept the fact that they will be a bottom-tier playoff team likely to get bounced in the second round again?
On paper, letting go of The Truth seems logical. Although the Celtics won’t have a ton of cap room even if Pierce and Garnett both leave, they will at the very least be able to see what a core of Rondo, Bradley, Green, and Jared Sullinger looks like when all four players are healthy. Letting go of Pierce would allow Green to establish himself as the feature wing player on the team. Despite a slow start, Green really established himself as a long-term fit in Boston despite rumblings about his large contract extension.
Averaging 17.3 PPG and 5.0 RPG while shooting 49.3 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from beyond the arc and 79.8 percent from the line, it’s not out of the question for him to maintain those numbers as he assumes the bulk of the playing time at small forward, especially with Rondo back as the facilitator. Combined with the hard-nosed defense of Bradley and the solid play of Sullinger, the Celtics have some young assets worth building around.
It’s not as simple as it sounds to just throw away a franchise player that has been the focal point of the team for so long. From a basketball standpoint, it makes sense. The Los Angeles Lakers are in a similar predicament with Kobe Bryant’s contract, as he is clearly overpaid and might miss significant time due to his Achilles injury. While amnestying him could save the Lakers an astounding $30 million in cap space, Kobe is the best basketball player in his generation.
At some point, one must think about what the best long-term solution is. Realistically, Boston won’t be contending for a title next season. Why not build for the future so that the C’s can ascend back to the top of the league again?
Regardless of what happens this summer, the Celtics do have some obvious holes to fill such as a capable starting center and a true backup point guard. Changes will be made. Whether that means the departures of the Big Ticket and the Captain remains to be seen, but Boston needs to move on if they want to maximize the young talent that they have and create a more effective turnaround as it appears that another chapter in Celtics history might be coming to a close.