The Boston Celtics' "Big Three" era is dead.
No matter how the team's oft-discussed trade talks with the Los Angeles Clippers turn out, the 2013 offseason will be forever known as the final nail in the era that reinvigorated basketball in Boston, introduced Ubuntu to the NBA lexicon and hoisted a record 17th banner to the TD Garden.
Yes, I know what the reports say. ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne and multiple others broke the story early Tuesday, stating the Clippers pulled out of negotiations that would have sent Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles in exchange for center DeAndre Jordan and two first-round picks.
The negotiations, which have been taking place over the past week, reportedly started falling apart on Monday before Los Angeles walked away from the table altogether. The Clippers had cold feet not only over giving up two first-rounders to allow Rivers out of his five-year, $35 million contract, but also had reservations about taking on the coach's exorbitant salary.
Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge confirmed the talks were "dead," to Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe:
All indications are that neither side is posturing. The Clippers have pulled out and are planning to hire their next head coach soon—likely Brian Shaw or Lionel Hollins. The Celtics, while confused as to why Los Angeles pulled out of negotiations, per USA Today's Sam Amick, are also moving on.
But here's the thing: NBA teams are fickle. Until Shaw, Hollins or whoever takes the Clippers job, this deal is not completely dead. This deal was and still is one relenting phone call away from getting done for either side. Los Angeles could realize it's a bit insane (which it is) to give Boston a hard-line stance on a deal that doesn't involve Eric Bledsoe, while the Celtics could merely give up and just move on from the whole thing.
It doesn't really matter—at least from the Celtics' future perspective.
Whether Los Angeles and Boston reinvigorate these talks and get a deal done is irrelevant. The cliche "point of no return" exists for a reason—especially in a city as prideful as Boston—and Rivers puppeteering in this deal places him firmly within that overwrought statement.
It's been Rivers spearheading the move to Los Angeles throughout the process, mainly because he was unwilling to buy into the Celtics' desire to rebuild the franchise. That's despite Rivers knowing when he signed an extension that would keep him with the franchise through 2016 that a rebuild was almost guaranteed.
While Rivers is plenty within his rights to change his mind about buying in—an understandable stance considering the special relationship he has with Garnett and Paul Pierce—the Celtics have just as much right to feel scorned by their beloved coach.
For people within both Rivers' camp and the Celtics organization, the writing is on the wall. As a source said to Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, "You don't just move on from this and act like nothing happened."
Rivers is expected to meet with Ainge on Wednesday to discuss his future. It's unclear whether anything will be decided in that meeting, but it seems almost unfathomable that Rivers would be on Boston's sideline next year. Per Grantland's Bill Simmons, who has quite the connection to the city of Boston, we might be seeing a return of Doc Rivers, TV analyst:
In a separate tweet—before talks broke down—Simmons said that Rivers would probably need a flux capacitor to come back to the Celtics in 2013-14:
The biggest domino effect of Rivers leaving—whether to Los Angeles or to a TV booth—would obviously come from Garnett. The Big Ticket was willing to waive his no-trade clause for a move to the Clippers, so long as Rivers came along for the ride. That's a marked (albeit unsurprising) change in stance from a man who said he "bleed[s] green" in February, per A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com (via ProBasketballTalk).
Garnett shouldn't and won't get the same flak Rivers is receiving. His loyalties lie partially to the city of Boston, but his heart is with playing under Doc and playing with Pierce. Multiple reports have suggested that Rivers is the only coach Garnett wants to play for at this point in his career.
Should Rivers leave, what comes next? Does Garnett retire and walk away from the $18-plus million (2013-14 salary plus $6 million in partial guarantees for 2014-15)? And if Garnett doesn't walk away, the Celtics sure seem keen on moving forward with their rebuilding project. Does the Clippers trade wind up happening, only with Rivers not being a part of the package?
That's all without mentioning Pierce, whose status has gotten almost completely lost in the shuffle here. Per Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com, the Celtics captain's name has been tangentially linked to the Ubuntu West dream, but only as a secondary figure. It's a bit amazing, though, considering how great Pierce was down the stretch that he's essentially become known as the albatross in the room.
Boston has until June 30 to make a decision on whether to decline Pierce's option and take a $5 million hit or take on his $15.3 million salary for 2013-14. That decision has probably been made at a front-office level. It's been reported by Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe that Pierce's family is already expecting to move on from Boston, where the All-Star forward has spent his entire career.
This whole situation is a mess. It's gotten far uglier, far more public than anyone expected. When Garnett and Rivers shared a private moment as the Celtics were eliminated by the New York Knicks from this year's playoffs, it felt like a perfect end. Each man said their "I love yous" and the era seemed to be ending copacetically.
And then everything went to hell. Whether it's only Rivers who leaves, or Rivers and Garnett, or all three, the "Big Three" era's final nail in the coffin will be one gigantic black mark.
Granted, if you want to get technical, it's fair to say Ray Allen's departure for the Miami Heat last summer would mark the "end" in a traditional sense. But it's become clear that the greatest three-point shooter who ever lived was the third or even the fourth wheel by the time he left Boston. Allen feuded with Rajon Rondo throughout his time with the franchise, and left feeling like he was overlooked by Rivers for the remaining trio of stars.
Ray Allen was an integral linking piece at the peak of the "Big Three" era. By the time he left, though, it had become clear that Garnett, Pierce and Rivers were the "real" Big Three in both the organization's and city's eyes. They embodied Ubuntu, they embraced and bled green and white, they fought down to the very last wire despite all odds and embodied everything the city of Boston saw in itself.
And now it's about to be over. Things end in sports and in life. You deal with it and move on. It's a shame that such a relationship is about to end with such an ugly divorce.
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