The Boston Celtics are stuck in no-man's land, both in the immediate present and long-term future. For now, they are handcuffed by the bizarre on-and-off trade talks with the Los Angeles Clippers. As of Thursday afternoon, David Stern firmly rebuked the legality of the trade, which circumvents the NBA's rule that a coach's contract cannot be traded.
Still, according to Marc Stein, the Clippers are still trying to unearth any loophole they can find to bring head coach Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles:
Regardless of what happens, it appears Doc is no longer committed to Boston, and thus needs to move on. If he leaves, it seems probable that Garnett and Paul Pierce will also leave town too, either through retirement, trades or a buyout in Pierce's case.
Assuming that is the most likely scenario (though the situation is still very fluid), where does Danny Ainge go from here? Ainge will have the unenviable task of leading the C's out of mediocrity and back to championship contention.
At this point, no one really knows what will happen in Boston. Still, here's a guess at four moves the Celtics will make this offseason and beyond if indeed the rebuild is finally upon us.
Hire Brian Shaw
Look for the Celtics to replace one former player turned coach with another. Shaw has been the bride's maid of NBA head coaching searches for years now—always good enough for serious consideration, but not quite enticing enough to land the job.
Still, Shaw's extensive knowledge of the game combined with his locker room experience as a player makes him an ideal candidate to succeed Rivers. Besides being exposed to systems of seven different teams, Shaw started as an assistant under Phil Jackson in 2004, which equates to an Oxford education in coaching. Pacers executive Donnie Walsh certainly had strong praise when asked about Shaw, per the New York Post:
“He is a really good head coach waiting to happen,” Walsh said. “He has the player experience but he has spent his time as an assistant with a lot of good coaches, particularly Phil Jackson. Now he’s been through the situation with us.”
Shaw's exemplary communication skills would be a boon for a Celtics team that will likely experience drastic turnover. Boston needs a voice who can earn the respect of holdovers like Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, while also assimilating new younger faces into the mix. It also doesn't hurt that he will likely make considerably less than Rivers' $7 million salary.
The Celtics need a new voice who can demand attention and regard with both the whiteboard and his voice. Look for Ainge to pursue Shaw as soon as Rivers decides to leave.
Draft For Size
For years, the Celtics have been one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. They finished last in rebounding percentage this past season, fueled by their league-worst offensive rebound possession. The numbers would have been even worse if not for Garnett's reluctant agreement to play center the past two seasons. With KG and his outstanding defensive rebound percentage likely gone, the C's will look for a successor to their defensive anchor in the 2013 NBA draft.
While no one will ever replace Garnett's leadership and intensity, there are several big men who could fit in nicely with Boston. Gorgui Dieng resembles Garnett in his ability to move well and limit space for smaller and quicker guards, an important skill in today's pick-and-roll league. And despite his raw offensive game, Jonathan Tjarks of SB Nation believes Dieng possesses intriguing upside based on his surprising shooting touch:
His offensive game is what makes him intriguing. While he will never be a post presence at the next level, he is a consistent mid-range shooter who had to be defended out to 15 feet and beyond. He has also become an excellent passer, with two assists a game. In the Big East championship game, he racked up eight assists against Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone.
Dieng may never evolve into anything more than a solid role player, but his well-rounded game and high-quality character would be valuable assets as the Celtics attempt to fill in the leadership vacuum.
If Dieng is a fairly safe and polished prospect, the opposite holds true for Steven Adams. According to Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, one executive said, "if [Adams] were as good as the sum of his parts, he'd be in the mix for No. 1."
The 7-footer is the draft's rawest prospect, as the 19-year-old did not have much competition playing in New Zealand most of his life. At Pittsburgh, Adams had an excellent 15.3 percent offensive rebounding percentage, a number that would have tied Andre Drummond for second in the NBA last year.
Unfortunately, Adams is essentially all physical tools at this point, as his offensive game is miles away from even being passable in the NBA. And though his athleticism was enough to dominate defensively at times, he still does not show enough instincts to avoid getting exploited by smarter players.
Of course, even if the Celtics hit on a rotation player, getting younger is only half the equation of rebuilding.
Shop Long-Term Contracts
The Celtics also need to shed salary. If the Clippers can only pry away Rivers and no players, the Celtics will be left with a salary-cap mess on their hands.
As of right now, Boston is above the soft cap and will likely come close to the projected hard cap of $71.6 million. You can bet Ainge will attempt to change this as the Celtics seek to become younger and, most importantly, cheaper.
The Celtics will probably try to trade away at least two of the trio of Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Brandon Bass. Ainge signed those three to long-term contracts last summer in hopes of keeping the Celtics' championship window wedged open. Now, he has quite a task on his hands attempting to unload his signings.
Of the group, Bass is probably the easiest to trade. Bass is a borderline elite mid-range shooter who, along with Kevin Garnett, provided the Celtics a topsy-turvy floor spacing in which the forwards could shoot but the guards could not. For a team with a more typical layout, he could be a real offensive boon.
Terry is practically radioactive at this point, given his age and inability to adapt to Boston's system. Per Michael Pena of Celtics Hub, Terry struggled to play without the ball like Ray Allen did for five seasons:
For the season, only 14.8% of Terry’s offense came as the ball-handler on pick-and-rolls, per Synergy Sports. Spot-up shots were the bulk of how he found himself engaged in Boston’s offense, as they took up nearly a third of his production (30.8%); Terry found 18.4% of his offense resulting from running off screens, which wasn’t ever something he specialized in.
Overall, Terry’s work in the pick-and-roll was horrible in the limited opportunities he had. He turned it over nearly 20% of the time and shot less than 38%. Most of his attempts were forced early in the shot clock, rarely the result of a secondary action or design.
Lee, meanwhile, is a mystery to just about everyone. Though his youth and "D-and-three" skill set have made him attractive to teams, he has already been traded three times in his five-year career. Lee had the fewest FGA and PPG of his career last season and played a total of 39 minutes in Boston's first-round loss to the Knicks.
His $5 million per year salary is not unreasonable, enough so that the Celtics may consider keeping him around one more season. If he improves in his second season, he may have greater value at the trade deadline anyways.
Sign Rajon Rondo to an Extension
So let's say the Celtics draft well and end up acquiring some young cheap assets over the next couple seasons. Their rebuilding path would resemble that of the Houston Rockets, who after acquiring a bona fide franchise player in James Harden, are one of the league's rising teams. At the beginning of the season, Morey discussed Houston's strategy of piling up chips to eventually nab one or two franchise players, per Mannix:
"To win the title, you need to have multiple guys like Harden," Morey said. "Before, we had zero. The most important thing now is to get another foundation player. We have a lot of young players who could take a step forward [but] we are a step away from being a contender. We need to just keep being aggressive."
Of course, the Celtics already have a leg up on Houston (and most other rebuilding teams) in that they already have a franchise player on their roster.
Yes, Rajon Rondo is a franchise player. He may not be able to carry a team like LeBron, but he has proven he can be a 1A type player on a championship-caliber team. His bargain of a contract has two years left, so it would be wise to open up contract talks before it gets into the final year.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Rondo's ACL injury. By all accounts, Rondo is ahead of schedule in his rehab and shouldn't miss a huge chunk of next season. Of course, Derrick Rose proved that ACL timelines are fluid, and the first year back from ACL surgery is always difficult.
Still, barring any unexpected setbacks, Rondo should return to being one of the NBA's most creative and explosive point guards. If Ainge locks Rondo in for the long run, his mercurial point guard won't have to worry about his future in Boston, allowing him to step in as the new locker room leader.
If Rondo is the foundation of the next Celtics' era, then it makes sense for him to have the respect and security that comes with such a role. And if his ACL proves healthy, look for Ainge to try and lock up his new face of the franchise midway through next season.
*All stats taken from Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com