Looking back at the 2013 offseason of the Boston Celtics, the moves that weren't made might be more impactful than those that were.
Danny Ainge and Celtics management are fresh off of the most memorable summer since the 2008 extravaganza that helped deliver championship banner No. 17. Boston said tough goodbyes to two of its favorite sons, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, in an effort to begin a new era.
A transition from experience and stability to youth and uncertainty is underway, but the franchise has still fallen short of a complete rebuilding project. In order to deal KG and Pierce within the boundaries of the collective bargaining agreement, several veterans on less-than-desirable deals had to be shipped to Boston.
That's the price of acquiring draft picks in today's NBA. Unfortunately, those players, along with several other holdovers from last year's team, stand in the way of a new period of Celtics basketball. It leaves the team in limbo, searching for the path forward.
All signs point to a desire for a youth movement, from the blockbuster trades to the hire of Brad Stevens, so these moves are suggestions with that impetus in mind.
Turn Redundant Pieces Into Frontcourt Defense
A cursory glance at the roster reveals that the Celtics have a large number of players with redundant skill sets. Danny Ainge has coveted draft picks this offseason, preferring to stockpile selections rather than get immediate help.
Assuming that Boston doesn't wish to have a monopoly on big men known more for their shooting touch than their post game, their power forward depth would best be used to acquire players that fit better with young guns like Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger.
An ideal fit next to both of these frontcourt players would be someone like 2013 draftee Gorgui Dieng, currently under contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Dieng represents the new normal for the center position in the NBA. Hulking centers have been replaced by long, athletic bigs who can run the fast break and contest shots on the weak side. During his junior season at Louisville, Dieng amassed 3.2 blocks per 40 minutes en route to winning the Big East Defensive Player of the Year award.
This skill is imperative for the Celtics especially, as they have a few too many slow-footed players up front.
Is Minnesota willing to part with Dieng? The starting center for the Timberwolves will almost certainly be Nikola Pekovic, whom they guaranteed $60 million to last month. It stands to reason that they'd be willing to listen to offers for the 23-year-old Senegal native.
To entice someone into taking a solid but unremarkable player like Brandon Bass, the Celtics will have to package someone along with him. The Timberwolves struggle to defend the perimeter, an area where Courtney Lee could help. Lee and Bass for Dieng and a second-round pick should be enough to get a deal done.
It's not especially harmful that a deal was not made to clear the logjam. The trade deadline presents a midseason opportunity to cash out on players who aren't in the team's long-term plans, and Ainge will have his ear to the ground searching for the right pieces in return.
Dump The Dead Money
Seeking to level the playing field for small-market teams, the league's latest collective bargaining agreement puts heavier penalties on repeated spending over the salary cap. The luxury tax provision has made every dollar more precious.
It's in this climate that the Celtics find themselves in trouble.
The Celtics are currently on the hook for $74.2 million in contracts, well over the cap of nearly $58.7 million and just eclipsing the tax threshold, which is just over $71.7 million. They will likely get under the tax after shedding non-guaranteed deals when training camp ends, but it's still troubling.
If Boston was gearing up to make a deep playoff run, pushing the boundaries of the cap would be excusable. But a team taking the long road to contention has to be frugal.
There are various benefits of keeping a tight budget. For one, teams under the cap can absorb money in trades up to $100,000 over that ceiling. This would benefit the Celtics in the event that they wanted to flip the young players they hope to acquire for a marquee name.
Perhaps more importantly, flexibility in the free-agent market is a massive advantage when used properly. While teams chase a given year's big prize, solid role players and borderline All-Stars fall through the cracks.
This was the case with Paul Milsap, who signed a staggeringly small deal with the Atlanta Hawks for two years, $9.5 million per. Keep in mind that Gerald Wallace—owner of a PER for 2012-13 more than eight points lower than Milsap's—will make a shade over $10 million for the Celtics this year.
The Celtics have made it clear they're looking to move the bloated salaries of players like Wallace. Whatever it takes to get expiring money or young talent in return has to be done. There is simply no room for wasteful spending under the new CBA.
Of course, if there are no takers, Ainge can always take the route of Breaking Bad's Walter White.
Extend Or Trade Rajon Rondo
The "little brother" of the Big Three era is suddenly the franchise torchbearer. There's no disputing who the best player on the Boston Celtics is anymore—he wears No. 9.
Rajon Rondo is still under contract through next season and is fresh off tearing his ACL. There are real concerns that the injury will limit the pace-changing speed that made him such a special player. And didn't we just go over how every cap dollar is precious?
There's an advantage to getting a deal done sooner rather than later, however. By extending an offer to Rondo while he rehabs, Ainge would show good faith to a player who has done a lot for the franchise. Rondo has become infamous for being a bit of a hothead on the court, so staying on good terms with him would have been wise on Ainge's part.
Letting Rondo be the caretaker of the team while the young guys come along would be a natural progression from one generation of Celtics to the next. At 27, entering what usually are the prime years of an NBA player, Rondo is a valuable asset whose unique talents would benefit any team.
The alternate path would be to trade Rondo as soon as possible. With two years left on his fairly priced deal, Rondo is an attractive trade chip from a salary and skill point of view. There's not likely to be a time better than now to unload him.
Next year's draft is looming large with impact talent from around the globe, including Canadian sensation Andrew Wiggins and Australian guard Dante Exum. If an extension wasn't up for consideration, Ainge should have explored trading Rondo and taking the hit from a short-term perspective to stockpile more picks.
Keeping Rondo around to buoy the team for two years is a shortsighted, zero-sum game.
Ainge's next big move will be a telling sign of the franchise's direction. Be on the lookout.
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