The Boston Celtics hope to make a late postseason run.
They acquired Nate Robinson in the trading deadline and hope he can re-energize the second unit, the Big Three (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen) can find the fountain of youth, and Rasheed Wallace will show up in the playoffs.
They figure that with their stellar road record, seeding won’t really matter against some of the elite teams in the conference and their recent struggles against those teams would be far different in the playoffs.
C’mon, let’s be realistic here.
The Boston Celtics are coming down a stretch where they have played under .500 ball since mid-December, including losses at home to the woeful New Jersey Nets and on the road to the Chris Paul-less New Orleans Hornets.
What may actually be the truest sign of mediocrity is now what used to be considered shoo-ins, like victories at Detroit or at home verse the Washington Wizards, are being considered internally as impressive wins.
This self-realization of mediocrity may not have hit the players themselves, but the fan base does realize this team will probably lose out in the second round (either to Cleveland, Orlando, or Atlanta) or perhaps even in the first round (Chicago or Milwaukee could potentially pull off the upset).
General manager Danny Ainge, doesn’t have to look so far back in history for a team that experienced a similar plight, only Danny should learn from the errors of that franchise.
I am speaking, of course, of the Detroit Pistons.
Considered by many pundits as one of the top Eastern Conference franchises of the decade, the Pistons were a tight, veteran bunch, which had a strong core (Billups/Ben and Rasheed Wallace/Billups/Hamilton) throughout the decade and always seemed to be in contention for a title.
Like the Celtics, the Pistons only won one title until aging and the players’ talents soon started fading.
Last season, general manager of the Pistons Joe Dumars realized his current unit had run its course and it was time for a significant change moving forward.
The error here is that Joe Dumars failed to rebuild.
Instead, he made (at the time) a lateral move to acquire Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups, but kept the remaining core.
Chauncey was perhaps the most integral member of Detroit’s core.
After the Pistons dealt him, the chemistry of the team faded away and Detroit had hit mediocrity, or in NBA terms, the eighth seed of the Eastern Conference.
Dealing Billups was not an error.
Joe Dumars did gain cap space for the All Star veteran in the form of Iverson’s expiring deal. I won’t get into the nuances of how poorly Joe spent that cap space (Charlie Villeneuva, Ben Gordon, and Chris Wilcox), but rather why he didn’t go full fledge with the rebuild.
The Pistons are now stuck with two fading stars on long contracts: Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince.
Few teams would even trade expiring contracts at this point for these players. With their salaries on the books for sometime, it will be tougher for the Pistons to accumulate enough cap space to go after other worthy talent.
Such being the case, they may be stuck in mediocrity for a lengthy period.
The Boston Celtics face a similar fate if they opt not to move Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett this offseason.
In Boston’s case, Paul Pierce does not need to be traded in such a hurry since at worst-case scenario, his contract expires after next season and Boston can gain more cap flexibility.
Kevin Garnett is the monumental player that Danny Ainge needs to consider moving this offseason.
Garnett is on the books for two more years on a contract that pays him roughly $20 million per season until 2012.
If KG is still on the roster next season, it will be undoubtedly difficult for Boston to gain the kind of cap flexibility to help land a future budding star next to point guard phenom Rajon Rondo.
It is also wise for Boston to deal Paul Pierce this offseason since his value will only deteriorate due to his age and the fact that his contract is expiring and thus a team would be taking only a "rental" on him (he’d only play the remaining of his contract and likely bolt elsewhere).
So what can the Celtics do at this point?
There is no way fathomable Boston will get similar talent in return for either Garnett or Pierce due to their contracts, aging, and decline in talent.
The Celtics should rather look to rebuild using these two as trade chips to obtain draft picks, young talent, and cap space.
As Charlie Daniels who plays a mean fiddle as shown in the GEICO ads will tell you, “That’s how you do it, son.”
The obvious next question is what teams would want a player like Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce and be willing to give the aforementioned pieces?
Let’s take a look at some candidates.
The Utah Jazz are currently playing very well and sit at the cusp of the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks out West.
If Utah does well enough (in their minds) this postseason, either by advancing deep into the playoffs (conference finals or further) and/or playing a tough series versus Los Angeles (lose in 6-7 games), they may believe they are on the verge of contention.
This is important because the Jazz hold the New York Knicks' lottery pick. That draft pick will likely be between seven and nine in the 2010 Lottery.
The 2010 rookie candidates likely to be in that range do not appear to have the capabilities of making an immediate impact to a franchise the same way a Paul Pierce could.
The Jazz could send the expiring contract of Andrei Kirilenko and the New York Knicks' pick to Boston for Paul Pierce.
By adding Pierce to a core that already includes Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, and Mehmet Okur, the Jazz have a legitimate shot at a championship contending season.
The major issue with Utah is the luxury tax, though.
Utah would probably need to cut out the salaries of Paul Milsap and C.J. Miles (a deal to OKC for Nick Collison and pure cap space could work) just to not pay a hefty tax to the league.
Adding Paul Pierce would also likely mean Utah ownership would need to look deep into their pockets not only to acquire Paul Pierce (and possibly extend his contract), but also re-sign Carlos Boozer to a lucrative deal, the chances of which do not appear likely.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are actually in a similar situation to Boston in that they both have aging talent and do not appear near contention.
The Spurs though have a closer connection with Tim Duncan than perhaps any other team in the league has with one player, and may aspire to give the future Hall of Famer another shot at a title.
The Richard Jefferson experiment has gone awry in San Antonio and the team may be willing to unload his 2011 expiring contract and one of their quality young pieces (DaJuan Blair or George Hill), perhaps along with their draft pick (likely in the low 20's), for a player like Kevin Garnett.
Adding another future Hall of Famer to San Antonio's front court would certainly raise eyebrows out West, but would it be enough for the Spurs to truly contend with the likes of LA or even Dallas?
Most pundits would say otherwise which leaves such a deal that risks San Antonio’s future unlikely.
The Dallas Mavericks are probably the one team that would be willing to empty their pockets in hopes of landing a Kevin Garnett for a title run.
The problem here is really the quality of assets Boston would be getting back in such a deal.
The best the Mavs could probably offer for the Big Ticket is the expiring contract of Eric Dampier (a contract that could mean immediate savings for Boston's ownership), rookie guard Rodrique Beaubois, and perhaps future draft picks.
Such a deal does leave Boston with ample cap space, but not much else otherwise.
Insert X Team that Failed to Land Prized 2010 Free Agent
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Carlos Boozer, and Chris Bosh lead a pact of a plethora of free agents who are looking for lucrative deals, some in lucrative places, this summer.
Too bad all of them won’t necessarily play for every team with boatloads of cap space.
The New Jersey Nets, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Los Angeles Clippers are amongst the teams that expect to land at least one big name free agent this offseason (or in Cleveland and Miami’s case, at least keep their own and add one next to him).
If some of these teams fail to land that marquee player, they could look to add an impact player like Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce.
They could offer Boston a future draft pick, young talent, and instant cap space for either of these future Hall of Famers (Miami—Michael Beasley, New York—Danillo Gallinari/Wilson Chandler, Los Angeles—Eric Gordon).
Boston will have options this upcoming off-season if they choose to rebuild.
The best thing for Boston would be a deep playoff run, so the values of both Pierce and Garnett elevate leading up to the offseason.
The worst that could happen?
A deep postseason run which leads Danny Ainge to perhaps believe the team can wait until they rebuild.
Danny needs to recall the current downfall of the Pistons and realize that if they opt to keep the Big Three, Boston will surely have a similar fate: seemingly endless mediocrity.