The Boston Celtics have a titanic decision to make after Rajon Rondo was ruled out for the remainder of the season on Sunday with a torn ACL. The decision: is it time to overhaul their roster?
It’s a franchise-changing choice, to be sure. If the Celtics do indeed decide to completely change the outlook of their roster, winning might be a rarity over the next decade, as an overhaul would involve trading Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and probably a few others.
Pierce and Garnett have been the anchors to Boston’s success, which started in 2007-2008 when they won the championship. They’re both certainly on the road to retirement, but this year was said to be the last year they had a legitimate chance at contending. Now that Rondo is out, they’d be lucky to even hang onto their playoff spot, especially with other Eastern Conference teams emerging.
Okay, so I said general manager Danny Ainge faces a “titanic” decision, which is true. However, he doesn’t need to react immediately because the trading deadline isn’t until February 21st.
So in the meantime, Boston can filter through its many options, and also evaluate how the team performs without one of the best playmakers in the league. Some teams come together and rally when they lose a major part of their team. And the Celtics, led by two savvy veterans in Pierce and Garnett, is a team that can take Rondo’s injury as an incentive to prove the rest of the basketball world wrong.
But let’s be realistic. The Celtics weren’t having much success this season to begin with, and in all likelihood, the loss of Rondo should signal an end of an era in “Beantown.”
For one, their traditionally harassing defense has exposed its many flaws. They have a defensive rating of 103.4, which is their highest since the 2009-2010 season. Since the “Big 3” was formed—Ray Allen left in free agency during the offseason—Boston’s offense has never been considered elite. Rather, their impeccable defense closed the gap and they scratched up points. This year, neither area has been particularly prominent, which would explain their current eighth place ranking in the East.
If Danny Ainge is a realist, he will eventually—hopefully before the trade deadline—come to the realization that his Celtics don’t have much of a ceiling without Rondo. Perhaps the C’s claw their way into a lower seeding, but they wouldn’t go very far, especially if they are forced to play the Miami Heat or New York Knicks in the first round.
So yes, the Celtics should begin the dreadful process of restructuring their roster. Meaning, Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry could all be shipped out within the coming weeks. In fact, Ken Berger of CBS Sports reports that rival executives opine that Rondo’s injury will “compel” Boston to dangle Pierce, specifically.
As for what the C’s could garner in exchange for two plummeting veterans, well, probably not much. Pierce is set to become a free-agent after next season, and Garnett’s contract will expire after the 2014-2015 season. I would speculate that both will contemplate retiring when their contracts terminate.
Of course, there will undoubtedly be a handful of teams that will inquire on Pierce and Garnett. Of those teams, the majority of them would be on the cusp of competing for a championship and adding a scoring small forward would bolster their chances. One tidbit that the Celtics do have working in their favor, though, is the fact that Pierce is only owed four million next season, which as Berger notes, makes him a very tradable asset (this will become five million of Pierce plays in 50 of the Celtics’ games).
Terry and Garnett, on the other hand, aren’t as expendable. The Big Ticket is owed more than $24 million over the next two years, and he has a no-trade clause. Essentially, if he wasn’t headed to a contender, he’d deny any trade that would entail him going to a cellar team.
With Jared Sullinger emerging, Boston would unquestionably crave to move Garnett. Given the circumstances, though, they may have a hard time moving the 15-time All-Star.
Terry, meanwhile, is owed more than $10 million over the next two years as well. For players approaching their late 30’s, these aren’t the types of contracts that most teams would be willing to warrant. The Celtics could aid suitors from a financial perspective, but they would also prefer to benefit from a trade. And eating up the majority of Garnett’s or Terry’s contract wouldn’t appeal to them.
Let’s presume that the Celtics find matches for at least two of the three. What would they be left with?
Pretty much nothing, which isn’t as bad of a situation as it sounds. By jettisoning their roster of KG, Pierce or Terry, they’d naturally begin to lose games. That would then cosign them with the opportunity at landing a top-10 pick in the draft, and this would be a near-perfect scenario. That is, an opportunity to jolt their roster with youth, and perhaps quality youth.
Either way, it’s very clear as to who the building blocks are for the C’s—Rondo (when he returns next year), Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger. Obviously, Danny Ainge would have to explore adding a center—DeMarcus Cousins, anyone?—but it’d be a good start to a new era. And that’s what’s slowly beginning to transpire, a new era.
As hard as it might be for Celtics’ nation to face the fact, it’s time to rebuild for the future. And if people didn’t believe that fact before, Rondo’s injury should signify that point even further.
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