Remember the last time the Boston Celtics were rebuilding? It’s been a while. Before the Big Three, before the most recent championship and before the recent stretch of contending every season, the Celtics were bad for a long time. There was a four-season stretch from the 2001-02 season to the 2004-05 season that the Celtics made the playoffs, but between the 1992-93 season and the 2006-07 season the Celts only made it out of the first round of the playoffs twice.
This changed after the 2006-07 season when Boston traded for future Hall of Famers Garnett and Allen. Since the trade, the Celtics went to the playoffs six seasons straight, won the 2007-08 championship, went to the NBA Finals twice and made it out of the first round of the playoffs five straight seasons. As dramatically as the championship-contending “Garnett era” Celtics were created, they were disassembled. General manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics are now faced with the task of rebuilding again, though this time may not be as easy.
Last time around, Boston needed to give up an arm and a leg to secure the services of Garnett and Allen. For Garnett, Boston gave away Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Theo Ratliff, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair and two first-round picks. They snagged Allen in exchange for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak, and the rights to top-five pick Jeff Green. Reflect on that for a second. That’s eight players (including some very promising names like Al Jefferson and Jeff Green) and two first-round draft picks.
A look at the Celtics’ current roster would indicate they are nowhere near a point where they can trade away that many players and picks for two franchise changers. Shipping away Paul Pierce and Garnett netted the Celtics a handful of draft picks, but they also needed to take back the unsavory contract of Gerald Wallace, who is owed more than $10 million a year for the next three years. With rebuilding being all about having prospects, draft picks and cap space, taking back long-term money like that is not ideal. Rebuilding for the Celtics will be a multi-year affair. Celtics fans hope they won’t go through another rough 15-year stretch before they contend again, but there is a lot of work to do.
Contrast the Celtics situation with another rebuilding team in the Utah Jazz. Going into this offseason, Utah only had six guaranteed contracts, none of which were more than $7.5 million, with five of those six players all being top 10 draft picks and hardly any guaranteed money past this season. Utah also made a trade for draft picks this offseason and, similar to the Celtics, had to take on big contacts of under-performing veterans. In Utah’s case, however, every new contract ends after this season, preserving Utah’s cap flexibility.
The ace up Ainge’s sleeve is Rajon Rondo.
It’s possible he could trade Rondo to speed up the rebuild by either bringing back high-level prospects and/or insisting that any team who wants Rondo will have to take Wallace’s bad contract as well. The other option Ainge has for Rondo is to cast him in Paul Pierce’s rebuilding role, holding onto him as a cornerstone and hoping to trade a large number of prospects and draft picks in another version of the Garnett/Allen offseason. The problem with the cornerstone option is whether Rondo is good enough. How strong will he be coming back from an ACL injury? Is he even very good without multiple future Hall of Famers playing alongside him? Either way, Celtics fans everywhere are keeping their fingers crossed that Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk or one of their future draft picks can be this era’s version of Al Jefferson.