The Boston Celtics have endured a tough 2013-14 in the first season since the end of the “Big Three” era. After six straight years of championship contention, Danny Ainge sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Brooklyn Nets in the offseason and decided it was time to rebuild the franchise. With a rookie head coach at the helm, a team full of young players and a bag full of future draft picks, the Celtics appear to be set up extremely well long term. But while the future appears bright, a chance may emerge quicker than expected to turn the team around and if the cards fall that way, Ainge will be ready with the assets to make a move. There are a number of high profile players that could become a target if the chance arises and one in particular, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony will be the focus of much speculation in the offseason.
The Knicks have had a horror season after they finally appeared to be heading in the right direction in 2012-13. They had won the most regular season games in over a decade and made it through the first round of the playoffs, however it has all fallen apart and the team’s future is clouded in uncertainty. With just a 25-40 record at this point of the season, the Knicks are outside the playoffs in a terribly weak Eastern Conference and will battle with the likes of Atlanta, Detroit and Cleveland just to make the eighth seed. There have been a multitude of injuries, chemistry problems and inconsistency that will leave Anthony with a huge decision to make once the season ends.
Carmelo Anthony has been one of the league’s most talented scorers since he entered the NBA in 2003. Taken with the third pick in the draft by the Denver Nuggets, Carmelo had just led the Syracuse Orange to the NCAA National Championship and had an instant impact on the franchise. His career numbers speak volumes about the sheer talent that he has, averaging 25.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists over his 11 seasons thus far. As a member of the Knicks those gaudy numbers have continued to climb as he has averaged more than 28 points and 7 rebounds over the past two seasons. A seven time All-Star, six time All-NBA Team award winner and last season’s scoring champion there is little doubt that there is still a lot left in the tank for the soon-to-be 30 year old Anthony and the question soon becomes where he wants to spend the rest of his NBA career.
Around the time of this year’s Trade Deadline, there were rumors flying that Carmelo had been trying to recruit Celtics’ star point guard Rajon Rondo to play in New York. The ultra-competitive Rondo, one of the league’s elite point guards remained in Boston throughout the deadline and now, with the disappointment of this season in New York the desire to play alongside one of the game’s best playmakers could be on the table if Anthony decides on a change of scenery. Both Carmelo and Rondo are free agents in 2015, however Anthony has a huge decision to make with an early termination option at the end of this season. Essentially he can leave the final year and $23 million from the Knicks to become a free agent, or possibly use that as leverage to force his way out via trade.
It may seem short-sighted for the Celtics to go after a player about to hit 30 just as their rebuilding phase seems to have begun, but Danny Ainge knows how taxing that process can be if a Tim Duncan, LeBron James or Kevin Durant fall to you in the draft. Remember that Ainge had built a similar collection of assets back in 2007 when he brought in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen who were both into their 30’s. Those trades, of course led to the 2007-08 championship and perhaps Ainge would be tempted to chance his hand at putting together another championship contending group sooner than anyone could have expected.
There are obvious question marks when it comes to Carmelo Anthony whether he could be a centrepiece of a championship team at all. He is a ball-dominant, volume scorer who still struggles on the defensive end and has seen little in the way of playoff success throughout his career. Anthony and Rondo, alongside a decent supporting cast could likely put the Celtics back into contention for home court in the first round of next year’s playoffs but they would still be far from a true championship contender in the East when compared to the likes of Indiana and Miami. It would take another complete offseason overhaul for Ainge to construct the Celtics into a contending team, but we’ve seen that he has the ability, we know he has the assets what remains to be seen is when he will have the opportunity. Even if Ainge is planning for a long road back to the top he is the type of General Manager that won’t hesitate to make a call if a star like Carmelo decides he wants out of New York. The other question would of course be the cost to acquire Anthony via trade, but with a bevy of first round picks and young players on the roster it would be a matter of placing the highest bid if Anthony did indeed want out.
There is now widespread speculation that Phil Jackson will take command of the Knicks front office and there is no way to determine what that would mean for Carmelo Anthony at this early stage. Jackson may be able to convince Anthony he will build a championship roster around him, or perhaps he will want to start with a fresh slate, in which case stockpiling draft picks and young talent for an ageing star could be exactly what he wants to do. With the flexibility and assets the Celtics have at their disposal this coming offseason will definitely be one to watch. Ainge has shaken up the NBA on more than one occasion and he has shown in the past that if he doesn’t strike gold in the draft lottery he will not wait around to make things happen himself. If Anthony does in fact become available, it would be one of a countless number of options the Celtics to pursue if they so choose and if the Knicks fail to reach the playoffs it could turn into the biggest story of the offseason.