For those of you who follow The Guy regularly, you’ll know exactly where I stood on the 2011-2012 Boston Celtics. The key word here “stood”, as in it isn’t where I stand anymore. You won’t hear me say this very often, but I was wrong. Dead wrong. I’ve seen this team play 16 games this season; with a 66-game schedule, that’s enough of a sample size for me. I think we can all agree it hasn’t been pretty. Through 16 games, I think we’re all finally able to see the big picture; there’s no way this squad is better than a mediocre playoff team. Coming into the season, The Guy envisioned a last hurrah of some sort. A last ditch effort to make a run for the Eastern Conference finals before the “Big Three” finally parts ways. Now, the only question is which one of the “Big Three” will Danny Ainge trade first. Their only quality win this year came in a 31-point shellacking of the Orlando Magic on Monday. Surprisingly enough, that win came without Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, among others. Odds are the C’s will be without those same players for tonight’s tilt, once again, against the Magic. Health is the obvious concern with this team going forward, as Paul Pierce has missed time this season as well. Even the greatest teams can have their seasons derailed by health. But if this team deployed its’ best starting five night after night, how far can they really go?
Even as a huge Celtics fan, part of me wants to say it’s best for the C’s to not go anywhere. Making the playoffs as a seventh, or eighth seed is the worst thing that could possibly happen to this franchise. Let’s face it; matching up in the first round against the Bulls or the Heat would be a nightmare for Boston. The Sixers, Hawks, and Magic could all spell disaster for the Celts as well. Even the Pacers have had Boston’s number this season. Well guess what? There’s no chance that Boston wouldn’t face any of those teams in the opening round of the playoffs. Those are the top six teams in the East, but unfortunately for Boston, there’s a huge drop-off after that group. Even if the Celtics continue to play at this rate, and finish below .500 without making any moves all year, they’ll be locked in as a bottom-tier playoff team that is bound to get bounced in the first week. The only way for this team to get better…is to get worse.
I know that the Celtics have little to no desire to rebuild through the draft, but this team desperately needs an injection of youth. Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, JaJuan Johnson, E’Twaun Moore, Greg Stiemsma; those are the only players on your entire roster with any potential to grow whatsoever. Not necessarily an intimidating group of players by any means. As far as the veteran players on this roster are concerned, wouldn’t you have to consider shipping out KG, Ray, or even Pierce for some younger players? I know there isn’t a huge market out there for any of these guys, but if Danny gets the right deal he has to pounce. For example, I’m sure there’s a playoff contender out there (Clippers? Blazers?) that could use someone like KG off the bench. Although he has the least value in terms of his on-court potential (KG is clearly a shell of his former self these days), Garnett has value in terms of an expiring contract. Teams in this league just love to devour these expiring deals to free up cap space for free agency. It’s the same idea with Ray Allen; there absolutely has to be a contender that could use a shooter like Ray off the bench. Throw in that his current deal is done after this season, and Ray Ray could be a very valuable trade asset. Paul Pierce would be the toughest to trade because he has the biggest contract. However, Pierce is probably the most capable of playing at a high level for another year or two. The point is that buyers will be calling for these three veterans. The question is whether or not Danny Ainge pulls the trigger.
If the C’s trade one of the vets, they’re not likely to get a godfather offer in return. A young role player or two with potential will do just fine. Drafts pick and another expiring contract that no one wants would also suffice. Basically, filling your roster with youth, whether it is through the trade or through the draft, is almost always the first step towards rebuilding. I know that Celtics fans want to see a competitor each and every season, but sometimes you have to hit the bottom before you can make your way back to the top. When you think about how Danny Ainge rebuilt the franchise back in 2007, and how he made the moves to get Ray Allen and KG, people forget that he built up to that point through the draft. Ainge and the Celtics were only able to make the moves they did because of the assets they had available. To bring in both Ray and KG, the C’s traded Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Delonte West and three first round draft picks (which later became Jeff Green, Jonny Flynn, and Wayne Ellington). Almost all of the aforementioned players were either first or second round draft picks for Boston. It seemed like a lot to part with at the time, especially with talented young players like Al Jefferson and Jeff Green on the table. But it in the end, a giant package of young players with potential directly led to Banner 17, so it was clearly worth a few years of struggle.
If the C’s fail to make the playoffs, scoring a lottery pick in the top 12 or 13 for the first time in five years wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. Making the playoffs and locking up the 18th pick doesn’t have nearly the same value, but regardless of where they draft in particular, having draft picks on the backburner is never a bad thing. By parting ways with the Big Three (whether it’s one, or two, or all three), the Celtics will, at the very least, be able to bring in some young talent on top of that, while still having a ton of cap room to bring in potential free agents. You see, the Celtics have a ton of flexibility; that’s the beauty of the whole thing. Danny Ainge can go a number of different directions here; but the rebuilding has to start now. There’s no need to hover around mediocrity for another season. Trade the veterans, bring in the youth, and start fresh. It might not be what fans want to see right now, but it could pay dividends for the future. Blow it up, Danny! Banner 18 ain’t coming this year; but with the strategy, it could be right around the corner.