This is an awkward time for the Celtics. For one, they’re dealing with the disappointment and frustration of their first opening round exit since 2006. On top of that, everywhere they look, they’re surrounded by success. They see rivals like the Heat, Knicks and Bulls still fighting for the 'ship. Former players like Nate Robinson, Tony Allen, Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins are making an impact on other teams (although in Perk’s case, the impact’s not entirely positive). Even here in Boston, the Bruins are up on the Leafs, the Sox have the best record in baseball, and Tom Gatsby just won 25K at the Derby. Yeah, things are happening, but over in Waltham, Danny Ainge is stuck. He’s got his big green mini-van teetering on the edge of a cliff — with Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce inside — trying to make sense of what needs to happen next.
Should they eject and go their separate ways? Pile in back and delay the inevitable? Hold hands, rock forward and let nature take its course?
What should the Celtics do?
The more important question is: What can the Celtics do? And unfortunately, that answer isn’t coming anytime soon.
For every one screaming to trade Pierce, or sign-and-trade for someone like Al Jefferson or Josh Smith (no thanks, by the way), the only response is “OK, then. For who?”
How much can they get for Pierce? Who would they have to give up for Smith or Jefferson? Who else might want in on the action? Based on those answers, the logic behind each move changes drastically. Obviously. And right now, those answers don’t exist. The same way that winter trade talks don’t heat up until right before the February deadline, in this case, the Celtics won’t learn which options are truly available until we get closer to the draft, when every team is focused and ready to act on the future.
In other words, they’re going to be teetering for a while. I just hope that Danny brought his phone charger, and that they’ve got some Family Guy and Phil Collins to keep KG happy. And while we wait, here a three random(ish) thoughts on what lies ahead:
1. Moving forward, the first (and likely easiest) order of business is for Ainge to get the go-ahead from Doc, because that’s where the future starts. If the coach stays, then everything is still in play. If he goes, then . . . well, if there’s no Doc, then there’s no KG. Short of Ainge bringing dancing Gino back from the dead, Garnett’s not playing for another coach. And then, without those two, keeping Pierce doesn’t make as much sense.
More on that in a second, but first: I’ve seen and heard a lot of frustration with Doc Rivers over this last week or so, and I can’t say that I disagree. There’s no question that he was out-coached by Mike Woodson in the first round. I know injuries played a role, but for the most part, Doc was just throwing stuff against the wall. And very little of it worked. With that, combined with another lackluster regular season and the lingering fact that the Celtics have blown three 3-2 series leads in the last five years, the haters are coming out of the woodwork. “Doc’s overrated!” is back in the mix. There are some who probably wouldn’t mind seeing him walk away.
But to that I say: a) Ainge isn’t one of those people; he’ll fight to keep Doc in town. b) Again, what’s the alternative? It’s not like this league is swimming with unemployed and ultimately proven head coaches. Unless there’s a guy on the scrap heap whom you feel can come in and solve Boston’s problems, wishing away Doc Rivers doesn’t make much sense. He’s far from perfect, but at this very moment, I can’t think of anyone better for this job.
2. After Doc, The Captain is the next domino that needs to fall. Why? Because KG’s not making his decision until a decision’s made on Pierce. He’s not signing up until he knows what he’s signing up for. And you can’t blame him for that. So, what should they do with Paul?
In a pure basketball sense, it sure feels like time to say goodbye.
The Celtics currently have about $73 million on the cap for next year and roughly 21 percent of that ($15.3 million) is allocated to Pierce. Nostalgia aside, he’s not worth that anymore. And while parting with his contract — whether it’s by trade, buyout or amnesty — won’t make a significant difference in the Celtics offseason flexibility, it will save them money. It’s a start.
Then again, in terms of making money, you have to talk about ticket sales, and the fact that selling the Celtics with Paul Pierce is a lot easier than selling them without him. Then you consider that bringing back Pierce makes it much easier to bring back Garnett and, if they wanted, would allow the Celtics to build one last glorious campaign around the FINAL OFFICIAL LAST RUN.
They can turn the entire season into a long Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett going away party, and really Red Sox it up. Naturally, I join everyone in praying that we don’t see that happen, but it’s an option. If the Celtics really wanted to keep Pierce (and KG) on board, they could probably find ways to make back the money they would have saved in a buyout, and the cap wouldn’t look all that different.
But more important than money (we hope) is figuring out the best long-term action for this team, and that means finally finding out what they have in Jeff Green.
Ainge has a lot riding on Green. A LOT. He broke up a championship starting five to bring the Green on board. He re-signed him this summer for more money than most thought he was worth. Ainge has said that Green is the heir apparent to Pierce; that’s what they’re paying him for, and that’s how they need him to play. But here’s the problem: Green can’t be the heir apparent while the king’s still on the throne.
With a championship temporarily out of sight, every year that the Celtics spend trying to force chemistry between Pierce and Green is a year wasted. No more saying that Green is the heir apparent. It’s time to cut him loose and let him prove it.
Of course, that means cutting ties with Pierce. In turn, that probably means losing Garnett. But what else can they do? Other than nostalgia, what reason is there for bringing everyone back for one more run?
We all want results right away, but you can’t get carried away in the summer of 2013 with the potential insanity of 2014 hanging in the balance. For one, next year’s draft will be much stronger. Assuming that the Celtics will need to make at least one trip to the lottery on their way back to the top, next year would not be a horrible time. There are at least five guys in the 2014 Draft that would have gone No. 1 overall this year. And behind them, a much more impressive collection of potential pros.
2014 also has a chance to be a potentially historic year in free agency, based on early termination options for Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James.
The rumors have already started about what James might do next. Some say he could head back to Cleveland and team up with Kyrie Irving (although re-hiring Mike Brown seems to kill that). Others think he might go replace Kobe with the Lakers. For all we know, by next summer, the Heat could be dead and the Eastern Conference wide open.
At least that’s the hope. And for now, hope is all that Celtics Nation has. That is, until the playoffs run their course, and the offseason officially gets underway. At that point, this awkward break in the action will quickly turn to chaos.