How do you fix the Boston Celtics? Can you turn back the clock five or six years? No? Ok, then it’s time to get to work.
The 2013-14 season was dubbed a “rebuilding year” following the departures of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and former head coach Doc Rivers. In many ways, it has turned into a “de-building year” with the organization making moves to clear cap space, unload contracts that didn’t fit into the bigger picture in the future and create room for transactions this offseason and the months to come.
With the games winding down and the Celtics unable to earn a playoff berth among dismal competition in the Eastern Conference, the focus has already shifted to how the team will look next season. Where do they go from here? There are pressing issues to address before painting a clear picture of the future.
Maximize the Picks
The Celtics have 500 draft picks coming to them over the next few years. Ok, that’s an exaggeration, but the team is stockpiled with nearly 20 potential selections in the next five seasons.
Over the years, the Celtics have been accumulating picks through various moves, most noticeably this summer when they acquired a bevy of first rounders from the Brooklyn Nets and one from the Los Angeles Clippers during the team’s overhaul.
Here is Basketball Insiders breakdown of the 2014 draft picks:
Receives Brooklyn Nets’ 2014 first-round pick (less favorable of theirs and Atlanta’s) via Kevin Garnett trade on 7/10/13. Receives Philadelphia 76ers’ 2014 first-round pick (1-14 protected in 2014, second-round pick in 2015 and 2016 afterwards) from the Miami HEAT via MarShon Brooks and Jordan Crawford trade on 1/15/14.
The great thing about these picks is the Celtics don’t actually have to use them. Every pick is an “asset,” just as valuable as a standout player or an expiring contract. The Celtics can package these picks and finagle them to move and acquire pieces they want in return (think Kevin Garnett blockbuster deal.)
Don’t expect to see the Celtics stacked with rookies next season. The front office is very creative with bundling together deals using their “assets” to get something tangible in exchange.
Decide Rondo’s Future
Rajon Rondo has been mentioned in trade rumors for years, and he will continue to be until his contract expires after next season. He is not only the face of the franchise but also the team’s biggest trade bait. The Celtics have expressed their desire to keep Rondo on the roster. Then again, basketball is a business and no one is exempt from the possibility of being moved when it could better the team’s future.
So will he remain the Celtics’ captain or become the final member of the 2008 championship team to leave Boston?
The Celtics should, as they have in the past, keep their options open. This is not personal, it’s professional. Exploring all possibilities is the responsible thing to do when running a franchise. The suitors will continue to express interest and Rondo’s trade value should increase. He returned from a season-ending ACL injury in mid-January and is not playing in back-to-back games. This will change by next season when teams will be coveting a healthy top point guard.
Rondo also plays a role in this. The Celtics will have discussions with him regarding basketball post-current contract and will gauge his interest level of staying in Boston. There is a chance he could walk once his deal is up, and the team would not have gained anything in return. With the exception of Ray Allen, the Celtics have moved many of their top-tier players before they hit the free agent market. It is hard to imagine they would watch Rondo sign elsewhere rather than try to trade him and acquire value in exchange.
Pick One of the Many Shades of Green
The thought was Jeff Green would emerge upon Paul Pierce’s departure. He has – on some nights. On others, not so much.
Green leads the team with 16.7 points per game, has scored 20 points in more in 19 games and 30 or more points in four. But take a four-game stretch in March as an example: 27 points (10-21 FG) versus the Knicks, 9 points (2-14 FG, 1-7 3PG) versus the Suns, 39 points (12-23 FG) versus the Pelicans and 5 points (2-12 FG) versus the Mavericks. The roller coaster production makes it difficult to build around Green as a consistent contributor.
He is 27 years old with two years left on his four-year, $36 million deal (including a player option). Green has the potential and athletic ability to be “that guy” on a team. Whether he can do it on a regular basis, though, is the biggest hang-up. He doesn’t come cheap, and the Celtics have to decide the value of his price tag.
Unload Hefty Contracts
The good: Over $17 million between Kris Humphries and Keith Bogans will come off the payroll after this season. The not-so-good: The Celtics will still have over $39 million tied up next season alone with Rondo, Green, Gerald Wallace and Brandon Bass.
Both Rondo and Bass’ deals expire following next season and Green has an option, while Wallace’s deal runs through the 2015-16 season. These contracts limit the Celtics’ flexibility in the free agent market, and the fact Wallace’s has over $20 million remaining on it makes it a difficult one to move.
Will other teams be willing to take on some of this money? That remains to be seen. There’s no question, though, the Celtics should look to put themselves in a better payroll situation to make improvements for the future.