When Danny Ainge first acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen back in 2007, the new Big Three, in theory, was providing the Celtics with a three-year championship window. After going one for two in their title appearances in their first three years, Ainge decided to keep the window cracked open for another three years after not biting on potential deals.
After that three-year plan became a six-year plan, Allen became the first of the three to take his talents elsewhere. Now Ainge faces the tough task of retooling the Celtics this summer. If Paul Pierce and KG stay, the Celtics have little flexibility to add an impact player that makes them a contender next year. If KG retires and Pierce is amnestied, the Celtics must start from scratch and still wouldn’t have enough money to add a max player to run with Rajon Rondo. If Pierce and KG are traded together, the Celtics could potentially put themselves in a good situation for their future but only if the trading contender would agree to take on $28 million in salary in chase of a NBA title. Pierce could be bought out for $5 million, but that option doesn’t make much sense. Boston could simply amnesty him if there were no viable options on the trading block. The option of Pierce retiring is extremely unlikely after he stated that he wants to play next season.
If Danny Ainge wants to position his squad for a better future, he must get extremely flexible with Boston’s current salary cap situation. Here are three potential options for the Celtics moving forward:
1. Celtics pick up team option on Pierce for $15.3 million and Garnett returns
The Celtics clearly don’t have enough to be in the championship conversation with the way their roster currently stands, but this may provide them with the most realistic option to compete next year and beyond. Even Garnett understands that the Cs need more to join the NBA’s elite. Enter Al Jefferson.
Jefferson has stated that he would love to return to the franchise that drafted him. With Jefferson to enter the free-agent market this summer, this is the Celtics most realistic option for making them better right now. It wouldn’t be likely for Jefferson to be acquired via free agency by Boston (especially with Garnett and Pierce on the payroll) but instead through a sign-and-trade. By adding Jefferson, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger become expendable as KG would likely move back to his natural position as power forward. Boston could offer Bass and Courtney Lee (who for whatever reason fell out of Doc Rivers‘ playoff rotation) and a draft pick for the 28-year-old center. This offer might be enticing for Utah as they would be getting young value in return for Jefferson, who may otherwise walk. This would certainly bolster Boston’s frontline and aid in solving Boston’s scoring and rebounding woes. Jefferson’s 18 points and nine rebounds make him a double-double threat every night. This move also makes sense for Boston’s future, leaving them with a young core of Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Sullinger and Jefferson without completely blowing up their roster.
2. Pierce is amnestied and KG retires
This option clears up the most cap space and would take the Cs from $73.1 million on the books to $46.3 million owed, giving them room to sign a high-level player who doesn’t warrant max money (O.J. Mayo, Josh Smith, etc.).
Ainge has been drooling over the thought of Mayo in a Celtics uniform since he had a deal 99 percent complete at the deadline a year ago. After opting out of a return to Dallas for $4.2 million next year, Mayo hopes to work out a long-term deal somewhere. Boston could be an option if they have the necessary cap room to make Mayo an offer he cannot refuse. While the ship has probably sailed to complete for a sign-and-trade for Mayo, Ainge could pull off the heist of the former USC guard if both Pierce and Garnett are completely off the books. Mayo would provide Boston with the backcourt scoring that they desperately needed in the first three games of their playoff series against New York.
Josh Smith was also another sign-and-trade target of the past for the Celtics. Smith teaming up with his former Oak Hill Academy point guard Rajon Rondo had us envisioning a lot of ally-oops at the TD Garden. While he still could be acquired through a sign-and-trade, Atlanta has no plans of re-signing the 27-year-old forward and it’s very likely they could let him walk. After making $12.4 million last year, the Celtics would not be able to pay him the max that he thinks he deserves, but could offer him a large contract if Pierce and Garnett are no longer on the payroll. Best case scenario would be to sign-and-trade for him while Pierce and Garnett are still wearing green, but that would be highly unlikely.
While this move clears up cap room for Boston, it might be the worst thing that could happen for Boston if KG and Pierce both walked. It’s logical as a basketball fan to want to “blow up” your team’s roster if you’re stuck in mediocrity, but it’s not that simple. Being able to clear Pierce’s $15.3 million and KG’s $12.4 million off your salary sounds like a great plan for cap relief, but it still doesn’t leave you with enough money to jumpstart your organization with a new franchise player.
3. Pierce and KG are traded together
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably heard about Stephen A. Smith‘s report on a possible trade between Boston and the L.A. Clippers. The deal (and take this with a grain of salt as other sources are already calling it “absurd”) is Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett being dealt to the Clippers for Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler. While Bledsoe would have to be offered an extension towards his current deal for the financials to work, there is one other name Stephen A. mentions who could also be “included” in a move to L.A. — Doc Rivers.
If this ever happened, it would go down as one of the craziest blockbuster deals in league history. But if anyone can pull off a deal totally out of left field, it’s Danny Ainge. He will do whatever is best for his organization, regardless of personal ties to his coaches and players. While this trade is completely absurd, I do believe that it works for both teams. The Clippers get the most important piece (Rivers) to serve as a major upgrade over Vinny Del Negro, who could be walking out of the Clippers practice facility for the last time as you read this article. L.A. also receives Paul Pierce, giving him the chance to end his career in the area he grew up in (Inglewood, stand up) and KG gets the opportunity to relax in his Malibu pad year-round while competing for a title. Garnett would also complement DeAndre Jordan better than Griffin. The Clippers’ current interior duo proved they had trouble scoring on anything but lobs in the playoffs against Memphis.
Obviously this doesn’t make the Clippers better for the future, but if they want to win immediately, the deal could be possible. The Clippers also are in panic mode and will try to do anything to keep Chris Paul. This deal would be enticing to Paul after a disappointing first-round exit. It’d probably be enough for him to stay to play for Rivers and with two championship vets. While it may be far fetched, the Clippers have a history of making unordinary moves.
From Boston’s standpoint, it would clearly work. You are getting younger and receiving plenty of talent in return for your aging franchise cornerstones. A more realistic deal involving the Clippers and Celtics is probably one involving DeAndre Jordan instead of Blake Griffin (like the one rumored last February).
This deal has no chance in getting done unless Doc somehow miraculously becomes coach of the L.A. Clippers and even then the chance is minuscule. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s Danny Ainge. Stephen A., I blame you for this crazy proposal, but if you’re a Celtics fan, you can’t help but get excited.
What are the Celtics going to do this summer?
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