Doc Rivers wants out, Paul Pierce is old and Kevin Garnett older. Is this a bad time for the Celtics? No, actually, it’s the right time, and no better time to rebuild and remake a franchise than now.
Celtics GM Danny Ainge should look at the landscape in front of him and see solutions instead of problems. The Celtics are sinking and everyone is looking for a life preserver, led by Rivers, who has sent cryptic messages about wanting to be released from a contract that has three years to run. You can certainly see why. The Celtics are stuck in mediocrity with no intriguing influx of young talent ready and able to pull them through.
Meanwhile, the pieces from the 2008 championship team are either gone or ready to jump. Ray Allen, wisely, left last summer to join Miami. Rajon Rondo is coming off a knee injury. Pierce, the modern-day Mr. Celtic, is coming off an embarrassing playoff performance and can be bought out for $5 million. And KG, who has two years left on his contract, doesn’t want to stick around for a rebuilding project.
Neither does Rivers, apparently. He signed a contract extension last summer and already is waffling. Asked recently if he wants to return to Boston, he said, “I’m not sure.” Which means, he wants out.
These aren’t problems for Ainge and the Celtics; these are opportunities. With a few wise moves and decisions, Ainge can begin remaking the storied franchise and put the Celtics in position to win again by 2014 or 2015 at the latest. No matter what Ainge does from here, the Celtics will go through an ugly spell. There’s no avoiding it. The trick is to keep the pain at a minimum, and Boston fans, some of the smartest in the NBA, will understand. So will ownership.
Here’s what Ainge should do:
Write the $5 million buyout for Pierce. He would have little to no trade value if Ainge brings him back for $14 million because, even though that’s a one-year deal, teams won’t swallow that much money unless they send big money back to Boston. And Ainge should keep the Celtics as flexible under the cap as possible.
Put KG on the market. This is the tricky part, because KG has a no-trade option and likely won’t wave it unless he goes to the team of his choice. With a home in Malibu, KG would be open to the West Coast.
Give Rivers to the Clippers – that’s where he wants to go – for compensation. Demand the Clippers take Jason Terry and the two years on his contract for Eric Bledsoe and an unprotected No. 1 pick, and also get Caron Butler (who has an expiring contract) for Brandon Bass (who has two years left).
The Celtics would suddenly be cap friendly and ready to remake themselves. They’d only have Rondo, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green signed beyond next season. They’d have Jared Sullinger back healthy and ready to get big minutes on a stripped-down team minus Bass, who plays the same position. They’d have two No. 1 picks in 2014, one of them likely in a talent-rich lottery. And they’d be roughly $30 million under the cap by then, enough to sign one or maybe two free agents next summer.
Essentially, the Celtics would be transformed from a team with an old core and a heavy cap to a team with assets to either keep or trade, along with money to spend.
So this isn’t a bad time for the Celtics. It’s a refreshing one.