I don’t envy you.
Well, you’re a champion athlete and executive who played two sports so, of course, I envy you. But not here, not now.
The Boston Celtics’ foreseeable future appears chiefly in your hands and my advice as to how to proceed is probably as insightful and meaningful to you as when my wife asks which shoes go better with a particular dress.
As you know, you’ve basically got two options: 1) Keep the band together and continue attempting to rebuild on the fly or, 2) Have a yard sale.
I hesitate to use the term “blow it up,” as we’ve so often heard around these parts the last few years because, frankly, I think you already have. By re-signing as many of the 2007-08 crew as possible and continually insisting that "championship window" get longer and subsequently smaller, the team got older, frail and stuck in a financial rut. To transition involved letting high-profile pieces go and, whether influenced by ownership, fans, your coach, or your heart, you didn’t. As the saying goes, you made your bed and now you have to lie in it.
Forgive me for being so condemning. I suppose I just imagine we feel pretty similarly these days.
Frustrated. Confused. Nostalgic. Especially after that first opening-round loss since the team’s resurrection.
The difference is I can’t do anything about it and I don’t know how you’re supposed to wash those sheets.
People expect big changes, including the guys in your locker room.
Your captain finally seems resigned to the idea of leaving and returning when his Hall of Fame career is over, just to put a pretty bow on things, but no one – not you, the fans, his coach and teammates, or Paul Pierce himself – can stomach the idea of him playing in another uniform after 15 years in green. Plus, what does a buyout or amnestying him really do to help the team’s cap predicament? Essentially, nothing. Your best hope is trading him, but everyone knows he’s way more valuable to the Celtics and this community than to any other team in the NBA, at least until the 2014 trade deadline.
The heart of your team – the man who could be considered the true architect of the turnaround (and I don’t mean Kevin McHale) – is reportedly considering retirement. Listen, Kevin Garnett hasn’t returned my texts but, I guarantee, he’s not going anywhere. Sure, he’s made it clear he wants to play in Boston with Paul but, even if you put the captain out to sea, I’d expect him back on your roster. He loves Doc Rivers, “bleeds green,” and he’s grown to embrace a city he once questioned. You could attempt to force his hand but, again, what’s it get you? He may decide to waive that no-trade clause and pay a visit to a contender. Amazingly, though, I think he’d rather stay with the C’s the next year or two until he retires than win elsewhere. You have to admire that kind of loyalty.
Then, of course, there’s Doc. He’ll be back, too. It’s not etched in stone, but his contract is through the 2015-16 season and, if he really said he’d join you in the rebuild – and that day is fast approaching – then I believe him.
How do you evolve? Ugh. You’re pretty hamstrung, financially and in regard to personnel. The team’s only free agent is Chris Wilcox, plus a few casual contributors with non-guaranteed contracts. As for free agents, well they may love Doc the Players Coach but they don’t generally pick Boston over warm-weather climates or the bright lights of Times Square. Even if you could lure them here, you’re relying on sign-and-trade deals. But who?
You don’t want Josh Smith. Well, you do. But you shouldn’t. Dwight Howard ain’t comin’, and I don’t want him even if he would. Call me crazy but I firmly believe that guy’s never going to win a championship, even if he’s not the centerpiece. Gotta aim smaller.
You’ve got some solid, young talent. Rajon Rondo is a very good, if emotional, player with a team-friendly deal. Nice job. Jared Sullinger may have back problems for the rest of his career, but you knew that when you drafted him and he’s a fine contributor when healthy. Had those two been available, you may very well have beaten the Knicks. Please don’t get hung up on that.
We all got attached that first year, and with good reason. Then we just started blaming injuries for playoff losses, whether it was KG, Kendrick Perkins, or Rondo this year. Every team has injuries. Even healthy, this team just isn’t superior anymore. It’s time to “fish or cut bait,” “(poop) or get off the pot,” or whatever metaphor we’d like to use to bedazzle your predicament.
Like your coach and players, you should take some time to collect your thoughts. Recognize that even without Paul and Kevin, your team will be good enough next year to make the playoffs and lose, but not bad enough to send Tommy Heinsohn to the Draft Lottery. Recognize, also, that there’s some value to keeping the old guys around to offer tutelage and experience to Rajon, Jeff, Jared, Avery, Brandon, and others.
I’d love to know how many of these decisions are really yours versus those of ownership with their immediate financial future of the team and the patience of the fans – or lack thereof – in mind. I’m also curious as to how much influence your coach has, given his love for his veterans, even if he’s insisted such debates are over his head. By the way, is there a communication rift between you two?
If the choice belonged to me, I'd stay the course. Delay the inevitable another year while you clear cap space and see what Rondo is after his injury. Try to trade Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, or live with another couple underperforming contracts in the hope they’ll turn things around. Let your veterans guide your youngsters while limiting them to 25 minutes a night and, if the opportunity presents itself and the timing’s right, deal them for future chips at midseason. If you keep them, they’ll theoretically be fresh for the playoffs, whatever that proves to be worth. Heck, you can even let them keep starting if they can’t handle the ego-blow of coming off the bench. At this point, what can it hurt? Seemingly, there’s not much you can do to help, anyhow. You’ve always said you questioned Red Auerbach for hanging on to aging superstars and now it’s you, sir, who’s in question.
It is the end of the road, Danny. You just have to decide how many times the car will stall before getting there.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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