NBA AM: Celtics’ Breakup Delayed Again?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
Follow @Yannis KoutroupisYannis Koutroupis
Much like the San Antonio Spurs in recent years, the Boston Celtics just can’t find enough reasons to make major changes and move into a new era. The breakup of Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce core has been rumored for years now. The chatter never seemed to be stronger than this season as there was a lot of talk about Pierce potentially ending up with the Memphis Grizzlies in a deal for Rudy Gay and Garnett going to the Los Angeles Clippers (Eric Bledsoe and Caron Butler) or the Denver Nuggets (JaVale McGee). However, with the Feb. 21 trade deadline right around the corner it looks like one of the NBA’s most storied franchises will once again relatively stand pat.
“I think that’s by far the most likely thing, sure,” Boston Celtics director of basketball relations Danny Ainge said to the media prior to the Celtics’ thumping of their rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers. “I’ll just repeat what I always tell you guys – things that are out there are the things that aren’t true and the things that are happening are not being reported.
“I can’t give you much more juice other than it’s this time every year. There’s a lot of conversation, and usually at this time of the year, the conversation isn’t as serious. As it gets closer to the deadline, it gets a bit more serious. You get a little bit better offers. It’s still most people trying to make one-sided deals, as opposed to doing what’s best for both teams. Which is – a trade like Rudy Gay is fairly unusual this time, this early before the deadline.”
The Celtics were hit hard by the injury bug recently, losing starting point guard Rajon Rondo (ACL surgery) and rookie big man Jared Sullinger (back surgery) for the season. Yet, the team has somehow found a way to thrive despite those major losses. They’ve won six-straight games now, which dates back to that momentum-building double-overtime win against the Miami HEAT on Jan. 27. After Thursday’s victory against the Lakers, Garnett made it clear where his heart belongs.
“On a last note, I just want to say that I love my situation here,” Garnett said. “I don’t know what y’all sources or whoevers making up these [expletive] articles about me getting traded to Denver and all these other places. But I bleed green and I continue to do that. And if it’s up to me, then I’m going to retire a Celtic. So I just want everybody to know that, alright?”
Because he has a no-trade clause in his contract, it is technically up to Garnett to if he retires in Boston or not. Of course, if the right deal comes along Celtics’ management and ownership could try to convince him to back off of that stance, but judging by Ainge’s tone that doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
“I want to see how our team plays over the next little while before the trade deadline, too,” Ainge said. “But I don’t think we’ve had a true test of exactly what team we are yet. And I think that, because I’ve been doing this for 10 years now, but with this group of guys for the last couple of years, I don’t see that much changing. There aren’t a lot of teams that are trying to pursue players of KG and Paul’s age, and I just think that we value them more than other teams value them.
“There’s so many teams that are trying to get younger, so many teams that are trying to rebuild, so many teams are trying to get high draft picks already. I think that where we value them as players is just much greater than the rest of the league, which I think is common among players of their age.”
If any moves are made by the Celtics prior to the trade deadline, look for it to be moves to add to Pierce and Garnett. Because once again, they’ve once again given the decision makers enough hope to keep them together right when a breakup seemed like it was the way to go.
Lakers Breaking Down Internally: Like the Celtics, there does not appear to be any major moves on the horizon for the Los Angeles Lakers either. Despite their serious lack of success this season, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak made it clear that the team is moving forward as assembled. As intriguing as another round of Dwight Howard trade rumors would be, it looks like he’s going to still be a Laker once the deadline passes. Whether or not he’s actually happy about that is anyone’s guess, but he sure doesn’t seem to be.
Howard exchanged barbs through the media with veteran Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash about his willingness to play through pain. To pile on and make matters worse, his head coach Mike D’Antoni also subtly called him out for not playing despite being cleared by the training staff to do so.
That led to Howard putting in an uninspired and distracted performance in a blowout loss to the Celtics.
At a time where the Lakers really need Howard to regain his all-league form due to Pau Gasol being out for the next 6-8 weeks with a foot injury, he couldn’t be further from it.
There has to be serious doubt now over whether or not Howard will re-sign with the Lakers this summer, but not enough to make the Lakers consider dealing Howard apparently. They’re still banking on the fact that they can offer him an extra year worth $25 million. However, it is going to take a lot of selling on their part because Howard’s relationships with his teammates and coach are not harmonious to say the least.
Prior to Howard’s recent return the Lakers were winners of three-straight games. Thursday’s setback dropped them to 23-27 overall and 3 ½ games back of the eighth-seeded Houston Rockets. The quest to crack the top eight and get Howard going will take them to to Charlotte, where they have consistently had trouble no matter how good they’ve been in recent years, and Miami next.
Boozer-Bargnani Swap Discussed: The Toronto Raptors were holding out hope that they could make a run at Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol before the Feb. 21 trade deadline. However, with Gasol out for the next 6-8 weeks the Raptors have reportedly shifted their focus towards Carlos Boozer of the Chicago Bulls, using Andrei Bargnani as the main bait.
According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune trade talks, which were originally reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein, have died down between the two but could eventually start back up and evolve to include John Lucas III and Nate Robinson.
Boozer has played some of his best basketball as a Bull lately, but there’s questions about whether or not he can keep it up once Derrick Rose makes his pending return to the court. Bargnani could be a better fit with the ball-dominant lead guard, but Bargnani hasn’t exactly boosted his stock this year. His numbers are down across the board, including his scoring, which has gone from 19.5 points a game last year to 15.9 this season.
He recently made his return to the Raptors’ lineup after suffering an elbow injury that kept him out since Dec. 10. He’s back just in time for the Raptors, who have made it clear that they are shopping him, to showcase him for potential deals.
While Bargnani may not end up in Chicago, it does appear to be a near certainty at this point that he will be somewhere other than Toronto after the trade deadline.
NBA Chats: There are three NBA chats on deck today, starting with mine at 11 am est. You can get your questions about the NCAA, NBA and D-League in here. Next up will be Alex Kennedy and Larry Coon during the afternoon time slots. Get your questions about trade rumors into Kennedy here, and questions about how the Collective Bargaining Agreement can impact potential deals to Coon here.