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Where Do The Celtics Go From Here?
Posted By Stephen Brotherston On June 19, 2012 @ 9:00 pm In All,Main Page,NBA | No Comments
Boston is heading into the 2012 NBA offseason with just five players under contract, and it is all by design. After five successful seasons with their big-three, the veteran stars Celtics’ president of basketball operations Danny Ainge acquired in 2007 are now into their mid-thirties and Ainge has some big decisions to make about next season and the future direction of his team.
The Celtics are in a position to strip this team down to the bones and rebuild; however, after watching a 24-10 run that captured the Atlantic division crown and forced Miami to seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals, Ainge’s decision has gotten a lot tougher than he ever could have imagined.
It might not be deep, but Ainge has Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley to build around next season and that represents a pretty strong core. Rookies JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore are likely to return as inexpensive pieces to help fill in the back end of the roster. Ainge also has about $27 million in salary cap room to close the gaps.
With the NBA’s top defensive club at 98.2 points allowed per 100 possessions, Ainge is probably best served in the short-term by bringing back some of his own key free agents. Boston is first in line to sign Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Brandon Bass, Greg Stiemsma and Jeff Green, among others.
2012 NBA Draft
The Celtics are one of nine teams with three or more picks in this year’s draft, selecting at 21, 22, and 51. The issue for Boston is that adding three rookies to a team hoping to contend is not usually good for the rookies or the team. Add in Johnson and Moore, who barely played last season, and there will not be enough minutes available for all of these young players to develop.
With any luck, Boston will be able to trade their second round pick or stash their acquisition in Europe to develop. A player like the 21-year-old small forward from Greece, Kostas Papanikolaou, could make a good draft-and-stash candidate.
Often players drafted in the twenties end up spending time in the d-league instead of contributing right away, but there are some candidates with both upside and ability to contribute next season. The 7-foot center Fab Melo is still very raw at the offensive end of the floor, but has the size and strength to make an immediate contribution on defense. It may seem early to select Kentucky guards Marquis Teague or Doron Lamb, but both of these players may be more ready contribute immediately than a higher ranked prospect like the small forward Moe Harkless. Boston should be able to find a prospect who can crack next year’s rotation with at least one of their first round picks.
The impact of salary cap holds and the obvious benefits of retaining at least a few of their own key free agents means Boston isn’t likely to be a big player on July 11.
The 17-year veteran and 14-time All-Star Garnett would like to stay in Boston. He has a good relationship with Coach Rivers and if Ainge is going to field a competitive team, Garnett has no reason to leave. At 36-years-old, Garnett tied his personal best career defensive rating mark of 94 and while his offensive production has declined over time, he has lost none of his intensity or leadership qualities. Garnett will be in demand as a free agent this summer.
The best deal for the Celtics would be something in the two-year, $10 million per season range, but the issue could be other teams willingness to pay Garnett more. Even with about $27 million to spend under the cap, Ainge can only go so far with Garnett if he hopes rebuild the Celtics into a contender for the next couple of seasons. It’s about to get interesting in Boston.
One of the easier decisions may be to let fan favorite and proven veteran Allen walk in free agency. The sophomore Bradley took Allen’s starting job and was the better player beside Rondo. Allen will be able to command more money in free agency than Boston should be willing to match and he could start for another team.
Bass opted out of his deal for next season, but it wasn’t because he wanted to leave. After a solid season, Bass should be able to command a mid-level exception deal or slightly better and his anticipated price range fits nicely in Boston.
26-year-old rookie Greg Stiemsma surprised everyone by being one of Boston’s best defenders in limited minutes. Stiemsma averaged 1.5 blocks and 3.2 rebounds in just 13.9 minutes last season. The Celtics can control the destiny of their young center this off season and are likely to issue a qualifying offer and match any attempts to steal their find.
The Celtics drafted Jeff Green fifth in 2007 and immediately traded him in a multi-player deal to Seattle for Allen. Four years later, they re-acquired Green from the Thunder for Kendrick Perkins in another multi-player transaction. Heart issues cost Green all of last season and a new long-term contract with the Celtics, but assuming he has fully recovered, Green is the offensive-minded forward this defense-first team needs. If everything goes as planned, Ainge will offer Green a similar contract to the one he rescinded last season.
By re-signing their own key free agents, the Celtics will have used up most of their options in free agency, but they will have put together a solid rotation for next season.
As the big three supposedly headed towards their declining years, the plan to create salary cap space and flexibility in Boston didn’t exactly go as anticipated last season. The Celtics exceeded expectations on the strength of a revitalized Garnett and remained a competitive force in the Eastern Conference. This level of success demands a return to what worked and Ainge is almost compelled to rebuild the band with the same players. The only glitch in this strategy is the competitive bidding Garnett’s performance will attract in free agency. Ainge will be hoping personal relationships are stronger than cash and his Celtics will have another year or two before he has to think about changing course.
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