Boston Celtics: Time To Blow It Up

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Updated: December 19, 2014
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The time has come for the Celtics to blow it up and enter a true rebuilding phase. Celtics President Danny Ainge knows this and yesterday he began the process by trading his best player, Rajon Rondo, to the Dallas Mavericks for a protected first-round draft pick, a future second-rounder, highly regarded backup big man Brendan Wright, Jameer Nelson and a young 3 and D small forward, Jae Crowder.

The Celtics are also rumored to be shopping leading scorer Jeff Green in exchange for another first-rounder. The decision to trade the team’s two best players may come as a shock to some, but the harsh realities facing the Celtics make it a necessity.

The crux of the problem is that the Celtics lack the true superstar necessary to be a championship contender and have no clear way to acquire one other than tanking for a high lottery pick. They had a borderline superstar in Rondo and, for the moment, still have a very good third option in Green, but those two are not enough to truly contend, no matter how good the supporting cast.

The Celtics had several paths mapped out to acquire a true franchise centerpiece other than tanking, but unfortunately none of them worked out.

Plan A for the Celtics was to trade for a disgruntled superstar. However, over the last year every one of these targets disappeared off the market. DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Kings long-term. LaMarcus Aldridge stated unequivocally he wanted to stay in Portland. Carmelo Anthony re-upped with New York.

The Celtics’ best chance to acquire a superstar was trading for Kevin Love this past off-season and Cleveland outbid them by a healthy margin. That’s the entire list of superstars who were available in the last year and they’re all gone.

Plan B for the Celtics if they couldn’t make a splashy trade was to acquire a superstar via free agency within the next two years by deftly managing their cap. They saw this plan go up in smoke when the NBA signed a gargantuan new television deal this year. Due to the television deal, the salary cap will most likely rise by at least $15 million over the next two years.

Teams like the Celtics and the Raptors, who have been diligently clearing cap space to sign a superstar-level free agent have now seen those efforts negated by the rising cap. Competitive teams who’ve been managing their cap well, like Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio, suddenly have an extra $15 million to sign players with.

If you’re one of the few elite free agents of the next several years, like Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah, why sign with Toronto or Boston when you can sign with Golden State, OKC, or San Antonio? The simple fact is you wouldn’t.

Which brings us to our next point: the dearth of elite free agents over the next two years. With the salary cap rising, most restricted free agents will likely stay with their current teams, so teams looking to improve via free agency will have to depend on signing unrestricted free agents.

In the upcoming off-season the top three unrestricted free agents without player options are LeBron James, LaMarcus Aldridge and Al Jefferson. The only one of those that would have even considered signing with the Celtics is Jefferson, and that still wouldn’t have propelled them into championship contention.

The top three unrestricted free agents the following off-season? Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, and Al Horford. Once again, Durant, and Noah seem unlikely to leave, and if they did it almost certainly wouldn’t have been for the Celtics. The idea of trying to win a championship with a 30-year-old Rondo, a 30-year-old Green and a 30-year-old Horford is cringe-worthy.

Ask the Brooklyn Nets how building a triumvirate of very good but not great middle-aged players worked out for them.

Danny Ainge knows all of this. He knew that it was going to be virtually impossible to trade for a big name. He knew that it was going to be almost equally as impossible to sign a big name. He knew that his best bet to return to championship form is to trade away his two best players, stockpile assets, and try to get a true superstar via the most painful of methods: tanking. So he pulled the trigger and traded Rondo while he still could. It just doesn’t make it any easier to swallow if you’re a Celtics fan.


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