The 2010-11 Boston Celtics season came to a premature halt. There were numerous reasons for the demise but I’m in a good mood to be optimistic right now. Why? The postgame last night gave us ample cause for that.
Just one day after we rightfully wondered if this was it, perhaps forever for this crew, the news comes the gang will be back together one more time. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo are already under contract. Ray Allen acknowledged he had “no plans to go anywhere” when asked about his 10 million dollar player option. Jermaine O’Neal, perhaps surprisingly told reporters he thinks he has one more year in him. And the biggest domino of them all, Doc Rivers kept no secrets in indicating his intentions, for perhaps the short and long haul, proudly indicating he “was a Celtic.”
There have been whispers about a potential Kevin Garnett retirement, but with last night’s developments, I can safely safe we can put the squash on those. He’s due over 21 million dollars next season and is still a top-5 defensive player in the league. Plus there’s unfinished business with this Heat team to attend to, after last night.
Despite having these anchors in place, there’s a huge aura of uncertainity involving what this team will look like next year with just six players signed under contract currently for the 2011-12 season (assuming Allen picks up his option.) With so many decisions to make as well as areas of concern to address for Danny Ainge to keep this team’s championship window open even a crack, it will be the Celtics biggest challenge yet. As a primer, here’s where the team stands, and the number of ways it could go:
Kevin Garnett: 21.2 million (expiring contract)
Paul Pierce: 15.3 million (2nd year of 4-year deal)
Rajon Rondo: 10 million (2nd year of 5-year deal)
Ray Allen: 10 million (player option/expiring contract)
Jermaine O’Neal: 6.2 million (expiring contract)
Avery Bradley 1.5 million (2nd year of 4-year deal)
Total Money Committed: 65.2 million
There’s good news and bad news here. The good? That’s your starting five, signed, seal and delivered for you. The bad? 63 million dollars and change is a lot of money to have committed to those five, especially when you have literally no bench in place for the upcoming season.
A lot will obviously depending on the upcoming collective bargaining agreement in terms of how the Celtics will be able to manuever for spots 7-15 on this roster, but to give you some perspective, Boston spent 76 million dollars on their entire roster this year. If they stick to that budget, that’s only roughly 10 million dollars remaining for a lot of guys that need to fill up that spot next to Doc Rivers.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENT:
Jeff Green: 6.2 million-qualifying offer.
To be clear here, we are left with a similar situation to what Glen Davis faced two seasons ago in free agency. In restricted free agency, the Celtics will undoubtedly make a qualifying offer (6.2 million) which is 125% of Green’s 2010-11 salary.
Green will turn this down and instead look for a long-term deal from either the Celtics or someone else. The good news for Boston is they have the right to match any deal that Green agrees to with another team, if they so choose. They are given seven days to make a decision. The money another team offers Green in any potential deal is “frozen” once Green agrees to it, until the Celtics make a decision on whether to match the offer. The risk of that money freeze makes good contract offers hard to come by for a lot of restricted free agents.
Big Baby found this out the hard way in 2009 in a tough market and had to settle for a underwhelming 2-year 6 million dollar deal with Boston. Green’s market will be a lot bigger than that, but Boston still holds a lot of leverage in this situation, making him very likely to come back, given the holes Boston needs to fill and the player (Kendrick Perkins) the team gave up for him. It also helps that the hybrid forward did very little this postseason to convince other teams of forking over the big cash he probably thought he was due as the third option on an up and coming Thunder team. The market will dictate what Ainge is willing to ante up here.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS – (With educated guesses on whether they will be back or not)
Troy Murphy- gone (no bird rights)
Carlos Arroyo – could be brought back for minimum (no bird rights)
Sasha Pavlovic – likely gone (no bird rights)
Nenad Krstic – probably back (bird rights)
Glen Davis – 50/50 (bird rights)
Delonte West- Should be back (non-bird rights)
Von Wafer – Could be brought back on minimum deal (no bird rights)
Shaquille O’Neal (player option) – A midseason comeback?
WHAT NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED?
We’ll break down each of these topics in further depth in the upcoming weeks, but there were a lot of flawed parts of this Celtics team in the final months. Here’s the bigger issues that will need to be addressed:
Offense: The team finished 18th in offensive efficiency, their worst performance of the past four years. They also managed a paltry 105 offensive rating in the postseason, despite playing the Knicks in the first round (worst defensive team in playoffs) and shooting an incredible 46.7 percent from downtown as a team. Then there were the slumps, like the one we saw last night in the final 4 minutes as Miami went on a 16-0 run to close out the game. Unfortunately in the latter stages of the season, scoring slumps like this were the rule rather than the exception and they struck Boston at almost any time.
Rebounding: The departure of Kendrick Perkins turned this squad from an elite defensive rebounding team, to merely a subpar one, with no one besides Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as above-average players for their positions on the glass. Nenad Krstic, Jermaine O’Neal, Glen Davis and Jeff Green all had subpar rebounding rates for their respective positions. A healthy Rondo would have helped in this department against Miami, but Boston will probably have to bring in at least one more big guy who can be a banger on the boards to allow themselves to hold up around the rim against an athletic crew like Miami
Here’s where things get interesting. There were a lot of quotes last night, about all the changes this team will be expecting in the upcoming year.
Rajon Rondo: “Oh, I’m sure it will. I think we [have] — I don’t know the exact number — but I think only maybe four or five guys under contract, so, [there's] definitely going to be a lot of new faces. Hopefully we get some of the guys that we have back. I mean, this is a great group of guys, and it’s going to be difficult to move on, but obviously it’s a business, and like I said before, there’s going to be a lot of different guys probably in the locker room next year.”
Paul Pierce: “Well I know it’s going to look different. I know that for a fact. Every year things are going to be done in the summer and when you have so many guys with this being the last year of their contract, you know it happens every year. So I know there’s going to be a few changes. I don’t know what, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
A lot of any potential moves will rely on any new terms to the CBA, which we probably won’t know about until the summer (hopefully no later). With that said, let’s assume that the NBA sticks for the most part with largely the same salaries rules for next year.
With Boston already well over any potential soft salary cap with 65 million committed already to just six guys, it leaves minimal room for flexibility. The team will have a mid-level exception (about 6 million) and its bi-annual exception (about 2 million), once again assuming both exist after the new deal is made between the players union and owners.
With the C’s wanting to get younger, as well as improve the offense AND remain title contenders all the while, its going to be incredibly difficult to rebuild this roster entirely. That is, unless the Celtics are willing to bring to just about everyone back that matters. That includes Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Delonte West and Glen Davis. All of those guys will be looking for long-term deals, and Boston may afford to get by while letting one of them get away. Anymore than that? Highly doubtful if Ainge is content on bringing back a champion. The Celtics have to build on what they have, since they simply don’t have the means to revamp their bench entirely. Nor should they want to. Those are some good players on that bench, despite their ineptness during much of the postseason run.
That’s not to say there won’t be upgrades or new faces. There will be the usual minimum salaries guys. A 1st round draft pick than can hopefully help now. You can count on a potential “younger” offensive upgrade with the mid-level exception. A few early names that come to mind there include Jamal Crawford, (probably too expensive) J.R. Smith (a risk, but a huge offensive help), Caron Butler, Jason Richardson, and Josh Howard.
A few guys coming off injuries, (Howard, Butler) but it will likely take most if not all of the full mid-level exception to sign any of these guys, with the upside of them being able to provide a major offensive boost off the bench with the likes of Green, Krstic and company.
Ainge tried to pull this kind of bench help this year, with a tremendous bench on unit to take the onus off the starters. As we all know, injuries sidetracked this plan and left the starters forced to play hard for nearly the full 82, while falling into essentially the same spot as last year, entering the second round without the aid of a home court edge.. The lack of home court advantage and the scoring burden was too much for Pierce, Allen and company to shoulder in the end, after the Perk trade failed to help enough in the short term.
For now, Ainge gets one more shot. One more chance to put the pieces together to make this puzzle work. The challenge will be greater, and the margin for error slimmer than ever, but there is enough potential left around to get it done, and it will be with more familiar faces than you think.