Whether you believe the big four has another title run left in it or not, I wanted to present some guidelines for retooling that could prove important to the coming offseason (and up through the 2012 trading deadline).
In theory, these five ideas should apply whether Boston is angling for a 2012 championship or conceding the transition to a new era and rebuilding for it. I think one of those approaches is much more logical than the other, but we’ll get into that in the coming weeks.
1. You gotta get younger and healthier and more athletic. With Kevin Garnett about to turn 35, Ray Allen nearing 36, and Paul Pierce 34 by training camp, the big three’s collective risk of injury increases every year. All three were relatively healthy this season, but the likelihood of this happening two years in a row is increasingly remote. More importantly, their age leads to performances like those in the Miami series. One good game, one bad game, one decent game, etc. They can’t carry the same burden they could four years ago. Danny Ainge may be right when he said they have a lot of basketball left in them, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to being able to lead a team to a title.
With that in mind, I think it’s fair to suggest Boston cannot simultaneously stock the big three’s supporting cast with the aged (Shaquille O’Neal, Jermaine O’Neal), the injury prone (Marquis Daniels, Delonte West) and the athletically limited (Glen Davis, Nenad Krstic).
2. Somebody’s gotta rebound. Led by KG’s superb defensive rebounding, this Celtics crew improved on the calamitous rebounding that submarined the 2009-10 team. But this remains a problem area, especially going forward. I don’t see how you can have Davis and Jeff Green (both poor rebounders) on the same team as this aging core and expect to come out on the positive side of the ledger.
If KG’s your starting power forward for next year (and beyond?), I think you have to find someone to man the 5-spot who can gobble up rebounds. That’s not, by the way, an endorsement of Krstic.
3. Somebody’s gotta score. We covered this in depth all season and it proved Boston’s undoing in the playoffs. This just isn’t a good offensive team anymore. Rondo is a great creator of shots but he’s also defensible. Allen’s impressive shooting numbers disguised his limitations in other areas (primarily that he can’t create his own shot) and Garnett is a mercurial scorer, at best. Pierce is Boston’s best offensive player but can’t guard elite SFs and still deliver on that front.
For the first time I can remember since the big three were put together, Ainge talked this week about the need to acquire talent. No real context to that point, just “talent”. I think he’s talking about the offense as much as anything else.
4. Get physical. The departures of Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins and the injury to Shaq robbed this team of much of its physicality on the defensive end. Boston needs more guys who intimidate the opposition and while there’s no requirement for a future team that mirrors past ones, finesse is not the central quality you associate with playoff success. For good reason.
5. The road to hell is paved with 5 years, $35 Million. I’m paraphrasing ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz here, who made this point on an early season appearance on the NBA Today Podcast. On the eve of a more restrictive CBA, there’s more danger than ever in signing supporting players to big contracts. The order of operations is ideally: find elite players first, then fill in around them. But if elite players aren’t easily obtainable, it’s crucial not to sabotage your ability to afford them by signing role players to untradeable, cap-killing contracts. How excited are you at paying Green something like 5 years, $40M? Can you move that deal in a hard-cap environment if he turns out to be a bad fit? How about 5 years, $45M?