One of the side effects of Boston’s 4-8 record is increased speculation about whether Danny Ainge is ready to pull the pin on his core and kick off the rebuilding process in-season. There have been trade talks the last couple of years when the Celtics were underperforming, mainly surrounding Ray Allen. This season, with the Celtics no longer a title contender, they seem likely to intensify. Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski has an early dispatch on that front, and it involves Paul Pierce:
As Kevin Garnett and Allen become free agents this summer, money will peel away from the salary cap. Between then and now, the bigger question promises to be: Does ownership and general manager Danny Ainge go for the complete rebuild and trade Pierce before the March 15 deadline? Several contending teams have inquired about Pierce’s availability. As one Eastern Conference official said, there are “lots of calls asking if [Boston] will blow it up.”
For Celtics ownership and Ainge, this moment of truth could be coming sooner than later. The Celtics have lost five straight games, dropping to 4-8. They’re still trying to see how much blame for this sluggish start belongs to the lockout, the schedule or advancing age. Ainge has always insisted he’ll never make the mistake with his Big Three that Red Auerbach made with his own in the late 1980s by staying too long with them.
Garnett and Allen come off the Celtics’ cap this summer, but Pierce is the most perplexing member of the Big Three. He has two years and $32 million left on his contract through the 2013-14 season, and moving him for a shorter deal could make the Celtics a huge player in free agency the next two years. As Boston officials contend, this is the reason they didn’t re-sign Perkins and Tony Allen to long-term contracts. They’ve been preparing for the time their core became too old, for the team’s need to start over.
CelticsHub: Ainge has maintained the offers he’s received for his core guys the last few years haven’t been enticing enough for him to make a move. He has suggested that in the modern NBA, you simply can’t get quality youth and picks for aging veterans and he’s probably right: there’s more of a premium than ever placed on production from players on rookie-scale contracts. That’s likely why the team didn’t undergo a major revision at the 2010 trade deadline, when Allen and Kevin Garnett’s names leaked out in trade rumors (KG, after the fact).
Of course, the Celtics were on expensive long term contracts back then, and now with Garnett and Allen expiring, there may be more of a market, particularly for Allen (it’s nearly impossible to find a match for Garnett given his salary — $21.2M).
Pierce is another story entirely.
As we saw the last two nights, his slow start is likely just a function of circumstance. His game, based not on speed or explosive athleticism, is likely to age well and his contract isn’t egregious, particularly for a team with title aspirations the next few years. He can still make a major difference in the playoffs on both sides of the ball and his overall reputation has been on a major upswing league-wide the last few years.
Given that Ainge has fielded multiple calls on Pierce, it’s possible there may come a time when an offer for him makes sense for the future of the Celtics. That could happen this season or next, but Pierce will become more of a supporting player over the next few years and therefore more expendable.
Ugh. I know how that reads. We just went through this emotional turmoil with Perk’s return and now we’re contemplating the prospect of Pierce moving on. Can you imagine what his return to the Garden would be like?
The x-factor here might be Wyc Grousbeck, who has always seemed like he’s the world’s biggest Paul Pierce fan.
How much does Grousbeck value seeing Pierce go start-to-finish wearing only Celtic green? Would he block a deal for Pierce if Ainge procured one?
We might find out before the trade deadline.