This was probably not the environment Danny Ainge envisioned when he calculated same-day expirations for Ray Allen’s and Kevin Garnett’s contracts and refused to extend role players beyond the 2011-12 season.
As recently as last summer, expectations were that Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and Deron Williams would all be on the free agent market, but with both Howard and Paul choosing to opt-in for 2012-13, only Williams looms as a big prize, and he doesn’t play a position Boston is trying to fill.
Here’s a look at some of the key factors Ainge will be weighing as he navigates the offseason waters.
Goal vs. Goal
The Celtics might find the quickest path to another championship involves foregoing the moves needed to contend in 2012-13. Here’s why: shy of landing a franchise-changing superstar, Boston will be the darkest of horses for a title run next season.
Boston’s most competitive team probably involves returning the Big Four with some younger supporting players to reduce the burden they’ve had to carry the last few years. But the supplemental scoring talent, youth and athleticism this core needs to win a title might will almost certainly come at an overinflated cost (both dollars and years).
“We want to stay competitive. We want to stay contenders if we possibly can, but we really want to get banner 18, and sometimes you need a lot of luck to get a banner, I can tell you that. But we will see how this plays out over the next couple of years.”
Read that again. He wants the Celtics to stay contenders but he also really wants banner 18. His phrasing suggests he isn’t sure the former is possible if the latter is the goal.
So, the question is how much of your future cap flexibility are you willing to sacrifice for a chance at a title next year, when your core is aging, injury prone and even playing at a high level, still several notches below the elite teams in the league?
That leads us to the first of two key free agents. Hit the jump for more.
Garnett’s second half renaissance positions him as the first or second best free agent this summer, depending on how much you value his defense and Williams’ overall game.
(Williams is clearly the better long term bet but I make that comparison to be clear about how astonishing Garnett’s play was; it’s a dead heat if you’re looking for expected 2012-13 impact and the scales may actually tip in KG’s favor).
It seems unlikely Garnett will sign with any team but Boston, but it seems equally likely he won’t return unless Ainge can put together a stronger roster than we’ve seen the last two years.
Is it worth bringing KG back if the Celtics have to break the bank on role players just to make him happy? He’s still great and it’s easy to imagine his #5 hanging in the rafters once he retires, but he’s a core player only for another year or two. Ainge will remember that when he decides how much to wager around a KG-focused team.
Of course, if KG retires, you can expect a full rebuild, even if it’s on the fly, because without him, there is absolutely no chance of the Celtics knocking off Miami next season.
Jeff Green is coming off a season he missed with a heart ailment. In his last healthy season, he was a massive, passive disappointment for the Celtics after being acquired for Kendrick Perkins. In years previous to that, OKC was better with him on the bench than on the court.
Despite all that, he still might find himself with multiple suitors who could drive his price up towards $7-10 million per year over 2-3 years. His agent, David Falk, was spinning hard for him in a recent conversation with SI’s Sam Amick:
Falk said the “life-changing experience” with Green’s heart is likely to change the way he plays, too.
“The only thing — in my opinion — that was holding him back before was his extreme unselfishness,” Falk said. “I think the medial situation won’t make him selfish, but it will just give him a much greater sense of urgency.
“He had something that he loves almost taken away from him. I truly believe that — more than any pep talk from (his former Georgetown) coach (John) Thompson or from (Celtics coach) Doc Rivers, I think that the experience will give him a much greater sense of urgency on the court. I think he’ll be better than ever, because I think he’ll be much more focused on getting the job done.”
Does Danny Ainge think Jeff Green is a core player or a role player?
My guess is it’s the latter, and he won’t gamble long money or years on him if someone else will. But if Green is looking to establish stronger market value on a one-year-deal, the Celtics may find a place for him in their rotation.
We’re deep enough into this piece we can indulge the crazy for a couple of paragraphs.
Ainge probably still thinks he can get Howard into a Celtics uniform. To that end, he wouldn’t hesitate to dump any player or asset for him. Howard has no apparent interest in Boston but he also has limited ability to force a trade and it appears Orlando will move him before enduring another year long soap opera.
Ainge could craft an enticing package built around players, picks and the ability to absorb contracts with cap space. A Boston offer may not be the best one the Magic can leverage from around the league but it would top anything Brooklyn, a Dwight-approved franchise, could put together.
You can probably let go of your dreams of Dwight in green but his availability is a good reminder of Ainge’s focus on acquiring top-level talent, and sacrificing short-term success if that’s needed to do it.
It’s this kind of thinking that has Ainge looking to move up in the draft for a singular great talent instead of two moderate ones. It’s also the thinking that kept Ainge from making any moves at the 2012 trade deadline. The Celtics might have gotten over the top against Miami had they not been sending out D-League backup centers or if they’d had a legitimate scoring option off the bench. But Ainge wasn’t willing to sacrifice the future for the present.
Replace “2012 Trade Deadline” with “2012-13 Season” and you have a sense of how things might play out this summer.
So, the Celtics enter the offseason with franchise-defining decisions to be made, unless they decide to defer those until the trade deadline or next summer, when a deeper pool of talent will be available and more teams will be feeling the crunch from the punitive new luxury tax.
If the Celtics start loading up on one-year-deals, it may play as an attempt to give a returning Garnett and Paul Pierce one more shot at a banner. But it might also be a stalling tactic.
If that’s the case, there are worse ways to spend next season than watching this same group of guys suit up in green one more time. Even if it, like the four previous seasons, ends without another banner.