Or are you still hopeful this year’s Celtics team can overcome a half-dozen better Eastern Conference teams and make a miraculous run to the Finals? Maybe you’re thinking next year’s team has one final chance at a title behind a 36-year-old Paul Pierce, a 38-year-old Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, who will be coming off a torn ACL, and Jared Sullinger, he of the recent back surgery. Those are romantic, sentimental thoughts and the idea of dissolving the core would be hard to take, no matter how solid the logic in doing so.
Still, from the day Rondo went down with his ACL injury, I’ve tried to embrace the idea that Pierce and Garnett will leave the Celtics with the 2008 title and the collection of near misses that followed. There’s no reason for shame over that kind of legacy. We’ll remember the Pierce-Garnett teams for years to come and eventually I suspect we’ll think less about the titles they left on the table (2009, 2010) than the one they won.
There’s also no reason to get maudlin about the era’s figurative end too soon. The likelihood is that neither will be traded before the Feb 21st deadline, not because Danny Ainge wouldn’t move them but because of the challenges of making a trade work for guys with their salaries (and Garnett’s no-trade clause). But as the weekend’s “Clips interested in KG” rumor suggests, there may yet be a team that could decide to go all in this year and spin off the kind of asset the Celtics couldn’t turn down.
Reasonable people can disagree about whether Eric Bledsoe offers suitable return for a player like Garnett (many Clipper fans would turn down a deal built around those two principles and not without reason) but Celtics fans, I would argue, need to give less weight to the recent winning streak, coming as it has against subpar competition, and more to the possibility we could prolong the rebuild if Ainge doesn’t get value for his fading assets while they’re still attractive pieces on the market.
Personally, I suspect the Celtics are already focused on the rebuild behind closed doors on Causeway Street. If they’re not, or if they’re swayed towards a victory lap for Pierce and Garnett (which won’t be nearly as heroic as fans seem to suspect), I’d be disappointed.
The Celtics would be foolish to mortgage any piece of their future to supplement what’s left of the 2013 team. Ainge must know this team is on the downward slope of the mountain. They’ve played well lately, but even at their peak level of performance, what is the ceiling for this current group of Celtics? A seven game loss in the first round? A seven game loss in the second? That’s about as far as I can imagine them going without straying into blind homerism, something unlikely to bewitch Ainge. The Celtics could win every game between now and February 21 and I still think he would be more likely to offload veterans than acquire them.
My suspicion is that none of this will prove popular, which shouldn’t surprise me but does.
But I don’t consider any of this negative. I consider it proactive.
The popular rhetoric about Boston is accurate: we don’t hang banners for Atlantic Division titles, Eastern Conference Championships or undermanned runs to the second round of the playoffs. The only reason to hang onto Garnett and Pierce is if you think there’s a title in the offing. I don’t. So, I’m in favor of moving them for reasonable return, either this month or this summer. It’s also why I don’t care about roster composition at this point. Titles are won by stars and whether we’re ready to admit it or not, very soon the Celtics’ main concern will be enhancing their overall talent level and searching for that next transcendent player.
They might as well start looking now.