Before we begin, I feel like it’s necessary for a bit of full disclosure. Even after Rajon Rondo tore his ACL, I have been on the record, as being adamantly against trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce this year. That stance put me in the minority
amongst most NBA observers and non-Celtic fans once Rondo went down, including my colleagues here at CelticsHub, who made strong and very valid cases that the C’s are better off building for the future in the right deal then finishing out a doomed playoff run with a couple of their aging, but still valuable assets.
While I respectfully disagreed with those people, I knew that Danny Ainge himself was one of those who agreed with the masses. The Celtics’ president of basketball operations publicly said he would watch and wait to see how this team performed without Rondo and Jared Sullinger before making any decisions. He preached patience with Boston’s undermanned squad, but behind the scenes there is no doubt that Ainge was gauging the trade value of Pierce and conceivably Garnett in a trade to a California-based Western Conference contender. There was no guarantee Ainge would pull the trigger on any such deals, but there’s no question the option of a core-changing deal was a realistic possibility.
Pierce and Garnett probably started to understand this was a distinct possibility as well. The questions from the media started coming fast and furious at both players. Did they want to stay in Boston? Would you want to play somewhere else? Would you want to stay in Boston for a rebuild? Could you imagine the Celtics without Pierce? All hard-hitting, but very reasonable inquiries given the circumstances.
Doc Rivers and Ainge handed out their customary denials last week, but if you listened carefully there were no outright guarantees neither veteran was going nowhere. The door was left understandably open by both men that there would be changes. Because of this playing basketball outside Beantown became more than a just a passing thought for KG and Pierce. Instead, there was a very legitimate chance of it happening.
With these trade winds blowing, there were only two guys who could truly put a stop to the rumors. While it’s never an easy thing to blow a team up, it’s much more doable if said team is not playing well, which is exactly what the Celtics were doing for the better part of the season up until two weeks ago. A six-game losing streak, a below .500 record and a team’s most talented player going down for the year is a good formula to allow a GM the leeway to hit the reset button. With this in mind and the doubters lining up, Garnett and Pierce put their heads together and decided there was only one way to make sure they weren’t going anywhere in a move that brought back memories of the fictionial 1990 Cleveland Indians. (WARNING PG-13 FOR LANGUAGE)
Okay, so maybe there wasn’t a team meeting about winning it all. The point still stands though. The only way to ensure Ainge wouldn’t be tempted to make any moves involving KG and Pierce was to put together a run of incredible play before the trade deadline that could not be ignored, both on an individual and a team level. For as hard as it is to blow up a team that includes a Celtics lifer in Pierce and a man that has created and defined the Celtics’ defensive culture in Garnett, it becomes virtually impossible to do when said squad is riding a seven-game winning streak, including wins over Miami, Denver, and both LA squads.
With that noted, here’s how Pierce and Garnett have fared individually during the current seven-game win streak, compared to their season numbers:
During this 7 game win streak, Pierce is averaging 19 ppg, 10 rpg, 7 apg
Whole season for Pierce (18.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.3 apg)
Garnett is averaging 17.8 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 52.9% FG during the 7 game winning streak
Whole season numbers for KG? (15.2 ppg, 7.5rpg,)
While people can debate all the want about the effect Rondo’s absence has had on this team from both sides of the aisle, there’s one thing that can not be argued. Pierce and Garnett HAVE been motivated by the trade rumors, probably just as much as they have been by stepping it up in Rondo’s absence. They’ve taken their games to another level over the past two weeks to send a message loud and clear to Ainge: Don’t even think about breaking us up. We want to finish what we started here.
And that’s just what they have done. While Pierce and Garnett’s trade value is probably higher than ever after this recent stretch of incredible play by both Hall-of-Famers, you’d have to be crazy to think Danny Ainge would be willing to send Pierce and Garnett packing after this recent stretch. And while Ainge might forward thinking enough to consider making the move in the unlikely event he gets bowled over with an offer, I think Pierce and Garnett have done enough for ownership to officially veto the possibility. The backlash from this team’s fanbase would be too much for them to justify it.
Uncoincidentally, during the past week as the wins have piled up, the trade talk involving both men has gone suddenly quiet after Garnett’s proclamation at the Garden last Thursday night. So, rest easy Celtics fans. Pierce and Garnett aren’t going anywhere…and they have themselves to thank for it.
Now, it’s up to Ainge to get them some additional personnel help in the coming weeks, so they have a semblance of a chance at the winning the whole damn thing. They’ve earned it.