It seems like every offseason since 2010 we’ve been through this: a myriad of questions and concerns about the Celtics’ roster that usually involve the possibility of the core of the team being dismantled. As we head into the summer of 2013, we’ve got a whole batch of questions, many of which will be familiar. We’ll pose them over a few posts this week and, in the interest of going on record with entirely wrongheaded answers, we’ll also respond with unwarranted authority.
1. Is there any chance Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce can win another title with the Celtics as currently composed?
As recently as Oct 2012, the answer to this question was yes. But after a season of decline (for Pierce and Garnett), injury (Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger) and disastrous underperformance (Jason Terry and Courtney Lee) we’re beyond any reasonable if everything goes right scenarios where the Celtics can advance through four rounds of the playoffs. This is particularly true with the ascendancy of LeBron James to a level of performance that compares favorably with the anyone who’s ever played the game. And all this is true before we look at rising powers in New York and Indiana and the inexplicable Chicago Bulls, who’ll have Derrick Rose back in the fold no later than next October (we think).
For you loyalists, none of that is an argument against returning Pierce and Garnett if there’s not sufficient value to be found for them on the market (or, more to the point, if dealing them requires taking on longterm salary). But if they do come back, we should be clear what to expect next year: a mediocre record, nagging injuries, exhaustion and an early-round playoff exit. They just can’t repeat their strong performances consistently anymore. How bad do you want to see these guys stagger through another season in the name of loyalty?
2. How should we feel about Brandon Bass?
A whole lot better than we did six months ago.
Bass had a classic performance arc this past season. After an early-season spell where he seemed lost on defense and a non-entity on offense, he rebounded with a strong close to the season and, in a wonderful new wrinkle, proved himself a useful one-on-one defender against Carmelo Anthony in the first round against the Knicks. Bass is no more than a complementary player and if the Celtics don’t return their stars, he may end up on the trading block. The good news is his second-half recovery and inspired post-season play should stabilize his market value. With only two years left on his contract, Bass is a legitimately moveable asset and in the event the Celtics need him, a passable rotation player. It’s not exactly cause for celebration but it’s more than we could have hoped for back in December.
3. Are we done talking about Josh Smith?
We’ve talked about Smith each of the last few offseasons and the Celtics discussed him at this year’s trade deadline, but we may be through with that because of his awkward fit with any potential 2013-14 Celtics team. In a marginal free agent market, Smith will command star-level money, when that role has proved unsuitable for him over his time in Atlanta. He can be harnessed into a defensive game-changer but he’s best deployed as a third or fourth scoring option on offense. That was a legitimate possibility in Boston a couple of years ago. But pairing him with Rondo on a post-KG/PP roster puts him in exactly the wrong situation: one where he’s responsible for leading the team in scoring as often as not. He can’t do that efficiently enough to justify his coming salary and he and Rondo are a terrible match in the half-court without an array of shooters around them. And if Pierce and Garnett are back, the Celtics would again return the core of a terrible offense and, I’d argue, need more scoring from Smith than he’s capable of giving.
He’s a terrific player in a lot of respects, but under the new CBA Smith may be priced out of the comfort zone for any team that hopes to win a title. It’s time to let our collective dreams of Smoove pass.
Come back for parts 2 and 3 later this week.