COMMENTARY | As Boston Celtics fans continue to mourn the loss of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge heads into free agency with, well, no plan whatsoever to grab free agents.
However, he must be contemplating ways to trim down the fat on the roster. Although he maintains that the organization will not "tank" the 2013-14 season, the contracts of minimally-effective half-stars like Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee won't push a team like this over the edge of mediocrity.
After all, they just dealt their captain and leading scorer in Pierce, their defensive anchor and emotional leader in Garnett and their second-unit marksman in Jason Terry. In return, they netted Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph and Brooklyn's first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018.
And with the additions of big men draft picks Kelly Olynyk and Colton Iverson, as well as undrafted Missouri point guard signee Phil Pressey (and six other Summer League invitees), the Celtics are officially overloaded and under-experienced.
Although Iverson plans to play in Europe next year, Waltham, Massachusetts native and strong floor general Pressey will likely make the team with Olynyk.
That leaves the Celtics with Rajon Rondo, Lee, Jordan Crawford, Avery Bradley, Brooks, Pressey and Bogans at the guard spots. Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Wallace, Bass, Humphries, Olynyk and Fab Melo currently comprise the frontcourt. Shavlik Randolph, D.J. White and Joseph all have non-guaranteed contracts.
In case you weren't doing the math, that's 14 guaranteed roster spots and 17 players total (before the six Summer League guys-last year's D-league Rookie of the Year Tony Mitchell could be a strong candidate to make the team, as well). Seventeen guys and no core identity-some of these names must go.
Don't be surprised if Bass and Lee are two of those names. Coming off underwhelming 2012-13 campaigns, these two have no place on a squad committed to rebuilding. Bass will be owed $13.35 million combined over the next two seasons, while Lee will make $16.35 million between now and 2016.
Both had player efficiency ratings well below 13.00 last season, and both contributed nothing to the opening-round playoff loss to the New York Knicks. Bass averaged 6.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in 34 minutes during the postseason, and Lee scored six points all series, averaging 9.8 minutes per game and even registering two DNPs.
Clearly these guys are not part of any "model for the future" Ainge has been crafting up. They're both in their late 20s, yet offer little to no guidance or leadership. They were brought aboard last summer to join Pierce and Garnett for one final stab at an NBA title. Swing and a miss.
The Mavericks have already contacted Ainge about the availability of Rondo. Ainge said he has listened, but never made any offers on his own. But if he could somehow package Bass and Lee with a couple throw-ins in a deal with the Mavs, it seems like the greatest outcome for all parties.
Boston's target would be Shane Larkin, the Miami point guard Dallas just acquired in that Boston-Dallas-Atlanta madness of swaps on draft night. The Celtics have coveted Larkin for a while, and for good reason. He has speed, quickness, a smooth touch and an impeccable ability to execute the pick-and-roll.
Of course, Ainge can't just deal Rondo and two fairly-large contracts (attached to fairly-invaluable players) for a promising young rookie. Larkin will likely make around $1.28 million next season, leaving a disparity of about $22.35 million just in 2013-14.
Let's face it: the Celtics will have to absorb a couple expiring contracts from Dallas if they expect to net Larkin. Step right up, Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Time to see how two of the NBA's elder statesmen look in green.
Marion, whom the Mavs have perennially attempted to deal, is set to make $9.3 million next season. Carter's deal hovers around $3.2 million, the mini-midlevel exception.
Merely suggesting this kind of a trade probably sparks dissent, so stay with us. This current Celtics team will not be going anywhere at any point in the near future. Ainge has actually called Rondo the team's "leader" in the past, and seems interested in rebuilding around last year's assists-per-game leader. Rondo, the guy many teammates seem to hate, who even calls himself difficult to coach (and can't see himself playing for anyone but Doc Rivers), isn't a player you build a franchise around (did we mention he can't shoot and will be coming off a season-shortening ACL tear?).
Larkin, meanwhile, could be the surprise jewel of this NBA draft. He's undersized, but he has great athleticism and a tremendous work ethic. Best yet, the Mavs don't like him as much as the Celts. When he worked out in the Dallas facility, he apparently suffered from leg cramps and a subsequently-poor run. His visit to Boston, however, went swimmingly.
So, there could be a way to get this deal done and kill multiple birds with one stone. Rondo would be out, and the rebuilding stage would be 100 percent in place. Bass and Lee's contracts would be gone, as well as a couple reserves, for the cost of two expiring and completely-doable contracts in veterans Marion and Carter. They would offer experience and occasional scoring so Boston fans stay awake next season.
The Mavs would be happy as well. With this deal, they would rid themselves of their biggest roadblock-contract in Marion, upgrade at point guard to help woo free agent center Dwight Howard, and add a couple role players to their thin roster (they currently have six guaranteed contracts, including Marion and Carter). They might even want to lump an O.J. Mayo sign-and-trade into a deal.
Most importantly, the Celtics would delve into the future with a nucleus of Larkin, Bradley, Green, Sullinger and Olynyk. Grab the right coach (Brett Brown, please?) and an early 2014 draft pick, and Boston could be looking at a great squad in only a few years.
Not everyone will like it at first. But as this past few weeks proves more than ever, Danny Ainge cares very little about winning popularity contests.
Sloan Piva has lived in Massachusetts for 28 years, and covers the Boston Celtics. He has served as a contributor for multiple publications throughout his career, and can be found on Twitter @SloanPiva.
- Sports & Recreation
- Boston Celtics
- Danny Ainge
- Brandon Bass
- Rajon Rondo
- Kevin Garnett
- Courtney Lee
- Kris Humphries
- Paul Pierce
- Phil Pressey
- Shawn Marion
- Shane Larkin