COMMENTARY | It seems to be the great debate in Boston right now: are the Boston Celtics tanking or just rebuilding?
The answer: a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B.
But both columns remain vital to the short-term and long-term future of the organization.
These days, there are four tiers of teams in the NBA:
Boston may not necessarily be as awful as the Bobcats or Raptors a tier below them, but they certainly should not aspire for the out-of-reach tier above them.
Celtics fans clinging to the hope that their beloved Green can compete with the brass of the Eastern Conference next season: wake up! This team has no shot at even making the playoffs.
Think about who they just traded away: Paul Pierce, their captain and leading scorer; Kevin Garnett, their defensive anchor, veteran leader and emotional heartbeat; and Jason Terry, their sharpshooting reserve.
But Rajon Rondo can lead them to wins , the diehards bellow with blinded pride. Folks, even when Rondo had Pierce, KG and Terry last season (as well as Sullinger, Bass, Green, and a handful of games with Bradley), the Celtics were below .500. Look it up. As of January 25, the night Rondo initially suffered a partial tear of his ACL, they were 20-23.
Even worse, the Celtics started winning games after he and Sullinger (back surgery) left. Immediately after the Rondo injury, they won seven straight games, and 14 of 18.
Not to get too harsh or anything, but clinging to Rondo right now is about as pointless as saving up bail money for Aaron Hernandez.
Nostalgia comes naturally, I understand. Rondo is the last-remaining member of the 2008 World Champion Boston Celtics. But do you really think he can lead you to Banner No. 18 between now and the end of his contract in two years?
Beyond that, do you think he will re-sign with Boston at that point?
The only thing worse than a losing squad is a losing squad with an identity complex. This is a time of rebuilding, not a time to desperately grasp at ways to salvage the so-called foundation.
When a fire destroys the structure of a building, adjusters declare it a total loss. You don't attempt to repair it-you tear it down and start to build a better one.
Rondo could, by all measures, lead the 2013-14 Celtics to a 41-41 record. Hell, he might even get them into the playoffs with the seventh or eighth seed. But what does Boston have to show for that kind of a year? Another first-round postseason exit, at the hands of Miami, Brooklyn or Indy, and yet another draft pick in the mid-teens.
Granted, it seems like a stretch for Boston to even finish at .500 with this roster. But even 30-52 teams run the risk of missing the lottery. Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers (24-58), Magic (20-62) and Washington Wizards (29-53) won the top three selections. Boston ended up with the 16th pick, having finished just above .500 at 41-40 (the final game was canceled after the Boston Marathon bombings).
With the 2014 NBA draft class deemed the most loaded in over a decade, why aim for relative mediocrity?
Nobody said to "tank." But with Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Jabari Parker, Andrew Harrison, Mitch McGary and Aaron Gordon all likely entering the NBA next year, it makes no sense to hurt the franchise later by trying to contend with a star in high-demand now.
Why not admit you stink, and in turn try your hardest not to stink in two or three years?
A Rondo deal would likely allow the Celtics to package the unwanted salaries of players like Gerald Wallace, Brandon Bass and/or Courtney Lee. It might also put the organization in a good position to net even more first-round draft picks (note: they have nine over the next five years). Dumping salaries, trimming the fat and stacking up assets all constitute ways of effectively rebuilding an organization.
Right now, and probably for the next few years, no elite free agent wants to come to Boston. But president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has trade leverage, with a stockpile of draft picks and nucleus of young talent (remember how he acquired KG?). Parting ways with Rondo, Bass and Lee, and bringing back a solid rookie point guard like the Mavericks' Shane Larkin, would only build on that. Then, the Celts could take the expiring contracts of Vince Carter and Shawn Marion, and possibly even grab O.J. Mayo or picks in the process.
That way, they go into 2014 under the salary cap, rich with picks, flashing a bevy of young talent and sitting pretty.
It won't be a pretty 2013-14 season that gets them to that point, but they'll end up with a beautiful stack of lumber to finish the rebuilding process.
Nobody said it would float the moment you bang the first nail into the boat. But have patience: it's far better to cruise with a yacht later than try to keep the dingy above water now.
Sloan Piva has lived in Massachusetts for 28 years, and covers the Boston Celtics. He has been featured in multiple publications both locally and nationally, and can be found on Twitter @SloanPiva.
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