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NBA players that have no contracts for the 2012-13 season are set to become free agents just after midnight on Sunday, setting off a frenzy of agreements (but not signings, as the teams and players can't official put pen to paper until July 11) even in the early hours of Sunday. Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett decided to bypass on the whole early morning thing altogether, agreeing on a three-year, $34 million contract on Saturday, one that more or less ensures Kevin Garnett will never be an active unrestricted free agent a single time in what could be a 20-year career.
Think about it. Garnett signed an extension during the summer of 1997 to avoid a free-agent recruitment in what turned out to be a truncated offseason in January 1999. He signed another extension with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2003 to avoid 2004's free agency, and a three-year extension in 2007 after being traded to the Boston Celtics to avoid 2010 free agency. This time around, K.G. snuck it in with just hours to spare. And in doing so, signed off on what will probably be the last three years of his storied career.
And, in concert, the Boston Celtics signed off on just about more of the same — the veteran-y same — along the way.
This isn't a bad thing, mind you. Observers might think that by agreeing to pay KG double figures from now until 2015 that the Celtics were committing themselves to another year of limping with aged legs into the playoffs and hoping for the best, but I take issue with that. For one, they'd be limping in on the legs of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, with sprightly guard Rajon Rondo chucking behind the back bottles of ibuprofen at them along the way.
Secondly, the Celtics were going down that route anyway. They had been since signing Paul Pierce to a four-year contract extension in 2010.
The last year of Pierce's deal, in 2013-14, is only partially guaranteed. But while this may have felt like an easy out for Celtics GM Danny Ainge back in 2010, the idea of asking a Celtic legend like Pierce to move on while Boston declines its team option is easier assumed than actually accomplished. Especially if Pierce still wants to play in 2013-14, which is very likely even considering his nagging injury woes. So while Ainge probably had every intention of starting up a rebuilding plan in 2013 when he extended Pierce's time in Boston back in 2010, the likelihood of that diminished year to year. Nobody wants to be the guy to tell Paul Pierce that he's had enough in Boston.
This is why we shouldn't be surprised if two or even three years of Garnett's deal are fully guaranteed. Two is far more likely, which would give the chance for Ainge to start over once Pierce's deal ends for real in 2014. But even fully committing to Garnett in 2014-15 (via a fully guaranteed three-year deal now, or picking up his team option that season) is far from the worst thing in the world. A lot can change between now and the summer of 2014 to make me look a fool for writing that — especially as Garnett enters 2012-13 with exactly 50,600 career minutes to his regular and postseason credit — but K.G. making close to eight figures on a rebuilding or brand new-ish C's club in 2014-15 doesn't look too prohibitive right now.
Garnett's per-minute offensive production has held steady over the last four seasons. His defense, once the NBA's best, now merely places him in the discussion for the NBA's best. He doesn't rely on slapping the top of the backboard or throwing down huge dunks, he's smarter than all of us and he gets away with more in a first quarter with the referees than some centers do in a career. He's Kevin Garnett, and he'll be fine.
This deal allows the Celtics to move forward in their own yearly roster shakeup. You're correct in pointing out that if Boston lets Ray Allen (who was not happy with his team last year) move off to Miami or Phoenix, the Celtics would technically have double-figure cap space to work with, but things don't work that way in the NBA.
Boston has cap holds on free agents like Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Brandon Bass and various others who were signed to one-year deals with Boston. This means that the Celtics, effectively, are out of the free-agent race — one that wasn't very good to begin with and now lessened a bit with Garnett's commitment. That doesn't mean the team, as it has done every year since throwing big money at the Big Three of Pierce, K.G. and Allen in the summer of 2007, can't work around the edges. There are veterans to sign to minimum deals, perhaps a Brandon Bass to extend and maybe O.J. Mayo to recruit to a midlevel exception contract. All while working under the luxury tax, it seems.
This doesn't vault Boston ahead of Miami in any way, much less Chicago or even the Pacers. But it does sustain the bargain that Boston knowingly made all the way back in 2007 — cashing in on a win-now team full of legendary vets, and understanding that nothing was guaranteed beyond a pretty good chance at a ring over the next three seasons. Boston got that ring in 2008, nearly got another in a seven-game Finals loss to the Lakers in 2010, and was amongst the best in the league in 2009 when Garnett's legs failed him in middle of the season.
The team is "paying" for the aftermath of that run right now literally and figuratively, but that's no big deal. The dollar amounts, considering the team's revenue and deep playoff runs, aren't that bad. And the figurative payoff of not being able to easily say goodbye to these legends will still have Boston in the playoff mix, with Ainge (as he loves to do, picking out character-types) working around the edges.
Yes, it's more of the same in Boston. But admit it, Celtics fans. You like it that way.
And welcome back, Kevin Garnett. It's hard to imagine basketball without your rather pronounced presence.