The Big Three era in Boston began with Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers. Without those two there’s no way Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are coaxed into coming to Boston and there is one less banner hanging at the TD Garden. So with Rivers, Garnett and possibly Pierce on their way out of town, the future of the Boston Celtics hasn’t been this cloudy since Reggie Lewis passed away in 1993.
The popular logic over the past few seasons is that the Celtics were transitioning from the Big Three’s team to Rondo’s team. However it’s hard to argue that the Celtics have seen any shift in leadership with Pierce and Garnett still ruling the locker room while Rondo has maintained his persona as a petulant and ultra-talented secondary piece.
If this trade goes through and Rivers, Garnett and Pierce are all sent packing to Los Angeles, that leaves the Celtics with a threadbare roster led by Rondo and his new knee ligaments, Avery Bradley and his creaky shoulders, Jared Sullinger and his back, and Jeff Green and his head. Even if the Celtics can coerce the Clipped to send DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe back to Boston while also shedding either Courtney Lee or Jason Terry, the team lacks an electric scorer who can win them a basketball game.
Rondo is what he is at this stage of his career: a great player who needs talent around him to be at his best. If Rondo has to get you eight-to-10 points and 12-to-14 assists per game, you’re in good shape; but if you go out there 82 nights a year expecting a 20/10 and five rebounds you’ll be left wanting.
That’s the reality facing the Celtics in post-Rivers/Big Three era unless they hit an absolute home run in this draft and use the money (about $32.085 million) to lure Rondo some scoring help.
With that in mind, here are some directions the Celtics could go in for the future should this trade go through and the Celtics have the money and the draft picks to do something.
NBA Draft: Shabazz Muhammad (no. 16) and Allen Crabbe (no. 25)
This option comes via ESPN.com’s Chad Ford and his latest mock draft. Both of these players are big shooting guards who can fill it up. Muhammad has a similar body type to Paul Pierce and, with some work, could develop the same type of herky-jerky offensive game. Crabbe is 6-foot-6 and can play a little defense when he’s asked. Both players come out of the not-so-competitive Pac-12 and Muhammad’s stock has dropped like a rock since being the no. 2 prospect in the class behind Nerlens Noel.
Total cost: $1.419 million + $957k = $2.376 million (Salary number = $58.513)
Free Agency, or, what can we do now?
So now that the NBA draft has passed and Muhammad and Crabbe are under contract with Bledsoe and Jordan, the Celtics are right up against the NBA’s salary cap number of $58.5 million dollars but with some wiggle room before the luxury tax number which should fall around $70.8 million. The Celtics, who paid the tax last season, will only have $3 million over three years under the mid-level exception (MLE).
Here’s a quick look at the depth chart for this fictional Celtics roster.
- Starters: Rondo, Bledsoe, Green, Sullinger, Jordan
- Bench: Bradley, Bass, Crawford, Williams, Muhammad, Crabbe, Fab Melo
That’s 12 players under contract, $12 million under the luxury tax, and $3 million in MLE money.
This roster features several multi-talented players who can fill different roles. Bledsoe, Bradley, Crawford and Williams can be your ball handler. Green can play some power forward. Bass or Sullinger could, in a pinch, be your small-ball five.
Luckily for the Celtics, there are plenty of guys on the market who could be your small-ball five and do a much better job of protecting the rim than the more offensive-minded Sullinger and Bass. Here is a quick list of possible targets:
- Robin Lopez – $5.119 million
- Chris Anderson – $400k
- Nikola Pekovic – $6.046 million (restricted free agent)
- Nazr Muhammad – $850k
- J.J. Hickson – $4.00 million
- D.J. White – NBA minimum
Lopez, Muhammad and Anderson bring experience, Pekovic is young and rebounds the ball well, Hickson and White are big bodies who could be solid additions to the front court. Personally, I would love to see Danny Ainge bring in Lopez and send Melo back to the D-League where he can play every day. Will that happen? Only time will tell.
This offseason will be the most significant offseason since the summer of 2007 and how the Celtics handle it will go a long way to determining how close the Celtics can get to Banner 18.