One of the more interesting teams to look at this offseason are the Boston Celtics, who are trying to fight gravity and time by keeping the team relevant in the NBA playoff picture for the next few seasons, with Doc Rivers slightly afraid of a full-rebuilding mode, and considering the fact that trading Rajon Rondo while keeping Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett might be the best way to keep the team competitive.
Rivers is signed for three more years with $21 million coming his way, so even if he does coach a bad team, there’s enough money to soften the blow, and being obligated by a huge contract, he can’t opt out whenever he wants. The early perception going into the offseason was Paul Pierce being released (owed $15.3 million for next season) while possibly trading Kevin Garnett, who is owed a further $24.4 million for the next two seasons.
When Ray Allen left the Boston Celtics last season, it looked like it was the final ceremony for giving the keys to Rajon Rondo as the team’s leader and most important player. And while Rondo has proven with his individual ability that he is going to be one of the best point guards in the NBA for quite some time (averaging 13.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 11.1 assists), his leadership skills might not be what the Celtics are looking for in terms of the guy they build around for the future.
As long as Pierce and Garnett are on the team, it’s clear who are the on-court and dressing room commanders. Another interesting fact was the Celtics doing better without Rondo (23-20) than with him (18-20) after he went down for the season around the halfway line.
The thinking guiding Rivers is this – Without Rondo, the Celtics still had enough around Pierce and Garnett to make the playoffs with a few wins to spare, while not even having the full core of role players and substitutes around them, with season ending injuries to Leandro Barbosa and Jared Sullinger hurting the team along the way. Kevin Garnett was playing out of position for another season. Paul Pierce? He continued to be remarkably consistent, scoring 18.6 points per game, and while his shooting percentage was his lowest since the tanking season of 2006-2007, he’s been worth every penny for what he’s been doing on the floor in more than just putting the ball in the basket.
With Rondo but without the other two guys (assuming that if Pierce is released or somehow traded, Garnett asks to leave as well, and there are teams willing to pick up his unfavorable contract), Rivers and the Celtics have a lot less faith they can make the playoffs next season, and it’ll mean an actual rebuilding process, which usually comes attached with losing 50-60 games a season, something Rivers went through earlier in his Celtics tenure before he got bailed out by the arrivals of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
There’s always the option of keeping things as is. Kevin Garnett is much more useful offensively with Rajon Rondo feeding him the ball, but that seems like the unlikeliest of options. The Celtics believe in Rajon Rondo as a player, but not a leader, or the cornerstone for the future of the franchise. His contract is similar to Garnett’s, and with the draft coming up and the Celtics looking to move up, hopefully grabbing a big man (Steven Adams?), Rondo might eventually become the player the Celtics give up, instead of the more “obvious”, older choices, just to make Rivers happy, avoiding the word: Rebuilding.