There has been plenty of talk about breaking up the Boston Celtics’ remaining big four, but the injury to Rajon Rondo might usher in the new era, beginning with sending Paul Pierce to the Memphis Grizzlies, possibly for the on-and-off the trading block Rudy Gay.
The Grizzlies have a problem: They don’t want to break up their core of players, but they don’t want even more to pay luxury tax. The big trade they pulled off last week took care of that problem, but not to its full extent. The contracts of Marc Gasol, Randolph and Gay will be worth more than $50.5 million next season, easily carrying the team over the luxury tax once you put the other pieces together.
Paul Pierce is still very productive: 18.7 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, 4 assists. Probably a better player than Rudy Gay, even after 15 seasons in the NBA. The problem is it won’t last for long, and the ups and downs in his ability, including an awful 41.9% from the field, his worst since the 2003-2004 season as an indication.
Pierce is due over $15 million next season, but it’s a player option. The better part of it? It’s only partially guaranteed. How much? $4 million. If the Grizzlies feel that their current lineup just isn’t enough to compete, which they aren’t quite sure of yet, but it seems their headed in that direction, trading for Pierce and then cutting him loose saves them $13.8 million, as Rudy Gay’s $17.8 million contract and $19.3 for 2014-2015 will be someone else’s problem.
The team who are in deeper trouble are the Boston Celtics, who felt they still have the stuff for a deep playoff run with Garnett, Pierce and especially Rajon Rondo. Now, without their All-Star point guard, it seems that the era of the Big Four which began falling apart when Ray Allen left to the Miami Heat is officially over. Rondo won’t be coming back this season, and the Celtics aren’t too keen on another season with Pierce and Garnett eating up so much of their cap space.
At 36, Garnett has two more years left on his contract, both of them worth a combined $25 million. He’s still averaging 15 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, but he isn’t the every-night defensive monster he once was, and that’s surely to go downhill from here. Can they find anyone willing to send them pieces that can upgrade them for Garnett’s fading abilities?
Another question is if they’re still planning for now. Jose Calderon ($10.6 million, expiring contract) is probably someone the Raptorts are willing to trade, so is Kyle Lowry. Giving up either Pierce or Garnett for a point guard can happen, but it just doesn’t make sense in terms of present competitiveness . Those are the only two viable trade chips the Celtics have, but without them, it just doesn’t seem likely anything good will happen this season. The future, and starting to build towards it, looks like the only way.