LONGSHOTS: Finding the right plan is as easy as A, B, C for Celtics
by Dave Long
The NBA draft is Thursday, but with it regarded as the weakest in years and the Celtics picking somewhere in the 50s it doesn’t have many on the edge of their seats. But, as generally is the case, the rumor mill is grinding away and surprisingly Rajon Rondo seems to be at the middle of most of them.
The most popular is Rondo going to Memphis for the second pick that they’d use on Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, who had everyone but me agog over him during last summer’s Olympics. I’ll freely admit I’ve had my misses on guys (UCLA’s Ed O’Bannon comes to mind) and since Danny Ainge is a great judge of talent even I’d listen to him before I’d listen to me. But unless Steve Nash materialized to start, as Rubio developed, it doesn’t make sense, since the Big Three doesn’t want to go into maybe their last shots at a title with a rookie point guard in tow.
Danny and Doc apparently have issues with Rondo’s occasional on-court inconsistency and off-court maturity. But while what I’m saying could be moot when you read this, I’m betting they’re sending a message and aren’t real serious about trading a rising NBA star. So with that said, let’s get to getting the team back in position to win another NBA title.
They’ve got three ways to approach it, with Kevin Garnett being the key piece to all three. They need to determine how long KG with be a top 5 player (two years), one in the top 10 as the inevitable slip takes place (year three) and a top 20 player (year four and five maybe) and then lay out a plan around the answers to those three questions. The other big issue is salary cap maneuverability. Since the Big Three are over it by themselves, they don’t have any. That’s why they got nothing done at the trading deadline because none of the remaining players were making enough money to balance off the salary of a veteran who could help. Thus they need to address that too.
Plan A – Go for it again and the future be damned: You only get so many shots at the brass ring so ride the Big Three hard for another year with the notion Ray Allen won’t be back when his contract expires in 2010. Then use their $5.5 million salary cap exemption to fill in the holes on the bench for a guy who can play defense at the three while scoring a little and for some size behind Kendrick Perkins, and KG. It also means it’s a one- (or maybe two-) and-done approach. But it gives them the best chance to win it next year.
Possible Options: Two free agents who come to mind are Grant Hill and Antonio McDyess. They’re near the end but still have a little left in the tank and are high-character guys who’ve already made a lot of money so maybe they’ll come for less to go for a ring. The biggest issue is they’ll have five of their top eight in their middle 30s, which equates to high risk in the injury department, and if they come at the wrong time of the year, that’s trouble.
Plan B – Extend it to a three-year target: My guess is KG will be a top 10 player in year three. So if you go this way you need a two guard for year two and three. So it means looking to trade Ray Allen now to a team in search of the salary cap space he’ll provide for the vaunted 2010 free agent class. It could also get them younger and give better contractual control for his replacement since Ray’s up in 2010. It may also offer the opportunity to add depth if it’s a two-for-one or a larger deal involving Brian Scalabrine’s $3.3 million salary. But it’s trading a guy who’s obviously still got game who, while not playing well against Orlando, had a great season and playoff vs. the Bulls when he scored 51 in a game. That also means his trade value may never be higher than it is right now.
Possible Options: Milwaukee (Michael Redd), Detroit (Richard Hamilton), Houston (Tracy McGrady) are three big names whose teams want to cut payroll, clear space for 2010 or have done well when he’s been out with injuries so it might be time to move on. Only Hamilton, who might help attract McDyess, would create the salary cap maneuverability they need, so my pick is him.
Plan C – Extend it to Garnett’s five-year window: This one involves building the team around Garnett and the young core of Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Big Baby Davis while seeking salary cap maneuverability by trading Paul Pierce. Yes I know he’s a lifelong Celtic and I love Pierce. But that’s exactly how I felt when the original Big Three began to decline and then lived through TWENTY years of NBA irrelevancy before last year. Sorry, not willing to do that again. I want to see them win now and position themselves to win after this Big Three is a very pleasant memory.
Because of the pounding he gets from taking it to the basket and rebounding in a position that requires quickness, he’ll be the first of the three to decline. And, while it’s true he made some big shots in the playoffs, he looked slow and unfocused for long stretches as well. He’s got two high-level years left. So with the knowledge that his value may never be higher, as Branch Rickey says: “I’d rather trade a guy a year too early than a year too late.”
It’s risky because it’s doubtful they’ll get back in one guy the kind of scorer he is now. So they need to get the kind of deal Harry Sinden got when he did the unthinkable by sending Phil Esposito to the Rangers for Brad Park and Jean Ratelle. Young’ns and non-hockey folks check the glossary for the particulars. But in short, he traded an A+ and C player for a younger A- and B+ that kept them strong in the short term and in contention after Espo declined.
Possible Options: Eric Gordon and Marcus Camby from the Clippers. Gordon won’t be as good as Pierce, but he scored 16.5 as a rookie and adds another low-cost high-ceiling young’n to the core. Camby gives them size, experience, solid defensive skills and an expiring $10 million contract to go with Allen’s expiring deal to give them $26 million coming off the cap as Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James become free agents in the summer of 2010.
I’m leaning to Plan C because it gives the best chance to be good for a five-year period and because of the possibility of Wade, who is as good as Kobe and younger. But if Rondo’s gone by now, all bets are off and it’s back to the drawing board for me.
Dave Long can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He hosts Dave Long and Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WGAM – The Game, 1250-AM Manchester, 900-AM Nashua.