Posted Mar 10 2012 11:00AM
With the trade deadline just days away, there are several teams around the league who could use roster shake-up. And the Boston Celtics are certainly one of those teams.
In the fifth year of the Big Three era, the Celtics have had a roller-coaster season. They've had four winning streaks of four games or more, and three losing streaks of three games or more. In the last few days, they've played two games that were decided by halftime, one defeat and one victory.
After Friday's easy win over Portland, the Celtics are 21-18, in seventh place in the East, but are just four games out of third. If there's any team that just wants to survive the regular season and make the playoffs, it's the veteran Celtics. They've proven before that they don't need home-court advantage to win a playoff series. (Though it would really help if they can avoid the Bulls and Heat in the first round.)
The Celtics feel pretty good about how they've been playing of late. They're 6-1 since the All-Star break, with the only loss coming Wednesday in Philadelphia, when they were clearly worn down from two overtime games in the previous three days.
"This is the best place we've been all year," head coach Doc Rivers said before the loss to the Sixers. "It's taken all year to get there, but we're starting to figure out who we are. We're not there yet, but we're getting close. And when we do, I think we're going to be really good."
But when it comes down to it, do the Celtics have a shot in a seven-game series against Chicago or Miami? Probably not. And that's the strongest argument for making a change by Thursday afternoon.
No matter what is happening on the floor or how his team measures up with the Bulls and Heat, Danny Ainge should be operating from a position of strength in the days leading up to the deadline. Ainge need not be anxious to get something done or to "blow it up," because this roster will self-destruct in the summer anyway.
The Celtics have $46 million of expiring salary on their books, including the contracts of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. And if they don't make any moves between now and then, they will have six players (including their first-round draft pick) on their roster come July 1, along with more than $20 million of cap space to go shopping.
That gives Ainge the opportunity to put together a more balanced roster around Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce. And there's no reason next year's Celtics couldn't include Allen and/or Garnett, with lesser roles and at lower salaries.
|Celtics' expiring contracts|
Of course, that doesn't mean that Ainge shouldn't be fielding calls this week. He has to consider the future. If he can get a talented young player for Allen or Garnett, he certainly should. And if someone wants to blow him away with an offer for Pierce, he can't ignore it.
Most rumors regarding the Celtics have been centered on Rondo, who is clearly Ainge's best trade asset. But for the same reasons -- he's young, talented and on a very reasonable contract for an All-Star -- he's the player the Celtics should be holding onto tightest, no matter how enigmatic he may be.
The only way Rondo should be leaving Boston is if a top 10 player is coming back. Trading him for Chris Paul (like Ainge was trying to do in December) is the right move. Trading him for 75 cents on the dollar is not.
Allen's contract is obviously the easiest to move, because he makes less than half of what Garnett does. And every playoff team could use one of the best shooters in league history. The question is what teams are willing to give up to rent Allen for the last six weeks of the season and the playoffs.
Pacers president Larry Bird recently told ESPN Boston that Ainge wanted Tyler Hansbrough and a first-round pick for Allen. "That tells me he's in no hurry to trade him," Bird said.
Really, Ainge should just sit back and let the offers find him. There's no need to aggressively shop his best players, because other teams know what he has, know what he needs, and know he's not worried about being loyal to a core that won a championship four years ago (see Perkins, Kendrick).
And if no one offers Ainge the right pieces for his stars, he should just stay the course, give the Big Three one last run, and start fresh in July, which is what Rivers expects to happen.
"I'd be surprised if we did anything," Rivers said. "Obviously, if we can find someone out there that wants to give us a player, we'll take him."
You may think that the Celtics as we know them are done competing for championships. And you may be right. But that doesn't mean that they should be sellers at the deadline.
Sometimes, the best move is no move at all.
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