We’re only a few days removed from the Celtics playoff elimination in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but the rumors surrounding the future of the Big 3 are already running wild. We told you earlier that Ray Allen‘s return to the Celtics is looking even less likely after it was reported that he had “friction” with Rajon Rondo, and now early reports indicate Kevin Garnett is leaning towards retirement rather than returning for an 18th NBA season.
Many speculated that the 36-year old Garnett would retire when his contract expired after this season, and several people close to Garnett have confirmed that he is indeed considering calling it a career.
However, ESPN Boston’s Jackie MacMullen revealed in a piece today that one of Garnett’s former teammates and closest friends is attempting to convince KG to rethink the idea of retirement. Sam Cassell, who played with Garnett on the Celtics 2008 championship team as well as for three seasons in Minnesota, spoke with Jackie Mac about Garnett’s future:
The coach will make a major push to retain Garnett, who was the architect of Boston’s Renaissance period. KG has told friends for the past two seasons that he would retire when his contract was up. The injury to his knee robbed him of some of his lift, and he often left the arena in considerable pain after games. Garnett’s trusted friend Sam Cassell said KG was still talking about retiring as recently as 10 days ago, but Cassell was trying to persuade him otherwise. Cassell’s advice: Play as long as you can. “KG is a loyal guy,” Cassell said. “I can’t see him playing for anyone else except Doc at this point.”
The fact that Garnett was talking about retirement just 10 days ago – at a time when he was playing as well as he had ever played in a Celtics uniform – certainly indicates that he really doesn’t want to endure another 82-game season.However, if Doc Rivers and the Celts reallywant KG back for another title run and do intend to make a “major push” to convince him to return, I certainly wouldn’t write them off. Garnett has a ton of respect for Doc and a lot of loyalty towards the Celtics organization, which may make it a lot harder for KG to turn them down. Not to mention he’ll always be that fierce competitor who has the hunger for another ring.
So, what importance will Garnett’s retirement decision have on the Celtics? First and foremost, the guy can still play at a very high level. Any doubt of that was put to rest this past season. Will he be a 35 minute a night starter? No, or I most definitely hope not. The Celtics will look to rebuild their roster this offseason and will like pick up a more reliable big man or two, so Garnett will definitely have a reduced role if he returns, either as a limited minutes starter or the Celts’ sixth man.
But there’s a slight chance that Garnett’s decision surrounding his retirement could determine more than just his own presence on the Garden’s parquet next season – it could also determine the fate of Paul Pierce as well.
I know that what I’m about to write may piss a lot of Celtics fans off, as Pierce is “The Truth,” “The Captain,” and has been the face of the franchise for more than the past decade…but I think if Garnett doesn’t come back next season then the C’s definitely have to entertain the thought of trading #34.
Without Garnett, the Celtics will likely enter the 2012-2013 season with Rondo at the point, Avery Bradley at the two, Pierce at three, Brandon Bass at power forward, and a question mark at center. Call me crazy, but that starting lineup shouldn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of opponents.
Obviously, the front office will work to add pieces and reconstruct the roster, but the biggest need the C’s will have to fill will be Garnett’s shoes at center. If there’s anything we have learned in the NBA over the past decade and a half, it’s that it is extremely hard to win a championship without a semi-dominant big man in the starting five.
If the Celtics want to make another title run with Pierce on the roster, they’ll likely have to add a pretty solid big man at the center position to be considered legit contenders. The only problem? There are no great big guys who are sure to hit the market.
Dwight Howard wants to stay in Orlando one week and doesn’t the next, so it’s not even worth the effort to wonder where he’ll end up. I’m a big fan of Roy Hibbert and would love to see him come to Boston, but he’ll be a restricted free agent and I don’t see the Pacers letting him go…unless Larry Legend wants to do his team one last big favor. Kendrick Perkins could be bought out by OKC so they can hold on to Serge Ibaka, but that’s not a sure thing.
So what does that mean for the C’s? If they want a semi-dominant big man next year, they might have to trade for one or draft one. I’ll rule out drafting one because it’s pretty damn rare to draft anyone who is dominant in their first year of pro ball (especially outside of the lottery), and even rarer for that to happen for a rookie big man.
So, who can the Celtics trade for a semi-dominant big man? Well, with the exception of Rondo, Bradley, Pierce, Bass, and Jeff Green, nobody really with any value. Everybody else has little value and/or an expiring contract, and I don’t see Danny Ainge dealing either half of their young, explosive guard duo in Rondo and Bradley.
I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of packaging Green and a draft pick or two, but I also find it kind of unlikely that Green gets dealt, mainly due in party because the Celts gave up so much for him and have high expectations for him moving forward. Plus, teams will likely have reservations about his health.
That leaves Bass and Pierce. Bass has a player option of $4.3 million at his disposal, so he basically he would have to agree to pick up that option to enable the Celtics to trade him elsewhere. It’s certainly a possibility, but the ball is in his court.
So that brings us to Pierce. As much as Celtics fans probably hate to hear the thought, the C’s front office will probably entertain the idea of dealing the captain. Why? Because he’s got a lot of value, a big contract, and a ready replacement waiting in the wings in Green.
Pierce is due to make over $30 million over the remaining two years of his current deal, the latter year coming in a $15.3 million player option. By dealing Pierce to a contender looking for a veteran piece to put them over the top, the team could clear out a bunch of cap space, pick up some valuable pieces, and enter into a new era of Celtics basketball all in one swift motion.
I understand people resisting the idea of Pierce playing for another team, the Celtics are the only team he’s ever played for and he says he wants to retire in green. But, for me at least, it’s almost equally as weird to imagine Pierce without Garnett and Allen, being the sole veteran leader and offensive centerpiece of the Celtics again. That’s a hard situation to transition back into, especially given all the success the Big 3 shared together over the past five years.
Would he even want to be a part of another (semi) rebuilding phase, or would he actually prefer to go somewhere else where he would have a better shot at winning another title over his last few years?
In an interview with the Boston Globe, Pierce gave Garnett exceptional praise and expressed his desire to continue playing with him, citing how much KG has meant to him, the team, and the culture of the organization:
“He’s done everything for my career, just his locker room presence, his desire, his determination,” Pierce told The Boston Globe. “Just his leadership. I said before, when Kevin first got here, he really changed the culture of everything we did around here, you know, practice habits to the discipline. He made everybody accountable, from the ball boys to the chefs to the guy who flew the plane. Everybody was accountable.
“It’s been tremendous to have him around, just the culture he brought, you know? It’d be great to end my career with Kevin,” Pierce said. “I have a couple years left, and who knows what his future’s going to bring. Management can do something to bring him back and get us the pieces we need to get over the top. If not, it’s been a tremendous run.”
I think the best case scenario is the one Paul laid out at the end of that last paragraph – bring back KG and add supplementary pieces – but it seems like a wishful thinking type of scenario at the moment. From all accounts, Garnett seems to be leaning heavily towards retirement, but there will certainly be several parties (Doc, Cassell, Ainge, Pierce, etc.) doing their best to change his mind. Will they prevail? I hope so, but it’s anyone’s guess.
If KG does in fact walk away, this team is going to have a whole different culture – Pierce even said it himself – and that may culture may not involve a guy wearing #34. Don’t get me wrong, there are a ton of scenarios that could play out, most of which probably keep Paul in Boston over the next few years. The chances are he’ll stay put and finish his career out in Celtics green, which would be great for the city, the fans, the organization, and Pierce.
But, in the right scenario, and as much as it hurts, all I’m saying is that trading Pierce may be a very viable and smart option to help usher this team into the next era of Celtics basketball.
(Now is the part where you bash me in the comment section and tell me how much of a Celtic-hater I am.)