Even after a really impressive 100-98 double-OT win over the Miami Heat at the Boston Garden this afternoon, the Celtics, 21-23, are looking at a lost season. If it couldn’t get any worse for the Celtics, riding a 6-game losing streak going into this afternoon’s ABC game, it did — Rajon Rondo reportedly tore the ACL in his right knee Friday night and will undergo surgery. Not only does that mean Rondo, clearly the Celtics’ top talent, will miss the rest of this year, but also the start of next season, barring an Adrian Peterson-like recovery.
Boston could still sneak into the playoffs, holding a 2.5-game advantage over No. 9 seed Philadelphia as we speak. But it would take a minor miracle for Boston to creep past Chicago, Indiana, New York or Brooklyn in a first-round series should their seeding advance, and they, despite today’s outcome, would not have any chance against Miami.
So, what can Danny Ainge do? Blow it up.
- Paul Pierce: 2012-13: $16.8 million; 2013-14: $15.33 million (non-guaranteed)
- Kevin Garnett: 2012-13: $12.5 million; 2013-14: $11.5 million; 2014-15: $12 million (non-guaranteed)
- Rajon Rondo: 2012-13: $11 million; 2013-14: $12 million; 2014-15: $13 million
- Jeff Green: 2012-13: $8.1 million; 2013-14: $8.7 million; 2014-15: $9.2 million; 2015-16: $9.2 million (player option)
- Brandon Bass: 2012-13: $6.5 million; 2013-14: $6.75 million; 2014-15: $6.95 million
- Courtney Lee: 2012-13: $5 million; 2013-14: $5.25 million; 2014-15: $5.45 million; 2015-16: $5.7 million
- Jason Terry: 2012-13: $5 million; 2013-14: $5.25 million; 2014-15: $5.45 million
Outside of the Big 3, that’s an awful lot of bad deals. In 20-something minutes per game each, Lee’s averaging 7.3 points per game, and Bass 7.4. Terry’s averaging 9.8 points a night, but shooting it below his career mark both from the field and 3. And Green, even though he’s stayed healthy all year, continues to struggle since his trade from Oklahoma City in 2011, averaging a mere 9.2 points and 3.2 rebounds a game and making that 4-year deal Ainge signed him to this offseason look all the more unwise.
If Boston can find takers for mid-level guys like Green or Lee, both of whom have struggled this year and been mentioned as trade bait, Ainge should pull the trigger. Boston’s GM has shown he’s not afraid of making a deadline deal the fans, or even the players, won’t appreciate, with the Perkins-for-Green swap in 2011 and the dangling of Ray Allen last year coming to mind.
But Boston’s chief concern has to be what’s next. Pierce is guaranteed about $5 million of a $15.33 million team option for next year, and, at age 35, he’s said he’s willing to hit free agency one last time. Paul’s probably looking for one last decent-sized contract to finish his career, and the Celtics, with $72 million on the cap for this season and not much else coming off next, should not be the team to give it to him.
So here’s an idea: how about a Rudy Gay-for-Paul Pierce swap? Gay still has 2.5 years on that insane 5 year, $82 million deal he signed with the Grizzlies in 2010. Although Memphis was able to duck the luxury tax in a cap-saving deal with Cleveland earlier this week, their core of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley is eating up gobs of cap space. Pierce, a guy used to playing unselfishly with other stars, could give the Grizzlies some long-term cap flexibility if they dumped him after this year, or a lower-cost, arguably better SG/SF than Gay for a few years.
On Boston’s end, yeah, you eat another bad contract, but with Gay, averaging 17.2 points a game this season in a crowded lineup, you have scoring, superhuman athleticism and a talented running-mate for Rondo for years to come. Boston’s in no position to win now, contrary to what their offseason strategy may have suggested, so the best they can do is, with mediocre draft picks and few trade assets, piece together another star via trade to team up with Rondo, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger.
Boston’s a ways away from building another championship team, as evidenced by their 21-23 start and 7-14 road clip. With Rondo out, the focus should shift toward building for the future.
Follow me on Twitter @PatrickJDuprey.