Danny Ainge is stuck between a window and a hard place. If he trots out the same core with few changes to the bench behind them, he's likely to have a similar result as we saw this year. If he blows up the team completely, he's not likely going to get maximum value for them. If he tries to rebuild on the fly by trading one or more of the core, he better get fantastic value in return to have a shot at extending the window and winning another title.
There remains one other possibility that I haven't gone into much if only because it isn't all that appetizing. Ainge could decide that the long term is more important than the short term and basically punt next year. Sure, they could (and should) sell us on the notion that this core group has one more run in them. So why not just sign a bunch of veterans and Von Wafer type projects to one year deals and non-guaranteed contracts and see what happens in that fateful summer of 2012?
As it stands now, the Celtics are committed to less than $30 million in salaries for 2012 even if they pick up Avery Bradley’s option years on his rookie contract with Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce the only other players under contract. That’s a lot of room to make a run at a prized free agent, and the name on everyone’s mind is Dwight Howard who can become a free agent after next season. They won’t have that much room under the cap once you factor in cap holds, draft picks, and contracts for players like Jeff Green, who is a restricted free agent this summer and in line for a decent payday. Glen Davis, who is an unrestricted free agent, will also get paid whether it’s here or somewhere else, but perhaps not as much as he had envisioned.
The problems with this plan are several-fold. For one thing, who's to say that Dwight Howard or Chris Paul or any of the big name guys is going to want to sign here next summer? And for that matter, if Rondo is still on the team, why would Paul even think about it? Secondly, cap space doesn't always work out like you'd want it to. The Nets had cap space last summer and struck out (until they landed Deron Williams in a trade). And finally, to get far enough under whatever cap we have in the new CBA, we'll have to renounce free agents, trade away draft picks and their cap holds, and make sure we only sign Jeff Green to a qualifying offer then let him walk next season. Then, ...maybe, ...we'll have enough money to throw what might be a max type contract at Dwight Howard.
Oh, and about that new CBA. Every indication is that they'll do whatever they can to make teams that currently have star players more likely to keep those players. So don't count the Magic out of the Howard Sweepstakes any time soon. I'm no cap expert but nobody knows what's going to happen this summer and that's the point. You don't set up your whole future based on the potential of one guy picking you over dozens of other options.
With all that said, there are other reasons that Danny might be considering a bridge year beyond Dwight Howard. Cap flexibility is important and can be critical to building a winner. Just ask the OKC Thunder. A smart GM could make a lot of micro moves that would position themselves to making a quick return to contention in a few years.
"A few years." Get used to that phrase once again folks. Sooner or later, you'll have to start hearing it from our management team once again. I'm not really looking forward to it, but I guess I've just gotten kind of spoiled over the last 4 years.