Pretend that the Boston Celtics let go of Paul Pierce, and as a byproduct of that move, Kevin Garnett decides to retire.
After six memorable years, with a championship win in 2008, the Big 3 era would officially be over.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The Boston Celtics have had many teams with a "Big 3" over the years, whether or not they were categorized as such at the time. It all started with Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Bill Sharman -- which morphed into Bill Russell, Sam Jones, and John Havlicek -- and into the 70s it became John Havlicek, Dave Cowens and Jo Jo White -- then there was Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish -- and most recently there was Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen.
If KG and Pierce are gone, the pressure will be on Danny Ainge to begin forming the next great Big 3. Whether the time is now or a couple of years from now, it won't be easy. If Ainge chooses to move ahead this offseason, he will have to jump through some hoops in order to maximize the amount of cap room for the team.
The decisions that Danny Ainge makes this offseason will be difficult. He may retain Pierce and Garnett, but it's worth thinking about what his mindset may be if he decides that it's best to move on. The past six years have been terrific, but Ainge may believe that a seventh will push the limit too far.
Danny Ainge's hair has grayed a lot over the years -- and for good reason -- the man is always working and thinking. Here, we will go step by step through a realistic, ideal situation that Ainge may be mulling over as the offseason nears.
Step One: Forge The Post-Big 3 Plan
Option One: Compete for a Title
Boston will have a core of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, with Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley, and Jason Terry as the support pieces. Danny Ainge will try and figure out if his team can actually compete next season with a few revisions on the team. Can the team sign a top free agent, hit on a draft pick, and be a potential top four seed in the Eastern Conference?
Option Two: Tank the Season
Or will Danny Ainge look at this roster and decide to pass on all the top free agents? Perhaps, in the long run, having a subpar season is the best option. Ainge might think that the Celtics will definitely be able to get a top ten draft pick in a potentially loaded 2014 draft class.
The Solution: Compete
Danny Ainge will look at this roster and realize that this team is still ready to compete next year. With some tweaks, this bunch could be reloaded for a long playoff run. If the team is able to sign a top free agent, make a quality draft pick, and bolster the depth at the small forward position, Boston will be in a very good position to compete in the Eastern Conference.
Opting to tank the season is risky for a number of reasons. For one, is the team really that terrible? If you put the Celtics roster (minus KG and Pierce) against the other worst teams in the league, it's probably still better. Boston would likely get the 6th pick in the draft at best, and possibly even make the playoffs again as the 7th or 8th seed. It's not worth wasting a season of Rajon Rondo's prime, the waning years of Jason Terry, and the emergence of Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger, just for the chance to get a top ten draft pick. In order to almost guarantee the C's a top three pick, the team would have to be completely blown up with deals involving the likes of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. Even then, as everyone knows, more often than not, the draft is a crapshoot.
Things might look bleak without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the roster, but Rajon Rondo is a piece that the team can build around. With Jeff Green as a supporting star and plenty of depth, the team is only a few moves away from being a threat in the Eastern Conference. (As an aside, this plan doesn't include potential trades as there are far too many variables to even account for.)
Step Two: Maximize Cap Space
With a projected salary cap of about $60 million, Danny Ainge will have to maximize his cap space by figuring out the best plan of attack to get rid of KG and Pierce, renouncing the Celtics' cap holds, and declining player's option years. In order to get the most out of free agency, Danny has to go all out here.
Pierce would have to be traded, amnestied, or bought out with his $5 million buy out option. A trade is possible, but Ainge would be able to maximize the team's cap space through amnestying or buying out Pierce. In that case, Boston would have $5 million more in cap room if Pierce were amnestied, so that makes most sense for the team.
KG has already stated that his future will be closely linked with Pierce. With that in mind, if The Truth is let go by the team, that likely means that Garnett will retire. Retirement doesn't immediately eliminate a contract though; in order to get his contract off the books, Boston would have to agree to a buyout with him. Years ago, Rasheed Wallace agreed to a $1 million buyout with Boston, so a number like that seems reasonable for him.
Terrence Williams, Shavlik Randolph, and D.J. White all have option years for the team. D.J. White's option should be declined, but decisions on Williams and Randolph will be more difficult. From Ainge's perspective, he will likely look at how Doc Rivers utilized Shavlik Randolph and find more value in declining his option. Terrence Williams has the flexibility to play both guard positions and small forward, so there is lots of value with him. However, crunching the numbers and roster spots, having Williams might be a tad bit redundant, so waiving all three of these players would make most sense for the team since it would open up another $3,082,272 in salary cap space.
Depending on what happens with Paul Pierce, the cap room would vary. If Pierce were bought out, the Celts would have a total salary of $51.2 million, but if he were amnestied, the team would have an even smaller total of $46.2.
That previous number doesn't include cap holds; Boston has loads of cap holds on players such as Chris Wilcox, Nenad Krstic, and Stephon Marbury. But now that the Celtics are under the cap, it would be wise to renounce their cap holds in order to amplify their cap room. (Note: Cap Holds are a bit complicated to explain, but this link explains everything quite well.) In short, if a player like Chris Wilcox is renounced, he would not be able to be resigned by the team.
If the Celtics were to renounce all of their cap holds, decline all three player options, amnesty Pierce, and buy out Kevin Garnett, they would have a total salary of $46,170,356. Factoring in the cap hold for the number 16 slot in the draft, that value would increase to $47,541,556.
Here is what the Boston Celtics' roster would look like after all the changes:
|Rajon Rondo, PG||$11,954,545|
|Jeff Green, SF||$8,965,000|
|Brandon Bass, PF||$6,450,000|
|Jason Terry, SG||$5,225,000|
|Courtney Lee, SG||$5,225,000|
|Avery Bradley, SG||$2,511,432|
|Jordan Crawford, SG||$2,162,419|
|Jared Sullinger, PF||$1,365,720|
|Fab Melo, C||$1,311,240|
|1st Round Pick Cap Hold||$1,371,200|
|KG Buy Out||$1,000,000|
With a projected cap of $60 million, Boston would have $12,458,444 available to spend before reaching the cap. That would allow the C's just enough to sign a top player in free agency before using exceptions to sign other players to contracts.
Step Three: The NBA Draft
Option One: Draft a Big
With only Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, and Fab Melo as the bigs on the Celtics' roster, the team is essentially forced into drafting a big. With the possibility of competing, drafting an NBA ready player might be the best bet. Lucky for Danny Ainge, this draft is filled with quality talent at the power forward and center positions.
A few NBA ready players that could be on the board when the Celtics are on the clock at pick number 16 are Louisville's Gorgui Dieng, Duke's Mason Plumlee, Kansas' Jeff Withey, and Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk. Two other bigs that might need a little bit more development are Pittsburgh's Steven Adams and France's Rudy Gobert.
Each of those players bring a different skillset to the floor, which will be outlined in a CelticsBlog NBA Draft Player Preview Series this offseason, but all of them would fit Boston's needs going forward. Many of them will be able to step on the floor and play immediate minutes much like Jared Sullinger did last season.
Option Two: Draft a Boom or Bust Player
Danny Ainge could prefer going for a player that has an incredibly high ceiling but also a D-League quality floor. Giannis Adetokoubo, a freakishly athletic forward from Greece, is the first name that will be on Danny Ainge's board in terms of high-risk selections.
"GA" could pan out and be a star in the NBA, but with the lack of a core, can Ainge afford to miss on this draft? Drafting a player like Adetokoubo or Dario Saric, a power forward from Croatia, could pan out significantly in the long run, but the risk is there.
Solution: Be Safe, Go Big
Danny Ainge should repeat what he did in last year's draft and draft a big man. You can never have enough bigs on your roster and this team is in desperate need of one, especially one that can rebound. Out of those names, Gorgui Dieng might be the best option. He's a defensive center that can block shots and defend the paint. He's a very good rebounder that actually boxes out, establishing position for boards. Dieng has developed a bit of an offensive game and has a 12-to-18 foot jump shot in his arsenal.
Regardless of what player Danny Ainge decides to draft, he can't afford to miss on his draft pick this season. Being safe and drafting a player that you are almost certain will have a long NBA career is the best option.
Step Four: Sign a Top Free Agent
Option One: Al Jefferson, Center, 6'10"
How appropriate would it be if "Big Al" were to return to Boston the year that Kevin Garnett retires? Of course, Jefferson was traded by the Celtics in a package deal for KG back in 2007.
Al Jefferson was a raw, 22 year old youngster when he was dealt by Boston; but he is now 28 years old and has blossomed into a beast on the low post, as he heads into the prime of his career. He has a myriad of different post moves and can also consistently hit a mid-range jumper. He'd be a great replacement for Garnett on the offensive end and is arguably be an upgrade there. Since leaving Boston, Jefferson is averaging 19.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game.
Jefferson has his issues on the defensive end but he would be worth it for a five-year deal worth between $50 and $60 million dollars because of his offense and rebounding abilities. Big Al has expressed interest in returning to Boston, so he could potentially take even less money than that.
Option Two: Josh Smith, Power Forward, 6'9"
Love him or hate him, Smith will be one of the more interesting players to watch in free agency. Josh Smith feels that he deserves a maximum contract, but there is quite a good chance that he doesn't because of his character concerns; if that's the case, Ainge should be in the mix for him.
If Boston wants a team that plays up-tempo, fast break basketball, Josh Smith would be a great option. Rondo, Smith, and Green would be exciting players to watch on the break considering their ability to score a lot of quick baskets, much like the Miami Heat are able to do.
The versatile Josh Smith truly does it all on the basketball court -- when he wants to -- he can score in a number of ways, rebound, run the fast break, block shots, and play exceptional man-to-man defense. The only thing holding Smith back is effort. He plays like a superstar when he wants to but he often goes into these spurts where he is a liability on the floor, pulling up for jumpers with 18-seconds left on the shot clock. If Danny Ainge feels that being coached by Doc Rivers will help Smith reach his full potential, then he could pull the trigger on him...if the price is right.
Option Three: David West, Power Forward, 6'9"
Everyone thought David West was going to sign with the Boston Celtics before the 2011 season, but the Indiana Pacers snuck in late and stole him. West had an average 2011 campaign, but this year he bounced back and returned to his top form, averaging 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
West has virtually no weaknesses in his game. Offensively, David West can play on the post or outside. He can drive, dish it to the perimeter, and rebound the ball. On the defensive end, David West isn't an exceptional athlete but he's a highly intelligent player, rotates well, and is a large reason why Indiana had the best defensive team in basketball this season.
If Danny Ainge chooses to go after David West, a three year deal worth about $35-$40 million would be fair. West is no superstar but does everything right. He would be a veteran presence in the locker room and a leader on the defensive end of the floor. Defensively, West might not bring what Garnett brought -- no one can -- but he would most certainly be a good replacement.
Solution: Al Jefferson or David West
Getting a true power forward/center would be in Boston's best interest here. If Josh Smith were brought in, the team wouldn't be nearly efficient enough in the half court. The C's need a big that they can lean on when things get dirty in the playoffs. Garnett's value in the half court is so important because when you really need a basket, you can get him the ball on the post and he can make something good happen. Both Jefferson and West fit that mold more than Josh Smith does. Defensively, David West is most certainly a better fit, but the youth and offensive prowess that Al Jefferson brings is arguably more appealing. Despite the higher price tag, this team will need scoring.
Step Five: Bolster the Depth Using the Mini Mid-Level Exception & Veteran Minimum
Option One: Sign a Backup Small Forward
With Jeff Green as the only small forward on the roster, Boston will need to acquire another one either through the draft or free agency. This year's market bodes well for the Celts, as there are many free agents that would fit their needs.
If Danny Ainge wants a more hustle and defensive-orientated backup, Shawn Marion, Matt Barnes, or Al-Farouq Aminu could fit the bill. Marion and Barnes are older, but this team could use any infusion of veteran leadership that it can get. Marion deserves the full mid-level exception ($5 million), so he would likely be out of Boston's price range, but Matt Barnes would give Boston a player that brings energy off the bench. Aminu is an outstanding rebounder at the small forward position, averaging 7.7 per game this season. The mini-MLE ($3 million) is fair value for him, but due to his youth, a team may give him more.
Danny Ainge was reportedly targeting a three-point specialist, J.J. Redick, at the trade deadline this year, but this offseason he might be able to get an even better shooter in Kyle Korver. He can't do much else besides shoot but this team could seriously use some consistent scoring off the bench.
Other options at small forward are Earl Clark and Lamar Odom. Clark proved himself as a serviceable player for the Los Angeles Lakers, excelling during the second half of the season when he began to receive playing time. Lamar Odom is a longtime point-forward and while his play has declined, he would still give Boston another ball handler off the bench. That skill would bring even more value if they choose not to pickup a true backup point guard.
Option Two: Sign a True Backup Point Guard
This year's point guard free agent class is relatively weak after the top players, which could work to Boston's disadvantage. With the lack of overall talent, some players may get paid more than they normally deserve. In any case, there will be guards that fit their needs. A few names include Will Bynum, Keyon Dooling, and Chauncey Billups.
Boston had wanted to bring back Keyon Dooling this season but were unable to work out the logistics, so Dooling went to Memphis. However, his contract is up and would be an attractive option because of the leadership he would bring to a young team.
Will Bynum would be a good fit for the mini-MLE, but depending on where Boston allocates the rest of their funds, he would be out of their range. Bynum has had four good seasons in a row as the backup on the Detroit Pistons, and might actually feel he deserves more playing time, making Boston an unattractive location to play.
Solution: Use the mini-MLE on a Small Forward and Veteran Minimum on a Point Guard
With Rajon Rondo healthy, Boston will be fine with a backup point guard by committee; Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford, and Jason Terry can all handle the ball well enough. If the team is going to go with a more up-tempo offense, having a backup point guard that can run half court sets is even less important. However, when the time comes that you need a point guard, Keyon Dooling would be the best option. He can be signed for the veteran minimum and would be an important leader in the locker room. After all, he was called "Reverend Dooling."
Out of the small forward options, Kyle Korver, Earl Clark, and Matt Barnes are likely the best options. Ainge seems obsessed with acquiring a stud shooter and Korver seems like a reasonable option for the mini mid-level exception. Korver's game is extremely limited, but having a three-point specialist would be perfect for this roster.
If Danny Ainge manages to fulfill this plan, the Boston Celtics could have a roster that looks something like this:
|PG||Rajon Rondo||Courtney Lee||Keyon Dooling|
|SG||Avery Bradley||Jason Terry||Jordan Crawford|
|SF||Jeff Green||Kyle Korver*||(Round 2 Draft Pick)|
|PF||Jared Sullinger||Brandon Bass|
|C||Al Jefferson*||Gorgui Dieng*||Fab Melo|
Whether this roster is better than one with both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce is arguable, but the point is to outline what an ideal (yet realistic) offseason could be on Danny Ainge's mind. Looking ahead, this team could develop into something pretty special. With Rajon Rondo, Al Jefferson, and Jeff Green as your "new big 3."
Boston's frontcourt would have two strong rebounders in Sullinger and Jefferson, something they haven't had in years. Defensively, the team could use work, but Bass has proven to be an effective defender. If a player like Dieng is drafted, the C's would have a player on the roster with potential to be great at protecting the paint. Fab Melo will have another full offseason of development and could be a bruiser inside.
The guard and small forward position is obviously very deep, with almost too many bodies. One of Lee, Terry, and Crawford would likely be dealt in a trade for another backup center or forward, but either way, there are enough bodies to play small ball like Doc Rivers loves to do. With Avery Bradley available at the start of the season, Terry would have his sixth man role set in stone.
Overall, this team could compete in the Eastern Conference. The defense wouldn't nearly be the same without Kevin Garnett but with Jeff Green starting, the defense would improve at the small forward position. With Rondo back at point guard, Bradley will be able to return to his tenacious "pitbull" style on defense, pressing guards in the backcourt. Scoring-wise, Rondo can make any player better too. This roster might not be great enough to win an NBA Title, but they would be able to compete for a number of years.
With this roster, some other tweaks during or after the season, Ainge would have the room to bring in another player that could bring this roster to an elite level. You've got to start somewhere.
What do you think the Celtics should do if Danny Ainge gets rid of Kevin Garnett and Paul PIerce? If this were Ainge's mindset going into the offseason, how would you feel? Comment below or tweet @Kevin__OConnor and let me know!