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BOSTON (CBS) – The 2012 NBA season was a special run for the Boston Celtics, but one that ultimately came up short.
When they hit the All-Star break at just 15-17, the Celtics were cast off as aging veterans just holding on. There were questions as to whether they would even make the playoffs, let alone contend for a title. Talks of blowing the team up followed, but the Celtics never quit and battled back; going 24-10 to close the regular season and went on an impressive playoff run that saw them one win away from another trip to the NBA Finals.
But, was it the final run of the new Big 3? It doesn’t have to be, but there will certainly be changes to the Celtics this offseason. They will transition into Rajon Rondo’s team, but the young point guard will need a base of veterans and youth if the C’s want to stay competitive.
There is a chance some dark days are ahead, but with their current players, some cap space and draft picks, the Celtics might not be in bad shape as they hit the 2012 off-season.
KG and Ray
The number one question on everyone’s mind surrounds the status of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Both are unrestricted free agents this summer after spending the last five seasons in Boston.
Garnett, 36, would be welcomed back with open arms after his career was revitalized when switched to the center position, sparking the Celtics’ second-half run. If he returns, Garnett would likely make much less than the $21 million he made in 2012.
Allen on the other hand, who will turn 37 this off-season, may have played his last game in green.
The biggest factor with Garnett and Allen entering the offseason is their $31 million in salary that comes off the books. Neither will make what they did in 2012 (Garnett $21 million, Allen $10 million), giving the Celtics some wiggle room when it comes to bringing either back, and making other additions as well.
Of the two, Garnett is more likely to return.
When Garnett arrived in Boston, he changed the entire dynamic of the team with his defense. Five years later, that still holds true. When he made the switch to center, it gave the Celtics a viable defensive presence down low, something they lacked with the oft-injured Jermaine O’Neal at the position. But Garnett’s transition sparked their re-emergence in the second half, much as he did five years ago when he first arrived. He demands excellence from his teammates on D, which makes everyone around him better.
The possibility Garnett retires is a strong one, but the sentiment is that if he returns, it will only be with Boston. They’ll have plenty of competition, with the Spurs, Nets and numerous other teams interested, but the Celtics should make a strong push to bring Garnett back one a one- or two-year deal, assuring he will be around to help make the transition into the rebuilding process. His defensive mind will go a long way in the molding of the young Celtics’ minds, as JaJuan Johnson can expect to see more action in his sophomore campaign.
While Ray Allen was able to play through bone spurs in his right ankle – an ailment he will have surgery on this offseason – his inconsistency hurt the Celtics. He spent the majority of the end of the season on the bench nursing the injury, and did not regain his starting job with the emergence of Avery Bradley. With Allen hitting 37 this summer, his health will be a risk the Celtics likely stay away from.
But, that is not to say Ray might not come back. If he does, he’ll have to accept a role off the bench; something he was not too keen on this season. Having a Hall-of-Fame shooter off the bench would be fantastic, but there will be a market for Allen. The Knicks, Bulls and Heat are already rumored to be interested in Allen, which could push the price out of the Celtics’ range.
If that is the case, look for both Allen and the Celtics to move on.
They Have Some Money
The Celtics currently have five players signed for next season: Paul Pierce ($16.8 million), Rajon Rondo ($11 million), Avery Bradley ($1.6 million), JaJuan Johnson ($1.12 million) and a qualifying offer to Greg Stiemsma ($1.02 million).
Brandon Bass has a player option for $4 million, but will likely drop that in hopes of getting a long-term deal for more money. After an impressive first season in Boston, look for the C’s to retain Bass’ services, as long as his price tag doesn’t climb too much.
Jeff Green, Mickael Pietrus, Chris Wilcox and one of Greg Stiemsma, Ryan Hollins or Sean Williams will all likely return. Green, a restricted free agent, was poised to return this season until heart surgery ended his 2012 before it began. Wilcox fit in well as a big man who ran the floor with Rondo before also requiring heart surgery mid-way through the season. Pietrus loves it in Boston, and with the departure of Allen likely, he could either start or come off the bench at shooting guard.
That being said, the 2013 Celtics should have about $40-45 million on the books when the off-season begins. They could bring Garnett back at short money, maybe $10 million per year over a couple of years. If the vets are willing to take a discount to remain in Boston, the C’s would have still a good chance to pick up some young talent via free agency.
The Celtics need rebounding, and there are a few names on the market that could help. Kris Humphries, who averaged 11 rebounds per game for the Nets last season, will be an unrestricted free agent, and could help the C’s on the glass. There are a few centers out there as well, although the three big names are all restricted. The most appealing to Boston is Indiana’s Roy Hibbert, who put up career highs in both points (12.8 per game) and rebounds (8.8 per game). Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez and Denver’s JaVale McGee are also restricted, and are possibilities if the Celtics need a center, whether it be by moving Garnett back to power forward or replacing him altogether. All three would cost a good amount though, and there is always the chance their current teams match whatever the Celtics have to offer.
On their bench, the Celtics could retain the services of Keyon Dooling, a serviceable shooter and good locker room guy. They do have a few options on the market for shooters, including unrestricted free agents Jason Terry, Kirk Hinrich, Nick Young, and restricted free agent OJ Mayo (who Boston nearly dealt Ray Allen for at the trade deadline). As for some veterans that could find their way to Boston, forward Gerald Wallace and rebound-specialist Reggie Evans will both hit the open market.
The Celtics will have money to spend, and while that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll break the bank, they should be able to add a star or two while rounding out a decent bench. If Danny Ainge is smart, he will spend wisely this season, and wait for the big crop of 2013 free agents (Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, and Chris Paul, just to name a few).
They Have Some Youth
With Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, the Celtics have two young players that no one really knows what to expect from. Johnson, selected 27th overall last season, learned under Garnett this season, and could turn out to be a steal. He can score, but what is most important is his defense. Having Garnett back, teaching Johnson for another season, would pay big dividends to the young forward’s future. Moore showed that he can shoot the ball, and if he rounds out his offensive game, could turn into a scorer off the bench (depending on what moves the C’s make).
Boston also has two first-rounders in the upcoming draft; their own at 21st and the Clippers 22nd overall pick. While young players have struggled to find a spot in the rotation the last five years, that could all change depending on what happens this offseason. In a deep draft, the Celtics can use their two picks to draft some size and rebounding, or package them together and move up for a bigger name player. Those two draft picks could play a big part of Boston’s success next season.
Blow It Up?
It was debated all during the season, and now the talk will start again: should Danny Ainge blow it all up. Let KG and Allen walk, trade Pierce and the $30+ million he is owed over the next two years, and start building around Rondo, Bradley and the young guys. Or Ainge could trade Rondo as well, and go after Deron Williams. While blowing it all up is unlikely, anything can happen with Ainge at the helm.
At least Doc Rivers will be back. That much we know. Or, we think we know.
It will certainly be an interesting offseason for the Boston Celtics, one that could see the team transition once again into a rebuilding process. But if Kevin Garnett comes back at short money, the Celtics will have plenty of room under the cap to make some moves. The team was just one run away from making it back to the NBA Finals this season. With a little more youth, and a little more depth, they could be right back to contending for a title in 2013.