- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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When the Boston Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett during the summer of 2007, there was a belief that the team had a three-year championship window with potential to keep it open a small amount of time beyond that. And while the Big Three era officially ended last summer with the departure of Ray Allen, here we are seven years later wondering if Boston is still championship contenders with a core featuring Garnett and Paul Pierce.
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What would a Celtics team without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett look like? It's hard to fathom.While this run has lasted longer than most anticipated, it's still really really hard to fathom a Celtics team that isn't helmed next season by at least one of its core veterans. And yet, there is a very real possibility for that to occur. When Garnett discussed his future following Boston's playoff departure, he not-so subtly hinted that his time with the Celtics could be tied to Pierce's situation. If Boston elects to move on without its captain, could Garnett elect to play out his final season(s) elsewhere as well (or just hang up his high tops for good)?
This week, we are taking a closer look at four primary scenarios in play for how Boston's offseason might unfold:
Keep the band together: Minimal changes, bank on health
Goodbye, captain: Roster tweaked with Pierce departure
Out with the old: Moving on without both KG and Pierce
Complete teardown: Extreme makeover, Celtics edition
During this series, we'll take a closer look at each possible option, gauge the potential for it to occur, determine some moves that might go along with it, and debate whether it's the best course of attack. Today's focus: Slamming the window on the Garnett era.
What it entails: With a young core already in place, the Celtics would overhaul their roster by moving on without the veterans from their end-of-season roster (for the purpose of this exercise, we're focusing on Pierce and Garnett, but 30-year-old Chris Wilcox is the team's only unrestricted free agent and we'll assume that any youth movement would also see the team try to find a home for 36-before-next-season Jason Terry). That would leave a team with a core of Rajon Rondo (27), Avery Bradley (22), Jeff Green (26), Brandon Bass (28), and Jared Sullinger (21) -- along with other pieces like Jordan Crawford (24), Courtney Lee (27), and Fab Melo (22).
Degree of difficulty: Medium. As we discussed Thursday, parting with Pierce alone won't be easy, regardless of how it occurs (sentimentality alone makes it tough). Garnett is slightly less tricky because his contract is a bit more reasonable and -- if he simply would not return to Boston without Pierce -- there seemingly would not be a shortage of interested teams. Even still, moving two sizable contracts in the NBA is no easy task.
Why it makes sense: Given their advanced ages, the Celtics would cash in a bit if they were able to parlay Garnett and Pierce into future assets (or any player capable of helping the team's younger core compete now). It's fair to say the Celtics have gotten their money's worth out of Pierce and Garnett already, but using them to aid a future when they likely won't still be playing would be a shrewd move.
Why it doesn't make sense: Teams are unlikely to mortgage their own futures to bring in two 36+ players that could ride off into the sunset after the 2013-14 campaign. Boston would likely have to include younger assets to get back true talent in return. Even if Boston goes the other route, waiving Pierce (eating the $5 million guaranteed on his deal) and hoping Garnett retires (potentially taking his $12 million off the books next season), it still doesn't offer much in terms of cap room without making complementary moves. It's unlikely the team could find two players as talented as Pierce and Garnett with the money freed. Maybe most importantly, the Celtics would be stripping their locker room of the two primary leadership voices.
Let's make some deals: The trade route is so incredibly difficult to predict and it's hard to see the two players being sent out in a single deal (though there's always the potential for something like the rumored Clippers swap that reportedly would have brought back Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan). The real hurdle here: Garnett's no-trade clause. Without that, you could think about something like Garnett and Terry to Utah in a sign-and-trade for Al Jefferson (or the more coveted Paul Millsap; but the guess here is Utah keeps him and looks for ways to bring something back while moving on without Jefferson, an unrestricted free agent). Alas, there's no way Garnett is going to Utah (the only way Mr. Hates Change is changing addresses is for a true chance to win another title; plus the Jazz are likely headed for a bit of a transition year). Let's instead assume the Celtics go the buyout/retirement route here and simply free $22.7 million in cap space for next season. That dips them barely below the projected cap (but not far enough to land an impact player). This is why I think the amnesty route would be in play with Pierce, because that would free another $5 million from the books (but likely cost ownership more in terms of paying Pierce). The amnesty route, plus finding a way to shed Terry and save some cash there could help Boston shimmy something around $15 million under the cap and put them in position to ink a top-line player (but something less than a max guy). Is one younger talent worth moving on from both Pierce and Garnett? Let's remember that Boston could always just wait for these guys to play out one final year and then use that cap savings when the free-agent market is expected to be stocked much more.
Final thoughts: With the right deals, there's reason to ponder a KG- and Pierce-less future. But of Boston's options, this one might simply be too difficult to navigate given all the hoops to jump through. Even if Boston starts the season by bringing both players back, it can always investigate in-season trade options if it doesn't feel like a contender). Ultimately, this process might simply bee convoluted to make happen -- and for it to benefit Boston more than other potential options moving forward.
Your turn: Is it time to slam the window on the Big Three era? Sound off with your thoughts in the comments.