Although the Boston Celtics are currently riding their longest winning streak of the season, they still have several issues to address—issues that they are most likely to solve via the trade market.
But completing a blockbuster trade without tearing apart the Big Three is downright impossible.
However, there have been several options to consider if the Celtics ever changed their minds.
On Feb. 4, the Sporting News reported that the Los Angeles Clippers were eyeing a deal for Kevin Garnett. Losers of seven of their last 10—including a 106-104 defeat to Boston—the Clippers could certainly use the 17-year veteran’s experience and leadership in the locker room. The Celtics would likely get back point guard Eric Bledsoe and forward Caron Butler.
Only a day later, the Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla broke news that the Denver Nuggets were highly interested in Garnett as well. However, with his no-trade clause in tow, Garnett quickly shut down the talks before they even began. Sound familiar?
Paul Pierce has also been a victim of trade talks.
Initially, speculation heated up about the possibility of a straight-up swap with the Memphis Grizzlies for Rudy Gay. However, the talks were finally put to rest when Gay donned a Toronto Raptors jersey early last week.
ESPN’s Marc Stein listed the Clippers as a very likely landing spot for Pierce. Again, the 35-year-old would provide the team with invaluable experience and leadership that would be vital for helping them right the ship. Boston’s return pieces would likely center around Bledsoe.
While these offers might be tempting, GM Danny Ainge put an end to all the speculation Thursday.
Well, sort of.
‘Yeah, I think that’s by far the most likely thing. Sure,’ Ainge said when asked whether he was comfortable saying the two stars will remain in Boston.
‘I’ll just repeat what I always tell you guys—the things that are out there are the things that aren’t true and the things that are happening are not being reported,’ he said regarding rumors.
‘I can’t give you much juice other than it’s this time every year. There’s a lot of conversation, and usually at this time of the year, the conversation isn’t as serious. As it gets closer to the deadline, it gets a little bit more serious. You get a little bit better offers. It’s still most people trying to make one-sided deals, as opposed to doing what’s best for both teams. Which is—a trade like a Rudy Gay trade is fairly unusual this time, this early before the deadline.’
If Ainge is in fact telling the truth, then that would “most likely” prove troubling for the Celtics.
Areas of Concern
The team needs help. Most preferably, it needs it inside the paint.
Through 49 games, Boston ranks in the bottom half of the league in rebounding (No. 29), opponent rebounding (No. 21), blocks (No. 26) and opponent points in the paint (No. 18).
For the majority of the season, Garnett and rookie Jared Sullinger have been able to limit most of the damage. However, as expected, all hell has broken loose in the wake of Sullinger’s season-ending injury.
Over their last six games, the Celtics have been dominated inside the paint.
Opponents have averaged 44.3 rebounds (13.7 offensive) and 46.3 points in the paint per game. That’s an increase over the Celtics’ season-per game averages of 43.1 rebounds (11.2 offensive) and 42 points in the paint allowed.
Garnett can’t be expected to shoulder that weight alone.
Then there’s the absence of a true point guard.
Boston has gone with a point guard-by-committee approach, utilizing Avery Bradley, Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa at the position as of late.
While the team has actually averaged more assists than they did with Rondo (24.8 per game), nobody has really stood out at the position. In fact, Bradley—who starts at point guard—is only averaging 2.2 assists per game since Rajon Rondo’s absence.
Pierce actually leads the team in the category with 5.4 per game.
That’s why trading for a young, up-and-coming point guard like Bledsoe makes sense.
Who to Trade?
So it’s obvious that the Celtics need to make a move. But outside of the Big Three, who are their trading pieces?
Just little over a month ago, Sullinger and Bradley were viewed as the team’s two most valuable assets not named Rondo, Garnett or Pierce.
Now, Sullinger is on the shelf—aggravating the same injury that many believe is what caused his draft stock to drop—and Bradley has severely underperformed.
Sure, Bradley has been a spark plug for the defense, but on offense he has struggled a great deal. Through 18 games, he has averaged 8.2 points per game on 39.4 percent shooting and 31.4 percent from three-point range.
That’s a far cry from the 15.1 points per game on 52 percent shooting from the field that Bradley averaged during the last month of last season.
After that you’ve got Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass and Terry.
Lee (7.6 PPG, 46.4 FG%) and Bass (7.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 45.2 FG%) are not exactly having the most remarkable seasons. Both are struggling in their roles and are not the kind of players you can center a trade around.
That leaves us with Terry.
On the season, Terry has averaged just 10 points and 2.4 assists per game in 27.9 minutes a night. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field—the second-lowest mark of his career—and 36.3 percent from beyond the arc.
But lately, he’s been on a tear.
Over his last five games, Terry is averaging 10.8 points and four assists per game while shooting 64.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from distance. He’s taking smart shots and making good things happen on the court for Boston. So it comes as no surprise that his plus/minus of plus-76 is the highest on the team during that span.
However, the Celtics are not likely to get too much back for a 35-year-old, 13-year veteran.
If we’re talking someone like J.J. Redick, sure, there’s a combination that would most likely entice the Orlando Magic.
But when it comes to a blockbuster, Ainge would be kidding himself to even fathom that he has a sliver of hope in making one happen without involving Pierce or Garnett.
Summing It Up
In a perfect world, Boston would be able to receive a productive big man in exchange for Jason Collins, Fab Melo and Doc River’s eldest son. However, in reality, it’s going to take a lot more than that.
If the Celtics want to address their glaring needs, they will almost certainly have to part ways with Garnett, Pierce or even both.
It’s a move that would definitely anger the entire Boston faithful, who are eager to see both future Hall of Famers retire in Celtic green, but is that worth witnessing a similar stretch of futility that followed after the departures of Larry Bird and Kevin McHale?
While signaling the end of the Big Three era will surely be a saddening moment in the history of Boston sports, it might also be the moment that could trigger the dawn of another era.
Loyalty or success?
That’s the dilemma that faces Ainge as the Feb. 21 NBA trade deadline quickly approaches.
Also check out: Grading Each Celtics Player's Performance Since Rondo's Injury