Old, Slow Boston Celtics Will Force Danny Ainge to Rebuild Roster

Sean Hojnacki@@TheRealHojnackiFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2013

The graying Boston Celtics have stumbled and bumbled their way through two losses to the New York Knicks, and the twilight of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett is fading fast.

The Celtics have set records in this year's playoffs, just not the kind of records you want.

After scoring just eight points and fumbling away eight turnovers in the fourth quarter of Game 1, Boston scored only 23 points in the entire second half of Game 2, tying an NBA playoff record for futility in a half (per NBA.com). In four second-half quarters at Madison Square Garden, they have scored 48 points.

Of course, much credit goes to the Knicks' defense, which has recently shifted into high gear later in games.

But Celtics' fans are weeping and gnashing their teeth after Tuesday's loss. Barring a spectacular turnaround on offense, the C's will make a hasty and hapless exit from the playoffs after taking the Miami Heat to seven games in last year's conference finals.

Boston's sluggish play and lack of solid depth requires the front office to seek an immediate solution. 

Unfortunately, Celtics president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge, lacks the cap space to make noise in free agency. The C's must be rebuilt, or at least substantially renovated, and the big question is how soon that can happen.

Prospects for the immediate future look gloomy, but at least Boston fans can get excited for the 2015-16 season. And if that's too long to wait for another contender, get ready to fire up the trade machine.


Dollars and Sense

After a regular season dominated by speculation over what moves Ainge might make, Boston's roster remained fundamentally the same. And now he's got a full-blown mess on his hands.

Ainge has little room to maneuver in free agency this offseason as Boston's payroll already sits at $73 million for next year (per HoopsHype.com). 

Only D.J. White and Chris Wilcox have expiring contracts. Jeff Green is signed for $8.7 million while Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and Jason Terry are due $17 million. There's also the $28 million owed to KG and Pierce.

Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford are bargains at less than $5 million total with Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo on low-priced rookie contracts (per Spotrac.com).

But the payroll as it projects for next season leaves Ainge with precious little wiggle room. 

This offseason, potential free agents such as Jarrett Jack, Beno Udrih, Jose Calderon, Kyle Korver or J.J. Redick could really supplement Boston's scoring, but it is unlikely to have the money for them. Someone cheaper will have to suffice.

It also could look to add a bench player for the frontcourt with someone such as Andray Blatche projecting as a good fit in terms of cost and skill set. Not exactly a front-page headline for the Boston Globe.



Garnett is 36 and Pierce is 35; both have played fairly well (PERs over 19) this season while also showing the effects of aging.

Garnett figures to retire at some point, either when his contract expires in 2015 or sometime before that. Boston dangled Pierce in February's trade talks, but no deal ever materialized. They are capable but old and Boston had not replenished its roster with corresponding youth.

At age 35, Jason Terry—signed to replace Ray Allen—looks like a shadow of his former self; his shooting dipped from 44.2 percent before the All-Star break to 41.5 percent after. 

Following a strong February and a decent March, the JET averaged 8.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting (including 29.2 percent from downtown) in six April games. He's got nine points on 3-of-13 shooting in the playoffs while Allen is living it up with the Heat.

Courtney Lee has been something of a disappointment this season. He plays admirable defense but doesn't offer much on the offensive end. His 11.7 PER ranked 46th among shooting guards, just ahead of P.J. Tucker from the Phoenix Suns.

Brandon Bass rounds out the underperforming and overpaid. He's another undersized frontcourt player, and his scoring average declined from 12.5 points per game last season to 8.7 this year.

Boston got Jordan Crawford for a song from the Washington Wizards, but it turns out that was because he can't play defense whatsoever and hoists up some awful shots.

Jeff Green followed up a sensational Game 1 (26 points, seven boards, three blocks) with 10 points on 3-of-11, one rebound and a minus-22 rating in Game 2. He played well this season, but $9 million is hardly a bargain for an undersized power forward.

Without Rajon Rondo, who missed 44 games, the C's are hopelessly thin at the point. Even with the mercurial guard set to return for next season, the Celtics must enhance their depth up and down the roster.

Aside from Rondo, only Pierce averaged more than three assists per game this season. Bradley is the sole PG on Boston's active roster, and he can only offer so much besides his elite defense.

Jared Sullinger looked good until he went down in January with herniated discs in his back. Per 36 minutes, the rookie averaged 10.9 points with 10.7 rebounds over 45 games and figures to be an integral part of the C's lineup going forward.

The future for the Celtics could lie with Green and Bradley, who will each be 27 years old at the start of next season, plus the 21-year-old Sullinger. If healthy, they would provide a solid core around Garnett, Pierce and Rondo, but Boston still needs to get more of a youth movement going.


The Plan

Even in 2014, among the seven highest-paid players on the Celtics, only Pierce will become a free agent. Unless Garnett retires, he'll be owed $12 million at age 38. Bradley and Crawford have qualifying offers that year.

The only quick fix seems to be a trade, as Boston fans are too impatient to wait until 2015.

Ainge nearly traded Pierce as part of a three-team deadline-deal this year. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported the failed framework: Boston would have given The Truth to the Dallas Mavericks, the Mavs would send a package of players to the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta would trade Josh Smith to Boston.

The deal fell apart because the Hawks wanted Boston's first-round pick; Ainge wouldn't budge. He could try to revive the Pierce trade talks, made sweeter now because of his expiring contract.

Rondo also could net the Celtics quite a haul of players or draft picks or both. While Rondo has become the engine of the Celtics' offense (and has bedeviled the Knicks in the past), they could substantially reform the roster by swapping him.

He's the league's best point guard, if you consider assists as the primary distinguishing factor. He'll have assists-leader Greivis Vasquez to contend with next season, but Rondo is the kind of player who looks for dimes even when there's a wide-open layup available. 

Ainge has proved himself to be a savvy manager, but the basketball salary cap can tighten around you like a noose. He'll need to wheel and deal on the trade market if he wants to beef up Boston's youth and depth. Otherwise, they could look at another lame-duck season next year.



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