Realistic Expectations and Benchmarks for a Boston Celtics Rebuild

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistMay 4, 2013

Well, it looks like the time has finally come. This era of Boston Celtics basketball appears to have come to a close, and a new brand will be ushered in.

While nothing is guaranteed, you can kind of feel it in the air. If you watched the moment Kevin Garnett shared with Doc Rivers as he was coming off the floor during the fourth quarter of the Celtics' Game 6 loss to the New York Knicks, you could sense that the brief talk they had held a bit more meaning than usual.

There is a very good chance that Garnett will retire, especially if Boston does not bring Paul Pierce back. Garnett told Yahoo! Sports, "One of the big reasons I came here was because of Paul... I demand a lot out of myself, both physically and from a skill level. I'll be lying if I said Paul didn't play into that."

You don't have to read in between the lines all that much with that quote.

It's fairly obvious that KG's decision is going to hinge on what the C's decide to do with Pierce, and if CSNNE's Greg Dickerson is right, then it looks like the decision may have already been made:

Of course, we don't know any real facts yet. The "people close to (insert player name here)" scoop has certainly never been 100 percent accurate, and for all we know, Garnett and Pierce may already be talking about what they can do to get the Celtics back into contention next season.

Assuming that isn't the case, though, it's time to seriously start discussing what a Boston rebuild would look like and what we can expect from it.

First of all, if KG does formally retire before July 1, the final two years of his contract would come off the books. That would essentially be Step 1 in Boston's rebuilding process.

Then the C's would probably look to either deal Pierce or waive him around that same time, as his $15 million salary for next season becomes guaranteed on July 1. Should he get waived before that date, he would only get paid $5 million.

So, either the Celtics can waive him outright, or they can trade him to another team around the time of the draft. That team could then cut him and save some salary (that CelticsBlog article in the link above explains the situation very well).

Clearly, none of this will be easy, so those clamoring for Boston to start retooling now need to understand that it can't just happen within the blink of an eye.

Pierce certainly has enough left in the tank to offer a contender, but if a team wants to keep him, it'll have to pay him his full salary for 2013-14. Is there a franchise out there that would want to pay a soon-to-be 36-year-old Pierce that much money for one season? Is there one that can really afford it?

Honestly, it appears that the ship has sailed for the C's getting decent value back for Pierce. It likely isn't going to happen now. This is why any hopes of getting Harrison Barnes or a player of that caliber for The Truth are fairly far-fetched, especially considering the Golden State Warriors are rumored to have turned down a Pierce-for-Barnes swap at the deadline.

One player who could have some nice value now? Brandon Bass.

He was outstanding in the postseason this year, even if his numbers don't show it. He hounded Carmelo Anthony throughout the entire first round and made life a living hell for him. Bass has two years and a little over $13 million left on his contract, and for someone who has stepped up in the playoffs for two consecutive years, that might not look like a bad deal to many ballclubs.

So, a new-look Celtics squad is likely going to center around two things at first: Rajon Rondo's recovery from a torn ACL and Jared Sullinger's recovery from back surgery.

If Garnett and Pierce do walk off into the sunset this summer, Rondo officially takes center stage. The team will be his for the first time, so how he bounces back from this rather severe injury will obviously be crucial.

Sullinger demonstrated throughout his rookie season (when he was healthy) how good of a player he can become. The 21-year-old posted a total rebound percentage of 17.5 percent and averaged .146 win shares per 48 minutes. For comparison's sake, Damian Lillard, the unanimous NBA Rookie of the Year choice, averaged only .088 of the latter.

Make no mistake: Sullinger is a big piece of the puzzle to Boston's future.

Then there is Jeff Green, a man 16 months removed from heart surgery who finally displayed why the C's traded the beloved Kendrick Perkins for him two years ago.

The question is, can Green be a top scoring option?

When Rondo went down this season, Green was clearly the No. 3 guy behind Garnett and Pierce, and Jason Terry wasn't too far behind Green. Can Jeff handle the load of even more primacy within the Celtics offense?

The next guy to look at is Avery Bradley. He must improve his offense if he wants to be a full-time contributor on this team, and he also has to stay healthy. The good news is that he is only 22 years old and has ample room to grow, and hopefully with Rondo back in the fold next season, his offensive game will start looking better.

Then there is the issue of the draft. Who does Boston take with the No. 16 pick? You can certainly pick up quality players around that number, as it is just outside the lottery. Who knows? Maybe the C's will land someone who will be absolutely critical to their future success.

What everyone has to understand is that this will not be easy. Rebuilds don't always go as smoothly as the Seattle Supersonics-turned-Oklahoma City Thunder rebuild went. That franchise was fortunate enough to grab guys like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka.

While GM Sam Presti and the rest of Oklahoma City's front office certainly did a heck of a job with those draft picks, you'd be kidding yourself if you didn't assume there was some luck involved.

Let's face it. It is extremely rare that you select four outstanding players like that within a couple of years of each other.

Celtics fans are some of the most spoiled fans in professional sports. They are used to winning. They look up and see the 17 banners hanging from the rafters of TD Garden. They've been through the past six seasons of being "in it" every year.

That's why a rebuilding stage will be a bit more difficult to take in.

This is not the Warriors we're talking about. No disrespect to the Warriors organization, but their fans are not really accustomed to seeing a good ballclub. Now, Golden State is in the second round of the playoffs thanks to up-and-coming superstar Stephen Curry and several other brilliant decisions by the front office. For the first time since 2007, they are making noise.

So, Celtic fanatics, take a look at the Warriors and see what they had to go through to get to this point. To say it wasn't easy is a huge understatement.

Yes, I understand that Boston went through a very dark period throughout the '90s and right up until the moment Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in 2007, but doesn't that feel like ages ago? Plus, at least some of those Celtics teams were making the postseason and putting forth solid performances in doing so.

You have to be realistic. You have to realize that Boston is not going to get equal value in return for Pierce. Not even close, especially taking into account everything The Truth has meant to this franchise and to the city. You have to realize that the chances of another Kevin Garnett ever walking through that door are slim-to-none.

It starts with Rondo, Green, Sullinger and Bradley. Those are the Celtics' four main pieces at the current time. You could even throw Terrence Williams in there given how effective he looked in limited minutes this year.

Then, Ainge has to hit it big in this draft. This is the most important draft the Celtics have taken part in since 2007, when they acquired Allen from the Supersonics in exchange for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and the rights to...guess who? Jeff Green.

The draft is not only imperative for the pick Boston makes, but also for what the club decides to do with Pierce. If Pierce is still with the team beyond June 27, it's probably safe to say that he will be a Celtic in 2013-14. That week will say everything about what direction the C's want to take.

So for now, stop fantasizing about signing Dwight Howard or Al Jefferson or Josh Smith or...well, you get the point.

There is a whole lot of work that has to be done first.

If the Celtics decide to rebuild at all.


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