Doc Rivers is gone, but the Boston Celtics' new movement has only just begun.
According to Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston, the Los Angeles Clippers finally acquired Rivers on Sunday after agreeing to part ways with a future first-round pick and pay Rivers $21 million over the next three years. The draft pick in question will reportedly come in 2015 and is unprotected.
Now that the Rivers saga has officially come to an end, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge's immediate concern becomes the future of Boston's Big Three.
To be clear, that was always the main issue. With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce both on the wrong side of 35 and Rajon Rondo coming off an ACL injury, they were always the biggest question marks for the Celtics.
Even after attention shifted to Rivers and his desire to leave a rebuilding situation, any franchise-altering move was always going to come down to Boston definitively addressing the futures of their most important players.
Garnett's standing in Boston really isn't all that complicated—he wanted out.
After that, it gets complicated.
His desire to play elsewhere isn't a shot at Garnett. It's the truth. Like Rivers, he didn't want to stick around for a massive rebuilding project. At 37, no one would.
Before David Stern and the NBA swung their mighty fist, Garnett and Rivers were considered to be a "package" deal. The Clippers wanted them both and ultimately, Chris Paul's impending free agency would force them to cough up the necessary assets to land both.
Then Stern threw a wrench into those plans.
The Association wouldn't allow both moves to go through, even if they were broken up into separate transactions, as the league won't give its blessing to any trade or signing where side deals are put in place.
Inevitably, the Clippers elected to pursue Rivers on his own with the intention of going after Garnett later. While that may still be the plan, MacMullan says that the league will likely veto any future accord struck between the Celtics and Clippers that lands Garnett in Los Angeles because it will be directly related to Doc's arrival.
If we've learned anything in the past—or from this Rivers trade—it's to never declare any potential move dead until it's actually dead.
Take the Paul situation in Tinseltown. River's acquisition should ensure that he re-ups with the Clippers for another five years on July 1, but until he signs on the dotted line, anything can happen.
Garnett finds himself in a similar situation. A trade to the Clippers is still possible, just not likely, forcing him and the Celtics to confront their available alternatives.
Staying in Boston isn't out of the question. The last six years of his career have been spent there and he's grown attached to the city and franchise—not to mention the bond he shares with Pierce.
Selling Garnett on remaining in Beantown becomes far more difficult without Rivers, though. The fact that Garnett was initially supposed to go with him makes such a sales pitch even tougher, and if Pierce winds up being traded (slight spoiler), then forget about it.
Ainge could attempt to trade Garnett elsewhere, but the future Hall of Famer has a no-trade clause and must approve any move the Celtics try to make. The list of potential suitors Garnett would consider then dwindles down to contenders. If he's not prepared to endure a rebuilding phase in Boston, he's not about to willingly place himself in a similar situation in another city.
Finding another taker—which should be pretty easy—doesn't guarantee anything either. Contenders are liable to catch Garnett's attention, but if he can't finish his career next to Doc (and Pierce), retiring appears to be the more realistic option.
Because there aren't enough factors in play here, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that Garnett began to sour on the idea of playing for the Clippers as negotiations progressed and became more tedious.
Woj also notes that there is a growing belief Garnett will play one more season with the Celtics before retiring and joining Flip Saunders in a "ceremonial role" with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Once again, we must reiterate nothing is etched in stone. Storylines in the NBA change by the day, sometimes by the hour. Garnett could remain in Boston or he could be sent somewhere other than the Clippers.
Or he could simply retire.
Bet on that last option before you assert that he'll play another game for the Celtics or that he'll play for another team. Given the current circumstances, if a deal between the Celtics and Clippers cannot be revived and subsequently approved, and Garnett isn't willing to play anywhere else, he's more likely to walk away from the game before returning to Boston.
Simplicity isn't a luxury the Celtics have when approaching Pierce's future either.
The 35-year-old forward is due $15.3 million next season, but can be bought out for a mere $5 million by June 30. Should Boston decide to cut ties with the lifetime Celtic, he would be free to join another team of his choosing, like the now Rivers-coached Clippers.
Just as Garnett's path to the Clippers has reached an impasse, however, so has Pierce's. Ainge is believed to be seeking a first-round pick in exchange in Pierce and may be prepared to hold on to him if no one meets his asking price.
Retaining Pierce, though costly, increases the now-diminishing likelihood of Garnett returning. Rivers is already gone and if Pierce is next, Garnett will follow suit in one way or another.
Keeping the 15-year veteran for now doesn't mean the Celtics won't move him later. Fringe contenders desperate to get over the championship hump may be willing to rent him come late-February at an astronomical price.
Of course, there's always the possibility the Celtics lower their current asking price.
According to Bob Finnan of The News-Herald, the Cleveland Cavaliers have offered, or are prepared to offer, two second-round picks in exchange for Pierce. Such a price seems low, because it is, but it's still one Boston will be compelled to consider.
Buying Pierce out saves the Celtics roughly $10 million, plus whatever they may avoid in tax penalties. Trading him away for two second-round picks saves them closer to $15 million, plus taxes.
Boston currently has $73 million on the books leading into next season. Parting ways with Pierce while receiving essentially no tangible assets in return puts them right at the salary cap, something that is bound to interest Ainge and company.
Still, don't bank on Pierce leaving just yet. Midseason trades are a different story, but right now, I doubt Ainge is prepared to relinquish a guy (even if he's pushing 36) who averaged 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists last season for just cap relief.
A first-round pick is a justifiable get. Once upon a time, that's how team's rebuilt—through the draft. Second-round selections? Not so much.
Plus, going off my prediction that Garnett's time with the Celtics is nearing its conclusion, shedding all of Pierce's contract doesn't become as much of an issue. We've also got to remember the Celtics are attached to Pierce in ways they were never bonded to with Doc or Garnett.
Pierce has been in Boston for nearly two decades and he may be the one piece to this puzzle the Celtics can't bring themselves to move—yet.
Now is Rondo's time.
Still working his way back from an ACL injury, the Celtics have never been more invested in Rondo.
Rivers is gone, and Pierce and Garnett may follow suit, which means all eyes will be on the point guard to see if he can finally take the reins of this team.
Though he held absolute control leading into this past season, injuries, and quite frankly, an unwavering attitude, stunted what was supposed to be a season filled with growth for Rondo. With the Celtics almost crossing the line into a full-fledged restoration, he has no choice to make up for it next year.
In truth, the Celtics could opt to blow everything up and shop Rondo as well. He's on a reasonable contract and considered one of the best playmakers in the league. Still, coming off a season-ending injury, that's a long shot.
Boston is more likely to look to Rondo to lead this team into the future. That's been the goal all along. The Celtics will hire a coach, keeping Rondo's aversion to authority figures in mind, and hope he can carry them back to prominence.
Finding that coach won't be easy, obviously. After spending the better part of a decade under Rivers, Rondo and him still weren't always seeing eye to eye. They apparently almost came to blows during a team meeting, prompting many to believe that Rivers wanted out of Boston because of him.
Most of that could prove untrue or have been blown out of proportion. That we're so accepting of it as a potential fact, however, attests to Rondo's checkered past.
Star point guards are supposed to be catalysts in every sense of the game. On defense, offense and in the locker room—their job is to lead. Rondo will be in Boston long enough to prove that he can, in fact, lead. Unlike Garnett and Pierce, the odds of him going anywhere else this offseason are virtually nonexistent.
Failure to comply with a new coach and mature as both a player and person next year will put his future in doubt. This is Rondo's last chance to show the Celtics he's who they need him to be, otherwise he too could find himself saying his goodbyes down the road.
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