Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were traded to the Brooklyn Nets on draft night, following head coach Doc Rivers out the TD Garden doors. Largely seen as the three faces of the Celtics' Big Three run—especially after Ray Allen bolted for Miami in 2012—their departures should mark a steep decline in competitiveness next season.
Team president Danny Ainge has gone all-in on asset collection, acquiring four first-round picks and the right to swap another in deals with Brooklyn and the Los Angeles Clippers. Along with those picks came Kris Humphries' expiring contract and Gerald Wallace, both of whom were reportedly on the trade block the moment the deal became official.
Ainge would have you believe these Celtics aren't tanking—and seems offended by the very notion—but the fact remains this team knowingly made moves to get worse in the short-term this offseason. That's not necessarily a criticism. It's been said that teams in the middle—back-half lottery and seeds six through eight in the playoffs—are the NBA's No Man's Land. If you want to build a champion, it's far more important to collect assets than half-compete for a first-round squashing.
The problem for teams like Boston, a franchise used to getting its way and competing for titles, is that it takes a little coaxing to get used to these eras. With the NBA releasing its 2013-14 schedule Tuesday, that sense of melancholy will only heighten. Celtics fans will take stock of the month-by-month outlook, count their winnable games and come up with the lowest number they have since the pre-Garnett era.
With that in mind, here is a complete breakdown of Boston's 2013-14 slate via NBA.com, including a breakdown of the most notable contests.
2013-14 Boston Celtics Schedule
|Oct. 30||at Toronto Raptors||7 p.m.|
|Nov. 1||vs. Milwaukee Bucks||7:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 3||at Detroit Pistons||6 p.m.|
|Nov. 4||at Memphis Grizzlies||8 p.m.|
|Nov. 6||vs. Utah Jazz||7:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 8||at Orlando Magic||7 p.m.|
|Nov. 9||at Miami Heat||7:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 11||vs. Orlando Magic||7:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 13||vs. Charlotte Bobcats||7:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 15||vs. Portland Trail Blazers||7:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 16||at Minnesota Timberwolves||8 p.m.|
|Nov. 19||at Houston Rockets||8 p.m.|
|Nov. 20||at San Antonio Spurs||8:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 22||vs. Indiana Pacers||7:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 23||at Atlanta Hawks||7:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 25||at Charlotte Bobcats||7 p.m.|
|Nov. 27||vs. Memphis Grizzlies||7:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 29||vs. Cleveland Cavaliers||7:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 30||at Milwaukee Bucks||9 p.m.|
|Dec. 3||vs. Milwaukee Bucks||7:30 p.m.|
|Dec. 6||vs. Denver Nuggets||7:30 p.m.|
|Dec. 8||at New York Knicks||12 p.m.|
|Dec. 10||at Brooklyn Nets||7:30 p.m.|
|Dec. 11||vs. Los Angeles Clippers||7:30 p.m.|
|Dec. 13||vs. New York Knicks||7:30 p.m.|
|Dec. 16||vs. Minnesota Timberwolves||7:30 p.m.|
|Dec. 18||vs. Detroit Pistons||7:30 p.m.|
|Dec. 21||vs. Washington Wizards||1 p.m.|
|Dec. 22||at Indiana Pacers||6 p.m.|
|Dec. 28||vs. Cleveland Cavaliers||1 p.m.|
|Dec. 31||vs. Atlanta Hawks||1 p.m.|
|Jan. 2||at Chicago Bulls||8 p.m.|
|Jan. 3||vs. New Orleans Pelicans||7:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 5||at Oklahoma City Thunder||7 p.m.|
|Jan. 7||at Denver Nuggets||9 p.m.|
|Jan. 8||at Los Angeles Clippers||10:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 10||at Golden State Warriors||10:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 11||at Portland Trail Blazers||10 p.m.|
|Jan. 13||vs. Houston Rockets||7:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 15||vs. Toronto Raptors||7:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 17||vs. Los Angeles Lakers||7:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 19||at Orlando Magic||6 p.m.|
|Jan. 21||at Miami Heat||7:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 22||at Washington Wizards||7 p.m.|
|Jan. 24||vs. Oklahoma City Thunder||7:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 26||vs. Brooklyn Nets||6:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 28||at New York Knicks||7:30 p.m.|
|Jan. 29||vs. Philadelphia 76ers||7:30 p.m.|
|Feb. 2||vs. Orlando Magic||1 p.m.|
|Feb. 5||at Philadelphia 76ers||7 p.m.|
|Feb. 7||vs. Sacramento Kings||7:30 p.m.|
|Feb. 9||vs. Dallas Mavericks||6 p.m.|
|Feb. 10||at Milwaukee Bucks||8 p.m.|
|Feb. 12||vs. San Antonio Spurs||7:30 p.m.|
|Feb. 19||at Phoenix Suns||9 p.m.|
|Feb. 21||at Los Angeles Lakers||10:30 p.m.|
|Feb. 22||at Sacramento Kings||10 p.m.|
|Feb. 24||at Utah Jazz||9 p.m.|
|Feb. 26||vs. Atlanta Hawks||7:30 p.m.|
|March 1||vs. Indiana Pacers||8 p.m.|
|March 5||vs. Golden State Warriors||7:30 p.m.|
|March 7||vs. Brooklyn Nets||7:30 p.m.|
|March 9||vs. Detroit Pistons||6 p.m.|
|March 11||at Indiana Pacers||7 p.m.|
|March 12||vs. New York Knicks||7:30 p.m.|
|March 14||vs. Phoenix Suns||7:30 p.m.|
|March 16||at New Orleans Pelicans||6 p.m|
|March 17||at Dallas Mavericks||8:30 p.m.|
|March 19||vs. Miami Heat||7:30 p.m.|
|March 21||at Brooklyn Nets||7:30 p.m.|
|March 26||vs. Toronto Raptors||7:30 p.m.|
|March 28||at Toronto Raptors||7 p.m.|
|March 30||vs. Chicago Bulls||7 p.m.|
|March 31||at Chicago Bulls||8 p.m.|
|April 2||at Washington Wizards||7 p.m.|
|April 4||vs. Philadelphia 76ers||7:30 p.m.|
|April 5||at Detroit Pistons||7:30 p.m.|
|April 9||at Atlanta Hawks||7:30 p.m.|
|April 11||vs. Charlotte Bobcats||7:30 p.m.|
|April 12||at Cleveland Cavaliers||7:30 p.m.|
|April 14||at Philadelphia 76ers||7 p.m.|
|April 16||vs. Washington Wizards||8 p.m.|
Most Intriguing Matchups
Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics
When: Jan. 26 and March 7
There will be two major returns to TD Garden this year, and it will be interesting to gauge the fan reaction to both.
The return of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the city where they spent the last six years together making title pushes could be among the most touching moments of the entire season. There won't be any boos nor any of the animosity that usually comes with the first return of a departed superstar. Dwight Howard's first game at Staples this will not be.
Garnett and Pierce are two of the most beloved players in Celtics history. Boston will likely honor both with a pregame ceremony. Fans will cheer, tears will be shed, memories will be had. And that will all make for one of the most heart-wrenching moments of the NBA season.
Once the game starts, though, the atmosphere will be particularly interesting. It's easy to love Garnett when he's playing for your team. The scowling, constant barking at teammates and referees and unalienable competitive spirit he displays made him a perfect fit in Boston, a city that envisions its collars as blue as its socks red. That's how the two sides came to appreciate one another so much. The majority of Garnett's career was spent in Minnesota, but he'll at least be remembered in a two-sided jersey.
Those little quirks aren't as amusing for opposing fans. It won't be as fun to see Garnett whisper some soul-shattering smack talk to Kris Humphries when the latter is wearing green and white and the former representing Brooklyn. Opposing fans dislike Garnett almost as much as his team's fans adore him.
Pierce is much less hateable for opposing fans, which is good because he'd have to spit on the Green Monster to even hear one boo at TD Garden. There is no separation of loyalties for Pierce. He's the proverbial Celtic for life, and whatever happens in Brooklyn the next year or two will be icing on the cake. Pierce's time with the Nets will either be Jordan on the Wizards or a nice end-of-career capper that makes everyone feel good.
Either way, how Garnett and Pierce play and how they are received as visitors at TD Garden should be interesting—even if Brooklyn looks like the far superior team.
Los Angeles Clippers at Boston Celtics
When: Dec. 11
Doc Rivers, the other man returning after a long tenure in Boston, might not have such a forgiving return. Everyone has said the right things since Rivers left for the Clippers and there doesn't seem to be any animosity between Ainge and his former coach, but the perception surrounding his departure is a lot less friendly.
Through constant media reports in the on-again-off-again-on-again saga that was Rivers' move to Los Angeles, he was seen as the overarching ringleader. Signed to a five-year extension that paid him more than any other NBA coach, Rivers was suddenly having cold feet about a long-term rebuilding project—even if one was all but inevitable when he signed that deal.
And with the Celtics married to the idea of ridding themselves of Pierce and Garnett, the situation was doomed. Rivers left for the Clippers in exchange for a first-round pick, gone after seemingly having tenure nine years into his stay.
Rivers is the man who led Boston to its 17th banner. The Celtics made the playoffs in each of the final six seasons under his watch, a run of much-needed excellence after a decent-sized sample of mediocrity. He was also something more to the city of Boston, an ambassador who always knew how to strike a chord with the perfect statement at the perfect time. Rivers' heartfelt quotes after the tragic Boston Marathon bombings were the best example of that.
That said, Rivers is also the one who took his first ticket to a championship situation when the opportunity came up. He pushed his way out the door, eschewing a chance to become a face-of-the-franchise coach—a rarity in all sports these days. Everyone can speak in platitudes if they like, but no one can be happy with the way that situation ended.
Like it was with Pierce and Garnett, that makes the fan reaction much more intriguing than the game itself. The Clippers are one of the five best teams in basketball. They're a championship contender that only got better by adding Rivers and filling out the rest of the roster with floor-spacers.
In his return to the city that once adored him, the only real lingering question is how fans and players will react. Will they boo? It's very possible. It's equally possible, though, that the fans do the classy thing and shower Rivers with the adoration he deserves for winning a ring.
Either way, pregame introductions will be awfully fun that night.
Rajon Rondo's Return Game
Perhaps the biggest lingering question for Boston the remainder of the summer and next season will be the long-term status of Rajon Rondo. Once Pierce and Garnett were moved to Brooklyn, some expected the All-Star point guard to be Ainge's next jettisoning mission.
With his status as one of the game's best point guards and difficult personalities working against the team's rebuilding effort, it was a fair assumption. But outside some inquiries from other franchises, it seems the Celtics are dead-set on keeping Rondo—at least least for now.
Much of that stance likely lies in the fact Rondo is currently rehabbing from knee surgery, with his return date completely up in the air. Initially thought to have fully torn his ACL, Rondo could have missed nearly the entire 2013-14 season had that been the case. But after only a partial tear was revealed in surgery, it's realistically possible that he's back in the lineup opening night.
Let's just say we don't expect Rondo to necessarily rush back to the Celtics bench. They'll want him at 100 percent as a player and person, but also as an asset. Though it's possible that team brass feels Rondo is a key cog in the team's rebuilding effort, numbers say otherwise. Rondo turned 27 in February, just about the time where a player historically reaches his peak. By the time the Celtics are competing for championships again, in theory, Rondo will be pushing 30 if not already there.
How Rondo looks in his first game back and subsequent contests could be huge for the Celtics, should they choose to trade him. Injury questions and the perception that Boston is having a firesale has dampened the market a bit for Rondo—a package centered around (h/t The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn) Brandon Jennings isn't getting anyone excited (yet)—and an instant return to form could spike interest.
It will also be fun seeing how Rondo reacts to the group of miscreants placed around him. Rondo is widely regarded as one of the most intelligent and engaging players in the league, but he's also a demanding personality.
Early Season Prediction
Finding eight playoff teams in the Eastern Conference is like trying to find humanity in Walter White. It can be done; you just have to try really, really hard and push all of the overarching evidence elsewhere in the process.
Barring a catastrophe, the Heat, Pacers, Knicks, Nets and Bulls are stone-cold locks for May basketball. Each of those teams is good enough you could probably talk yourself into them being the Eastern Conference representative if you wanted.
Once you go beyond those four teams, though, things get ugly in a hurry. The Hawks are probably a shoo-in thanks to their offseason moves, consigning them to a few more years of early postseason exits on NBA TV. The Cavaliers and Wizards also expect themselves to make the playoffs, the latter of whom having enough strong veterans to make it happen. The Raptors linger. And if you want to get frisky, Detroit's signing of Josh Smith and trade for Jennings puts the club in consideration, though we might be a year away.
What those teams have in common—other than No Man's Land status—is they're all better than the Celtics on paper. Rondo's return date is questionable, Jeff Green oscillates between superstar and forgettable on a nightly basis. Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley are promising young players who should be Celtics contributors into the future, but neither is ready to push the playoff needle by himself.
Boston is heading to the lottery. And that's just swell. From the moment Pierce, Garnett and Rivers left the organization, the team's 2013-14 plan was put out in massive Celtic green for all to see. Celtics fans are smart enough to realize what's going on, get on board with it and understand that this was in the best interest of the franchise.
Assuming NBA utopia—where players don't get hurt and no big moves happen between now and October—the Celtics rank somewhere on the second rung of the lottery. They won't be as dreadful as Philadelphia, Orlando or Charlotte, three young teams still in the early stages of rebuilding. Boston is more on par with the middle crowd, somewhere between Milwaukee and Detroit in a low-30-win sandwich.
Again, it's incredibly hard to make predictions in early August. The thought process alone is enough to give you permanent brain freeze. The Celtics could move Rondo tomorrow and render all predictions moot. But for now, they're a team that should be selecting anywhere from No. 6 to No. 9 next June—possibly higher if the ping-pong balls go their way.
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