Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce face uncertain futures with the Celtics (AP)
With the future of the Celtics now up in the air after the six-game first-round playoff loss to the Knicks, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, in an interview on WEEI’s Mustard & Johnson show, suggested that the team should proceed in precisely the fashion in which president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has operated for some time. Mannix noted that Ainge actively explored the possibility of dealing longtime mainstays Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett leading up to this season’s trade deadline, and suggested that the Celtics should again explore the market for the duo this offseason — while remaining comfortable with the notion of bringing them back if the team is unsatisfied with the return.
“I don’t think it would be [financially] difficult to trade Pierce if you wanted to. Boston was motivated to do it the last couple years. Leading up to the trade deadline, they spoke to Brooklyn, they spoke to Atlanta, they spoke to Dallas. They were actively looking to deal Paul Pierce,” said Mannix. “They had conversations with the Clippers about Kevin Garnett and were trying to figure out a way to get a deal done for DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe. Look, they were trying to make some moves with these two guys. Boston’s issue wasn’t financial. It was that they wanted a lot in return. I remember talking to some people in the Nets organization about how much Boston wanted in return. It was a combination of draft picks and young talent.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a financial issue for the Celtics to trade either one of those players if they’re motivated to. It’s just how much less they’re willing to take back in return.
“I would do exactly what Danny’s been doing to this point,” added Mannix. “If you can trade one of them and get a lot in return, get something that you know is going to help reboot your franchise, do it. If not, hold onto them and just play this thing out, wait for their contracts to expire and play with the flexibility then.”
Mannix noted that the avenues to upgrading the Celtics roster are limited this offseason, particularly in terms of free agents.
“It’s not like there are a lot of great free agents out there this summer that can be difference-makers. There’s Chris Paul. There’s Dwight Howard. But neither one of those guys is coming to Boston at this moment,” said Mannix. “Pierce and Garnett, despite their age, despite the fact that they’ve slowed down, obviously, at this point in their careers, they’re still capable players.
“You can’t tell me that if Boston had [Rajon] Rondo and [Jared] Sullinger and got something from Darko Milicic this year, that Boston wouldn’t be beating New York right now and moving on. I firmly believe that. I don’t think the Knicks are as good as advertised, and I think the Celtics with those players would have moved on. And they probably would have been a great candidate to move on in the second round as well,” he said. “I think Danny should keep doing what he’s doing. I think you go out there, you shop Pierce, you shop Garnett, you see if you get a Bledsoe-Jordan type of offer for them that you can pull the trigger on and that Garnett would [willingly] accept.
Barring that, you bring these guys back. You hope Rondo is healthy. You add to your roster with good draft picks, which Danny’s been pretty good at over the last couple years, and you add some minor free agents, like they’ve done with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee and going back a way, James Posey.”
Mannix suggested that one avenue the Celtics shouldn’t explore at this time is a deal to part with point guard Rajon Rondo.
“I don’t think [Ainge] is going to wind up trading Rondo. Rondo’s too valuable at this point,” said Mannix. “His contract, to me, was the best thing about Rajon Rondo. He makes considerably less money than the other elite players at his position — [Russell] Westbrook, Chris Paul and some of the other guys.
“He’s too valuable to this franchise, to this organization to even consider trading unless you get an All-Star-caliber player in return, and right now, you’re not going to be able to do that unless Rondo proves he’s healthy coming back from the ACL injury,” he continued. “I think you saw during these playoffs just how valuable Rondo can be. He manufactures offense on his own. He’s an elite defender — a strong defender, anyway — when it comes to defending point guards at his position. I just think that he’s too valuable to this franchise to just give away unless you’re getting something valuable in return.”
The Knicks hosted their funeral on Wednesday, and the zombie C’s crawled out of their graves to live one more game. Then, they buried themselves alive in the first three quarters of Game 6, and nearly lived to tell about it. Grit and balls. Heart of a champion. #BostonStrong. All of it was on display amid a 20-0 run over four fourth-quarter minutes that nobody would’ve believed if the 18,624 fans filling the Garden hadn’t watched it unfold.
As Knicks guard Iman Shumpert said after an 88-80 win that finally laid these C’s to rest, “It felt like it wasn’t real.”
Only this time the ghosts of Celtics past weren’t good enough. Not without Rajon Rondo. Not on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett alone. Not anymore. So, what now? Where do these old, tired, stubborn Celtics go from here?
“Gotta love the heart of a champion,” said Celtics guard Jason Terry. “We hung in there tonight — to get down 20 in the fourth quarter, battle back — but you could see it: We just didn’t have enough gas in the tank.”
Barring a trade, Terry will be back next season at age 36. As will the under-30 crowd of Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee. Rondo and Jared Sullinger should be ready for training camp. But none of that matters without Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers. Without them, they’re in NBA purgatory.
“If I had a wish, everybody would be back — healthy, the way we started,” said Green. “Everybody healthy. We battled all season with the injuries, guys getting hurt, guys in and out of the lineup. A lot of adversity we went through. If I had one wish for next year it’s that everybody is back. Healthy. We’d have our full roster.”
And why the hell not? Name one player the Celtics would either trade for or sign this offseason that would hasten the rebuilding phase. While you’re stewing on that one, consider also Pierce and Garnett mean a heck of a lot more in Boston than anywhere else. They learned that when nobody bit on them as trade bait at the deadline.
Doc’s not going anywhere. Basketball is in his blood, and he has 21 million reasons over the next three seasons to remain as coach. “I can’t make that decision right now,” he said. “I’m under contract, and we’ll see. Honestly, I just can’t even think about that right now, so I don’t know. … If I told you right now, I’m coming back.”
Pierce is the next domino. After watching their captain shoot 37 percent and commit 32 turnovers against 32 assists in the series, the Celtics could cut him loose for $5 million by July 1. But Danny Ainge can’t be that cold.
“He’s one of the greatest Celtics to ever play,” said Rivers. “He’s done so much for this franchise. We live in a day and time where guys are changing teams like socks, and Paul has chosen to to stay here throughout his career when clearly he had all rights to leave. He chose to stay here. So, I have so much respect for him for that.
“When I first got here, we were really rebuilding. We made the playoffs that first year, and I remember telling him, ‘Things are not going to go well for a year or two.’ And it didn’t. And Paul never wavered. So, I give him just an amazing amount of respect. He wanted to get it done here. He made that choice where other guys are running around trying to find it. Paul decided, ‘I’m going to stay here and see if we can win it.’ And he did that. So, I hope he’s remember for that, and obviously I hope he comes back.”
Pierce knows his future rests in Ainge’s hands. “That’s up to Danny and them,” he said. “I have no idea. I definitely expect to be playing next year.” As in, he’ll be playing somewhere in 2013-14. Boston or elsewhere. He gave the Celtics 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 33.4 minutes a night. Who’s replacing those numbers? When all was said and done, he was arguably their best player this season. Even at age 35.
The only other player in that argument was KG, and he turns 37 in two weeks. He has two years and $24.4 million left on the deal he signed last summer. And he’s leading the NBA Playoffs in rebounds and double-doubles.
“Kevin Garnett limped into the playoffs, and he was unbelievable,” said Rivers. “He is as tough a guy, as tough a competitor, that I’ve ever been around. Rebounding and just doing everything for this team. I really didn’t want him to go out that way on our court. I just didn’t want him to. Obviously, we lost to a better team, but for him in particular I just didn’t want him to go out that way. But he is a winner. He’s the best. The best I’ve seen.”
So, I’ll ask you again: Who’s replacing those numbers? Chris Wilcox? Shavlik Randolph? D.J. White? Fab Melo? Those dudes gave the Celtics 10 minutes in the entire series. Garnett played 212. Not bad for a 36-year-old.
“One of the big reasons I came here was because of Paul,” said Garnett. “Obviously, you want to be in a situation where it’s better. I want to make sure that I’m always able to help a team and be in positions where I’m giving something. I demand a lot from myself, both physically and from a skill level, but I’d be lying to y’all if I said Paul didn’t play into that factor. It’s too soon of a conversation for me right now.”
After the game, Rivers, Pierce and Garnett agreed to discuss their future at a later date. They just couldn’t talk about next year yet. Not after the comeback that wasn’t. As KG said, “I’m kind of digesting in the current.”
“Who knows with the future?” added Pierce. “I’ve been here 15 years, and I’ve seen a lot of changes each and every year, so I’m sure there are going to be a lot of changes here, and we’ll see what happens.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same. In all likelihood, the Celtics will get the band back together for one more run. Same as it ever was. Reload, retool, rise from the dead. All that. If only because they have no other choice. That and the fact Rondo won’t let them walk away. After all, he’s as stubborn as the rest of them.
“The crowd never died down,” Terry said after finishing his first season in Boston. “They were still with us. That’s what the definition of a true Celtic is. Never say never, never say die. Im proud to wear this uniform. We fought through a lot of adversity this season, but we never made excuses. We always came to work, we played with what we had. Sometimes the other team’s just better than you, and they were better than us today.”
Doc Rivers bids farewell to Kevin Garnett in Game 6 but will it be the last time they’re together? (AP)
It was the obvious question to ask Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the moments after their season came to an end with a Game 6 loss to the Knicks.
Will they be back for another season?
“I haven’t really thought about it, to be honest with you. I’m kind of digesting , obviously, the current, and Doc came to me, pulled Paul and I to the side and all three of us agreed to speak later — too emotional,” Garnett said. “Obviously, it was a big game, tough loss, especially at home. But more importantly in the future, it’s a different day for that conversation.”
Pierce is signed for next season but only $5 million of his $15 million for next season is guaranteed. He could be amnestied under the new NBA CBA if GM Danny Ainge wants to overhaul the roster.
“That’s a decision for the management,” Pierce said. “Who knows what the future [holds]? I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve seen a lot of changes each and every year. So I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of changes here and we’ll see what happens.”
Garnett made it very clear that his decision about next year will hinge greatly on whether Ainge brings back Pierce.
“One of the big reasons I came [to Celtics] was because of Paul,” said Garnett. “Obviously, you want to be in a situation where it’s better. I want to make sure that I’m able to always help a team. I want to be in positions to where I’m giving something. I demand a lot of myself, both physically and from a skill level. But I’d be lying to y’all if I said Paul didn’t play into that factor. Like I said, it’s too soon of a conversation for me right now.”
Pierce, who said he will play in the NBA next season, was asked if he wants to return to Boston for a 16th season.
“That’s up to Danny and them,” Pierce said. “I have no idea.”
Coach Doc Rivers is also not a sure thing to return. He signed a five-year, $35 million extension before the 2011-12 season. He has three years left on it, that is if he wants to return.
“I don’t think about any of that stuff,” Rivers said. “Danny knows me pretty well. I immerse myself; that’s the only way I can do it, probably to a fault. Pretty much unlivable during the year. So I don’t know. Danny knows he gives me at least a week to do just whatever I do — and I don’t know what I do, sit and watch cartoons or something — then we’ll talk about it. But Danny has already worked on [offseason plans]. He never shows me. I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to know anything. We’ll figure it all out, and we’ll see.”
Jason Terry knew it wouldn’t be easy beating the Knicks four straight games. And down 26 with under 10 minutes left in Game 6, he knew it would be nearly impossible.
But that didn’t keep Boston from putting a huge scare into the Knicks before New York advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
The Celtics went on a 20-0 run, cutting a 26-point lead down to six, and eventually down to four before succumbing to the Knicks, 88-80. Terry finished 14 points in 24 minutes off the bench as the Celtics’ season came to an end.
“Gotta love the heart of a champion,” Terry said. “We hung in there tonight to get down 20 in the fourth quarter, battled back…but you could see it. We just didn’t have enough gas in the tank.”
Some may have felt the season was over with 10 minutes left but not Terry. And once the Celtics gave them reason, the TD Garden crowd roared at levels that made it sound like the building was about to take off.
“We thought it we got some stops, got a couple baskets we’d be back in the game,” Terry said. “The crowd they never died down, they were still with us. That’s what the definition of a true Celtic is. Never say never, never say die. Im proud to wear this uniform. We fought through a lot of adversity this season, but we never made excuses. We always came to work, we played with what we had…sometimes you know other teams just better than you, and they were better than us today.”
Like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Terry said his future with the Celtics is not for him to decide, though, like Garnett, he is signed for two more seasons.
“That’s not for me to decide,” he said. “I want to make sure I’m right, make sure my body’s healthy through this summer and we’ll see what happens.”
A montage of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in the first half with the tagline “heart of a champion” left the Garden crowd in awe. Then, a Knicks barrage left those same fans in shock. Finally, the Celtics showed that heart, rattling off a 20-point run midway through the fourth quarter and making a game of it, but it proved too little, too late.
Garnett came to play, and Pierce finally showed up in the fourth quarter, but an 88-80 loss in Game 6 ended their season, opening up a Pandora’s Box of questions nobody in the Celtics organization wants to answer. That’s another story for a different day. Here’s what went wrong in their final game of the season.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Worst first: The Celtics were lucky to get out of the first quarter only trailing by 14 points. They shot 25 percent from the field. Garnett made his first three shots, and his teammates finished 1-of-13 in the opening quarter. Pierce went 1-for-8. While the Celtics settled for jump shots, the Knicks scored from everywhere. Seven minutes into the game, New York had as many points off turnovers as the C’s had total points. No other word to describe it but ugly.
3 falling: The Celtics missed their first nine 3-pointers, including five bricks from Pierce, and the Knicks’ defense held the Celtics to 14 points through the game’s first 18 minutes. Meanwhile, Pablo Prigioni made three of his first four attempts from beyond the arc, scoring as many points in the first quarter as he had in any game in the series.
Everything: The Celtics looked gassed. Through three quarters, they had 15 field goals and 17 turnovers. C’s not named KG made 8-of-37 shots entering the fourth quarter. It seemed as though they left everything they had on the Madison Square Garden floor in Game 5, when Garnett, Pierce, Jason Terry, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass combined for 201 minutes. Then, the fourth quarter happened, and the Celtics scored more points than they did in all of the first half. It was ridiculous and unsustainable all at the same time.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Green light: Nobody on the Celtics could get within 10 feet of the basket, so Jeff Green gave it a shot. And another. And another. He started just 1-of-6 but led the C’s with nine points at the break — thanks to 6-of-8 shooting from the free throw line. If anybody else could’ve beat his man off the dribble, the Celtics wouldn’t have been in such dire straits at halftime. But Pierce settled for contested jumpers when he should’ve been deferring to Green, who finished with 21 points on 12 shots. Pierce scored 14 on 18 attempts.
The runs: Any sign of life was a positive. That’s how bad the C’s offense was. Back-to-back Green and Terry 3′s with four minutes left until halftime capped an 8-0 run that left the Garden wondering, “Wait, they’re only down 10?” With four minutes remaining in the third quarter, a Terry triple punctuated a 9-2 run that did the same. And, of course, the miraculous 20-0 run in 4:05 that slashed a 75-49 game to a six-point deficit, breathing life back into the building in the fourth quarter.
Melo J.R.: The only thing that kept the Celtics from completely getting their doors blown off was another poor shooting performance by both Carmelo Anthony (7-23 FG) and J.R. Smith (5-13 FG). If only Raymond Felton (11 points, 7 assists) — who killed the Celtics all series — forgot to show up, too, the Celtics might have had a shot.