There has been endless talk this week about the woes of the Celtics. What can be done to fix a roster that is producing nothing but disappointment and frustration?
There has been a lot of unsolicited advice for president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. Get Garnett some help. Look at Suns center Marcin Gortat. Talk to the Kings about 22-year-old DeMarcus Cousins, the talented but troubled big who dropped a triple-double on the Celtics on Sunday in Sacramento. Get on the phone with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak about Pau Gasol.
But I’m here to tell you that’s not what the Celtics should be thinking.
The Celtics should ask Kevin Garnett to waive his very rare no-trade clause (one held by Garnett, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant), listen to all offers leading up to the Feb. 21 NBA trade deadline and get very creative.
Of course, this means Garnett would have to approve. Then, the Celtics need to find the right partner in a deal, a team that would go from a playoff team to an NBA finals contender, with the cap space to fit Garnett’s remaining two years and roughly $24 million, and with either young talent or draft picks, or both.
A few young Western Conference teams come to mind, namely the Thunder, Clippers and Warriors.
Why Garnett, and not Paul Pierce or Rajon Rondo?
Pierce is on the books only through next season and he clearly is the team’s most legitimate outside threat. Rajon Rondo is 26 and a top-five point guard. Avery Bradley might be the best on-ball defender in basketball. Jared Sullinger is developing into a mature, responsible version of Glen Davis. And keep Fab Melo away from hotel room doors and he could be a shot-blocking machine in a year or two.
Garnett, now 36, has started all 31 games and clearly is still an offensive and defensive force that other GMs would love to have on their playoff rosters. He is averaging 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds in over 29 minutes per game. He is fearless and a leader, on and off the court.
This won’t last forever.
The Celtics have precious few trading chips to do what they really need to do, and that is move forward.
The Celtics are not going to even sniff the NBA finals as currently constituted. I wrote in this space last week that the Celtics should get Garnett some help. But after what I watched last week on the West Coast and Wednesday against Memphis in person, I’m convinced another big man won’t make up the talent deficit the Celtics face. Even worse, if the Celtics decide to improve the roster, it will come at the expense of at least Bradley, if not draft picks.
That’s exactly what Ainge should not do.
Ainge should look at Garnett’s salary burden over the next three seasons. It totals $12.4 million this season, $11.5 million next season and $12 million for 2014-15, when he will be 38. The idea was a noble one in the summer. Sign KG for three years, $34 million. Add some pieces to the bench and you have a roster that figured to compete again this season.
Call it roster envy, but I see Oklahoma City, Golden State and Memphis and I see three rosters with average age of 25.3 years and younger. All three are solid playoff teams right now.
The Celtics are at 27.9. Yes, the Spurs ring in at 28.0, the defending champion Heat’s roster is 29.2 and the Knicks are the oldest in the NBA at 31.3. But all three of those teams have something the Celtics don’t, a record well above .500 with legitimate hopes in the playoffs.
The Celtics don’t have enough depth on the bench. Two of their best three players are north of 35, which is like 45 in the NBA.
This is not Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green. That 2011 team could’ve gone to the NBA finals had the C's made a $30 million commitment to Perkins. Instead, Ainge decided to look to the future with Green, whom he thought could be the running mate of Rajon Rondo down the road.
That is turning out to be a bad move. Not only could you make the argument that Perk is exactly what the Celtics are missing now, they likely would’ve beaten the Heat with his presence in the middle in the Eastern finals last season.
This is about rebuilding a roster with the type of younger and more athletic talent it takes to compete year in and year out.
Doc Rivers has gotten even more from KG -- the team’s heart and soul -- than he even imagined in training camp, when he expected players like Brandon Bass and Jeff Green would step up and be more aggressive than they’ve shown and provide minutes behind Garnett.
Rivers has juggled Courtney Lee and Jason Terry back and forth from the bench as they waited for Avery Bradley to return. But Bass, Green and Lee simply have been too hit-and-miss for the small margin of error the Celtics are operating under.
Rivers is notoriously slow to depend on rookies, but he has had no choice with Jared Sullinger. The Ohio State product provides more inside toughness than Bass, Green and, God bless him, Jason Collins combined.
Doc has tried everything and while he told Dennis & Callahan on Thursday that the team “would not panic” about its 14-17 record, it’s time to be realistic. And that job falls on Danny Ainge, who told The Big Show several hours later, “We’ll try to be patient.”
But 31 games is no small sample in the NBA. It’s over a third of the season. And the Celtics are too inconsistent and too old.
Ainge has watched his team lose four straight games by double digits to four teams that have much younger and more dynamic rosters than his. That is no accident.
Garnett often reminds us in the media that he reads everything that is written about him and the team. And he is REALLY sensitive to people calling him old.
The irony here is that Garnett is not playing old but the team is. The C's are playing so inconsistently that they’re relying on him to play like a 25-year-old Kevin Durant, which he also will admit he’s not.
After Wednesday’s 93-83 loss to the Grizzlies, I asked Garnett what he thought of Rivers demanding more offense from him. He admitted guarding 31-year-old Zach Randolph sapped him of his offense.
“I have to balance it out between being more offensively minded and more defensively minded. Playing against one of the best forwards in the world in Zach, it’s like a bear fight,” Garnett said.
There’s the problem. Garnett feels he has to take on the biggest and baddest opposing players. He started out 1-for-7 from the field, and the Celtics could’ve used his offense down the stretch as Pierce went cold from the outside.
Of course, it’s Ainge’s job to let the cards play themselves out in the next month or so. But this next week could set an ominous tone for the Celtics. They host Indiana on Friday before visiting the Hawks on Saturday and the Knicks on Monday, then hosting the Suns and Rockets next Wednesday and Friday.
If they don’t pull themselves out of it quickly, they run the risk of falling too far behind teams like Milwaukee and Atlanta.
We can sit around and wait for the Celtics to repeat what they did a year ago, when they were a Game 7 win away from the NBA finals, and when similar calls were made at the trade deadline to blow up the roster.
But this core is a year older with more money tied up in Garnett and Green. Now is not the time to sit around and wait for another second-half run. Now, is the time to be bold if you’re Danny Ainge and start looking like the Grizzlies and Clippers and less like the early '90s Celtics.
Moving on to the NFL playoffs, here are my picks for this weekend.
Bengals 23, Texans 17 -- The Bengals gain revenge for their 31-10 loss in this same game at the same venue -- Houston's Reliant Stadium -- a year ago. Forget not winning a playoff game since January 1991, the Bengals have never won a playoff game on the road in five tries. That ends Saturday. If the Bengals contain Ben Tate and Arian Foster, and Andy Dalton doesn't throw another pick-six to J.J. Watt, you might see why the Bengals have one of the most feared defensive lines in the NFL, making life miserable for Matt Schaub.
Packers 27, Vikings 20 -- The magic carpet ride that Adrian Peterson has taken his Vikings teammates on ends on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. The Packers finally find a way to contain the leading NFL MVP candidate and the Packers earn a date with the 49ers in San Francisco.
Ravens 28, Colts 23 -- Can you really see the Ravens and Ray Lewis losing at home to a rookie quarterback -- as great as Andrew Luck is -- when Lewis is potentially playing his final game in Baltimore? Cancer survivor Chuck Pagano is a great, great story, and the former Ravens defensive coordinator knows Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, but he can’t tackle for a very porous Colts D. A Brady-Lewis matchup at Gillette needs to happen.
Seahawks 28, Redskins 17 -- Robert Griffin III has shown more poise and class than any athlete on the current landscape. That’s not hyperbole. But he won’t be able to outrun the fast and physical Seahawks defense. That, and like Pagano above, RGIII doesn’t play defense, which is not a strong suit of the Redskins. Russell Wilson will have a field day in the matchup of rookie playoff quarterbacks.
To a brief version of the Trags Bag as we solicit opinions from the tweeps on their most anticipated games of the weekend and their picks.
@BradyMagic Ravens, Texans, Seattle, Green Bay
@0_LayDX Seattle and Washington the most [interesting], then Houston and Cincy. Picks are: Washington, Cincy, Ravens, Vikes