Boston Celtics fans woke up yesterday morning to a completely changed team. On the heels of Doc Rivers’ exit to the Los Angeles Clippers, Boston completed a trade that sent franchise icons Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, along with Jason Terry, to the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics netted quite a bit in these deals. For Rivers, they received a future first-round pick from the Clippers and hired Butler coach Brad Stevens as his replacement. Boston got a load of players in the deal with the Nets: forwards Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Kris Joseph, guards Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks, and three first-round draft picks. The Celtics will also have the right to swap picks with the Nets in 2017 if they so choose. The Celtics also were active on draft night, swapping picks left and right and ending up with center Kelly Olynyk out of Gonzaga, and center Colton Iverson from Colorado State.
As a Celtics fan, I was of course heartbroken to see Pierce, Garnett, and Rivers depart the team. Without them, we would never have won our 17th championship in 2008, nor gotten back to the NBA Finals two years later. But I understand why the moves were made. Pierce and Garnett are still great players, but they are getting old (35 and 37, respectively), and are no longer the types of players that can lead a team to a championship without help. It was better to trade them now, while we could still get some value for them, rather than try to move them later or wait until they retired. The Celtics would be burdened with their massive (though deserved) contracts and would be unable to truly start the rebuilding process, while being left with a team that could compete for a playoff spot, but would be unlikely to win a title, thus sticking us the 4-5 seed no man’s land and restrict our ability to build through the draft, kind of like the situation the Atlanta Hawks find themselves in now.
The players the Celtics got in return are mostly role players (Wallace and Humphries are already on the trading block), but the real value is in the draft picks. The Celtics are not going to be a very good team next season; that much is clear. But that means the draft picks we acquired will be high ones, and the draft class of 2014 is loaded from top to bottom, with players such as Andrew Wiggins of Kansas, Jabari Parker of Duke, and Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky coming out.
In the next few years, Boston will be able to acquire several possible franchise cornerstones to add to an already productive young core. Rajon Rondo, though injured last year, has blossomed into one of the best point guards in the league, though there are concerns about his leadership and ability to work well with teammates. Forward Jeff Green showed flashes of brilliance last year, such as his career-high 43 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 blocks in a regular-season game in which the Rondo-less Celtics nearly knocked off the champion Miami Heat. He also played well in the playoffs, averaging 20.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting .455 from the field. Guard Avery Bradley has also become Boston’s best defensive stopper, while pitching in on offense. These are the type of players that a championship team can be built around, which is why it puzzles me that the Celtics are rumored to be interested in trading Rondo. Unless his attitude was so corrosive that it endangered team chemistry, why not give him a chance to lead the team on his own, without the distracting influence of Garnett and Pierce? He could surprise and flourish as the sole leader of the team.
I do like the Brad Stevens hire for that reason. Stevens was a masterful coach at Butler, taking a mid-major program at a deficit of resources and talent and making them instant contenders. Stevens’ teams went to two consecutive national championship games, something that many high-major schools can’t say they’ve done lately. I think he will be a great influence on our young players, though it remains to be seen how veterans will respond to a coach who is just a year younger than Kevin Garnett. He was given a six-year contract, which sends the message that the team feels he is part of its future, not just a holdover coach to oversee the rebuilding effort.
As for the Nets, I will be pulling for them to win the championship next season, as the Celtics certainly won’t and I still feel loyalty to Pierce and Garnett. This trade is a massive risk for them, however. While their starting lineup looks stacked (Pierce and Garnett will team with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez), they have now traded away almost all of their bench help and draft picks. They are mortgaging their future to win a title in the next year or two, and relying on two over-35 players could be dangerous. I have always liked Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, so it would be nice to see them and Rivers win a title as well, and their championship window appears to be bigger.