While Danny Ainge looks like a genius right now for trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for three first round picks and the rights to swap another to the Nets, a team on the verge of collapse, it's hard not to wonder what this year's Celtics would look like with Garnett on the roster.
Yes, the East is incredibly weak, but it's not an overreaction to say this young team at 12-16 has vastly outperformed itself. Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger have shown real development and with every game look more and more to be true building blocks going forward. Jeff Green, while not setting the world on fire, has been pretty consistent and looks to finally be settling into his role. Jordan Crawford has had a complete overhaul, so much so that there's a campaign underway to get him into the All-Star Game. Even guys that most, including myself, wrote off like Brandon Bass and Courtney Lee have been bright spots in what was meant to be a rebuilding year. Most of the credit has to go to coach Brad Stevens who seems to really have a knack for getting the best out of his young players.
All of this with their best player on the bench in all-star point guard Rajon Rondo. But Boston is missing another piece that Rondo might not be able to give them: a veteran leader who can keep this team focused.
The Celtics certainly know how to come into a game amped up, as they are currently destroying their opponent early in games.
From ESPN's Chris Forsberg:
Over the course of this five-game homestand, the Celtics outscored opponents by a staggering 9.8 points in the first quarter. To put that in perspective, that's almost three points better than the nearest team (Oklahoma City Thunder at plus-7.0) and almost double the next-closest squad (Dallas Mavericks at plus-5.0).
It's the rest of their game that needs work.
But Boston's quarterly splits get ugly from there: minus-3.6 in the second quarter, minus-6 in the third and minus-1.8 in the fourth during that span.
In the Celtics last two games, the team has had leads of 21 points and 18 points only to find themselves picking up the "L" at the end of the day. Had they held onto those leads, the team would be at .500 after 28 games.
If Ainge really wants to see what this team can do with a healthy Rondo and isn't planning on blowing it up to make a run at a top draft pick, then he needs to make a move for a veteran. This team needs a Garnett-type player. A guy who will motivate his teammates out of funks and right the ship after the team starts to falter. A guy who isn't afraid to kick his teammates in the ass when they need it or even make them cry:
One of the attributes that makes Garnett great is his intensity. It rears it's head in many ways, whether its giving the cold shoulder to teammates that he feels abandoned him or being known as one of the best trash talkers in the league. Bottom line is Garnett wants to win and holds his teammates accountable when necessary. He's the kind of heart-and-soul player that teams need to get through rough times. As currently constructed, the Celtics do not have that kind of player.
Rondo is one of the smartest players in the league and as the team's best player he seems like a natural fit to be the guy to get his team over the hump. Sure, he can carry the load himself, but being the glue that keeps the team together is just not the kind of player he is. He all but admitted as much when talking about Doc Rivers return he said he's "not an emotional guy."
This team needs an emotional guy. Sullinger has tried to play that part, but it's not working. Maybe he's too young and can grow into that kind of player the more experience he gets or maybe he doesn't know how to motivate his teammates in the moment, to push the right buttons to keep his teammates on task.
Another likely candidate for veteran leadership is Gerald Wallace, but he seems to be doing most of his talking to the media and not his teammates. Wallace also doesn't have the kind of personality needed to be the team's motivator. He leads more by example than with his words.
Brandon Bass was thought to be one of the team's leaders at the start of the season. While Bass has put up great numbers and been a real positive for the team on the court, there's no real sense that this guy has the pulse of the team.
Green talked of trying to follow Garnett's advice and playing like an asshole, but that looks to have fallen by the wayside. The only times you'll see that mentality come out is when he's dunking on someone's face.
With all of this being said, what if the Celtics hadn't traded Garnett and Pierce? If the two future all-stars agreed to take backseats to the development of the new guys, this team would still have its heart-and-soul. The draft picks are great and, again, Ainge looks like an Executive of the Year candidate getting them all from a team that looks like it will be very bad when those picks come due. He absolutely made the right call in acquiring so many assets for guys on their way out.
But in terms of right now, and I'm sure this goes without saying, this team has a much better shot at contention with Garnett and Pierce. It's not like the Celtics are getting a ton of production out of the players they received from Brooklyn anyway. Garnett could easily replace Humphries in the lineup, Pierce would be an upgrade over Wallace and Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks never leave the bench. Who cares if Garnett isn't the player he used to be, it's his voice you'd want him for, not his play. Of course the trade was all about future assets and who knows if Pierce and Garnett would have agreed to come off the bench during the changeover.
Since NBA rules state a team cannot reacquire a player they traded away in the same season, the Celtics will have to look elsewhere if they want veteran leadership. Any trade for a veteran voice should be a small one. This isn't going to be a franchise changing move and Boston should only give up, at most, Brooks and maybe Bogans if the other team can use the expiring deal.
Here are some potential strong-willed players the Celtics could pick up right now to help them stay on task:
Fans in Boston aren't exactly enamored with Martin after his funeral stunt in last year's playoffs. But he wanted to come to Boston before signing with the New York Knicks last season and he brings the kind of toughness and leadership this team desperately needs. Does Martin still want to come to Boston? Well, anything must look better than the 8-18 Knicks. He'd probably jump at the chance to join a team with legit playoff chances and a place where his voice is sure to be heard, unlike New York with plenty of veteran players to chime in like Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Metta World Peace. Martin is making the veteran's mimimum this year, so if the Celtics traded Brooks for him, they'd also have to take the expiring contract of Toure' Murry to make the money match.
Perk is just as ornery as ever and isn't shy about letting his feelings be known. Fans would love to see Perkins back in green and he would give the young guys someone to look up to with his attitude and toughness. Problem is, he's on a terrible contract. Just to make the money work, the Celtics would have to give up either Courtney Lee and Bogans or Brandon Bass and Brooks. That's too much for a bench player who is going to make around $9.65 million next season.
Hamilton is a free agent after being waived by the Bulls and can be a strong voice on a team short on strong voices. He's no stranger to holding a leadership role, having helped lead the Pistons to a title in 2004. Hamilton has the kind of competitve drive and experience to back it up to be able to get the young players refocused. Problem is, the Celtics are so close to the hard cap that even if they wanted to sign Hamilton to the veteran's minimum, they'd have to shed some payroll or become luxury tax payers, something the team desperately wants to avoid.
There's not a whole lot of options out there for veteran leadership, but if this team really wants to compete, it has to find someone, either on the roster or not, who can make this squad into a 48-minute team instead of a 12-minute team. Otherwise, expect to see plenty more strong starts that fizzle out.
@ericblaisdell13 Eric Blaisdell 12/22/2013 04:00:00 PM Tweet Edit