CelticsLife mailbag; Should the Celtics target Danny Granger this off-season?

Time to dig back into the mailbag. Last week we talked about Josh Smith, Paul Millsap and more, and this week you guys stepped up with more good questions. Let's dig in.

We took a look at ACL injuries and the general timeline a little while back, but it's worth a refresher. The average time missed for players that have torn their ACL is just shy of eight months, with many players making it back quicker than that. Rondo underwent surgery in early February, about nine months before the 2013 season tips off, leaving him in great shape to ready for opening night. Of course, as Derrick Rose has taught us, not all ACL injuries are created equal. But going by the numbers (and the positive news we've heard on Rondo), it is a very realistic expectation that #9 is back and ready to go on opening night.

Rondo has the ability to play like a superstar, and as Danny Ainge is quick to point out, has outplayed players like LeBron, Rose and Dwyane Wade in playoff series in recent years. When you stop to consider that he's only being paid ~60% of the maximum ($12 million), his contract is an absolute steal. Therefore, the Celtics owe it to themselves to keep Rondo, let him recover from his injury, and see how the team looks when the dust settles. If Rondo comes back to 100%, but the team struggles with him leading them, he will have built his trade value back up and you can take a look at the market next season. The bottom line is we have no idea what this team will look like post-Pierce and KG, but it would be foolish to give up Rondo when his value is at his lowest following surgery. Keep him.

Putting these two together because they're pretty similar. As we've mentioned in the past, the Celtics salary cap situation is tied directly to Pierce and Garnett. If only one of them leaves (let's say KG returns and Pierce is bought out), Boston does not create enough cap space to bring in an impact free agent. However, if both leave, Boston would find themselves ~13-15 million under the cap, and in position to make a major move. Who fits into that tax bracket? Well both Jazz big men (Millsap and Al Jefferson), figure to make between $12-15 million on the open market, so that could happen. The C's could also make a run at restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic or Spurs big man Tiago Splitter. While it would sting to lose both Pierce and KG, the Celtics could find a big man to join Rondo, Green and Sullinger and help set up the next era of Celtics basketball.

So yes, Boston can pick up a superstar (or at least All-Star quality big man) without giving up Green or Rondo, but only if they say goodbye to both Garnett and Pierce.

Edit: caught in the comment section but the Celtics having this cap space requires them to amnesty Pierce, not just decline his option. Should have been more clear. Many competitive teams have used their amnesty to free up the necessary money to require a rare talent, and if KG retires..Wyc and Celtics ownership would need to do the same. If they are not willing, the C's will only have $7-8 million in space, enough for a nice player, but not an A lister.

Granger is now 30 years old, coming off a significant knee injury that cost him nearly all of the 2012-13 season, and makes $14 million next season. The Pacers will undoubtedly be looking to deal him, but will be looking for either expiring contracts, or some kind of young talent in return. In other words, they'd rather hold on to him for one year than deal him for a pu-pu platter of Brandon Bass/Courtney Lee and Jason Terry that will just clog their cap space for years to come. Now the question becomes, would you give up a young piece (the #16 pick, Avery Bradley, Sullinger) for one year worth of Granger coming off a serious injury? For me the answer is a swift no. Jeff Green had a phenomenal 2nd half, so acquiring a guy who plays the small forward right as Pierce leaves would certainly stunt his growth. It's also a bad allocation of resources to pay Green $8.5 million and Granger $14 million to play the same position. Strong no on Granger.

This really depends on how strong the drugs are you give Smith and his agent, because if their brains are not altered in some way, this ain't happening. Smith has waited his entire career to try and max out his value, and whether he is a $100 million dollar player, or an $80 million guy, he certainly is worth WAY more than the Celtics can give him in this situation. Keep in mind with Pierce and Garnett in tow, the Celtics can only give the mid-level exception to free agents, meaning 3 years, $9 million, or 4 years $21.5 million depending on whether they are over the salary cap or not.

If the Celtics could at least pay Smith $15-20 million for one year, maybe he'd consider this (still unlikely), but a 1 year deal at $3-5 million — not even worth dreaming about.

Unless he's made massive improvements from last year..no. At least not to start the season. Melo was overwhelmed during his brief time in Boston, and his play was sporadic during his time in Maine, as he fluctuated between being a dominant shot blocking presence and an absolute non-factor. Of course, eventually the Celtics will have to give the 22nd pick of the 2012 draft a chance, but that won't be until he proves himself to Doc Rivers and the coaching staff. (P.S. Jackson, you still owe me $20 for winning the J.D. Drew-Kevin Youkilis bet of 2007).

I wish I could give an answer to these questions, I really do. But I can't. The bottom line is that five weeks into the off-season, we have no idea about the future of either Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett. One thing I've believed since the beginning is that either both Pierce and KG will return, or neither will, and I still feel that way. At this point, I'm leaning towards both players returning, simply because KG appears to me leaning in that direction, but it's impossible to say.

At the very least though, with the June 30th deadline to make the call on Pierce looming, the cloud hanging over the Celtics is getting closer to being lifted. And that's something we can all celebrate.

Great job with the questions folks, we'll do this again soon.

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