After weeks of speculation, the Boston Celtics didn’t make a major trade today. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still on the roster, while Jason Collins is on his way out of Boston for Jordan Crawford. Was not making any significant trades a big mistake, not only now, but looking ahead to the future? Possibly, and we don’t need to look back too far in the past to see what history has to tell us.
In the early 1990’s the Boston Celtics had the opportunity to trade the original Big Three and begin the rebuilding process. As we all know, Red Auerbach didn’t trade his three aging stars, and after they retired, the Celtics entered the darkest days in its franchise’s history. Boston rebuilt via the NBA draft through the late 90’s, drafting players like Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce. However, the Celtics could never get themselves to the playoffs and became a perennial sub five-hundred team for years. It wasn’t until 2002, nearly seven years later, that they made their return to the playoffs and later lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the New Jersey Nets.
Now, I understand that misfortune struck the Celtics on multiple occasions. The tragic deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis set Boston back a few years in the rebuilding process, and if it wasn’t for those unfortunate events, the 22 year drought might have been avoided. Rick Pitino became the coach in 1997 hoping to lead the franchise to dominance once again. Unfortunately for the Celtics, they didn’t get the first overall pick in the draft which foiled Pitino’s plan to build around Tim Duncan.
Celtics ownership and management became impatient, trading players who later had successful careers: Bruce Bowen, Chauncey Billups, and in 2001, Joe Johnson. While the case could be made that poor management and lack of patience was the center of most of the Celtics troubles when trying to rebuild, it was obvious Boston didn’t have the talent to contend with the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Nets or Toronto Raptors in the Atlantic division.
Nearly a decade and a half later, Danny Ainge may have made the same mistake Red Auerbach made by not trading Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett today. As sacrilegious as that may sound, the Celtics aren’t title contenders this season, or for the next few seasons if this team stays the same. Boston is currently 7th in the Eastern Conference standings, and one bad stretch for the Celtics could mean playing the Miami Heat in the first round which is an absolute nightmare.
Being from Boston, it’s championship or bust, or at least that’s what I thought the organization and it’s fans believed. At best, the Celtics will make it to the second round, and once again will face the same questions in the offseason. Should Ainge trade Pierce and Garnett? Will Pierce and KG retire? I have no sources to back this up, and I haven’t heard much on this subject, but don’t be surprised, depending on how this second half of the season goes, if Garnett retires at the end of the season. Pierce still has a few years left in him, but I don’t know if the same could be said for Garnett, who has at times made some very cryptic comments about his future in the NBA.
Acquiring Jordan Crawford was a smart move, but he’s not enough to help the Celtics get back to the Finals. Boston is having a hard time rebounding and defending, and to expect them to win games without a real point guard, or have extreme depth at the four or five positions is stretching it. The last two games on this road trip has spoken volumes, which should have been an indication to Ainge that changes needed to be made.
Now, let’s move ahead to June. The playoffs are over, and the draft is a few weeks away. Boston got bounced in the second round, had a high enough seed to not get a great draft pick, and now we’re once again speculating on what the Celtics should do. If Pierce and Garnett don’t retire, what does Ainge do? He’s not going to get offers like he’s had for the past two weeks as DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe are decent, young talent. I understand Garnett has a no trade clause, but moving Pierce would have made him change his mind.
In the final analysis, the rebuilding period should have begun today. Rebuilding through the draft doesn’t always work, and the years from 2003-2007 are a prime example. While players like Al Jefferson, Delonte West, Ryan Gomes, and Gerald Green gave us the opportunity to trade for Garnett and Ray Allen, the Celtics went through the worst years of the franchise’s history.
I understand rebuilding is not a popular option among Celtics fans, but the 24-58 season back in 2006-2007 is a reminder to us all. When Pierce and Garnett retire in Celtics uniforms, whether it’s this offseason or a few years down the road, Boston will receive nothing for them. Sure, Pierce will have played his whole career in Boston, but possibly at the expense of a few years that the Celtics could have been retooling for the next era.
At the end of the day, the NBA is a business. Tonight, for the short term, Boston might be fine, but that’s not a given. Danny Ainge may have given up a great opportunity to not only rebuild for the future and have the chance of being good for years to come, but to also give Pierce and Garnett the chance to win one more ring, which they’re probably not going to do in Celtics uniforms. Standing pat was not the right answer, and as a Celtics fan, I can only hope that it was the right decision. At the moment, that will have to be determined, and Boston has their work cut out for them if they want to win a championship this season.