When Danny Ainge first acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen back in 2007, the new Big Three, in theory, was providing the Celtics with a three-year championship window. After going one for two in their title appearances in their first three years, Ainge decided to keep the window cracked open for another three years after not biting on potential deals.
After that three-year plan became a six-year plan, Allen became the first of the three to take his talents elsewhere. Now Ainge faces the tough task of retooling the Celtics this summer. If Paul Pierce and KG stay, the Celtics have little flexibility to add an impact player that makes them a contender next year. If KG retires and Pierce is amnestied, the Celtics must start from scratch and still wouldn’t have enough money to add a max player to run with Rajon Rondo. If Pierce and KG are traded together, the Celtics could potentially put themselves in a good situation for their future but only if the trading contender would agree to take on $28 million in salary in chase of a NBA title. Pierce could be bought out for $5 million, but that option doesn’t make much sense. Boston could simply amnesty him if there were no viable options on the trading block. The option of Pierce retiring is extremely unlikely after he stated that he wants to play next season.
If Danny Ainge wants to position his squad for a better future, he must get extremely flexible with Boston’s current salary cap situation. Here are three potential options for the Celtics moving forward:
1. Celtics pick up team option on Pierce for $15.3 million and Garnett returns
The Celtics clearly don’t have enough to be in the championship conversation with the way their roster currently stands, but this may provide them with the most realistic option to compete next year and beyond. Even Garnett understands that the Cs need more to join the NBA’s elite. Enter Al Jefferson.
Jefferson has stated that he would love to return to the franchise that drafted him. With Jefferson to enter the free-agent market this summer, this is the Celtics most realistic option for making them better right now. It wouldn’t be likely for Jefferson to be acquired via free agency by Boston (especially with Garnett and Pierce on the payroll) but instead through a sign-and-trade. By adding Jefferson, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger become expendable as KG would likely move back to his natural position as power forward. Boston could offer Bass and Courtney Lee (who for whatever reason fell out of Doc Rivers‘ playoff rotation) and a draft pick for the 28-year-old center. This offer might be enticing for Utah as they would be getting young value in return for Jefferson, who may otherwise walk. This would certainly bolster Boston’s frontline and aid in solving Boston’s scoring and rebounding woes. Jefferson’s 18 points and nine rebounds make him a double-double threat every night. This move also makes sense for Boston’s future, leaving them with a young core of Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Sullinger and Jefferson without completely blowing up their roster.
2. Pierce is amnestied and KG retires
This option clears up the most cap space and would take the Cs from $73.1 million on the books to $46.3 million owed, giving them room to sign a high-level player who doesn’t warrant max money (O.J. Mayo, Josh Smith, etc.).
Ainge has been drooling over the thought of Mayo in a Celtics uniform since he had a deal 99 percent complete at the deadline a year ago. After opting out of a return to Dallas for $4.2 million next year, Mayo hopes to work out a long-term deal somewhere. Boston could be an option if they have the necessary cap room to make Mayo an offer he cannot refuse. While the ship has probably sailed to complete for a sign-and-trade for Mayo, Ainge could pull off the heist of the former USC guard if both Pierce and Garnett are completely off the books. Mayo would provide Boston with the backcourt scoring that they desperately needed in the first three games of their playoff series against New York.