|Get ready for the longest week of the season||03.08.12 at 2:10 am ET|
The momentum the Celtics had been riding hit an unfortunate speed bump in Philadelphia on Wednesday, when they were blown out by the 76ers, 103-71. It was the worst defeat of the Big Three era and a game they had no chance of winning, an realization that became obvious about six minutes into the contest.
It cost the Celtics a chance to move ahead of Philly in the Atlantic Division in the loss column. Winning the division has never been high on their list of priorities, but this season it’s the difference between home court in the first round and a possible matchup with the Bulls or Heat.
As disappointing as their performance was — and it was awful — the loss changes nothing as the trade deadline looms in one week. There will be more games with Philly, including a rematch at the end of their dreaded 8-games-in-12-days road trip that begins on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles. By the time they return, we will finally have an inclination into what team president Danny Ainge has planned for next season and beyond.
Here are four possible scenarios:
1. Status quo
As outlined here, the Celtics don’t actually have to do anything to facilitate a major offseason overhaul. They will be far under the cap if they simply let their veterans contracts’ expire, rather than deal them away. This would be only the first step in a multi-year rebuilding project, but with cap space, two first round draft picks and Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce they would be in a far better position than when Ainge took over operations in 2003.
It took Ainge four years to assemble enough assets to make a play for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but that required tearing down a veteran team first and he has already laid the groundwork over the last few years.
2. The Rondo move
Both publicly and privately, the Celtics have been consistent about what it would take to get them to trade Rondo: Equal value. Short of Chris Paul, Dwight Howard and a handful of other superstar players, they’re not inclined to go that route.
Assessing Rondo’s value is also a part of the equation and this is where it gets complicated. He’s undeniably talented, but teams around the league are fearful that A) he wouldn’t be as good without the shooting ability currently around him and B) his personality would be a difficult match for a rebuilding team.
There’s a lot of unknowns surrounding Rondo, not just for a team that may want to acquire him, but for the Celtics. Can you build a team from scratch when he is your best player? We may find that out soon.
3. The detonation
Trading any of the Big Three would be difficult and for different reasons. Pierce has been the franchise for a long time and that does count for something, even for someone as unsentimental as Ainge. He’s also still productive and the Celtics would want a huge return to even consider moving him.
Garnett’s $21 million contract is extremely difficult to trade and his play at center has opened up the possibility that he could have a longer future with the Celtics than once thought. If he decided to test free agency, he’d be in high demand.
Allen would seem to be the easiest to move. He’s in the last year of a $10 million contract and his shooting skill has held up well, even if the rest of his game has begun to diminish. Still, Ainge isn’t going to give Allen away and the price in players or picks may be too high.
4. Something on the margins
The Celtics desperately need someone tall to help their thin frontline. Jermaine O’Neal‘s absence while he contemplates wrist surgery has opened up a starting position for Brandon Bass, but they are getting annihilated on the boards. They may wait to see if anyone is bought out of their contracts after the deadline — think Chris Kaman — because they don’t have much to offer in trade.
This deadline season has been heavy on speculation, but short on actual names for two reasons. First, everyone is waiting to see what happens with Howard in Orlando. Until that situation is resolved, teams are reluctant to pursue other options.
Second, the abbreviated season has left many teams reluctant to make a big move. There simply isn’t enough practice time to integrate a new lineup and with no clear-cut favorite in the West, there’s less pressure to make a bold move. That won’t stop the rumor mill from churning, but as March 15 approaches there is little resolution.
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