With the future of the Celtics  now up in the air after the six-game first-round playoff loss to the Knicks, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, in an interview on WEEI’s Mustard & Johnson show, suggested that the team should proceed in precisely the fashion in which president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has operated for some time. Mannix noted that Ainge actively explored the possibility of dealing longtime mainstays Paul Pierce  and Kevin Garnett  leading up to this season’s trade deadline, and suggested that the Celtics should again explore the market for the duo this offseason — while remaining comfortable with the notion of bringing them back if the team is unsatisfied with the return.
“I don’t think it would be [financially] difficult to trade Pierce if you wanted to. Boston was motivated to do it the last couple years. Leading up to the trade deadline, they spoke to Brooklyn, they spoke to Atlanta, they spoke to Dallas. They were actively looking to deal Paul Pierce,” said Mannix. “They had conversations with the Clippers about Kevin Garnett and were trying to figure out a way to get a deal done for DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe. Look, they were trying to make some moves with these two guys. Boston’s issue wasn’t financial. It was that they wanted a lot in return. I remember talking to some people in the Nets  organization about how much Boston wanted in return. It was a combination of draft picks and young talent.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a financial issue for the Celtics to trade either one of those players if they’re motivated to. It’s just how much less they’re willing to take back in return.
“I would do exactly what Danny’s been doing to this point,” added Mannix. “If you can trade one of them and get a lot in return, get something that you know is going to help reboot your franchise, do it. If not, hold onto them and just play this thing out, wait for their contracts to expire and play with the flexibility then.”
Mannix noted that the avenues to upgrading the Celtics roster are limited this offseason, particularly in terms of free agents.
“It’s not like there are a lot of great free agents out there this summer that can be difference-makers. There’s Chris Paul . There’s Dwight Howard . But neither one of those guys is coming to Boston at this moment,” said Mannix. “Pierce and Garnett, despite their age, despite the fact that they’ve slowed down, obviously, at this point in their careers, they’re still capable players.
“You can’t tell me that if Boston had [Rajon] Rondo  and [Jared] Sullinger and got something from Darko Milicic  this year, that Boston wouldn’t be beating New York right now and moving on. I firmly believe that. I don’t think the Knicks are as good as advertised, and I think the Celtics with those players would have moved on. And they probably would have been a great candidate to move on in the second round as well,” he said. “I think Danny should keep doing what he’s doing. I think you go out there, you shop Pierce, you shop Garnett, you see if you get a Bledsoe-Jordan type of offer for them that you can pull the trigger on and that Garnett would [willingly] accept.
Barring that, you bring these guys back. You hope Rondo is healthy. You add to your roster with good draft picks, which Danny’s been pretty good at over the last couple years, and you add some minor free agents, like they’ve done with Jason Terry  and Courtney Lee  and going back a way, James Posey .”
Mannix suggested that one avenue the Celtics shouldn’t explore at this time is a deal to part with point guard Rajon Rondo.
“I don’t think [Ainge] is going to wind up trading Rondo. Rondo’s too valuable at this point,” said Mannix. “His contract, to me, was the best thing about Rajon Rondo. He makes considerably less money than the other elite players at his position — [Russell] Westbrook , Chris Paul and some of the other guys.
“He’s too valuable to this franchise, to this organization to even consider trading unless you get an All-Star-caliber player in return, and right now, you’re not going to be able to do that unless Rondo proves he’s healthy coming back from the ACL injury,” he continued. “I think you saw during these playoffs just how valuable Rondo can be. He manufactures offense on his own. He’s an elite defender — a strong defender, anyway — when it comes to defending point guards at his position. I just think that he’s too valuable to this franchise to just give away unless you’re getting something valuable in return.”