The Celtics Difficult Summer Decision

This was supposed to be the Celtics last hurrah. One last shot to see if this aging group, assembled during the Summer of 2007, could bring home another championship.  Motivated by last season’s defeat and augmented by a couple of new toys, the thought was this group could squeeze in another championship before the heavy drops of age really started to fall.

Well a funny thing has happened on the way to the old age home. Rather than limp to the finish line, Boston’s core of thirty-somethings are playing like guys who had not yet been born when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in January of 1981. Sure, there is some wear on the tires. In fact, there is plenty in the case of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. But both are still moving well and Ray Allen honestly looks as good today as he did when he arrived in Boston four years ago.

This was clear the other night as the Celts were able to keep up with Golden State’s fanatical pace. Sure, KG was huffing and Pierce was puffing but oxygen was never required. And in the second half, this club blitzed the younger Warriors, showing that these radials still have some miles to go.

But that raises an interesting question. The plan was for this group to mount one final assault this season, 2012 would be a gradual descent and 2013 would mark the start of the rebuild as both Garnett and Allen would be done and off the books. But what if they aren’t done? And more importantly, what if they look perfectly capable of competing for a championship in 2012?

The reason I ask is the Celts will have to make a couple of big decisions this off-season and neither can be made until the Celtics decide what they want to be in 2012 and where they want to be heading into 2013. Of course I am talking about the futures of Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis, two players who will both be unrestricted free agents come July.

If this clearly is the final hurrah, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for the Celts to sign either as both will command fairly sizable deals in the neighborhood of four years and $26-32M. (Perkins reportedly turned down a 4/$22M offer earlier this season and the thought is that offer was about ten million lite). Add these contracts to the balance sheet and the Celts rebuilding efforts for 2013 and beyond will be that much more difficult, particularly if the club has any designs on Dwight Howard. That is because Pierce and Rondo will already be owed $27M in 2013. Granted, these two and Avery Bradley are the only ones currently on the 2013 payroll but if Perkins and Davis are re-upped, the Celts will be on the hook for more than $40M and that doesn’t’ leave a ton of room to re-build.

But if these two aren’t re-signed, then the 2012 club has been greatly handicapped. No doubt the Celts will still be able to field their formidable core, but the middle will be manned by the wholly unreliable Jermaine O’Neal and the bench will consist of a Mid-level exception, Nate Robinson, Semih Erden, Luke Harangody, Avery Bradley and some veteran riff raff. This is probably not a championship recipe unless the mid-level goes by the name Tayshaun and Erden unexpectedly learns how to play basketball this summer.

So come this Summer, the Celts will have to make a very important decision about their future. Keep riding this horse and risk falling into a deep abyss when the sun finally sets? Or take their medicine early so they can steer clear of the abyss after 2012 or 2013.

Obviously, the new labor rules will play a big role in shaping their decision. And frankly, I think plenty will ride on how this season turns out. But the fact of the matter is this “core” keeps on ticking and it no longer looks like a sunset can be conveniently lined up with the start of a rebuild.  This is Danny Ainge’s off-season dilemma.

 

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