(UPDATE: Reports say that instead of Reggie Evans, the Celtics will receive MarShon Brooks. Quick take: really like Brooks, who got shoved aside by Joe Johnson after a strong rookie season. Could be a great off-the-bench spark plug. But this trade is still a mess.)
Yesterday the rumors started.
The aging heroes, hearts, and emblems of the Boston Celtics were being traded to the Brooklyn Nets. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were to be gone, less than a week after Doc Rivers had jumped ship for Chris Paul’s warm embrace in Los Angeles. Kevin Garnett, who had almost single-handedly changed the culture in Boston for the better, and Paul Pierce, the defining Celtic of my young fanhood, should have retired as Celtics. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
In return, the Celtics would take Keith Bogans, the former Mr. Kim Kardashian, the most notorious flopper this side of Dwyane Wade, some dude named Toke Shengelia, and the rotting corpse of Gerald Wallace and his monstrosity of a contract. And the real prize: three unprotected first round picks (’14, ’16, ’18).
The rumors started to heat up. The trade had made its way up to management. Odds that the trade would happen escalated by the hour. Finally, it was reported that the only roadblock was Kevin Garnett’s no-trade clause.
For a moment there was a shiny kernel of hope in the back of my mind. Hope that Kevin Garnett would take one look at that trade, yelp “F*** that!”, and stay in Boston for one more year, going on a final farewell tour of a season with Pierce at his side, spending one more year shaping Rajon Rondo and preparing him to take the lead, spending one more year pumping up Jeff Green and raising his confidence level to new heights, one more year where he could help whoever the new coach is transition in and act as go between to the young crew, one more year with Avery Bradley, one more year where he could teach Kelly Olynyk how to play defense (more on him later), one more year where Boston fans could roar their approval at the fiery veteran. He was our player, hated by every other team in the league, but one of our captains, his camaraderie with Pierce one of the greatest things I’ve seen as a sports fan.
But by the morning, news came that the trade was confirmed. KG would be gone. Pierce would be gone.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.
Of course it would be incorrect to say that this trade was a surprise, or a shock. Since the rumored Doc-KG-Pierce trade to the Clippers, too many bridges had been burned, too many ill feelings raised. Celtics fans waited nervously for the other shoe to drop, and yesterday it finally did.
While yesterday was immensely painful, the argument could be made that it was necessary. The Celtics couldn’t continue the way they were going, their window of Finals contention arguably closed with Lebron’s Game 6. Once Rondo went down for the season, the Celtics limped their way into the playoffs, Pierce and Garnett exerting themselves far far beyond what was expected of them. It was masterful, but in the end even that wasn’t enough. The Celtics needed a change.
With the loss of Pierce, Garnett, and Jason Terry (I realize that’s the first time I’m mentioning him, which says a lot about how I feel about JET) the Celtics lose their three biggest veteran presences, but also three big contracts.
Of course, immediately filling the cleared out room, comes Wallace’s outrageous contract, as well as the assorted crew behind him. The interesting thing is I wouldn’t be surprised if none of the players acquired by the Celtics stick around for the long term. I would imagine that Humphries will be turned around quickly, as the power forward spot is the only crowded one on the Celtics roster. His rebounding skills are useful and I’m sure a team such as Atlanta, who most likely won’t win the Paul-Howard sweepstakes, could plug him in next to Al Horford. Keith Bogans and Reggie Evans are nice pieces, but will probably be sought-after by contending teams looking for one final piece for the playoffs. And as far Wallace has fallen in terms of remaining skills, two years from now he’ll be a prized expiring contract.
The only real parts of the trade from a Celtics’ standpoint are the draft picks. Even with the addition of Pierce and Garnett, I wouldn’t ever say the Nets are title contenders, and are probably still short of Miami and Indiana in the Eastern Conference. And, as we’ve seen from the Celtics the last few years, having Garnett and Pierce on your team means taking it nice and easy during the regular season before turning it on come playoff time. So the 2014 pick, in an absolutely loaded draft, will most likely be in the mid-20s, so still very valuable. Even if the Celtics don’t start tanking their hearts out for Andrew Wiggins (which I would strongly recommend not doing. It’s never worked. See Duncan, Tim and Durant, Kevin as previous examples) they’ll most likely end up with a lottery pick, which is the equivalent of a top 4 pick from this year’s draft basically. With 9 first round picks in 5 years, the Celtics will be completely transformed into a young team, soon to have a new coach and a new system. I may be grasping at straws here (let’s face it, I am) but the future does look bright for a team that had been defined by its age and experience. It will be a new look Celtics, to be sure, but there’s some fun in that.
And as huge a trade as this is, it’s not a complete clean slate. I cannot wait to see what Rajon Rondo will do as the leader of the team. A completely idiosyncratic player, it will be fascinating to see how he develops as a scorer and as a leader, two departments he’s never really explored before. Also on the bench are rising “stars” Avery Bradley and Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, a recovering Jared Sullinger, an intriguing Fab Melo, and the desperately-needs-a-haircut Kelly Olynyk. Throwing in the Nets pieces and do you have a good team? No. Probably not. But they’ll still compete. Chances are we’ll still see a Rondo triple double, a random thirty-point explosion from Green. Who knows, maybe Colton Iverson (whose name sounds like it was made up for a 90s basketball movie) is Greg Stiemsma 2.0? There’s a lot of questions for the 2013-2014 Celtics, but that at least makes for an interesting team.
Whatever hope there is for the Celtics, it won’t come next year. Danny Ainge has made way for a future two, three, four years down the line. And as the Celtics stall with a makeshift roster until younger, more exciting players arrive through the draft, their division opponents, the Nets, have gone all in for winning right now. As painful as seeing Pierce and Garnett leave, watching them play against the Celtics in black and white will be even more so.
I don’t think I could bear watching Pierce sink jumper after jumper in his weird slow-motion pace.
I don’t think I could bear watching Garnett pound his forehead against the Brooklyn hoop, as bespectacled hipsters nod their approval.
It’s going to be tough. But maybe one day, one or two years from now, Pierce and Garnett will decide to hang it up. And they’ll return to the Celtics on a 10-day contract, and put on the green-and-white one more time, and watch, along with thousands of fans, as number 34 and number 5 get pulled up to the rafters next to 33 and 17 and 6.
Maybe. Until that hypothetical day, we Celtics fans will face this upcoming era with half-trepidation, half-excitement, half-anguish (Yes, three halves).
To quote Jack Donaghy from television’s 30 Rock: “It’s your only move, Lemon. Sometimes the only way back up is down. Let me tell you a story. It’s 1994. I went ice climbing, and I fell into a crevasse. I hurt my leg, and I couldn’t climb back up. So fighting every natural instinct, doing the thing that seemed most awful to me, I climbed down into the darkness. And that’s how I got out.”
And so, after weeks of will-they-won’t-they tension, when our coach jumped ship, when our stars left us, it’s time to swallow our pride and dive into the crevasse.
God help us.