If you watch the Celtics for even just a few minutes, it is clear that the "Big 3" era is coming to an end. The trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen revived basketball in Boston and made the Celtics relevant in the NBA for the first time since the early 1990's.
After winning the 2008 championship and nearly winning the title in 2010, there are nothing but good memories. The issue now is building a team that can contend going forward.
Danny Ainge does not have an easy job as it is not easy to sell Boston in free agency. Players today want to play in Los Angeles, New York, or in places that have low taxes and warm weather. Boston does not offer any of those things. Even the presence of Doc Rivers as coach and a tradition that can't be matched by any other NBA team will not be enough to land Dwight Howard this summer. So, like he did in the summer of 2007, Ainge has to build through trades.
The first trade would be with the Lakers. Boston would send Rajon Rondo and Jermaine O'Neal (for salary purposes) to Los Angeles for Pau Gasol. The Lakers need a point guard and the Celtics need a building block for the future. Gasol is 31-years-old and has at least 4-5 good years of basketball in him. For the Lakers, a combination of Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Rondo make them contenders for the Larry O'Brien trophy.
The second trade would be with the Clippers. The Clippers would pick up Ray Allen in exchange for Mo Williams and Eric Beldsoe. Williams and Bledsoe would help replace Rondo and Allen in the backcourt for the rest of the season and the Celtics could use thier amnesty clause after the year on the last year of Williams' contract to give themselves salary cap relief. If the Clippers don't want to part with Bledsoe, they could give the Celtics a future first round pick. As tough as it would be to trade such a consumate professional like Ray Allen, he would be going to a good situation with the Clippers and playing with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin would give him many open opportunities to shoot.
The third trade would be with the Mavericks. The Celtics would trade Paul Pierce to the defending champions for Shawn Marion and Brendan Haywood. Pierce would give the Mavericks another go-to scorer in the clutch next to Dirk Nowitzki. Marion would provide the Celtics with a solid replacement for Pierce at small forward and Haywood would give them a legitimate center.
The fourth, and final trade, would be with the Nuggets. The Celtics would add Rudy Fernandez from Denver while sending Chris Wilcox to the Nuggets. Denver could use another big man for their playoff push in the West and the Celtics would desperately need another guard with all the movement in the other proposed deals.
To clear room for the new players, either Sasha Pavlovic or Greg Stiemsma would be released. Due to his size and potential to develop, I would think Ainge would hold on to Stiemsma.
If all three trades went down, the Celtics roster for the rest of 2012 would be:
5: Kevin Garnett, Brendan Haywood, Greg Stiemsma
4: Pau Gasol, Brandon Bass, Jajuan Johnson
3: Shawn Marion, Michael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels
2: Mo Williams, Rudy Fernandez, E'Twaun Moore
1: Keyon Dooling, Avery Bradley, Eric Beldsoe (or a future Clippers first round pick)
That is not a championship team but it would be interesting to see that team in the postseason because of the talent and depth they would have at forward and the defensive skills of Marion and Pietrus. It also gets the Celtics moving in the right direction going forward and with Garnett's deal expiring and the possibility of using the amnesty clause on Williams will create anough room under the salary cap to make a run at Howard. The Celtics also have two first round picks in 2012 (their own and one from the Thunder - via the Clippers - from the Kendrick Perkins trade) to add young pieces to their roster.
Would Howard rather join a Celtics team that has Pierce and Rondo as mainstays and little else in depth or join a team with Gasol, veteran role players like Marion, Bass, and Haywood, multiple first round picks,and some additional cap room to add another piece or two?
I think it would be door number two. Can you imagine Howard and Gasol teaming up for the rest of the decade? I hope Danny Ainge can.