Monday, July 09, 2012

Ray Allen's Departure for South Beach Creates Void in Celtics Back Court

I can't say that I was shocked when the news broke Friday night that Ray Allen had accepted a contract to play for the Miami Heat instead of returning to the Celtics.  For Allen, this is a more realistic shot at winning more championships and it's also an opportunity for him to prove he is still one of the game's top shooters.  He also was involved in numerous trade rumors the past few years so it's not like he is being disloyal.  It will be tough to see him in a Heat uniform but considering all the great memories he generated for Celtics fans in his five years in Boston, I have no hard feelings about Ray leaving.  I hope that Celtics fans welcome him back with a standing ovation on his first trip to TD Garden before, you know, they lump him in with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the evil that is the Miami Heat.

Of course, the Celtics are not going to keep that roster spot left behind by Allen empty this season so the job of Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers is to find a replacement.  With Avery Bradley likely to miss time early in the regular season because of his shoulder injuries, the Celtics right now have only two experienced guards under contract in Rajon Rondo and Jason Terry.  The team also has second year guard E'Twaun Moore but for a team with hopes of contending for a title this year, they can't start the year off with a rotation of Rondo, Terry, and Moore.  They need more depth.

One option for the Celtics would be to re-sign veterans Keyon Dooling and Mickael Pietrus.  Both players had nice seasons this past year and would provide experience and depth.  However, the Celtics need to get younger as they begin to transition out of the Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett era (see how quickly I'm moving on from Ray Allen) and relying on the 32-year-old Dooling and the 30-year-old Pietrus is not a step in that direction.  It would be a good thing to see one or both of those players return but they are not the answer to the problem created by Allen's departure and Bradley's injury.

One name mentioned in the Boston papers yesterday was that of 26-year-old shooting guard Courtney Lee.  The 6-5 product of Western Kentucky would give the Celtics a shooter (40.1% from 3-point land last season and 38.6% from behind the arc in his four-year career), height in the back court (Rondo is 6-1, Terry and Bradley are 6-2, and Moore is 6-4), and the experience of contributing to a contender (he averaged 8.4 points and shot 40.4% from 3-point as a rookie for the Orlando Magic team that won the Eastern Conference in 2009).

Doc Rivers met with Lee on Saturday night to put on the recruiting pitch.  I'm sure he mentioned the benefits of having Garnett and Pierce as mentors as well as the open shots he will get playing with Rondo.  Lee is not on the Hall of Fame path that Ray Allen has created but he is a young, talented player that would immediately help the Celtics.  He might be too expensive for the Celtics but the Rockets, who Lee has played for the past two seasons, will reportedly be open to a sign-and-trade deal.

I wonder if the Rockets, who are clearly in full rebuilding mode, would agree to a sign-and-trade deal for Lee and Marcus Camby (the veteran free agent center would fill a major hole at backup center for the Celtics) that included Dooling, Pietrus, JaJuan Johnson, Greg Stiemsma,  E'Twaun Moore, and a first round draft pick.  The Celtics would get the shooting guard and backup center they need while the Rockets could instantly release Dooling and Pietrus while seeing if Johnson, Stiemsma, and/or Moore could be a part of their future.  The first round pick, although likely to be in the lower third of the draft, would be a nice kick in for Houston.  The Celtics would still need to find a veteran point guard (for the purpose of this post I will project the team to sign free agent Mike James who played in Boston during the 2003-04 season) to backup Rondo and add depth until Bradley returns from his shoulder injury.

If that deal went down, this is what the Celtics would look like at the start of next season:

5: Kevin Garnett, Marcus Camby, Fab Melo
4: Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Sean Williams
3: Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, Kris Joseph
2: Courtney Lee, Jason Terry
1: Rajon Rondo, Mike James

Under this scenario, the Celtics would have a lot of flexibility.  Garnett can play both center and power forward.  Green can play either forward spot offensively and can defend power forwards, small forwards, and some shooting guards.  Offensively, Pierce could help out at shooting guard. 

When Bradley returns, the team would look like this:

5: Garnett, Camby, Melo
4: Bass, Sullinger, Williams
3: Pierce, Green, Joseph
2: Bradley, Lee
1: Rondo, Terry, James

Bradley's defense and the shooting he showed last year (40.7% from behind the arc) would fit right in with the starters while a bench of Terry, Lee, Green, Sullinger, and Camby would be as good as any second unit in the league.

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