Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Ticket Is Punched: The Celts Are Now A Contender?

Watch out, Major League Baseball. The NBA stole your media thunder on trade deadline day, one of the few days on the calendar in which the sport pulls in non-purists to add to plummeting ratings. Furthermore, it’s a day when Barry Bonds is trying to tie Hank Aaron for the all-time home run record, the future home run king Alex Rodriguez is aiming for number 500, and Tom Glavine – one of the all-time elite lefties – seeks elusive 300th win.

Unless Bonds hits the home run tonight, which would not be until after 10pm this evening, the story of the day remains that KG has been traded to the Boston Celtics. Essentially, the NBA took a page out of the NFL’s ability to attract the media during the off-season by breaking a relevant on-the-hardwood news story.

The Celtics are now relevant. (Yes, even with Doc Rivers coaching.)

But are they the Eastern contender that some are predicting them to be. Not so much. First, let’s take a look at the trade details.

Boston acquires: Kevin Garnett
Minnesota acquires: Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, two first-round draft picks and cash considerations

For the sake of this article, we’re avoiding the walking mistake that is the perpetual mismanagement of the Minnesota Timberwolves by former Celtics legend Kevin McHale. They got the best deal possible for an aging superstar. As for the Celtics, there are a number of externalities coming out of this trade and we will look at five of them.

1. Butts in the Seats
This is undeniable. The Celtics will still be the third best ticket in town behind the Sox and the Patriots. However, as I said before, they are now a relevant sports franchise and have come out of their putrid obscurity. If the Celtics do not sell out three-quarters of its games, then the loyalty of fans in Beantown should be examined.

2. Paper-Thin Depth
As for the Celtics, they now have three of the league’s finest players in the aforementioned Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. Unfortunately, the trade leaves them with only players under contract. When I first heard the details, my gut reaction, “the NBDL will make or break this team.” Excluding possibly “Big Baby” Glen Davis, it would be tough to spot Celtics players outside the Big 3 in a police line-up.

3. Susceptible to Injury and Aging
KG is a warrior. Paul Pierce has been known to play through pain. Ray Allen was one of two reasons why the SuperSonics were borderline watchable. Last season, two of the big three – Pierce and Allen – combined to miss a total of 62 games while Garnett has missed six games in each of the last two seasons. Conventional wisdom may lend to the belief that as the Big 3 inch closer to their social security windfall (or complete lack thereof), they could easily miss close to or exceed the combined 68 games missed due to injury and/or suspension last season. Despite having three veteran stars, the Celtics are still a young team and have traded in a host of four-year veterans for two of the league’s best and what will be a host of nobodies.

4. Money, Money, Money, Mo----ney ... MONEY!
At present, the luxury tax threshold is $67.865 million for this upcoming season. According to HoopsHype, Boston’s nine salaries total approximately $66.196 million. For those unfamiliar with the Association’s luxury tax, it’s a dollar-for-dollar penalty when organizations go over the league-mandated amount. This leaves approximately $1.669 million to spend on six players, including second-round picks Glen Davis and Gabe Pruitt, who will both command contracts in the range of $427,000 each, leaving the C’s with a paltry difference of $815,000 to sign four players. Given that $427k is the league minimum, it will be impossible for the Celtics to fill their roster without climbing over the luxury tax threshold. Of course, renegotiation may take place to make this a moot point. For now, it’s newsworthy and value-added analysis.

5. Sustainability
In a word, no. Phrases like “ephemeral rise to relative glory” may be found ten years from now when reflecting on the two major acquisitions’ effect on team history. This effort is one by Danny Ainge to make his mark on the Celtics franchise right now. The short-term worries of relevance and ticket sales are taken care of, but the Celtics should not be taken seriously by the masses until they reach at least the 2nd round of the playoffs. I stopped short of saying the Eastern Conference finals, because three teams – the Detroit Pistons, the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland LeBrons – are stronger and more complete than the Celtics. Nevertheless, in three years time, the Celtics will have either sunk or swam. To swim signifies that the Celtics brass must conduct business proactively and restructure their stars’ contracts in order to attract a stronger supporting cast. The less palatable option would involve unfulfilled returns from Garnett and Allen leading the organization into a deeper level of obscurity than seen prior to their arrival.

No matter how you look at it, the Celtics are a stronger team now than they were yesterday and a shoe-in for the Eastern Conference playoffs barring a complete disaster. Will Doc Rivers be accountable for losing close games and tinkering with a million different starting lineups? I hope so.


Chris Clement said...

With Glavine's bullpen letting him down, A-Rod going 0-5 (with 8 other Yankee homers), and Bonds only being booed in LA...the Big Ticket deal (aka KG) earned the right to be the biggest story.

And yes, the Celtics are relevant again. Even when Piece & Walker led them to the Eastern Conference Finals (which seems an eternity ago), the East was as weak as ever and the Celtics couldn't be taken very seriously.

Minnesota might not have gotten a huge name (Pierce or Ray Allen), but you're spot on with Ratliff's expiring deal and Jefferson.

Interesting to see how Minnesota gels a jam-packed roster.

Especially with so many point guards and 2-3 combo guys. I'd try my hardest to move Hudson and Ricky Davis. But that's me.

I like the flier, even if it was more contract-friendly, with Telfair too. While he is a dog, you never know with these type of talented guys on a deep roster...just what they may or may not do.

Your 5 points were all spot-on. Honestly, they don't need any further illumination.

The real questions for me:
1) Cap Money for bench players for Boston.
2) What Minnesota does with Gerald Green.
3) Where the Celtics rank in the power of the east. I think obviously ahead of the Washington/New Jerseys of course, but are they ahead of Miami & Chicago. Not to mention two teams called the LeBrons and the Pistons.

Either way, it's nice to see the Celtics as a playoff contender. Even an Eastern Conference contender.

Now...how do we fix the Knicks?


Paymon said...

Minnesota and Hudson have agreed on a buyout so he is off the books and likely headed to Boston.

There isn't much money for Boston to use as they're likely paying the luxury tax. They're doing their best to lure veterans to sign for the minimum, explore trades and beg someone to take Brian Scalabrine's contract off of their hands.

What Minnesota does with Gerald Green is a huge question. Al Jefferson is going to demand an extension averaging about $10M per year. I need to study their cap situation. For some reason, I expect more wheeling and dealing from them before the start of the season.