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The Celtics’ 2012-13 season came to a close on Friday, as the New York Knicks came away from TD Garden with an 88-80 win in game 6 of their first-round playoff series. It was the end of a rollercoaster season for the Celtics: they got off to a bad 14-17 start but won six straight games in January, then lost six straight right after that before losing point guard Rajon Rondo for the season to a torn ACL.
When many thought the Celtics were at risk of not even making the playoffs without Rondo, they bounced back with seven consecutive wins, eventually leveling off to finish the regular season at 41-40, in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
While the C’s showed plenty of toughness in winning two games after finding themselves down 3-0 to the Knicks, their lack of offensive firepower was also on full display as they failed to score more than 80 points in any of the four playoff losses. Now, they face a long offseason with a lot of uncertainty regarding what this team will look like in 2013-14. Let’s look at Boston’s key offseason issues:
The biggest question is whether the team’s veteran stars, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, will return for one more season. The soon-to-be 37-year-old Garnett is under contract for two more seasons, but he has suggested in the past that he could retire after 2013-14, or perhaps even sooner. However, the disappointing end to this season could make him decide to come back for one more, and he has consistently shown that he can still be an elite player in the league. While his scoring numbers are declining, he earned his 15th All-Star nomination this year. KG averaged 13.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the Celtics’ six playoff games, his best postseason averages in those categories since he came to Boston.
Many believe that Pierce, for his part, will be back next year, the final season on his current contract. Although he struggled offensively for large stretches of the season, he stepped up his game in a big way after Rondo went down, and ended up recording 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game on the season. Moreover, he was largely healthy all year, missing just four games, which bodes well should he return for 2012-13.
As for head coach Doc Rivers, who signed a five-year contract in 2011, he said in his postgame press conference following the Celtics’ elimination that he doesn’t know whether he’ll be back. After the 2010-11 season, he was reportedly considering taking a break from coaching altogether to spend time with his family, but the deal he signed then seemed to put those plans to rest. Rivers’s return would probably go a long way towards convincing Garnett to come back as well. There is little doubt that Garnett and Pierce would like to make one more run at a championship with a healthy Rondo as their floor leader.
Finally, there is always the possibility of a major trade taking place this offseason. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported back in March that Pierce was almost traded to the Dallas Mavericks at the deadline, in a three-team deal that would have brought the Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith to Boston. In the end, it was only general manager Danny Ainge’s refusal to give up a first-round pick along with Pierce that stopped the trade from happening. In any case, the news is just the latest evidence that Ainge is not going to get sentimental if he sees the chance to swing a good deal.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith spoke on Monday about a potential mega-deal that would see Garnett and Pierce both traded to the L.A. Clippers, where Rivers would sign on as coach. The Celtics would receive Eric Bledsoe, Caron Butler and Blake Griffin in the blockbuster. Smith himself essentially acknowledged that this rumor should be taken with a grain of salt, but Ainge is not one to shy away from a trade of that caliber, and there was also talk of negotiations with the Clippers leading up to last February’s deadline.
If there was one thing we learned from Rondo’s injury, it was that the Celtics need a backup point guard and do not have one on the roster right now. Avery Bradley is turning into an elite defensive player, and Courtney Lee had some good games down the stretch, but neither has the ability to be an NBA floor general. Other than that, Boston’s roster is actually in pretty good shape going into 2013-14, as Chris Wilcox is the only impending free agent.
A look at this year’s free-agent point guards reveals a handful of names Ainge could find enticing this summer, including former Celtics Nate Robinson, who is currently lighting it up in the playoffs with the Chicago Bulls, and Leandro Barbosa. Also among this year’s crop of reliable (and presumably affordable) veterans are Will Bynum, José Calderón, Randy Foye, Devin Harris, Jarrett Jack, Beno Udrih and Mo Williams.
This isn’t to say that Ainge will only be looking to upgrade the point guard position. Aside from the trade possibilities mentioned above, Josh Smith is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Celtics’ interest in him has been the subject of many rumors over the past couple of years. Then again, Smith will probably be looking for a max contract, as will another of this year’s top free agents, Dwight Howard. The chances of Boston landing either of them are probably slim, and surely dependent financially on Garnett’s and Pierce’s decisions on their future.
Still, Ainge will surely at least explore the possibility of adding a big man through free agency, given the abundant questions that surround the Celtics’ front court. If Garnett does come back, it will probably be for just one season. Jared Sullinger showed great potential this season, but missed the final three months after undergoing back surgery. Brandon Bass had a mostly disappointing year, althought his improved play in the final month at least has us hoping that he could return to his 2011-12 form next season.
As for June’s Draft, the Celtics will have only one pick, since their second-rounder went to the Houston Rockets in the Lee sign-and-trade last year. The good news is that they own the 16th selection, which is their highest since 2007, when they took Jeff Green with the fifth overall pick and promptly traded him to the Seattle SuperSonics for Ray Allen. While this year’s draft is considered to be quite weak, the C’s still have a chance to draft a quality player.