Amidst the Celtics current four-game winning streak, a plethora of trade rumors have been swirling around the team since last Sunday when we learned that All-Star point-guard, Rajon Rondo, would be sidelined for the remainder of the season with an ACL tear.
Coupled with the loss of their most talented player, news that rookie standout Jared Sullinger would also miss the remainder of the season, electing to go under the knife and receive back surgery on Friday, almost certainly serves as Boston’s dagger in the back (no pun intended).
This brings up the question: Is the Celtics season over?
As you’ll see on any national NBA broadcast, nearly every analyst’s answer to that question is an emphatic, yes. Rondo, arguably Boston’s best player, is having a career year, averaging a career high 13.7 PPG, currently leading the league in assists at 11.7, and before getting injured, earning the nod to start the All-Star game in Houston via fan voting.
Usually, if two of a team’s top seven players go down with injuries, it almost certainly means that the chances of that team making the playoffs, let alone making a run at an NBA championship, are slim to none.
Fortunately for Boston, however, neither one of those two players were Kevin Garnett, nor long time captain Paul Pierce.
Over the past five games, Pierce has carried the team in all facets of the game, averaging 16.2 points, 9 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game per ESPN.com.
At the age of 35, certainly head coach Doc Rivers doesn’t want Pierce carrying such a heavy load on a night-to-night basis. This mean his minutes have to go up (and they have, by approximately 4 minutes/game), which is bad news come playoff time, suggesting Boston hangs onto one of the final eight spots in the Eastern Conference.
The good news for the Celtics is that they have in fact won each of their last four games, all essentially without Rondo and Sullinger. Without Rondo controlling so much of the ball, Boston’s ball movement, as well as its overall bench play has improved dramatically, especially in the cases of Leandro Barbosa and Jeff Green.
Barbosa has relished the opportunity of gaining more minutes off the bench in the absence of Rondo, scoring in double-figures in Boston’s last two games versus the Clippers and Magic.
He has most recently been paired up with fellow back-courter Jason Terry off the bench, forming a formidable backcourt duo. Terry’s three-point shooting has improved over the past five games, as is percentage is up five whole points, to a more-than-serviceable 40 percent.
Terry and Barbosa, to go along with Green’s recent offensive output (scoring in double-figures in each of his last give games), solidifying himself as a number-one scoring option off the bench for head coach Doc Rivers, has General Manger Danny Ainge thinking about standing pat at the trade deadline.
While there hasn’t been as much chatter surrounding Pierce since Memphis traded away Rudy Gay to Toronto, there has been a flurry of rumors concerning Garnett. Both the Los Angeles Clippers and most recently, the Denver Nuggets, have reached out to Ainge with inquiries about Boston’s defensive backbone.
The problem for both LA and Denver is that Garnett has a no trade clause, and has already stated that he is unwilling to wave it unless Pierce is moved as well.
Moving the two stars would certainly solidify the end of the “Big 3” era in Boston, one in which the Celtics have made two finals appearances, while wining the title in 2008.
This means that future of the Boston Celtics ultimately lies in the hands of Ainge and majority owner Wyc Grousbeck.
The Celtics have had a rich history of exuding loyalty to their star players, often hanging onto them for longer than some would expect or hope for, most notably back in the late 90’s with the original “Big 3” of Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale.
So this begs the question, Will Ainge and Grousbeck blow up the team as a lot of fans in the area are hoping for, or will they hang onto to Pierce and Garnett, hoping for one last title run, this time without their newly established superstar in Rajon Rondo?
It’s a lot to think about, and the Celtics brass have about two weeks to do so before the NBA trade deadline on February 21st.