And then there was one.
Five seasons after the Celtics won the 2008 NBA championship, the franchise's 17th, only Rajon Rondo remains in Boston green. With franchise cornerstones Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett being flipped to the Brooklyn Nets this offseason, it's Rondo's team now, for better or for worse.
And rest assured, the Celtics will be much, much worse. Ever since Ray Allen and Garnett hooked up with Pierce to form the "Big Three" in 2007-08, the Celtics have won two-thirds of their regular-season games, which is the equivalent of a 54-win season. The Celtics will be lucky if they win half that in 2013-14 with their new roster, making the early "end of an era" eulogies feel spot-on.
We rarely see teams truly "blow it up" by trading two All-Star-level players and letting their championship-winning head coach walk away from his contract obligations, and it's even rarer for it to happen all in the same offseason. But this was the sensible, pragmatic route, even if the fans in Beantown initially didn't see it that way.
With an aging core, Rondo recovering from a torn ACL and an increasingly top-heavy Eastern Conference, the Celtics weren't going to be deluded and expect another championship chase from this crew. Not after barely breaking .500 last season and losing in the first round of the playoffs to the New York Knicks.
So instead of looking backward with cozy sentimentality, the Celtics pushed forward, replacing Doc Rivers, their coach for the past nine seasons, with Brad Stevens, the innovative former leader of the Butler Bulldogs. Together, Rondo and the 37-year-old Stevens will have something of a fresh start. Rondo finally has a chance to prove he can lead his team to victory without the help of Pierce, Allen and Garnett. Stevens leaves his underdog label behind in the college mid-majors for one of the richest franchises in the professional game, in both dollars and history.
But their partnership may not be a long one. The Celtics appear to have their eyes set on the loaded 2014 draft class, and Rondo's talent could mean fewer pingpong balls. It'll be fascinating to see how Rondo's fiery personality, which has led to reported clashes with teammates and multiple altercations with referees, meshes with Stevens' calm-and-collected demeanor. But the point guard will be 29 years old when his current contract expires after the 2014-15 season, so Boston brass may very well view him as too old to spearhead the next phase. This is a team built for the future, not now. After all, Andrew Wiggins may be walking through that door.
Though the Celtics' season technically ended after their Game 6 loss to the New York Knicks, their fate was sealed in late January when Rondo tore his ACL while logging a triple-double against the Atlanta Hawks.
The team's only legitimate point guard (sorry, Avery Bradley does not count) would be out for the rest of the season, leaving the Celtics' offense in shambles the rest of the way. With their floor general missing, the Celtics scored a pathetic 90.8 points per 100 possessions against the Knicks, en route to the team's only first-round playoff exit in the Garnett era.
The Rondo injury ignited one of the most fascinating and loaded subplots of the 2012-13 season: Were the Celtics better off without Rondo?
W-L: 41-40 (Pythagorean W-L: 40-41)
Offensive Efficiency: 101.0 (20th)
Defensive Efficiency: 100.4 (6th)
Pace Factor: 94.0 (T-16th)
Highest WARP: Paul Pierce (11.0)
The anti-Rondo camp certainly had some evidence to back up their controversial stance. Before the Rondo injury, the Celtics were in the midst of a six-game losing streak that dropped their record to 20-23. In the first game without Rondo, the Celtics beat the Heat in double-overtime, which kicked off a seven-game win streak against a pillow-soft schedule. The Rondo-less Celtics turned around their season, but they gradually fell back down to Earth, ultimately finishing 21-17 in the post-Rondo world.
It's only a margin of a few games, but the bottom line is that the Celtics were just about a .500 team regardless of whether Rondo was on the floor or not. And that's mostly because the star trio of Rondo, Pierce and Garnett simply couldn't carry the offense anymore.
The front office grossly underestimated how much the Allen departure would compromise the team's synergy on that end of the floor. The signings of Jason Terry and Courtney Lee were supposed to keep the offense afloat, but that plan failed miserably. In fact, the Rondo-Pierce-Garnett trio scored 8.7 fewer points per 100 possessions last season than it did in 2011-12, mostly because of Allen's departure. Essentially, the trio went from producing at the level of a top-10 offense all the way down to the worst in the NBA (the trio's scoring rate of 97.5 points per 100 possessions was worse than the last-place Washington Wizards).
Offensive and defensive ratings the last two seasons
We also learned last season that Bradley still can't run an offense at the 1, or shoot well enough yet to play effectively at the 2, which is important information moving forward. Pairing Rondo and Bradley together basically meant the Celtics weren't observing the advent of the 3-point line. No matter how suffocating Bradley can be as a defender, it's becoming harder and harder to imagine him as Rondo's successor at point guard if he can't run a pick-and-roll or reliably shoot from the perimeter.
But if there was one bright spot amid a dark Celtics season, it was Jeff Green's ascension into a go-to scoring option at the end of the season. Returning from heart surgery on a new $35 million contract, Green averaged 17.3 points and 5.0 rebounds after the All-Star break, while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent from downtown. Though he can float in and out of the offense at times, the Celtics don't feel as optimistic about Life After Pierce without Green coming on to finish 2013-14.
Another glimmer of hope came from rookie Jared Sullinger, but back issues cut his season short in January and legitimized the health concerns that sent his stock plummeting on draft day. Sullinger showed double-double potential, but until he can stay on the court and control his obscene foul rate (6.2 whistles every 36 minutes), the Celtics can't realistically view him as a franchise building block.
All in all, the Celtics' season was a disappointment even though they limited Garnett's playing time to 29.7 minutes per game and Pierce was able to squeeze out another productive season at 35 years old. But it was as clear as a Boston summer day that those two had run out of gas by the end of the playoffs, and the next phase of the Celtics needed to be ushered in.
The Celtics fanbase received some tough love this offseason: In order to get better, they'll first need to get worse.
Generally speaking, that's how the game is played. The incentive structure in the NBA rewards the teams that stink up the joint by giving them the best chances at acquiring the league's golden ticket: supreme, young talent at a discount price through the NBA draft.
The ideal home in the standings is at the extremes, and President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge saw the writing on the wall when aging franchise icons Pierce and Garnett crumbled in the playoffs. Rather than spin inside the vicious cycle of mediocrity, Ainge threw sentiment to the wind and flipped Garnett, Pierce and Terry to the Brooklyn Nets for some placeholders and a promising bundle of future draft picks who could make them the next Oklahoma City Thunder or the next Charlotte Bobcats (though they'll probably land somewhere in between).
As it currently stands, the Celtics have stockpiled 10 first-round picks over the next five drafts. Yes, 10. By taking on Gerald Wallace's and Kris Humphries' bloated contracts, the Celtics managed to avoid any protection on Brooklyn's first-round picks. That might not seem like a big deal now, but that lack of protection could yield extra lottery picks if the Nets implode in the next couple of years.
Yes, the Wallace and Humphries contracts may seem like tough pills to swallow, but the Celtics should duck the luxury tax this season anyway, and they have deep enough pockets to absorb the $70 million in salary. Humphries' $12 million expiring contract could also be a valuable trade greaser at the deadline, if the Celtics feel like going that route.
There are risks to tanking, of course. Lots of losing can rot a locker room and bad on-court habits can fester if the main objective isn't to win as many games as possible. In an effort to zap the potential long-term side effects, the Celtics went out and plucked Stevens, one of the brightest young minds in the sport, to help incubate young talent and try to build a system of sustainable success with outside-the-box thinking. With Stevens and his statistically bent staff joining an already data-obsessed front office, the Celtics now boast one of the most analytically savvy organizations in the sport.
This may be surprising, but the Celtics added other players, too. Looking to add a young scorer, they drafted skilled 7-footer Kelly Olynyk from the Gonzaga Bulldogs with the 13th pick. Though he has a ways to go before he can protect the paint, Olynyk, who led the NCAA in PER last year (36.2 rating) and all big men in scoring at the Orlando Summer League at 18.0 points per game (insert Summer League stat skepticism here), should help produce offensively right away.
The Celtics brought in scoring sub MarShon Brooks (Nets deal) and Brazilian big man Vitor Faverani (three-year contract), who can help bolster their depleted back line with toughness and scoring ability. They also signed Keith Bogans to a guaranteed $5 million as part of the Nets deal.
To wrap up a busy offseason, the Celtics also paid the Memphis Grizzlies to take on Fab Melo's guaranteed contract in exchange for Donte Greene's nonguaranteed contract, which will almost certainly be waived so they can avoid paying the luxury tax that becomes increasingly punitive next season. Though it seems early to bail on Melo's promise as a shot-blocking big man, he showed up to summer league in awful shape and couldn't get off the bench.
Did Ainge do the right thing by pressing the reset button this offseason? We may not know for a few years, but the long-term outlook of the franchise is much healthier than it was at the end of last season. With Stevens at the helm and a steady feed of first-round draft picks through 2018, the Celtics have turned a bleak situation into a promising one.
It won't be pretty. By shipping Pierce, Garnett and Terry out of Boston, the Celtics will have to replace three of their top five scorers after finishing 20th in offensive rating last season. If that wasn't bad enough, the Celtics' defense, without Garnett, hemorrhaged 104.6 points per 100 possessions to opponents last season, which would have easily put them in the bottom 10 teams in the league.
But holy smokes is it a beautiful time to be terrible. The Celtics have positioned themselves to potentially bottom out in 2013-14, which, in the strange world of the NBA, could net them a franchise player in the monster 2014 draft class. SCHOENE projections see the Celtics finishing with a 27-55 record next season, giving them the fifth-best odds in the Riggin' for Wiggins sweepstakes behind the Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns.
And good news for tankaholic Celtics fans: They can shave a few more wins off the top if they decide to move Rondo, the only Celtics player who SCHOENE believes will be above average next season. Yes, the only one. If the Celtics want to truly reset the roster, they could deal Rondo at the trade deadline next season, after he has a chance to boost his trade value in the wake of major knee surgery. Of course, that's contingent on whether he's healthy enough to return by the trade deadline, but early estimates have Rondo returning by Christmas Day. All things considered, moving Rondo midseason may be the ideal situation for all involved.
In that case, we could be realistically looking at a tanktastic unit of Bradley, Lee, Green, Humphries and Olynyk as the Celtics' most-used lineup next season. Wallace is the big wild card here, as advance metrics aren't sure what to do with his disastrous scoring campaign last season in Brooklyn. Even though he looked washed up, it's worth remembering that he's younger than Tony Parker, Zach Randolph and Carlos Boozer. As such, SCHOENE projects Wallace to provide 1.8 WARP in 2013-14, which jibes with regularized adjusted plus-minus' bullish appraisal last season.
By unloading most of their players with one foot in a retirement home, the Celtics are slated to shave 2.5 years off their average age next season, by far the biggest youth movement in the league. As a 37-year-old head coach takes over a raw roster, the Celtics will surely be green next season ahead of the 2014 draft. And if things go Ainge's way, the rest of the NBA will be green with envy soon.
Why hasn't Will Bynum been mentioned yet?
"Laa shay'a waqi'un mutlaq bale kouloun moumkin."
"Laa shay'a waqi'un mutlaq bale kouloun moumkin."
hopefully we have better luck with the turnout than tonight's draft
Unless I missed it, I'm surprised the legendary NT Super Saiyan god Courtney Lee hasn't been mentioned yet.
Dude is more revered on here than MJ, LeBron, and Kobe combined.
Their reaction was genuine too