For Ainge, reconfiguring roster will be like fighting a three-headed monster
Sentimentality won’t be driving Danny Ainge as he attempts to retool the Celtics for another run at a championship. Sequels are tricky propositions in movies, and even more so in the NBA.
The “let’s make one more run’’ mentality almost never works. Age plays a factor, as do desire, health, and egos. The chemistry generated by one group usually does not carry over to another.
The Celtics president has a great deal of work to do in the offseason, perhaps even more than he got done in the summer of 2007, because now he has to surround the Big Three with younger, capable players at bargain prices. He will have to part ways with popular players, tell older ones their services are no longer required, and get the Big Three — especially Kevin Garnett — to accept reduced roles.
Of the Big Three, Garnett is declining the fastest. He remains a marvelous defensive player, but after his 28-point, 18-rebound performance in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Miami, he had nothing left. He lost a one-on-one battle with Chris Bosh, a player he despises and would be insulted to be compared with. But in the clinching Game 5, when Bosh put up one of those deliberate head fakes, Garnett went flying; Bosh passed him for a dunk — and likely in the power forward rankings.
The goal next season is to give Garnett fewer minutes, to treat him as Gregg Popovich treats Tim Duncan. Garnett is still an All-Star-caliber player, but his body has to be preserved in what should be his final season as a Celtic.
The Celtics relied on him too heavily in the postseason, and he couldn’t deliver. He is a prideful man, but Ainge and coach Doc Rivers have to emphasize to him that his sacrifice will be for the good of the team. Re-signing Jeff Green would help Garnett get more rest, as Green showed himself capable of defending some power forwards in the postseason.
Green is a must to bring back because he is young, athletic, and under the Celtics’ control. If he goes, the Celtics will have nothing for Kendrick Perkins. The understandable mistake Ainge made in acquiring Green was assuming he was ready for the bright lights after being a major part of the Thunder’s growth.
He wasn’t. The Celtics were burned for that assumption, but you don’t discard a talented player for a disappointing half-season. Green has talent, but he was accustomed to playing the third wheel in Oklahoma City, a less-than-demanding market where the fans applaud their team after first-round playoff losses. That won’t happen in Boston.
As for Glen Davis, we may have seen the last of Big Baby. It’s a typical breakup. Davis has always felt he was better than his second-round status, and after averaging a career-best 11.7 points off the bench in the regular season, he feels he’s ready to be a starter. He wants a big contract, more minutes, and an opportunity to flourish outside the framework of the Big Three.
There are two issues here: Rivers has never particularly liked Davis’s style, work ethic, or lack of toughness, and Davis doesn’t particularly like being the butt of Rivers’s jokes and he feels underappreciated.
What has prevented Davis from blossoming is the same thing that had teams backing off him in the 2007 draft: He has no true position.
He can’t score consistently on bigger players, and weight is going to be an issue throughout his career. It may be time to allow Davis to pursue his goals elsewhere, because in Boston he’ll be left wondering another few years.
With the new collective bargaining agreement rules uncertain and the potential for a lockout, Ainge cannot draw out a complete blueprint until deep into the summer. His biggest question is how to get younger on a limited budget.
The Celtics should have their mid-level exception to offer. Ainge will also have to be astute about bringing in an athletic big man who may have limited skills, but can rebound and defend. And the Celtics must place added emphasis on next month’s draft.
Avery Bradley was a pick for the future. He has worked so hard this season that he should be able to contribute something next year. The Celtics pick 25th in the draft, and if Ainge wants to help next year’s team, he will need to take a seasoned player.
There will be a handful of athletic players Ainge could nab at 25, and he also has the Clippers’ No. 1 pick in 2012 to offer if he chooses to trade for a veteran on draft night. Rajon Rondo repeatedly mentioned the word “young’’ when he talked to the media after Game 5, and his opinion carries much more weight than it did a few years ago.
The Celtics have to blend youth with their veteran core, which is something Ainge has disregarded at times during the Big Three era. To clear roster space to sign the little-used Troy Murphy and Sasha Pavlovic, Ainge gave Luke Harangody and Semih Erden to Cleveland. And the draft hasn’t been much of a focal point as the Celtics have relied on midseason acquisitions of veterans.
Ainge tried that with Green and Nenad Krstic this season, and it didn’t work. So there has to be a renewed focus on athleticism, youth, and energy — three things Boston lacked this season, especially in the playoffs against the Heat.
It won’t be easy. The rules will be dramatically different. Lower-priced free agents are lower-priced for a reason, and persuading the Big Three to accept adjusted roles for the greater good will be a humbling experience.
But such are the sacrifices for “one more run.’’ If all involved truly want this to work, and don’t want to go home humiliated as they did yesterday, then the reframing of the Celtics should be a collective and cooperative effort.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.