For the better part of the last week the Celtics and Clippers attempted to the point of exhaustion to work out a trade that would send Celtics head coach Doc Rivers and forward Kevin Garnett to the Clippers. Trying to get Rivers and Garnett was reportedly an attempt by the Clippers to appease soon-to-be free agent point guard Chris Paul, who wants to be coached by Rivers. But, with the deal seemingly dead after a report on Friday that Rivers informed the Clippers that he is no longer a candidate, it appears the possibility of Paul being coached by Rivers won’t be happening anytime soon.
However, should Rivers return as head coach of the Celtics next season, what is the likelihood these two teams work on a different deal that would swap Paul for Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo? If Paul’s desire is truly to be coached by Rivers, couldn’t he force the Clippers leadership to sign him as a free agent and then trade him to the Celtics for Rondo? Because the two players will not earn the same amount of money, the teams would have to get creative to make it work. Per the established rules of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement each trade must closely correspond in terms of money paid to players involved in the trade.
Paul is going to get a max contract this summer of 108 million dollars over the next five years, which means he will earn almost double what Rondo will next year. In order for the money to match up accordingly, the Clippers could send shooting guard Willie Green along with Paul to the Celtics in return for Rondo, forward Brandon Bass and guard Courtney Lee. Green is scheduled to be paid about 1.4 million next year, while Bass and Lee together will net a combined 11.2 million. Adding these contracts would make this trade work financially and achieve Paul’s goal of being coached by Doc Rivers.
This transaction would not be a negative for the Clippers. They would retain a perennial all-star point guard that is one of the most dynamic players in the league. Rondo’s pass-first style of play would benefit center DeAndre Jordan and forward Blake Griffin and maintain the Clippers’ standing as one of the best and most exciting teams in the Western Conference.
Additionally, this trade would give Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge probable cause to move ahead with a trade involving forward Paul Pierce to attain a younger impact player. Something akin to the rumored trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers that provides the Celtics with a trade exception, which creates salary cap space and gives them an opportunity to sign one of this summer’s biggest free agents. Two likely targets would be Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith and former Celtic and current Utah Jazz center Al Jefferson. Both players have shown interest in joining the Celtics and a sign and trade using the potential Pierce trade exception would be a realistic way to get one of them on the roster.
Signing either Smith or Jefferson would complete the resuscitation of the Celtics. Putting a starting five of either combo, Jefferson, Garnett, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Paul, or Garnett, Smith, Green, Bradley and Paul, on the court next season would make the Celtics a championship caliber team.
Nevertheless, trading Pierce to get the trade exception needed to obtain either Smith or Jefferson may be complicated. He is woven into the fabric of Celtics history, much in the same way Carl Yastrzemski is with the Boston Red Sox. The organization’s reverence for Pierce could make it impossible for Ainge and the Celtics ownership to trade him. Yet, this same reverence may also give them justification to pay a hefty luxury tax for the one year left on Pierce’s 15.3 million dollar contact that allows the team to both keep him and sign either Smith or Jefferson.
There appears to be nothing in the collective bargaining agreement to keep the Celtics ownership from undertaking this strategy. It certainly would not be the most frugal financial plan for next season. However, it would only be for one year and it would show the Celtic fan base that the current leadership is truly committed to the Celtics legacy of success and culture of loyalty created by late owner Walter Brown and legendary coach Red Auerbach toward the team’s greatest players.
All of these scenarios may seem farfetched at this moment. Nonetheless, it was only six weeks ago when everyone except Steven A. Smith laughed off the idea of Rivers and Garnett joining the Clippers. The two teams ended up working hard to try and make that a reality. And while that plan has seemingly failed, perhaps a Paul/Rondo sign and trade between the two teams could work. This coupled with some clever maneuvering by the Celtics to acquire one of the summer’s top free agents could make for a very interesting offseason.
Whatever happens, one thing is for certain. The Celtics will have a different look when the 2013-2014 season begins in the fall.
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