The Brooklyn Nets and the Boston Celtics both made statements on Thursday, with a trade that signals the intentions of both teams going forward.
The Nets are going for a Championship.
The Celtics are starting over.
The basketball world was shook to it's core when the Celts dealt Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry and Paul Pierce to the Nets for three first-round picks (2014, 16, 18), Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries' expiring contract, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph and a sign-and-trade deal with Keith Bogans. This deal, subject to confirmation from the league, represents yet another bold move for the Nets as they look to establish themselves as an NBA super-power, while it signals the end of an era in Boston.
It will be strange to see the Boston Celtics line up without Paul Pierce. He has been the face of the franchise ever since he was drafted with the 10th overall pick out of Kansas in 1998. The ten-time All-Star represented everything that was good about the Celtics, even when his teammates didn't exactly match his level of quality. That all changed when the Celtics traded for Garnett and Ray Allen, finally giving Pierce some quality compatriots to work with. The success was instant, with the Celtics winning the NBA title in 2008. Now, Pierce has to say goodbye to a franchise he has given everything for. He leaves a legend, an iconic figure and there's no question the 35-year old will have his famous number 34 retired by the team when he calls it a day.
Just how effective he is going to be in a Nets uniform remains to be seen. There's no doubt Pierce's powers are in decline, with so many miles on the clock that is to be expected. The Nets will be hoping that he still has one or two years left in the tank to make a significant contribution. He is still a rugged, hard-nosed defender with the ability to create his own shot and an appetite for the big occasion. Pierce's mobility isn't what it used to be, but rookie coach Jason Kidd has seen enough of Pierce over the years to know how to get the best out of him.
Pierce may have been the face of the franchise, but Kevin Garnett was the heartbeat who changed the mentality of the Celtics almost overnight. He is a born winner who's commitment is infectious. His numbers were down across the board last season, yet his influence remained as strong as ever. Even at 37, Garnett is considered one of best interior defenders in the league. Partnering him with Brook Lopez will give the Nets one of the most potent presences around the rim. Lopez has often been accused of being a bit lightweight of defense, especially rebounding the basketball. Garnett will demand more from Lopez and it will be interesting to see how the Center responds to the intense demeanour of KG. Garnett had a no-trade clause in his contract, so he must see some potential in the move, which will be his last chance to add to the one ring he already has.
With these new additions, the Nets can now boast a starting five of Lopez, Garnett, Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. Providing they stay healthy, this will strike fear into the hearts of every team in the Eastern Conference. They will need some assistance off the bench if they are going to challenge the Miami Heat, which is where Jason Terry comes in. He has made a living off injecting energy whenever he enters the fray. A former sixth-man of the year winner, Terry has averaged 15.7 points and 4.5 assists throughout his career, the majority of which has been from the sixth man position. This is presumably why Terry was included in this deal, the Nets won't get by with just their starting five and Terry is a perfect compliment to this formidable set of starters.
On paper, the Nets now look like the main contenders to the Heat's throne. It is the sort of move you have come to expect from them under the ownership of Mikhail Prokhorov and it's a huge responsibility for new head coach Jason Kidd. The future hall-of-famer is new to the coaching game and managing so many stars will be an incredible challenge, one the Nets will be hopeful he is up to. The Russian owner is not known for his patience, so Kidd must make a fast start as this is now a team with lofty expectations and a ruthless owner who will not tolerate failure.
The Celtics, on the other hand, now have to find a new identity, having gone away from everything that made them successful. Last year was the start, with Ray Allen opting to sign with the Heat, a decision that was vindicated when he helped them to another championship. This off-season has been far more drastic, they have traded away their three most experienced and recognisable faces as well as their head coach, Doc Rivers, who left for the Clippers.
There are so many questions now surrounding the Celtics it is difficult to know where to begin. They are clearly pining their hopes of rebuilding around Rajon Rondo, who is coming off an ACL injury and isn't a guarantee to start the season. With this type of injury, it's difficult to predict whether Rondo's explosive burst will return immediately, but with this move the Celtics are counting on it. He is one of the best point guard's in the league when healthy, but he is notoriously difficult to work with. If Rondo did have his disagreements with Rivers et al, then General Manager Danny Ainge has mortgaged the team's immediate future to make him happy. One thing is certain, Rondo will have to learn how to be a leader quickly if the Celtics are going to develop with him as the franchise player.
The Celtics will not have taken this decision lightly, which is why it's understandable they have gone 'all-in' and had a complete clearout. Now they must work with the base of Jared Sullinger, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Rondo. That doesn't seem like a foursome that are going to get you a championship, or even an Atlantic Division title for that matter. Green has shown some potential off the bench and will be given more responsibility in Pierce's spot. Bradley is a good perimeter defender but is limited offensively and the Celts are expecting big things from Sullinger, provided he can stay healthy.
It is unclear whether they will be re-signing Humphries, they may offer him a one-year deal as he would provide a valuable rebounding prowess Sullinger isn't guaranteed to provide. Humphries will be ecstatic to get away from New York, where he has become something of a laughing stock following his shambolic marriage to the fame-hungry Kim Kardashian. A fresh start could be the perfect tonic as he has the potential to average a double-double annually.
Nobody has ever doubted the potential MarShon Brooks has, it's just that he has seldom shown it. He now has the chance to prove himself for the team that drafted him in 2011. Brooks is a streaky shooter at best who's defense is suspect and will need to be sharp from the outset of training camp if he is to make any sort of contribution to this team. If he shows he is willing to learn and puts the effort in, then a new environment could help progress his game considerably. If they use him correctly, the Celtics could have a rough diamond on their hands, providing all parties do what is necessary to succeed.
Much will depend on how they utilise Wallace, who is still owed $30 million in the final three years on his contract. He has been an elite defender throughout his career but now he will have to transfer some of that influence on the offensive side of the ball. He has some success during his time with the Charlotte Bobcats, averaging 17.7 points a game during his time there. He should get plenty of open looks playing with Rondo, who continually gives his teammates fantastic opportunities to score due to his supreme court vision. Wallace will probably get a season with the team to see if he is capable of this role, if he doesn't thrive, expect the Celtics to use their amnesty clause on him to save paying him the $20 million remaining for the two years he will have left.
There will no doubt be some growing pains for the Celtics as they look to blend new talent and adjust to so many veterans departing. They do have the salary-cap space to make a move in free agency, as well as NINE first round draft picks in the next five years, if they want to explore a trade. Neither are expected to occur, given the nature of this clearout, the Celtics front office are certainly not in "win-now" mode and the plan to get back to relevance will probably take years.
Patience will be key if this gamble is to prove fruitful in the years to come.
Something KG, Pierce and Kidd will not be afforded the luxury of.
Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_