Kevin Garnett presents a bit of a problem for the Boston Celtics right now. Which is funny, because in 2007, Kevin Garnett presented a bit of a solution to the Boston Celtics.
KG's presence on that team won the C's a championship. His early spring return to form, mostly, nearly won Boston a championship this year. And because he's under contract, a huge contract, and scheduled to make $40 million over the next two years? He forces Boston into making some tough decisions, without much flexibility in order to work with.
Because as it stands, both as a result of the team's second-place showing (about as close as second-place showings come, it should be mentioned) and mostly because of Garnett's contract, the Celtics will probably have to return more or less the same in 2010-11. That's not a bad thing, and I think this year's playoff run proved that this could be a great thing, but the damning implication behind that is that it could be the only thing.
The tough decisions start at the top, for general manager Danny Ainge, with Boston coach Doc Rivers still undecided as to his future with the team. Rivers has yet to sign a contract extension, nor has he publicly committed to the team, wondering aloud if it might be time to step away and spend more time watching his children play various college and high school sports. This is a legitimate concern for Rivers, he's not pulling the wool, but the ages and limitations of Boston's roster are also playing a strong part in his decision.
He shouldn't be blamed for walking away. It's a tough gig. Rivers has never really made a full transition to the Boston area from his home in Florida, and he'll be without his workhorse defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, who is leaving the Celtics assistant-coaching slot to run the Chicago Bulls. A hire would help. Lawrence Frank has made it known that he doesn't mind taking on assistant-coaching duties and would seem particularly well-suited for the job, but would that be enough to keep Rivers away from the lure of a cushier TV job?
Paul Pierce(notes) will also be making a none-too-easy decision pretty soon, as he has the option of opting out of the final year of his contract, leaving $21.5 million on the table in order to either guarantee himself more money (with fewer bones up front) over the course of a new contract, or to (shock horror) possibly re-up for less money in order to allow the Celtics to formulate a better roster around him.
Because he's an NBA player, the former is more likely, especially with a potential lockout and salary reconstruction looming. But it would also take a rather large leap of faith from Pierce, and some delicate contract back and forth with Ainge, so as not to hurt the feelings of a star who isn't quite the All-Star (Pierce turns 33 in October) that he once was.
Then there's Rasheed Wallace(notes), who could negotiate a buyout of the final two years of a contract that pays him around $13 million. Or he could just work what he worked last season, showing up hideously out of shape, remaining that way throughout the season, actually getting praise for playing while out of shape (through the resultant cramps and strains), and getting paid in full.
Boston might not even want to dump Rasheed, because lopping part of his deal off the books would then drop them below the salary cap, but not enough to compete with teams featuring the mid-level exception to offer to players, a side benefit of being over the cap that Boston can boast as things stand right now.
"Right now" isn't much, depth-wise. If Pierce opts-in and Wallace hangs around, then the Celtics have over $62 million committed to just six players, passing on untested and unguaranteed rookies Tony Gaffney and Oliver Lafayette. That's without re-signing Ray Allen, Tony Allen), Nate Robinson), or any frontcourt help. That's a thin roster.
This means, if Boston is to continue apace and go for the ring again with a roster styled like the one we've seen over the last few years, Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck will have to dive deep into his pockets to pay for things. Rivers re-upping won't come cheap. Pierce might have to trade up-front cash now for security later, but that still means signing Pierce for years as he moves into his mid-30s. Ray Allen's re-signing will probably run closer to eight figures a year than it would MLE money. Rasheed's going to steal money, in whatever permutation.
On top of that? Some sort of MLE candidate, to bolster frontcourt depth, especially if Kendrick Perkins is out as expected for a good chunk of the beginning of 2010-11. A veteran rental like Brad Miller, a hopeful long-shot at someone like Tyson Chandler or Udonis Haslem who would have the Celtics holding opponents to 57 points per game if he left Florida and paired with KG), or perhaps some backcourt help should Nate Robinson go somewhere else. Nate Robinson was a Celtic this year, remember when that happened?
Either way, for something as staid and as typical as a veteran roster filled with top-heavy contracts, the Celtics sure are in a fluid state. Not too many easier answers with this lot, though the solutions seem pretty obvious, and it all surrounds Garnett's not-quite-a-millstone-but-close contract.
Because he keeps you running toward that ring. In ways both good and bad. Had the Celtics won it all last week, it would have topped off the most remarkable playoff run of a generation, with the team downing the teams with the first, second, and third-best record in the NBA over the span, along with four members of the All-NBA first team along the way. Garnett would have been the biggest reason behind that championship run, again.
Garnett and Boston are capable of doing it again, though it appears even "capable" doesn't come cheap these days.
Kelly Dwyer, Yahoo Sports