By Chris Hallenbrook
Well folks, Danny the Dealer has struck again, with Ainge trading releasing Doc Rivers from his contract with the understanding that his new employers, the Los Angeles Clippers, will compensate the Celtics with a first round draft pick in 2015. This move serves as acknowledgment as what became painfully obvious as the aging Celtics got smacked around by the New York Knicks in the first round this postseason, the Big Three’s run was fun, but their window for winning Division Titles, let alone NBA Championships, has slammed shut.
It should have been evident to anyone watching this past year’s Boston Celtics, even shameless homers like the late Johnny Most, that this team is past its prime and no longer ready for prime time. It would be easy to blame the season-ending injury suffered by Rajon Rondo, but when he went down this team was 20-23. Having gotten “younger” with 35 year old Jason Terry and 27 year old Courtney Lee just wasn’t getting it done. The Celtics have to go into a rebuilding period, the sooner the better.
So if Doc was lukewarm about rebuilding, moving him (and his $7 million annual salary), is a good idea. The Celtics need to rebuild about Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley, while continuing to add young talent. The best avenue to do that is through the draft, and with the Celtics currently stuck in mid-to-late first round purgatory, stockpiling additional picks is a no-brainier. But the Celtics have limited assets with which to collect picks, Doc being one (Rondo, KG and Pierce being the others). So dealing him and hiring a cheaper coach to teach the younglings is a shrewd business decision.
My only complaint from a business standpoint is that the Celtics didn’t get enough for Doc. In exchange for one of only four active NBA coaches to have won an NBA Title (along with Popovich, Spoelstra and Carlisle) they received a single first round pick, and it isn’t until the 2015 draft. That’s right, it’s not in the draft this coming week or even next year; it is two years down the road. This means the badly needed young help that an extra first rounder can provide is three seasons down the road. Unfortunately for Celtics fans like myself, this likely means that Danny anticipates a lengthy rebuilding process. Furthermore, the location of the pick will be determined by the results of the 2014-2015 Clippers, who if they resign Chris Paul next month can be expected to make a deep run into the playoffs, making this nearly a second round pick (although I have a bad feeling that the Celtics’ own pick will be much higher, perhaps making up for it).
And how is it that Danny only got one pick for Doc? The three years remaining on Doc’s contract gave the Celtics plenty of leverage and with the non-compete clause they did not have to do this deal or risk losing him to “retirement.” Why not say “two first rounders or bust,” or stand firm on the original demand that they take a bloated contract (Lee/Terry) off Boston’s hands, given that the Celtics best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) was having a great coach? My best guess is that the Clippers used their continued highly public interviewing of other quality candidates to single to Ainge that they also viewed their BATNA favorably and were willing to walk away from the deal. So at the end of the day, I have to accept that two first rounders, or a salary dump, just wasn’t going to happen, but I can’t shake the feeling that while this is a good business decision for my Celtics, they sold too low.