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Point/Counterpoint: Should the Boston Celtics break up their roster?

By Scott Bernier and Anokh Palakurthi
On February 6, 2013

There comes a time in each team's history when they need to realize that their window for winning a championship is closed. Tthe Celtics' window has been shut. Though they remain strong on defense, their offense is severely lacking. A lot of this has to do with KG and Pierce growing old. Neither player can consistently create his own shot anymore. This current Celtics team doesn't have an offensive identity, and without a franchise-changing superstar, they will never win. Now is the perfect time to blow up the core and give their players away when their value is still high.
Much talk has been made about this year's Boston Celtics and their precarious situation. However, this squad still has the potential and personnel to make a run in the Eastern Conference playoffs. This team still has two of the "Big 3" playing at an All-Star level, despite their age and that the core of new recruits and role players has yet to really mesh, the Celtics are riding a five-game winning streak since Rondo's injury. At this point in the season, it makes more sense to let this Celtics team finish out the year with low expectations that can certainly be exceeded.
Scott: Isn't age merely a number, though? That's what this Celtics squad has believed since 2007, when Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett joined Paul Pierce to create the original "Big 3." Of course, Rajon Rondo's emergence as a premier point guard and gifted young talent does provide some aid to this aging roster. The offensive identity of this team for the past few years had been proper spacing. This allows Pierce to operate on the wing, Allen to come off multiple ball screens for smooth catch-and-shoot opportunities and Garnett to anchor the post and pull defenders out with his above-average jump shot. Meanwhile, Rondo runs the show, finding open looks for everyone while steadily improving his own jump shot to compliment his ability to get to the rim. With Allen gone, this strategy has shifted to a slower, half-court offense that still can be productive.  The nucleus of this team (minus Allen) came within one game of the NBA Finals last year. Is roster demolition really necessary with a window of opportunity still open?
Anokh: Spacing? Rondo as a premier point guard? Um, what? Rondo kills spacing on the floor, and that's why the Celtics offense has been so underwhelming for the last two years, earning them a ranking of 27th in the league's offensive rating both years (meaning they ranked 27th in the league for how many points they scored every 100 possessions). In today's game, spacing and the ability to shoot a jumper are incredibly important. Rondo, while great in transition and driving to the basket, cannot shoot a jumper or a free throw to save his life. This really hurts his team, because opponents can just stack the paint against the Celtics and force them to take low percentage mid-range shots. That sort of weakness separates Rondo from better PGs like Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, a healthy Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and Tony Parker. The Celtics' offense does not contain a recipe for success. As for last year and their relative success, Boston had to play historically good defense to even stand a chance against other playoff teams - let alone a Boshless Miami Heat for the majority of the ECF. If you can't score points, what's the point of playing slowly? They need to trade Pierce and Garnett.
Scott: Many critics contend that the Celtics must act promptly and trade either one or both of their incumbent All-Stars, Pierce and Garnett. However, this move is not as simple as it seems. Garnett has a no-trade clause in his contract, allowing him the power to veto any trade he dislikes. In addition, KG is guaranteed $18 million over the next two years, making him extremely costly and risky for any team interested in acquiring his services. Of course, even at the elderly age of 37, Garnett remains one of the best defensive big men in the league, a master of positioning and forcing bad shots at the rim. Averaging nearly 15 points per game and 7 rebounds per game, Garnett remains a two-way player and cornerstone for this Celtics squad. Trade rumors earlier this week included a possible package of dynamic point guard Eric Bledsoe, UConn alum Caron Butler and young center DeAndre Jordan. On paper this isn't a bad trade, and it certainly helps both teams out, but taking on another point guard doesn't make much sense if Rondo can return for next season. One must also consider Jordan's shaky defense and the fact that Butler is a very poor man's Paul Pierce. Speaking of "The Truth," do any Boston fans want to see him in any other jersey? Easily the most important Celtic since Larry Bird, Pierce remains a fixture in green, as well as in the record books alongside Bird and John Havlicek as the only Celtics in history to have notched 20,000 points. He certainly has value even at 35, and why risk alienating a fan base by shipping their cornerstone, for a player or two who will undoubtedly never be able to escape Pierce's enormous shadow?
Anokh: KG still plays at an elite level defensively, and while he isn't a great offensive player anymore, a team like the Clippers could really use him and will definitely be willing to pay him. Keep in mind that I am a Celtics fan; I would ideally love to see Pierce, a man I have followed throughout his career with Boston, retire in a green uniform. But if the Celtics get an offer that involves promising people for the future like Eric Bledsoe or DeAndre Jordan, they have to do it to save money. Teams are not usually built on giving contracts to aging veterans and ignoring young players. Even if the Celtics worsen as a result of the trade, it won't matter because they are not good enough to win a championship. Moreover, they should look to the future, because they can deal with young players that not only can get better, but won't be as expensive.
Scott: Boston's supporting cast has been sub-par at best this year, which has also contributed to their slow start. However, since the Rondo injury and loss of rookie stud Jared Sullinger, the Celtics have gone 4-0, with wins over title contenders such as the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Clippers. Players such as Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley and Jason Terry have begun to shoulder more of an offensive load with the absence of Rondo, driving and dishing, finding the open man for a spot-up shot and playing with a greater sense ofurgency. Pierce and Garnett are known for being great distributors for their positions and as the team gels into their new identity, easy opportunities will become available. An unheralded aspect of this Celtics squad under Doc Rivers is its defensive prowess that seemingly defies the age of its roster and keeps them afloat when the offense stagnates in tight spots. In fact, Boston has allowed 96.1 points per 100 possessions in the calendar year of 2013, slightly below what the league-leading Indiana Pacers' defense is allowing. This extremely stingy defense has kept the Celtics in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, with a three-game lead in both columns over the 76ers. While this season hasn't gone the way Boston had planned, and they still have some final hurdles to overcome, they have demonstrated their strength on both ends of the court. It seems highly unlikely that shredding a shamrock will produce any form of good luck.
A four-game sample size is not enough to make actual conclusions about how a team performs. Either way, I never denied that the Celtics are a great defensive team. It is marvelous watching Garnett anchor a defense, as well as Bradley and Pierce locking down people on the wings. But in terms of offense, the Celtics are below even the Milwaukee Bucks. This isn't just an Achilles' heel - it's a hole in their game. Because of their offense, their record is barely eighth in the Eastern conference. Their point differential and SRS (which adjusts for strength of schedule and pace) is actually negative - even worse than pretenders like the Atlanta Hawks. This team will never go anywhere. The sooner they realize this and accept that their time is over, the more they can move onto the future with a better outlook.

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