Free Agents (Cap Holds)
Much was made this season of the Celtics' old Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen having one final run together before Boston started its rebuild in the summer. No trades were consummated at the deadline, but the Celtics reportedly discussed a Pierce deal with the Nets and nearly traded Allen to the Grizzlies.
GM Danny Ainge has never been shy about pulling the trigger on a deal he thinks will help the team, even if it won't be a popular move. And with Garnett and Allen facing free agency this summer, there's still a good chance Boston begins the 2012/13 season without the Big Three on its roster. However, the longer the Celtics' season continues, the more convinced I am that this might not be the end for Garnett and Allen in Boston after all.
Garnett, in particular, seems like a reasonable bet to re-sign with the Celtics this summer. He's said in the past that he'd like to retire a Celtic, and his performance this season showed he still has something left in the tank. Allen may be more likely to explore the open market, given all the teams interested in a shooting guard who could target him. But it wouldn't surprise me if both players signed short-term deals to remain in Boston.
Even if KG and Allen are back next season, the team has some flexibility to make roster upgrades around its veterans. The Celtics' amnesty clause will likely remain unused, since the club only has four players on guaranteed contracts for next year. Of those four, only Pierce and Rajon Rondo are owed significant money, and neither are amnesty candidates. But if we assume both Garnett ($21MM+) and Allen ($10MM) will receive paycuts on this year's salaries, the Celtics could have some cap space to work with even without taking advantage of the amnesty clause. In that case, a big man like Chris Kaman seems like a logical target.
If the Celtics do decide to bring back their veterans, it will be interesting to see how they use their pair of first-round draft picks, at No. 21 and 22 overall. The draft class is deep enough that Boston could select a pair of players there and hope that one or both turn into useful contributors. There are plenty of other options though. The team could try to package both picks to move up in the first round, or it could move one or both picks for a veteran player that could be added to the rotation immediately.
Earlier this season, it appeared the Celtics weren't quite a talented enough team to compete in the East with the current roster, but a second-half surge and a deep playoff run have proven that isn't the case. With the Bulls expected to be short-handed again next season due to Derrick Rose's ACL recovery, there's no reason a Celtics team that makes a modest upgrade or two shouldn't contend in the East again.
While it's possible Ainge decides to blow up the roster this summer, it wouldn't surprise me if he puts off major roster changes for at least another year. If Garnett and Allen are willing to sign one- or two-year deals, the Celtics would once again have the opportunity to claim a huge chunk of cap space when those new contracts expired. Ainge is anything but predictable, so there's no guarantee that's the direction he'll choose, but based on how they've played this season, the Celtics may not want to break up the old Big Three quite yet.