When the Chris Paul to Boston rumors began to swirl late last week, Celtics fans could only envision the possibilities.
Grab CP3 from New Orleans for Rondo and some change, lock him up with a max contract, pick up Dwight Howard in free agency, maybe even throw a young up and comer like 2006 Celtic draftee Randy Foye into the mix and suddenly Boston's rebuilding concerns are a thing of the past.
But as quickly as those pipe dreams of Paul breaking ankles and dishing dimes wearing the legendary Celtic green ran rampant through the minds of Boston faithful, it was that same hand that many envisioned tossing alley-oops in the Garden that served up a swift dose of reality to Celtic nation.
Celtics' GM Danny Ainge may not want to admit it, but Paul's reluctance to sign an extension in Boston beyond this season was about as much a deal breaker as watching the girl your chatting up at the bar making eyes at every other guy in the joint. Sure, you could enjoy it for the time being and ignore the long-term complications, but let's face the facts she's just not that into you.
For Ainge and the Celtics, CP3 is that girl. He always had eyes on other suitors - in this case New York and Los Angeles - and sought the appeal of playing in a major market with other superstars, rather than serving as the rebuilding centerpiece surrounded by an aging core.
Now, as Paul heads West to join Kobe Bryant in the bright lights of Hollywood - insert David Stern's best Vince McMahon fake out - or to the Big Apple with his fellow comrades Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, either way the Celtics are left in search of a new solution to their rebuilding dilemma.
It's up to Danny and Doc to regroup from this whole trade fiasco and start targeting other potential opportunities to jumpstart the latest reload.
Given the reality of an expedited offseason, the C's need to work quickly and diligently in order to not only contend now but also to compete down the road.
So, I figured why not play Ainge for the day and cook up the best possible scenario for Celtics present and future. (NOTE: This isn't a wish list for Santa or an emotionally unstable Boston fan's dream playing out, just merely a little exercise in an expedited NBA offseason roster maneuvering.)
Priority 1: Send Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and return Clippers 2012 1st-round pick to the LA Clippers for Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan
This deal may be a bit of a stretch under most circumstances but given the tight wallet ways of Clippers owner Donald Sterling, it remains a legitimate possibility.
Gordon would provide the Celtics with a long term answer at the two guard spot and as a rising star in the league could demand the attention of other big name free agents in the future. Learning the roles of leadership from Pierce and Garnett for a season could only enhance his ability both on the court and in the locker room, and his young legs and scoring prowess (22.3 ppg in 2010-11) could help take a load off of the aging vets.
Meanwhile, as a restricted free agent in a dense market at the center position, Jordan could be looking at anywhere between $25-$40M over four-years, call it four-years/$30M (why not just give Perkins that money in that case) just to round it off. That means a good size wad of cash out of Sterling's pocket and with Chris Kaman set to make $12M in the final year of his deal, the Donald could be looking at even more money off the books at seasons end.
In the mean time, the Clippers can appease franchise savior, Blake Griffin by making an actual playoff push with the additions of Allen - expiring contract appeals to sterling - and Rondo, who (at 4-years and $44M remaining) will almost certainly cost less than Gordon over the next four seasons.
The Celtics on the other hand get stronger and younger at the guard and center positions and even with Jordan's new contract (Gordon is due just $3M in 2011-12) the C's still save almost $10M to spend on the luxury tax and other free agents.
In addition, even with Rondo in the mix, Boston still has a highly regarded point guard waiting in the wings in Avery Bradley. Sure you may lose quite a bit when it comes to athleticism and pure point skills, but Bradley's defense is stellar and his potential as a scorer far exceeds that of Rondo. The addition of a veteran point guard in Keyon Dooling certainly won't hurt his maturity at the position either.
Priority 2: Sign Grant Hill (1-year/Veteran's Minimum)
Hill was tempted by the offer to work with his former Magic head-coach Doc Rivers two seasons ago, but instead chose to remain in Phoenix with his good buddy Steve Nash. But, with rumors of Nash's imminent departure from the Suns in lieu of a rebuilding project, Hill may take this opportunity to re-unite with Doc and improve his chances to finally win a championship.
Hill's presence would add much-needed depth for the Celtics off the bench. He would be a steadying source of relief for Pierce at the small-forward sport and could serve as both a role model and mentor for the 22-year-old Gordon.
The 39-year-old wouldn't be looking for a leading role on any teams and has been the epitome of sturdy over the past four seasons in Phoenix, playing no less than 70-games in any season and averaging about 30 minutes and better than 12 points per game.
Hill would likely sign a 1-year deal for the veteran's minimum, which would likely translate to between $2-$3M.
Priority 3: Extend Jeff Green (3 years/ $35M)
Green nearly wore out his welcome as quickly as he showed up in Boston last February. Celtics fans were still upset over the departure of fan favorite Kendrick Perkins and expectations were through the TD Garden roof for Green upon arrival. So, when the 24-year-old Georgetown product struggled to pick up the Celtics offensive scheme, every radio show, street corner and barbershop was filled with critics bashing the deadline deal.
A full summer, albeit without team practices, to prepare and more reasonable expectations should allow the 6'9" forward to excel in the system and contribute out on the hardwood.
Either way, Danny gave up a lot to land Green in February and should at least offer him a proper opportunity to prove his worth. A 3-year extension offers Green some sense of security and at just over $11M per year, the Celtics are at least afforded a risk/reward scenario that could end up as a steal if Green exceeds expectations and won't strangle the C's if things go awry.
Priority 4: Sign Craig Smith (2-years/$7M), Michael Redd (1-year/Vet's Minimum) and TJ Ford (MLE)
With Glen "Big Baby" Davis probably on his way out of town and into a more lucrative contract, why not offer the similarly sized (6'7" 225 lbs.) Smith a contract to return to his old college stomping grounds.
Smith has performed at a high level for the limited playing time he's been afforded during his 5-year career, averaging 8 points and 4 rebounds a game in just under 18 minutes of playing time. His young legs and big frame would offer some rebounding relief on the glass and provide some insurance and quality rest for Garnett in the post, not to mention he comes on the cheap.
Meanwhile, taking a chance on the former All-Star's surgically repaired knees is definitely a risk, but one worth taking. In his prime, Redd was scoring close to 27 ppg, now that sort of production seems extremely unlikely but the 32-year-old definitely still has something left in the tank. Playing as a reserve, quite similar to the Atlanta Hawks' latest acquisition Tracy McGrady's role with Pistons a season ago, Redd could prove he's healthy and show all his critics he's still able to play at a high level.
As for Ford, offering the full Mid-Level Exception (roughly $5M a year) to a guy coming off the worst statistic year of his career is a bit of a risk, but if Ford can rebound into the same player seen averaging 14 points and 8 assists just a few seasons ago, then at that price Ford would be a steal. The reward here might just be worth the risk involved.
Priority 5: Post 2011-12, Re-Sign KG (2-years/$20M); Amnesty Pierce
While I'm sure the Truth faithful have their pitchforks and fires out ready to attack, I ask you to hear me out on this.
The post 2011-12 Celtics are going to look quite different than the team you may be looking at on opening day this Christmas. Allen, Garnett and Jermaine O'Neal's contracts are up at the end of the season and there's going to be plenty of money for the Celtics to play with come Summer 2012.
Unlike in 2010, there won't be any "one more run" hopes left to be had and keeping the core together won't be quite the enticing option it was after a Game 7 loss in the Finals.
Heading into his 18th season in the league, a 36-year-old KG will be more of a defensive specialist than a championship centerpiece. But, while he won't be the player he was upon arrival in Boston, on a 2-year/$20M deal Garnett could still be your starting Power Forward and a reliable defensive presence to build around.
The money may seem steep for an aging star -- at this point in his career he's fallen from the superstar ranks - but it would be far more reasonable than the $22M he's due this season.
As for Pierce...
In my book, The Truth is as much Celtic Royalty as Larry Legend or Bill Russell. No, the banners in the rafters and legendary tales of heroics may never compare but in terms of pure loyalty and dedication to the franchise, Pierce has been as honest as his nickname would suggest.
Fact is at 35, Pierce won't be the same player he once was (18.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg in 2010-11) and with a much younger and less expensive Green in tow, will Pierce even be worth the almost $30M he's due from 2012-2014.
At 25, Green is nearly a decade younger than Pierce and even if he doesn't produce at quite the same level, his age and the added cap flexibility would give the C's all the more reason to cut ties and look to pick up another piece to build around.
It's a harsh reality to face, cutting loose the player who' has arguably been the heart and soul of your franchise for over 15 years, but a necessary one if Boston truly hopes to rebuild.
Think about it, a starting 5 consisting of: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Eric Gordon, TJ Ford and Jermaine O'Neal with a reliable bench that at least includes: Jeff Green, Grant Hill, DeAndre Jordan, Michael Redd, Avery Bradley, Craig Smith, JaJuan Johnson and Keyon Dooling.
It may not command quite the star power of the Heat or the Lakers at this point, but the mix of experience and youth along with the general balance throughout
But, with the Celtics' Big Three aging about as quickly as days old produce, Danny better start wheeling and dealing before it's too late.