Some are using the Celtics' first round exit this year as proof that the window that was opened when the trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were made is closed. With the window closed, they reason that it's time to blow the team up and begin the rebound. But maybe it would be wiser to wait one more season. Of course, that decision, as with everything else this off season, will depend on whether KG decides to come back.
In beginning my thoughts along these lines, we first have to think about the Celtics' salary cap situation. For next year, including Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Celtics have $62,614,091 committed to guaranteed salaries for next season, including just $5 million for Paul Pierce. If you add in Pierce's full salary along with the salaries of Shavlik Randolph, Terrence Williams, and DJ White, which are non guaranteed at this point, it brings the total to $76,029,697. The salary cap next season is predicted to be around 58,500,000 with the Luxury Tax projected to be around $70,807,000 and the apron for using the full MLE as opposed to the mini-MLE will be approximately $74,807,000.
Even if the Celtics buy out Pierce's contract for $5 million and then KG retires, they will still be just barely under the salary cap without any stars or assets to bring any in. Let's say that both KG and Pierce return. The Celtics get a player in the draft who can contribute right away. Let's say they can pull off a trade to bring in a good player or that some of the role players from last year can come in and help the team. That team would be competitive and could challenge for the East with just a little bit of luck to keep their players healthy.
The Spurs this season show that a team with aging players who have been together for awhile can be contenders. Tim Duncan, 37, Tony Parker, 31, and Manu Ginobili, 35 are the core of the Spurs team that is up 1-0 in the Finals to the defending champs. They have been mostly healthy this year and came into the playoffs with no big injuries to key players. They also have some good young role players around their aging stars. The Celtics with their comparable core could still compete next season if they can stay healthy as they also have some good young role players around their aging stars. Of course, two of those role players, Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger, experienced season ending injuries this season, but should be back strong and ready to play by training camp next season.
There are plenty of precedents for players who were effective playing into their latter years. First, is Robert Parish. He played until he was 44 years old. At 40 years of age, Parish was averaging 12.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks in 27 minutes per game. At 37, he averaged 18.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.4 blocks in 30.3 minutes per game. Not too shabby.
Another player who took good care of himself and played very well at 40 years of age was Reggie Miller. At 40, he averaged 14.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 31.9 minutes per game. At 37, he averaged 16.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists,and 1.s steals in 36.6 minutes per game.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar played until he was 42. At 40 he played 31 minutes per game and averaged 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.24 blocks. At 37, he averaged 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.7 and 3.7 assists in 35.9 minutes per game.
Karl "the Mailman" Malone played until he was 41 years old. At 40, he averaged 20.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists in 36.2 minutes per game. At 37, Malone averaged 25.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists in 35.9 minutes per game.
At 37, Charles Barkley played 31 minutes per game and averaged 14.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 3.2 assists.
Finally, Michael Jordan played until he was 40 and averaged 20 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 steals in 37 minutes per game. At 37, Jordan played 38.8 minutes per game and averaged 28.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.7 steals. I am sure that there are more players who played well into their late 30s and early 40s, but these are the ones that readily came to mind.
There is absolutely no reason to believe that Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and even Jason Terry won't be able to play at a high level until they are 38 or 39 years old, just as the players mentioned above did as they take excellent care of their bodies. I've seen comments about KG's injuries where people felt like KG is starting to break down because of the bone spurs that slowed him down the stretch last season. But many players have had bone spurs and then come back from them to play at a high level for many years. In fact, KG was the best player on the Celtics throughout their first round matchup with the Knicks.
Now, if the team gives it one more run with their current core, the following season they will be in good shape to rebuild. Without KG and Paul Pierce, they would have just 34,154,091 committed in salaries and would be well under the salary cap, with the ability to go after any free agent. They would also have a young core of players who could entice free agents to the team. It just seems to make more sense for the team to put off the rebuild for one more season and squeeze out that last little bit of light from the window. They've come this far, one more year isn't going to give them that big of a head start on the rebuild, especially with their cap situation this season. It's something to think about, anyway.
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