By Jay – MrTrpleDouble10
The western conference power Denver Nuggets make their only visit to the TD Garden tonight. While coming off a relatively impressive 2-1 mini-road trip, the Celtics are seeking their first impressive win at home this season. Yes you read that correctly. The Celtics are 1-8 at home against the likes of: Orlando, Atlanta, Cleveland, Phoenix, Dallas, LA Lakers and Utah, with the lone win coming against the Jazz way back in November. Celtic fans should pay close attention to one Carmelo Anthony tonight as he could be the long-term replacement for Paul Pierce.
I cannot honestly sit here and tell you that I’ve discussed this scenario with Wyc Grousbeck or Danny Ainge. Nor can I tell you that I’ve been able to hack into their BlackBerries and decrypt their secure emails that outline Ainge’s rebuilding blueprints. With that being said, Ainge is a smart man who works for an ownership that is willing to provide him with the means to obtain the players that are imperative to being an annual contender. Keep close observation of how the contracts of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are handled this summer, because each could be a calculated chess move to execute checkmate on ‘Melo.
Akin to Paul Pierce’s final year player option on his contract this summer, Carmelo has one next summer for roughly $18.5 million. With the uncertainties of a new collective bargaining agreement coupled with the growing possibility of a lockout looming, it would behoove ‘Melo to take the initiative and sign an extension under the current terms of the CBA. But he hasn’t yet. I’m sure he has his reasons and one of them is probably just as simple as his desire to test the free agent waters. So why not play in Boston?
Growing up in the Baltimore area and then going on to play (and win a national championship) for Syracuse, it’s logical to assume he’s more of an east coast guy. While Jeremy Wagner of Roundball Mining Company points out that he loves being the face of the franchise, one has to wonder if he’d be willing to share that status with say, Rajon Rondo.
Before Allen Iverson became a shell of his former self, he co-starred with ‘Melo for a Nuggets team that had as much panache and chemistry as Sam Cassell and Gary Payton did in half of a season for the 2002-2003 Milwaukee Bucks. It looked appetizing on paper and would be a nasty NBA Jam team, but in reality was just a bad mix. The lure of joining a Celtics team with a young top-tier point guard in Rondo, a young, solid center in Kendrick Perkins may just entice him enough. That’s certainly a core group of players that would remain in contention. Add in some extra-seasoned Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett (and possibly Ray Allen off the bench) and now we’re talking. Signing with the green would involve some serious contract engineering by Ainge however.
Without a doubt the new CBA will have a lower salary cap. Currently, for the 2011-2012 season, the Celtics are committed to roughly $38 million for just three players (KG $21.2, Sheed $6.8, Rondo $10). Obviously any viable scenario that involves the Celtics putting their chips on the Carmelo table involves A) Pierce opting out this summer and signing a lower per year extension B) Ray Allen re-signing at a fraction of his current salary, or simply not being retained outright and C) Perkins being re-signed to a feasible deal. If Carmelo was adamant about leaving Denver at that point, then the Nuggets could always execute a sign-and-trade, which is the scenario you hear often involving Toronto’s Chris Bosh. That would not be an ideal situation for the Celtics, because that would involve them giving up draft picks as well as a player that would need to be retained in order to keep Carmelo’s interest peaked.
Kevin Durant is a restricted free agent that summer but unless Clay Bennett decides to make twice as many enemies in Oklahoma City as he did in Seattle, then Durant isn’t going anywhere in his prime. Jamal Crawford, Jason Richardson, Caron Butler, Tayshaun Prince, Shane Battier, Zach Randolph, David West, and Andrei Kirilenko are nice players. Not franchise players. Tony Parker is also a UFA that summer, but when Ainge traded for Rondo he rectified the triple-mistake made by ex-GM Chris Wallace in 2001.
So while the Celtics aren’t serious players in this apocalyptic summer of superstar free agency directly, don’t think they’re not keeping a keen eye on every situation that plays out. Maybe LeBron, Wade and Bosh form some sort of UberTeam this summer and prepare for NBA domination. Maybe then ‘Melo looks at that and decides it’s in his best interest to stay out west to have any hopes of winning a title. No matter what scenario plays out, the one certainty that has been historically obvious is that a team NEEDS superstars to win a championship. By the summer of 2011, Pierce won’t be able to be the Celtics’ go-to guy for crunch time baskets. Carmelo Anthony would be the perfect heir apparent to Pierce. Unfortunately the biggest obstacle would not be finding a new number for ‘Melo. Although I’m sure Tommy Heinsohn would love for it to be that easy to sign him.