WATCH OUT BOSTON, YOU GOT SOME COMPETITION

So as we discussed earlier this week, the fallout of the Rajon Rondo injury on Sunday could very well be the end of a glorious run for the Boston Celtics. Or maybe not. But as it stands right now, Boston is cemented in 8th place, 2 and 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks and four games behind the Atlanta Hawks. Not that those two teams aren’t capable of falling out of the mix, but right now, without their star point guard, the Celtics (22-23) don’t seem to be in position to move up in the standings, either.

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Or maybe they are, as evidenced by this miraculous, post-Rondo two-game winning streak. But guys, seriously, they played the Sacramento Kings last night. Pump the brakes with this “the Celtics are better without Rondo talk.” I doubt this will be an example of the famous “Ewing Theory” coming into effect. Now, with Jared Sullinger banged up, and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce playing way too many minutes for their age, and with guys like Chris Wilcox and Jason Collins remaining regulars in the rotation, I’m still thinking the Boston Celtics will most likely trend backwards over the course of the season. Either way, there are moves to be made if the C’s want to make it past the first round of the playoffs. Fuck, the C’s might have to do something just to get into the playoffs as it is! Allow me to explain why…

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Yesterday’s trade between Memphis, Toronto, and Detroit did not do Boston any justice for several reasons. Let’s begin with the obvious: Rudy Gay is no longer on the trading block. Whether or not you thought he was a viable trade option for the Celts, Gay is now a member of the Raptors, with promising young big man Ed Davis and veteran point guard Jose Calderon being sent to Grizzles in return. Toronto was more than happy to take on that monster of a contract, so yeah, Rudy Gay ain’t goin’ nowhere. Then, the Grizzlies went ahead and flipped Calderon to the Pistons in exchange for Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye. Those tricky, tricky Grizzlies. Always scheming.

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Let’s break this down a little further. For starters, Toronto got a lot better. He isn’t the answer to all their problems, but Gay gives the Raptors a legitimate scoring presence alongside DeMar DeRozan, and the Raptors are ecstatic to make him the face of their franchise, something they really didn’t have before his arrival. Furthermore, without having Calderon to block his minutes and production, Kyle Lowry, one of the more underrated point guards in the NBA, has the keys to the Raptors’ offense, and is reunited with Gay, who is apparently his best buddy in the world. So that means he’s off the trading block as well. So much for that idea, huh?

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But wait, what about the Pistons? Yeah, they got better too. Calderon will slide perfectly into Detroit’s backcourt next to Brandon Knight and Rodney Stuckey. I’m not a huge fan, but he’s a savvy floor general who will provide leadership for a young Pistons team. And I can just picture him throwing alley-oop after alley-oop to Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.

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Now look at the Eastern Conference standings. Again, I’m not saying that the Celtics are due for an epic swoon here, but with the team currently constructed as it is, they’re bound to continue to stay a few games under .500. The Philadelphia 76ers were presumed to be Boston’s lone threat for the No. 8 seed, but look out! Philly (19-26) is just three games behind the C’s with 37 games left to play. Andrew Bynum is due back by the All-Star Break, while Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner continue to play the best basketball of their respective careers. Do not sleep on the Sixers.

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Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons, once considered an after-thought to contend in the East, are just 5 and 1/2 games behind Boston. After a miserable 7-21 start, the Pistons (17-29) have finally started to click, especially on the defensive end, where they’re ranked 11th in the league. Although I don’t think they’ll dramatically improve with Calderon at point guard, they’ll be better. And they might not be done shopping; Rodney Stuckey, Charlie Villaneuva, and Will Bynum, among others, could all be made available. They’re certainly a team to keep an eye on.

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Then there’s the Toronto Raptors. Again, Toronto (16-30) should be expected to improve over the next few weeks, depending on how quickly Rudy Gay adjusts to the change in scenery. The Raptors stand 6 and 1/2 games behind the Celtics and could be the team that makes the biggest leap in the standings, especially if they get their promising young center, Jonas Valanciunas, back to full health.

And what if they’re able to get rid of Andrea Bargnani? After Toronto took him No. 1 overall back in 2006, he’s done nothing but disappoint. Yes, he can shoot, but for a seven-footer, he doesn’t rebound and can’t play a lick of defense. I’d take him on my team, sure; but as instant offense the bench, maybe. Definitely not as the franchise player by any means. He’s turned into a cancer for the Raptors and wants out of Toronto badly. Even if they trade him for 50 cents on the dollar it helps.

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To make a long story short, the three teams currently chasing the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference playoff race are all improving. Meanwhile, the Celtics have gotten, in my own humble opinion, significantly worse. Yesterday’s trade in particular not only helped the Raptors and Pistons get better, but it took three players (Gay, Lowry, and Calderon) out of the picture for Boston in terms of trade targets. The Celtics have plenty of time to learn to gel without Rondo. However, if they don’t make any progress over the next few weeks, and don’t make some kind of move to improve their current roster, the Celtics could find the a trio of teams breathing down their necks before they know it.

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Editor’s Note: How bad is the Eastern Conference? Bad enough that the 16-30 Toronto Raptors could very well be competing for a playoff spot. Gotta love the NBA.

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GOOD RIDDANCE, DONALD DRIVER!

I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed today. I had an extra kick in my step, a bigger smile on my face, but I didn’t know why. As I took a sip of my morning coffee, I thought to myself  “today is going to be a good day.”

Then, I heard the news. The greatest news a man like myself could ever hear:

DONALD DRIVER ANNOUNCES HIS RETIREMENT…

BEST. DAY. EVER.

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I don’t care what the people say. Donald Driver is the worst wide receiver in NFL history. And don’t ask me what exactly I’m basing this statement on, because it’s simply just the way it is. Something that has been embedded into the soul of our culture for years. It’s a fact of life. No one like Donald Driver.

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Look at that face!!! HOW DO YOU NOT WANT TO PUNCH THIS FACE!?!?!?

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Nice purple do-rag, you fruit bag. I’m glad you found something else to occupy your time, because you shoulda been outta the league years ago!!!!!!

DUMPSTER HOOPS: THIS IS HOW YOU GET DRAFTED IN THE TOP FIVE

Just plain nasty. Just wait, give it two or three more weeks and all the experts and pundits will be saying that Michael Carter-Williams should go No. 1 overall. Considering how weak this draft might be, why not take a flyer on a ridiculously athletic point guard like MCW?

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I know we’re a long ways away from June, but who else is worthy of the top pick right now? Shabazz Muhammed? Cody Zeller? Maybe you go with the next Dikembe Mutombo, aka Nerlens Noel.

Dude is a shot-blocking machine, maybe as good on the defensive end as Anthony Davis was for Kentucky a year ago. Ole Miss found out the hard way last night, after Nerlens swatted 12 shots in 36 minutes. He leads the nation with 4.7, that’s right, 4.7 blocks per game AND is averaging 2.4 steals per game. Oh yeah, he’s also averaging nearly a double-double (10.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg) while shooting at a 58 percent clip from the floor. He might just be the best big man in the country, and he’s got the best hairstyle in the country.

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Can’t go wrong with a flat top like that…

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PICKING THROUGH THE WEEKEND TRASH: RONDO GOES DOWN

It was quite the weekend for Celtics fans. The beleaguered Boston Celtics, losers of six straight games, returned home on Sunday from a terribly disappointing overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night. That Friday night tilt would prove to be gut-wrenchingly painful in many ways, but the fact that the C’s blew a 27-point lead to a team that had previously lost 9 of its last 14 games says a lot as it is.

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Sunday wasn’t just any ordinary Sunday though. Not only were the hated Miami Heat in town for the first time all season in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, but it was the return of Ray Allen! Story lines galore at the Garden! But wait, there’s more… After “tweaking” his knee on Friday (and playing through the pain), Rajon Rondo was surprisingly announced as inactive for Sunday’s game and was headed to the hospital for an MRI on his right knee. The Celtics would go on to play arguably their best game of the season without Rondo and upset Miami in double overtime! 100-98. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett combined to play 94 minutes! The Truth posted a triple-double! But all of that greatness was mired by an announcement that came in the middle of the action, sometime after 2 pm. It went something like this: RONDO TORN ACL. Ouch. Paul Pierce’s reaction says it all.

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So the Celtics, regardless of their awesome win on Sunday, are officially at a crossroads. With Rondo, they were a playoff team that, well, probably wasn’t going to win many games in the postseason. Maybe Boston was potentially the No. 6 seed with an upset shot of beating a team like New York or Indiana or Chicago in the First Round. Now, the problem is that, even without Rondo, the C’s are probably still a playoff team; but now it’s as the No. 8 seed with zero chance of beating Miami in a seven-game series. The Eastern Conference is so shallow, only the 76ers, Pistons, or Raptors have any chance of sneaking into the top eight. If the Celtics keep the roster as it is, even if they finish five games under .500, they probably finish higher than Philly or Toronto, once again keeping them out of the NBA Draft Lottery. So what does Boston want to do from here? Allow me to explain the options…

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KEEP THE ROSTER IN TACT
If you take a look at their roster, the Celtics have 10 players under contract beyond this season. Paul Pierce’s contract (15 million/year) expires at the end of 2014, while Rondo, KG, Brandon Bass, Jason Terry, and Avery Bradley are locked up until 2015. Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger, and Fab Melo are under contract through 2016. The key behind all of this are the contracts of Paul Pierce and KG. You have to assume that they’ll retire at some point, right? This applies particularly to Garnett, who could be ready to hang up the sneakers after this season even though he’s in the midst of a three-year deal. That being said, I also doubt Pierce will have anything left in the tank when his contract is up. So if Pierce and KG are off the books at the end of next season (2014), that frees up over 27 million dollars for the Celtics, while leaving them with a handful of expiring contracts (including Rondo, Bass, and Terry) to use as trade pieces in 2015. Can that be the year that the Celtics make a run at a big name in free agency and/or make a move to get a top tier player through a trade?

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I know that fans don’t want to think that far ahead, but if they keep the roster as it is through the rest of this season and let Pierce and KG and Doc Rivers make one final playoff run together, it could allow the Celtics to have a lot more salary cap flexibility in the coming years. Not to mention that Boston could potentially suck ass in 2013-14 (especially if Rondo is slow to return to health and Garnett is gone), and could potentially move into the lottery of the 2014 NBA Draft, which could be the best draft in the last decade with guys like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins on deck. I know there are a lot of questions to be answered, but being mediocre for one more season might be the best way to ensure a quicker rebuilding process for 2014-2015. Plus, you have to think that KG and Pierce and even potentially Doc Rivers want to go out with pride, if it is in fact the end of their respective careers in Boston.

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MAKE A COMPLIMENTARY MOVE OR TWO AND WORK WITH WHAT YOU GOT
With the February 21st trade deadline looming over their heads, there are few types of moves the Celtics can make this season. Boston can beat any team on any given day because of two players: Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Even with their age and declining skills, we’re talking about two of the best players to ever play the game, although it’s obvious that neither is as spry as they once were. Meanwhile, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger are certainly nice pieces as well, but let me be blunt: the rest of the team is very much expendable. If the Celtics are convinced they can still win a playoff series without Rondo, they absolutely need to shake up the rest of their roster. So basically, we’re talking about combining some kind Jason Terry/Jeff Green/Brandon Bass/Courtney Lee package with one of the young trade chips (ideally Sullinger and not Bradley) and hoping to come away with a solid point guard and/or a rebounding presence in the paint.

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Kyle Lowry is certainly a name that comes to mind, especially considering that the Celtics lack a true point guard without Rondo. Lowry is talented and affordable and would provide a great combination of offense and defense, while being a potential trade chip going forward when Rondo comes back. He’s the perfect stopgap, if you will, and could be easily attained especially with Toronto aggressively pursuing Rudy Gay from Memphis. Other stopgaps in the backcourt include Andre Miller, Rodney Stuckey, Luke Ridnour, and Jameer Nelson. As far as the frontcourt is concerned, I’m sure Boston would happily unload Bass or Terry or the young Fab Melo for someone who can grab a damn rebound. The list of affordable, easily attainable stopgaps there include: Paul Millsap, Jason Thompson, and Dejuan Blair, among others.

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MAKE A BIG MOVE AND START REBUILDING, NOW!
Now, a smaller complimentary move like that would essentially be a move for this season only. That’s basically giving Pierce and KG and Avery Bradley another asset or two to work with without completely overhauling the roster and hoping for the best. But what if the C’s do decide overhaul the roster? There are two directions they can go. On the one end, what if the Celts decided to package all of their young talent and see what it reeled in? If Bradley and Sullinger were packaged together, along with maybe a draft pick and some other pieces (Lee, Green, etc.), the Celtics could potentially acquire a young superstar like DeMarcus Cousins and start the rebuilding process a little early. I know Cousins is going to be nearly impossible to attain, but it’s the idea of Boston mortgaging nearly all of their assets for one star player that just sounds so enticing… and awful at the same time. On a lesser extent, Tyreke Evans, Rudy Gay, and Al Jefferson are all available too! This idea I don’t like so much. Rebuilding around one good player and a bunch of trash is not really the way to go.

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Now consider including the likes of Pierce and KG into a trade to start the rebuilding process this season, and the idea becomes much more intriguing. Without having to surrender draft picks and, of course, Avery Bradley, the Celtics can go out and make a trade for the future with more ease. The only thing is that it would have to involve a contender. Garnett has a “No-Trade Clause” in his contract, so theoretically, he would probably say no to any destination other than maybe Miami, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, or the Clippers. None of those teams have much to offer besides draft picks, which is why the Thunder are the most intriguing counterpart of the aforementioned teams. Would Jeremy Lamb/Perry Jones and a Houston’s first-round pick be enough for the C’s to unload Garnett? That’s for Danny Ainge to decide, I guess.

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On the hand, it would be much easier to deal Paul Pierce, who becomes an expiring contract next season and doesn’t have a “No Trade Clause.” Pierce would be a huge boost to a number of playoff hopeful teams including: Golden State, Utah, and, once again, the Clippers. Would the Celtics pull the trigger on a deal that involved them receiving Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors, or Eric Bledsoe? I would do it in a heartbeat.

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Barnes or Thompson would become expendable if the Warriors wanted to make a push to win now. The Jazz have a glut of talented big men on their roster and definitely could shop one to get a veteran swingman like Pierce. And Eric Bledsoe continues to play behind Chris Paul. All three teams could give up one of these young assets for Pierce, and although you have to respect Pierce’s best wishes in regards to where he wants to finish his career, if he is willing to be shipped to a contender, and if you feel like you have to make a deal to ensure what’s best for your franchise going forward, a deal that includes any of these five guys would definitely be worth it.

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