Sunday, June 23, 2013

Forget Doc Rivers - I want to hear more about the Garnett and Pierce deals!

As the Clippers and Celtics finally agreed to terms on a Doc Rivers trade, the majority of the media attention is focused on the potential impact of Doc's movement on both squads. Since games are impacted significantly more by players than coaches (assuming those coaches don’t sabotage their teams by neglecting to play their best players the minutes they deserve), I've been surprised at how much less attention the much rumored (and still very much alive) Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce trades have received.*

Don't get me wrong: Rivers is universally revered as one of the league's best coaches and as a Bostonian I can attest to the genuine adoration the majority of Celtics fans feel for him; he's open-minded to new concepts, willing to defer to superior X's and O's defensive assistant coaches, puts his players in a position to excel and exudes class and charm to the point where the media have basically given him a free pass on his mistakes (e.g. deciding offensive rebounds were bad for business despite all the data suggesting otherwise). That said, the majority of coaches really don't make much of an impact, especially compared to the impact of a valuable player. Any potential player exchange containing Garnett (or Pierce, Jason Terry or even Courtney Lee, for that matter...), in a vacuum, would produce far greater impact on the Celtics than the loss of Doc.

So as much as I'm sad to see Doc go, I'm way more excited to see what takes place on the player front, particularly a Pierce or KG deal. It's safe to say the Celtics will explore their options with both Pierce and KG:

Pierce has a $15 million option the Celtics would be fools to not pick up; there is no chance the C's acquire better value than an expiring Pierce deal for what is effectively $10 million given his $5 million buyout clause, especially considering the Celtics would still be over the cap even without Pierce's contract. I fully expect them to exercise Pierce's team option and then look to move him at the deadline, most likely for a package built around a 1st round pick or underachieving young former lottery pick.

As for Garnett, given that he's has a no-trade clause and has shown little interest to play for a rebuilding team that isn't led by Doc Rivers (and certainly not for one that employs neither Rivers nor Pierce, who could be moved at any moment) and that the Celtics have equally little interest in paying him $12.5 million to play limited minutes for an also-ran, there is an impetus on both sides to work together to facilitate a move.

The most obvious scenario would be a straight up swap with the Clippers for DeAndre Jordan. "Sources" have recently deemed this deal "dead" due to the NBA's insistence that any such trade involving these two as principals would be deemed an extension of the Doc transaction given the persistent rumors of their inclusion. That said, I'm skeptical that the league would go so far as to tell these two teams they cannot include those players in any deal in any form at say, the trade deadline (although I wouldn't put anything past a retiring David Stern - he might expand the league into China in the next couple months). Additionally, there are clear motivations on both sides to make such a deal happen, particularly from KG superfans Chris Paul and Doc Rivers. And if the deal does go through, Celtics fans should be thrilled for a number of reasons:

1. Although not all basketball careers follow a strict bell curve in terms of productivity, there really isn't as much deviation as one would think (and not nearly as much as in football or baseball where production is far less consistent from year to year). The vast majority of players peak at age 24-25 and then begin a slow but steady decline until their early-mid 30's (assuming they are still in the league by then) at which point they become valued more for their "leadership" and "experience" than their ability to actually impact a basketball game. Kevin Garnett turned 37 last month and has seen his productivity decrease sharply over the past two seasons; DeAndre Jordan, on the other hand will be turning 25 next month and has demonstrated that he's a consistently high performer at the peak of his powers. 

So for a team with no real shot at winning this year whose planning for the medium/long-term (say a 3-5 year window) would you rather have the aging veteran on his last legs (whose minutes will need to be managed this year and may not even play next year) or the spring chicken who is ready to contribute now and for the next few years? If you haven't realized this was a rhetorical question and have actually stopped to consider the options, you may actually have a future as an NBA decision maker. 

2. As a card carrying Celtic fanatic, it pains me to write this as much as it pains other C's fans to read it: not only is Jordan going to be better than Garnett in the future, but according to most advanced metrics he is currently better than Garnett and has been for the past 2 seasons. 

Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm dubious as to how well any metrics quantify defense (Garnett's primary value these days) and that Garnett scores more points, grabs more defensive boards and fouls less than Jordan and even that KG's passing skills make him a regular Pistol Pete when compared to Jordan's stone hands. But a deeper look at the numbers elucidates a few areas where Jordan excels (offensive boards, blocks) and one key area where Jordan vastly outperforms Garnett to the point of being a superior player: points per shot. Over the past two seasons, DeAndre Jordan has averaged 1.5 points/shot, good for top-10 in the league. KG's scoring roughly 1.2 points/shot, placing him in the mid 70's among qualifying shooters. Although Garnett may score more raw points, the efficiency with which Jordan shoots makes him far more valuable offensively than KG and offsets many of Jordan's other weaknesses, too. 

When deciding whether to trade either or both of these guys, you need to run a quick cost-benefit analysis and determine whether holding on to KG and Pierce simply delays the inevitable rebuild an extra year, or genuinely squanders you chance to acquire good foundational picks and players. If I'm Ainge, I'm worrying more about my job security than loyalty and asking every GM "what will you give me for my two legends?"

What would you say?


*Please don't tell me that Doc has greater worth than the aforementioned because his presence empowers the Clippers to retain All-world PG Chris Paul; if you think Chris Paul is signing outside LA, regardless of coach, GM, owner, mascot, etc..., re-read the CBA and get back to me. Besides, if he cared enough about the leadership figures in the franchise to forgo roughly $27 million, wouldn't he be a tad bit skittish about signing up to play for an owner who is a crookedracistcheapskate?).

**It's still amazes me how badly Danny Ainge and whoever the hell runs the Clippers these days messed this up so badly. The Miami trio blatantly tampered to join forces and the League didn't even slap them with a fine.

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