Friday, August 3, 2007

The Return of Celtic Pride

I know I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but I just wanted to give my thoughts on the Kevin Garnett-to-Boston trade that happened this week. I think I can sum it up in just a few words: I like it! And I actually like it for both teams.

First, the details:
Boston sent the Minnesota Timberwolves forwards Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes and Gerald Green, guard Sebastian Telfair and center Theo Ratliff, two first-round draft picks and cash considerations. Besides Ratliff, 34, the other four are 22 or younger.


The Timberwolves get the Celtics' first-round pick in 2009, unless it is among the top three, and a return of Minnesota's conditional first-round draft pick obtained in January 2006 when they sent Ricky Davis to the Timberwolves for Wally Szczerbiak.

From Boston's end, the attraction of the trade is a no-brainer: You get KG! He's one of the top five players in the league. For my money, if I needed a player for just this upcoming season, the only player in the league I would definitely take over KG would be Tim Duncan. There are a few other players I would need to really think about, but Duncan's the only one I would definitely put ahead of him. By pairing KG with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Celtics now have three players who complement each other and are all in their primes. Before, the Celtics were a bit mismatched--last year they had Pierce and a bunch of still-developing players, and even the addition of Ray Allen didn't really change that equation that much. They weren't good enough to contend now, and it wasn't clear that the veterans would still be good when the youngsters had finally developed. Now, the Celtics have a clear identity--they're trying to win now, and they have the veteran core to make that possible. I don't have any doubt that KG, Allen, and Pierce will all be Eastern Conference all-stars this season.

The one potential problem with the trade is that Boston's cupboard behind KAP (as they Big 3 will now be abbreviated) is now looking quite bare. KAP will be able to get the Celtics to the playoffs, but the real success of the season is going to depend on the talent that Danny Ainge is going to be able to put around them. The starting line-up is rounded out with Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, a bit off a drop-off in talent from the other three starters. I think Perkins and Rondo will do fine (Perkins will supply defense and rebounding, Rondo will provide energy), but they are still a bit young. The drop-off in talent once you get to the bench is even more severe. I'm a big fan of Tony Allen (assuming he fully recovers from his injury), but after him I'm not sure that anyone on the bench is really going to contribute much (Leon Powe? Brian Scalabrine?). The absence of an NBA ready back-up point guard is a particularly bad situation.

The most in-depth analysis I've seen about the importance of surrounding KAP with talent for a successful season can be found in this article at the Wages of Wins. The basic gist of the article is that KAP are good for 40 wins by themselves (assuming 35 minutes a game, playing as well as they did last season). If they get the NBA average amount of support from the rest of the team, the Celtics will win around 50 games. If they get as little support as the Nets' Big 3 get (the worst in the league), then they'll only win around 45 games. Based on the Celtics current roster, 45 wins looks a lot more likely, so hopefully Ainge will be able to pick up some more talent before the season starts. Personally, I think the Celtics should make sure to play KAP between 30-35 minutes a game to make sure they get enough rest over the course of the season. 45 wins will be plenty to make the playoffs. Then the Celtics can ride their horses for 40+ minutes a night in the playoffs a make a real run for the NBA Finals.

From the Timberwolves' perspective, this trade was all about the future. Even with KG, the Timberwolves hadn't made the playoffs in two years, and they really didn't have any good way to obtain the talent needed to surround him. The Timberwolves will be one of the worst teams in the league this year, but now they have a handful of young talents who might develop into future stars. Getting back their first round pick is a big deal because, based on how bad they'll be this year, that pick could end up being the top pick in next year's NBA draft.

I'm a huge fan of Al Jefferson. I think he was definitely going to be an all-star in the Eastern Conference this year. The Western Conference is loaded with power forwards so Jefferson will not be in the top tier of power forwards in the conference this year, but in two years I think there's a very good chance he'll have played his way onto that all-star team. Including "Big Al," the young talent on the Timberwolves' roster includes Randy Foye, Gerald Green, Corey Brewer, Rashad McCants, Craig Smith, Chris Richards (assuming he signs), and Sebastian Telfair (all of whom have been in the NBA three years or less). There's definitely a bit of duplication in skills among these players (particularly at the shooting guard and small forward position), so it'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

I haven't seen the holdover Timberwolves play so I don't have any opinions on them (Foye, Smith, McCants), but I do think the players who just arrive from Boston have bright futures. The one player in the bunch who I think has gotten a bad rap is Sebastian Telfair. He's had some off-court issues, but mostly he's been criticized for his on-court play which puzzles me a little bit. From watching him play, I think he plays the way a point-guard should--he moves the ball and gets his teammates involved. His passes don't necessarily lead to assists, but they keep the offense flowing (as opposed to Delonte West, for instance, who people seem to really like, but who tends to pound the ball forever when he's playing the point). His WP48 is terrible (-0.075), but I think he's doing something right--as you can see on this chart, last season the plus/minus of every Celtic except Jefferson and Green was better with him on the court than when he was not on the court. The only other Celtics who could make that claim were Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo!

So all in all: Good trade for the Celtics because it gives them a legitimate chance to contend for the Eastern Conference title right now, and good trade for the Timberwolves because they weren't going anywhere with KG and this trade gives them a chance to build around young, developing talent.

The only bad news is that this just creates another Eastern Conference team that is clearly superior to the Sixers (who have neither competitive veteran talent nor substantial young talent)...

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