On a purely basketball level, the Boston Celtics did extremely well for themselves in the offseason trade with the Brooklyn Nets. In trading the trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, Boston picked up three first round picks for players whose main usage going forward would only have been sentimentality. They jumpstarted a rebuild with plenty of future assets for present players declining significantly, and even if those picks are far into the future, Boston can afford to wait.
In the process, they were also able to shift some big contracts, notably that of Terry, who does not expire until 2016 but whose once dynamic play is now so dynamic he played as little as 42 seconds in one recent Nets win. Of course, the need to match salaries meant having to take back big ones, too. Liabilities came with those assets, and they were expensive. Not until dumping Fab Melo for the unguaranteed contract of Donte Greene in preseason were Boston even under the luxury tax this season. For a rebuilding team, Boston are extremely expensive - in addition to barely skirting the tax this season, their long term salary picture is rather more congested than usual for a team fully on board with rebuilding.
Danny Ainge has worked at this, not just with the Melo trade, but also in trading the 2016-expiring contract of Courtney Lee for the 2014 expiring one of Jerryd Bayless. The subsequent deal for Joel Anthony added some salary back on again, but far less than had previously been saved, and with a significant net profit on draft picks. There remains, however, a significant amount of salary that Boston would happily be rid of. Therefore, continuing this series of posts looking at likely candidates to be moved at the upcoming trade deadline. a look at some of the viability of the Celtics veterans follows.
The largest salary taken back in the Nets deal was the $12 million for Kris Humphries, which, expiring that it may be, is a significant amount for a bench player struggling for minutes behind the 43% shooting Jared Sullinger. Yet it is not because he is ineffective. On the season, Humphries is averaging 7.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in only 19.5 minutes per game, shooting 51% from the field and a huge 88% from the line. Humphries is receiving (if not entirely earning) this $12 million partly because of the Nets' unlimited bank balance, and their self-prescribed need two years to outbid for his services in the light of interest from the Bobcats. Yet they also did so because, as recently as two seasons ago, Humphries poured in a good quality season. A very good quality season, in fact, with one of the NBA's best rebounding averages and a useful if scrappy offensive game, averaging 13.8 points and 11.0 rebounds in his second consecutive season averaging a double-double. Perhaps it’s all too easily forgotten how difficult this is to do.
Humphries is a player who suffers from a negative perception of his talents in the eyes of the majority based on who he is and long-standing judgments about his abilities, before, or instead of, actual analysis of them. (See also, amongst many others, Nate Robinson.) In Humphries's case, it seems to stem mostly from the fact that people do not like what they see of him as a celebrity, or (more worryingly) just assumed they wouldn't. This of course is ludicrous, yet the palpable loathing Humphries's name seems to invoke is woefully illl-fitting of his abilities. They are plentiful.
This is not to say that Humphries is worth his salary. Half of it is closer to the truth. He is, however, more than a mere salary. Now on the downside of his career, Humphries's man to man and team defense never improved much, nor did his ball handling skills, and nor did his understanding that his ball handling skills are not very good. Nonetheless, be it with the Celtics, with another team through a trade, or with another team through a buyout, Humphries can better any team he plays for through this size, mobility, rebounding rate, highly efficient interior and mid-range scoring, and occasional defensive bursts. It does not have to be pretty or technically precise to be beneficial.
One player who regrettably is 'just a contract' at this point, however, is Gerald Wallace. Overpaid wildly to save face in light of the awful deal to acquire him, Wallace has received regular but reduced minutes for the Celtics this season, and has struggled in them. It probably was no great surprise that a player once so reliant on physical tools would face such a sharp decline once those tools started to wane, yet Wallace never nuanced an ugly-yet-reasonably-effective role in the halfcourt like the comparable Shawn Marion did, and is struggling significantly in what is now the latter stages of his career. Averaging only 4.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 19 minutes per game, Wallace is still a decent defender with size and tenacity, but as the athleticism goes, so does the defensive effectiveness. He is a key part of a good defensive Celtics team, but not the stopper he once was, and his offensive effectiveness is regressing to the point he has little use. Unable to run and cut freely like he once did, and never too good in the post, Wallace's sub-par jump-shot and handle in traffic prevent him from any consistent halfcourt usage other than extra passer, as his paltry scoring output suggests. At $10 million a season for the next two and a half years, the likeable Wallace is regrettably one of the most untradeable players in the league, and the Celtics will likely have to swallow the cost for at least another year.
Competing for minutes with the above two players, and winning the competition, is Brandon Bass. The one time jump-shooting specialist power forward has developed his game year on year, and specifically his defensive game - now, he is the anchor of a top half NBA defense despite playing out of center, the team's leading shot-blocker in the midst of a bounce back season after a relatively poor one last campaign. Bass has grown nicely into a two-way player, a key part of the defense also with an 18.3% usage rate, and the perfect third part of a three person big man rotation. Indeed, if he's the second man it still works. His defensive improvements are in evidence both around the basket and on the perimeter - although it would help to take a charge every now and again - and he retains the jump-shot and interior finishing he has always had. Between he and Humphries, the Celtics have plenty of excess quality big men to deal, if there could ever be such a thing.
While Humphries seems suffer from a misguidedly negative perception of his talents, the other plausible Celtics veteran trade candidate, Jeff Green, seems to suffer from the reverse. Drafted 5th in 2007, Green has been a big minutes player since day one, and tantalizes all those who watch with the way he does a little bit of everything. Occasionally, he does it all extremely well, such as with this 39-point outing, or this dunk. Because he can do everything sometimes, it follows that he could or should do everything most of the time. But given so much opportunity over the years - and especially this year, when he was asked to shoulder the offensive load - Green has shown that he cannot.
A particularly poor rebounder and sporadic defender, Green just does not do enough with the ball to merit a significant offensive load as either a primary or secondary creator. He leads the Celtics in shots, but only because he leads them in attempts by a long way - shooting only 41% from the field with 100 more field goal attempts than the next highest player, Green's 15.9ppg average has not come easily, in spite of the time he can make it looks o. It looks as though Green should be a regular 20 point scorer on account of his reasonably polished handle, occasional range, size, fluid athleticism and occasional outbursts. But all the evidence points to the contrary conclusion - that Green's talent level just is not that high. He is neither that good of a shot creator not shot maker. And yet overly positive perceptions of his talents and perception remain.
The counter argument that Green and his efficiency would benefit more from a smaller role struggles in light of his averageness in such a role with the Oklahoma City Thunder. No noticeably improved since then, it is time to accept that this is who Green is. If he was going to reach Rudy Gay's level, he surely would have done it by now. Green can play and is still young, and is a good if expensive third or fourth option somewhere. Perhaps that somewhere is still in Boston. But at this point, any outstanding expectations must start to be tempered.