As A. Sherrod Blakely writes on CSNNE, a season-erasing lockout could improve Boston’s chances of acquiring Dwight Howard.
Blakely’s reasoning is simple: if the lockout is lifted, Orlando could very well trade Howard. He does not seem intent on staying in Orlando, so the Magic’s best bet could be to trade him to the highest bidder before Howard departs for nothing in free agency. If the Magic do trade Howard, the Celtics, with limited assets, almost definitely could not make the highest bid.
On the other hand, if the lockout does wipe out the entire season, Howard could opt out of his contract and become a free agent. Then, Boston’s lack of trade assets would not matter and the cap space they have built would.
Of course, the Celtics would love to acquire Howard. Any team with a GM (not even any team with a competent GM; just any team that has a GM) would love to add the NBA’s best center. The problem is that Boston adding him, while not completely impossible, seems entirely far-fetched.
When’s the last time the Celtics signed a superstar free agent in his prime?
(Waits for answer.)
(No, Rasheed Wallace doesn’t count.)
(No, Shaq’s decomposed body doesn’t count.)
(No, Patrick O’Bryant doesn’t count.)
Do you give up? That’s because the answer is never. The Celtics traded for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, drafted Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. They drafted Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Dave Cowens, Larry Bird, Bill Walton and even Danny Ainge. They traded for Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and even Dennis Johnson.
Players have consistently spurned Boston in free agency for at least two reasons:
1) The city has a reputation for racism dating back to the Russell era (and beyond). As much as Russell did for the Boston Celtics—I would never say a bad word about his contributions to the franchise—his comment calling Boston a “flea market of racism” stuck. He was the NBA’s best winner, yet a group of Boston morons had broken into his house, left racist graffiti on his walls, vandalized his trophies and poo’ed on his beds. The city deserved Russell’s harsh criticism. But his words certainly did nothing to improve Boston’s odds of signing a premier free agent.
A “flea market of racism” reputation doesn’t go away easily, although Kevin Garnett might have finally changed it. Garnett, at least according to reports, initially did not want a trade to Boston. He worried about the city’s attitude. He wondered whether the city was still a cesspool of bigotry. But Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers convinced Garnett to give Boston a chance. The city has changed, they said. And it has embraced Garnett with open arms, just like James Posey did so many times.
With Doc Rivers signed for the next five years and the local reputation changing, the Celtics could become a more desirable location for black players. But still, the next superstar free agent the Celtics sign will be the first.
2) Boston is cold, and it isn’t New York. Players will always want to play in New York City. The media spotlight shines brighter there than anywhere else. It’s the biggest market in the country, “the Mecca of basketball,” yada yada yada. Players can bear the snow when it comes alongside endorsement deals, fan support, basketball history (not so much professional basketball history, but still) and more attention than players could receive anywhere else.
Boston’s a big market, too, but it isn’t New York. And given the choice between living in South Beach or Southie, the white sand, mid-90s weather and zany nightlife sound pretty good.
Yes, the Celtics could have miles of cap space for next season. Yes, Rajon Rondo will wear Green and White for the foreseeable future. But the Celtics’ future is murky.
Consider this: the Celtics have two players signed for the 2012-13 season. Just two. One is Rondo, who is an All-Star but probably not the type of free agent drawing card Chris Paul should be. Why not? There are serious questions about Rondo’s game. He can’t shoot. He disappears occasionally during the regular season, if not the playoffs. He battled nagging injuries, including plantar fasciitis, all last season; the injuries (and maybe a laissez-faire attitude toward the regular season) derailed what had been a Stockton-iffic start and left Rondo average for the final quarter (at least) of the regular season. Playing alongside Rondo would presumably be oodles of fun. But teaming with him is not necessarily a free ride to the NBA Finals.
The other player Boston has under contract for 2012-13, Paul Pierce, will turn 35 before playing a single game that season. If a free agent (such as Howard) is looking to build a Super-team, the Celtics won’t be his best bet—especially considering he could move to New York, play in the Mecca of Basketball, and call both Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony his teammates. Or he could move to Los Angeles and take over Hollywood. Or he could move to wherever Chris Paul lands and immediately field a better roster than Boston’s, even if the supporting cast couldn’t throw the basketball into an ocean.
Let’s say Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen decide to return to Boston for significantly smaller contracts. Even then, joining the Celtics would not guarantee competing for a title. Garnett will be 36 years old by then and Allen will be 37. If they’re still good players, they certainly won’t be All-Stars.
Don’t misunderstand me—Boston has its draws. Any superstar would love to play for Rivers. The franchise (mostly) knows what it’s doing, and is committed to winning. Rondo can make basketball easy for his teammates. The owners are willing to spend cash. The franchise is the greatest in NBA history. The city loves sports. But there are reasons free agents have never picked Boston, and those reasons will not evade Dwight Howard.
The Celtics would be idiotic not to try adding Howard. Hell, I assume all thirty teams will submit trade proposals for Howard if he ever hits the trade market. But I wouldn’t count on Howard signing in Boston, even if the Celtics preserve all their cap space, even if this season ends with a lockout and Howard chooses to become a free agent. Call me a pessimist or call me a realist. I would vote the latter.
Nonetheless, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, holding my rosary beads and saying all my prayers. And I’m not even moderately religious.
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