When you're in the position the Celtics are in right now, struggling to survive as the window rapidly closes for an aging veteran team to win a championship, there are certain things that you just don't do. Things like, you know, trade away a member of the four-man nucleus that's led you to 234 wins and two Finals berths over the last four years.
Then again, if there was an exception to that rule — not even "exceptions," plural, but just one, single solitary exception, no more and no less — this would be the one. This is perfect.
Ray Allen for Josh Smith, straight up, one for one, actually makes a whole lot of sense.
I know, I know. The natural inclination is to fall back on that all-too-obvious mantra that "you can't trade one of your Big Three." And there's some sense in that, sure. But Allen is turning 36 next month, and Smith is more than a decade younger. The current Hawks power forward could be the perfect bridge from the Big Three era to a future generation of contending Celtics squads.
Yahoo! Sports reported in the wee hours of Tuesday morning that Smith had privately expressed his interest in a trade after seven years in Atlanta, and that the Celtics were at the top of a wish list that also included New Jersey, Houston and Orlando. The report also conveniently mentioned that Hawks executive Rick Sund has been lusting after both Allen and Kevin Garnett.
Rumors like this come out a lot. But there's something to this one.
The typical fan reaction to a rumor like this is, "Sure, we'll take your star. Let's package together a bunch of unwanted spare parts and see what happens. How's Jermaine O'Neal, Avery Bradley and a second-rounder in 2014 for Josh Smith – will that work?"
That's not happening this time. You've got to give up a star to get one. And for the Celtics, Allen appears to be the only relatively expendable guy.
You can't trade Garnett — he's the heart and soul. He keeps this team afloat, both emotionally and in terms of focus on the defensive end.
You can't trade Paul Pierce — he's been here 13 years. He's the captain and The Truth. He's an icon in this town.
You can't trade Rajon Rondo — he's your most talented player.
Let's picture this for a second. With Ray gone, you'd have to move Paul Pierce to the starting shooting guard spot. You can start Smith at small forward, which he's done a little bit in Atlanta when the Hawks used their big lineup featuring Jason Collins. A little undersized at 6-foot-9, Smith is a natural wing guy anyway.
Then you've kept your starting front line of KG and Jermaine O'Neal intact. In crunch time, you can bench J.O., move Smith to the power forward spot and insert Jeff Green at the three.
Want a little injury insurance behind J.O.? Easy. Either re-sign Glen Davis, or sign-and-trade him for someone who fits better.
This all sounds like it would fit into place. And Smith's talents would be ideal in the Celtics' system — he's an athlete in every sense of the word, a guy who makes game-changing plays on the defensive end.
Every year, he's one of the top players in the league, for his size and his position, in both blocks and steals. Imagine Smith and Garnett together. That's a nightmare for every opposing offense. Every single one.
The one knock on Smith is his IQ. Hawks coack Larry Drew griped all season about his team's weak shot-selection decisions, and Smith was the main culprit for that. But don't you think the Celtics have the personnel in place to whip a 25-year-old kid like that into shape?
Under the leadership of KG, Pierce and Doc Rivers, wouldn't he almost certainly become a smarter, more mature, less selfish basketball player?
The Celtics should make this trade. It would make them younger, bigger, more athletic and better defensively overnight. It would also give them a better rebuilding plan for future seasons.
As for the Hawks? That's the tougher question. It would be hard to unload Smith, a young All-Star caliber piece of a playoff team. But if Smith wants out and the Hawks are forced to move him, they might not do better than Ray Allen.
And remember — while the contracts are similar on a per-year basis (Allen makes $10 million per season exactly; Smith makes $11.7 million), Smith's is longer. He's under contract through 2013. The Hawks might jump at the chance to gain some cap flexibility.
Remember, this is a team that wasted the "Summer of LeBron" last year by throwing the biggest contract of all, a cool $123,658,089, on Joe Johnson.
So the deal makes sense for both teams. Sentimentally, of course, it's tough. Would Ray Allen be missed in Boston? Of course he would, yes. But the C's have a chance to make their team measurably better not only now, but for years to come.
You're not supposed to trade one of your Big Three, they always say. But Danny Ainge is the guy who lamented, long ago, that Red Auerbach didn't have the courage to break up Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish before Father Time got the best of them.
This time, Danny has a chance to rewrite history.
Would you trade Ray Allen for Josh Smith? Share your thoughts below.
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