Reports surfaced Saturday morning that Kevin Garnett intends to re-sign with the Celtics for multiple years.
Although the Celtics only have four players under contract for next season besides Garnett, the 36-year-old former MVP was viewed by many as the domino that would determine how the rest of the Celtics' roster turned out. With Garnett returning, Rajon Rondo signed through 2015 and Paul Pierce almost certain to retire as a Celtic, Boston has an appealing core for prospective free agents.
Targets for general manager Danny Ainge will likely include Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus and Brandon Bass, who's due for a raise after making $4 million last season.
The market for Allen's services is expected to be competitive, but if Boston cannot re-sign him, they will still have some cap space left to pursue other quality free agents. The Celtics are finally free of the contracts of Rasheed Wallace and Jermaine O'Neal, whose cap figure totaled $13 million last season, even though Wallace retired two years ago and O'Neal appeared in just 49 games over the past two seasons.
Bass has already said he'd like to re-sign with the Celtics, and Garnett's return solidifies that notion. Should Bass agree to terms with the C's, they would return the core of a squad that came closer than anyone to toppling the champion Miami Heat this spring. Add in a healthy Avery Bradley and Jeff Green — should he re-sign — as well as additional frontcourt help in new draft picks Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, and the Celtics' chances in 2013 may actually be better than they were in 2012.
When Garnett landed in Boston following a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2007, most fans and experts assumed that the Celtics would have a three-year window to win a championship with a core of Garnett, Pierce and Allen. Boston appeared in the NBA Finals twice during that stretch, winning it all in 2008. But the emergence of Rondo and the ability of the Celtics' Big Three to ward off Father Time allowed the Celtics to come within one game of their third Finals appearance in 2012, and the C's will fancy themselves contenders in Garnett's sixth year with the team next year.
Garnett had his best showing in the playoffs since 2008 last season, averaging 19.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 81.3 percent from the free throw line. His performance, particularly on the defensive end, silenced critics who claimed that Garnett was no longer up to the task in the playoffs after playing Chris Bosh to a draw in the Celtics' loss to the Heat in 2011.
Although Garnett's return comes with the knowledge that his 36-year-old body is in danger of breaking down — he's played in 1,380 games and logged 50,600 minutes in a 17-year career — keeping him in green is the best plan Ainge could have followed. Rebuilding processes can be long and arduous in the NBA. If Garnett had left, the Celtics would still have been a fringe playoff team with Pierce and Rondo — not nearly bad enough to bottom out and receive a high draft pick. Even if Ainge had gone into full-scale rebuilding mode, trading Rondo and/or Pierce, there's no guarantee that the Celtics would have received the lottery luck needed to land a young superstar — just ask the Warriors or Raptors.
So, Garnett's return is really in the best interest of all parties. He gets the chance to remain with a competitive team in a city that adores him, while the Celtics are able to stay in the championship hunt for a few more years.
Someday, age will catch up to Garnett and his body will betray him. But until that day comes, let the good times roll in Boston.
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