x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Boston Celtics have to consider a changing of the guard

The Celtics face a quandry over whether to persevere with their ageing trio of stars or try and bring in fresh blood.

Paul Pierce, left, Kevin Garnett, centre and Ray Allen are the big three at the Boston Celtics at present.
Paul Pierce, left, Kevin Garnett, centre and Ray Allen are the big three at the Boston Celtics at present.

A generation ago, the Boston Celtics had a great team built around three players: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. From 1980 to 1987, they won three championships and twice more reached the finals.

And then it came to crashing down. Their Big Three grew old together and the Celtics vanished from title contention for nearly a decade.

Danny Ainge was a shooting guard who played on those five finalist teams, and he knows what can happen to a franchise when it hangs on to star players too long.

Ainge now is the Celtics president of basketball operations, and he oversees a team with another ageing Big Three: Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.

However, unlike Red Auerbach, the legendary executive who, nonetheless, rode those 1980s Celtics into irrelevance in the early 1990s, Ainge is prepared to trade one of his current stars. And soon.

He recently told the Boston Globe that he remembers Auerbach revealing to him, in the early 1990s, that other teams had offered the Celtics packages of young players in exchange for their older players. Ainge said he was flabbergasted when Auerbach conceded he passed up the offers and kept his past-their-primes heroes.

"If I were presented with those kinds of deals for our ageing veterans, it's a done deal to continue the success," Ainge said.

He said no moves are imminent, but his openness made it clear the Celtics could be reformed before the March 15 trade deadline.

Their current core enjoyed a fine four-year run, but their record is 6-9 thus far and the team looks old and tired. The statistics of Allen, Garnett and Pierce - who are 36, 35 and 34, respectively - are eroding. Better to get something for them now than nothing later? A look back shows the dangers.

Bird retired in 1992, McHale a year later and Parish played one more year before leaving for free agency. The Celtics were left with a great history to reflect upon. "After those guys retired, the Celtics had a long drought," Ainge said.

However, it is not clear that in the modern, salary-capped NBA that other teams will be eager to trade for expensive once-great players.

Those types of deals "aren't presenting themselves", Ainge said, adding: "In today's day and age, with 30 teams in the NBA, 15 teams know they have no chance of winning a championship. They are building with young players."

If Ainge is unable to acquire a young starter for one of the trio, the Celtics could still undergo a transformation after the season. Both Garnett and Allen are in the last year of their contracts.