The incentives for Boston to deal Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett
may be too great to not revive trade talks with L.A. (Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
The momentum fueling trade talks between the Celtics and Clippers has stalled, with Boston GM Danny Ainge going so far as to pronounce discussions between the two teams "dead." For the moment that may be true; there's a clear consensus among sources and reports regarding the flatlined deal, which would have been structured around shipping Kevin Garnett and Celtics head coach Doc Rivers (if indirectly, in Rivers' case) to Los Angeles in exchange for 24-year-old center DeAndre Jordan and a collection of draft picks. The latter reportedly became the sticking point, as the Clippers shied away from including the two first-round picks that the Celtics had requested in exchange for releasing Rivers from the three years remaining on his current contract.
Given that the first rounders in question are likely to fall in the mid-20s, their inclusion might seem a strange place to draw a line in the sand on deal to acquire a player as influential as Garnett and a coach as savvy as Rivers. But the Clippers aren't in any immediate rush to consummate this kind of arrangement, as their needs are far less specific than that of the Celtics. As noted by Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com, part of the backdrop for this entire predicament is the fact that Garnett is only interested in playing for Rivers -- who seems to have little interest in remaining in Boston. That preference carries a bit more weight thanks to two additional considerations:
1. Boston has telegraphed its intentions to rebuild, an effort that would undoubtedly begin with attempts to trade Garnett and Paul Pierce.
2. Garnett is one of the few players in the league with a no-trade clause -- thus giving him final say over this deal or any other he's involved in.
With those facctors linked, Boston is left with a very narrow range of potential trade scenarios relative to the Clippers' wealth of possibilities. As nice a get as Rivers might be, the alternatives (Lionel Hollins and Brian Shaw first and foremost) are worthy in their own rights, would come at much cheaper costs than the $7 million annually that Rivers would command, and would sign without the sacrifice of two first-round selections. Even late first-round picks have value as both trade chips and roster filler, the latter of which is of particular relevance to a team with only five players (and a sixth potentially on the way with Chris Paul's likely re-signing) under guaranteed contracts for the 2013-14 season. Acquiring Garnett and Rivers would be a nice start to the offseason for L.A., but there is no ticking clock and no reason whatsoever to consent to an unfavorable deal. As strange as it sounds for a team that could land a Hall of Famer and a terrific coach in exchange for a limited big man and a few late first rounders, the Clippers have every reason to wait out the Celtics in the hopes of an even better deal. The leverage is all with L.A., as this is one of the few scenarios in which Garnett would waive his no-trade clause and trigger the rebuild that Boston so clearly needs.
That reconstruction also concerns Rivers, who seems likely to be either coaching elsewhere next season or not coaching in the NBA at all. There remains a chance that Rivers could return to Boston for another go, but these latest flirtations with the Clippers would assuredly not bode well for his command of the Celtics locker room. His hefty salary would also make exceedingly little sense for a Boston team in the process of tearing down its roster, to say nothing of the way his talents as a coach would be marginalized with a roster likely light on veterans and looking to stockpile developing assets. As much as Rivers has to teach, his greatest NBA successes have come as a mediator of personalities -- a nuanced political navigation that wouldn't be needed on a stripped-down Celtics team.
Releasing Rivers from his contract would help to address those financial costs, but a corresponding trade with the Clippers might be the only chance the Celtics have of extracting value from his departure. Rivers can't explicitly be traded, and if released would be free to sign with the team of his choosing. Yet this particular arrangement could have at least entitled Boston to secure something in return for a terrific head coach, even if L.A. quickly shot down the notion of that "something" being a pair of compensatory draft picks.
Boston isn't locked into parting ways with Rivers or trading Garnett at this point, yet the Clippers provide what is likely the cleanest means of resolving both situations. Garnett won't settle for just any destination, and will only draw interest from a very specific subset of win-now trade partners. Rivers, too, might only be packaged with Garnett in this particular instance, as none of the other three coaching vacancies (Philadelphia, Denver, and Memphis) make practical sense as a landing spot for both.
With that, an easy transition rests in Boston's ability to compromise -- or more specifically, to step back from their request of two first-rounders as compensation for Rivers. That kind of return was worth asking for in light of these strange, unprecedented circumstances, but should it really stand in the way of earning some reward in Rivers' departure or dealing away an aging player with a cumbersome contract provision? Hardly, and that's why we're more likely than not to see these same discussions revisited in some form or another. They're dead on the table, for the moment, but the slightest spark is all that's needed to instill new life in trade talks as sensible as these.