Bad news for Walker, and a suggestion if further bad news comes this year
Bill Walker’s injury could put him in position to merely play out the string with Boston this year. He needs to take the leap this year from "guy who can jump high" to "basketball player." If he’s hurt, that won’t happen. It was going to be hard for Walker to find playing time already, so this injury really cuts into his chances of making it long-term with the Celtics. Reports are that Walker is a hard worker and constantly helping out at charity events, so here’s hoping I’m wrong.
ESPN.com’s John Hollinger, the best basketball writer around, has released his season previews. The Celtics preview (insider only) has Boston winning 54 games, finishing first in the division and third overall in the Eastern Conference. I think the games won total is a bit low, but Hollinger bases his predictions off of algorithms that are generally pretty accurate, and it’s not exactly a disrespectful total given the team’s age and injury history. But, I’m going to place that number higher, between 56 and 60 games, depending on how Kevin Garnett’s knee looks (he’s labeled it around 85 to 90 percent back right now).
Boston has enough depth to beat anyone without KG in a single regular season game. The problems obviously occur in the playoffs.
"Even if Garnett doesn’t play a single game, Boston will be a playoff team and likely finish no worse than third given the lack of credible contenders in the East," writes Hollinger. "But the Celtics didn’t bring their three stars together and pay luxury tax through the nose so they could lose in the second round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, if Garnett’s knee doesn’t bounce back at full strength, that appears to be where they’re headed."
He’s right, and I have an interesting proposition should the worst transpire this year. Trade Paul Pierce for Tracy McGrady.
It seems like the worst trade imaginable, and that’s pretty much the point. Houston can’t expect much out of their constantly injured star, and his contract expires this offseason. Getting under the cap will be nearly impossible for Houston even if the Rockets let McGrady’s contract expire along with a host of other contracts on the roster. The team would be bare-boned, with perhaps around $10 million or so, sans a fantastical roster makeover before the end of the season. But, if the team can continue its magic of last season, winning games without its two stars (McGrady and the injured Yao Ming, expected to miss the entire season), it might have use for Pierce, who can opt out of his contract at the end of the year, but isn’t likely to do so in Boston. A team with Pierce might have some more teeth in the playoffs, and it could make sense to "give it a shot" with Pierce over McGrady, and then let The Truth walk if things don’t work out.
So, why would Boston do it? The much-fabled summer of 2010 free agent class: LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, et al. If Boston allows its free agents to walk (McGrady, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Marquis Daniels, Brian Scalabrine, Eddie House, J.R. Giddens, and Shelden Williams), it would clear roughly $53 million from its cap (before giving Rajon Rondo an extension). Boston’s cap number would then be about $40 million heading into the offseason. That would give the team a shot at one top-tier free agent. If LeBron James or Dwayne Wade would come to Boston, it would catapult the Celtics right back up to the top of the East. Rondo’s deal could complicate things, and further moves to clear cap space might be necessary, but the option could be there if things fall apart, and injuries doom Boston’s season.
I’m certainly not hoping for a collapse, but if one does take place due to injuries, at least a smart move or two could have Boston back on top quickly.