When Trading Icons Is Necessary
Published: Friday, October 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2013 01:10
As the NBA season is almost upon us, I’ll begin another season rooting for my beloved Boston Celtics. As always, they’ll be anchored by their two aging superstars, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Oh, wait.
Sorry, I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that Pierce and Garnett are out of Boston. It actually still hurts to admit it. Over the summer, Celtics GM Danny Ainge traded Head Coach Doc Rivers, also one of Boston’s favorites, to the Clippers and traded Pierce and Garnett to the Nets for somewhere between four and 47 draft picks. As cheesy as that opening may have sounded, any Celtics fans will understand because the loss of Garnett and especially Pierce still leaves a scar.
The trade was smart from a basketball perspective. Once he plays well, it’s clear that Rajon Rondo, the last star on the team, will be traded for more rebuilding pieces, and Jeff Green and Brandon Bass might follow him. Assuming this is the plan, the Celtics will finish the season with somewhere between 20 and 30 wins and in possession of young players and draft picks, most importantly one near the top of next year’s loaded draft. These rebuilding pieces should aid the Celtics in becoming contenders again within the next five years.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, and that’s where many fans are torn in these situations. Is there any value to keeping around an iconic franchise player, or should the GM always put emotions aside and make a deal that helps the team, no matter how marginally it helps or how coldhearted it seems?
Fans of every team face hypothetical questions like this with their favorite players, but the individual circumstances vary and therefore make the answers harder. It’s always easier when an aging veteran who has never won a title is traded to a contender in order to try and get his first ring. Fans almost always support this kind of move, no matter how hard it is to let a player go. In fact, while my favorite basketball player is Pierce, my favorite hockey player ever is former Boston Bruin Ray Bourque, who was traded to the Colorado Avalanche at 39 years old. Bruins fans supported the move almost universally, and some, like myself, still hold a soft spot for the Avalanche, the team that gave Bourque his only Cup a year and a half later. Calgary Flames fans likely felt the same when Jarome Iginla was traded last year, and they’ll be rooting hard for whatever team he is on in the final years of his career.
Butwhen the player either has won a championship or is still relatively young, the thought of trading him can be terrible for some fans. I recently raised the idea of gutting the New York Rangers at the trade deadline — assuming the team does not turn around its early season woes — to a Rangers fan, and she liked the idea. But when I mentioned the name “Ryan Callahan,” the 28-year-old captain of the Rangers, she responded as if I was trying to injure him while the Rangers were in the Cup Finals.
But, if we were going to wonder why this kind of seemingly heartless move could take place, we have numerous examples. Think of how Packers fans felt when GM Ted Thompson chose not to bring back Brett Favre… and then think of how the fans felt when the team won the Super Bowl two and a half years later. Many fans in Western Canada actually wanted Parliament to block the trade of Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. And then the Oilers won another Cup two years later. Finally, the St. Louis Cardinals are in the World Series due in part to not spending an absurd amount of money on one of the greatest Cardinals ever, Albert Pujols.
Of course, there is a counterargument to be made. We watch sports for entertainment and for a connection to our teams, so why should the fans, who have grown to love being entertained by one of their favorite players, suffer the heartbreak of losing one of the main reasons for their ties to the team?
Just like we can’t tell fans why their own irrational reasons for hating certain teams are worse than ours, it’s difficult to tell fans why to root for their teams. Some may feel that the emotions of seeing the same guy play for a team forever are worth a few wins in the standings. That’s fine but, as tough as it is to see guys like Pierce and Garnett go, I support the other side of the argument. Danny Ainge made a move that might have hurt, but he made the right move in my mind. After all, another reason that we root for teams is because of the competition that the players exercise and the fans feel. This comes down to wins and losses, and that’s the most important part of it all.
As much as it hurts, I’m glad that the Celtics traded Pierce, Garnett and Rivers, and I’m glad that they’ll probably trade Rondo and bottom out for a top draft pick. If it helps my chances of seeing another championship in Boston in the coming years, I’ll support it. That being said, I’ve already bought a plane ticket home for the Jan. 26 Nets-Celtics game in Boston. And, just as Paul Pierce said that he will shed tears, I’m man enough to admit that I’ll be shedding tears with him at the TD Garden.
Tom Hoff is a junior in the McDonough School of Business. Down to the Wire appears every Friday.