The Celtics faced a very uncertain future after being beaten by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The uncertainty facing the NBAs 17-time champions, and the fan base began to prepare for a rebuilding process to begin. The team appeared destined for a difficult process of rebuilding a team that has remained in contention for the past five years; relying on an aging core of talent that was nearing the end of their Boston tenure.
I and fans alike had good reason to wonder what the team would look like in the seasons ahead. Outside of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley, the remaining core components of last season's improbable conference finalists were either free agents or inexperienced talent (JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore). Both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen left the floor in Miami wondering if they had played their last game in Celtic Green.
What has transpired in just over one month's time was an extremely impressive display of basketball savvy by team president Danny Ainge; bringing together a team that now is arguably more talented, versatile and deeper than the team that ended the 2012 season.
The first key domino to fall this summer was the decision by Kevin Garnett not to retire. All along Garnett had indicated that Doc Rivers was the only coach that he would want to play for and would either retire a Celtic or return for one last hurrah. The Celtics rewarded Garnett's loyalty with a three-year contract for far less than he was making previously; giving the team some cap flexibility to sign additional talent. The Celtics then used the available funds to reinforce their frontline by re-signing power forward Brandon Bass along with combo forward Jeff Green. While the length and value of the Green contract (four years, $36 million) can be questioned, there is little question that Green possesses versatility and solid skills that can help alleviate the workloads of both Garnett and Pierce.
As the remaining element from the much maligned Kendrick Perkins trade, there was little doubt that Ainge would want Green to depart and have nothing to show for his 2011 deal. In addition, Green and fellow heart surgery alum Chris Wilcox both expressed gratitude over how the Celtics treated them during their heart-related absences. That level of concern on the part of the Celtics were reason enough for Wilcox to want to return to Boston as well; with the veteran big man signing a deal to return to the Celtics next season.
Before his heart ailment, Wilcox was coming into his own as a player; becoming a favorite fast break target for Rondo and bringing depth to a frontcourt in desperate need of one. With several players successfully returning from heart surgery in recent years, there was little concern on the part of the Celtics that both Green and Wilcox could return to their prior level of activity.
In addition to Wilcox, the Celtics also signed veteran defensive center Jason Collins to a veteran minimum contract. Collins will likely take the roster spot expected to be vacated by last year's surprise rookie Greg Stiemsma. Although never considered to possess much of an offensive game, Collins is a playoff-proven veteran who can bring a physical presence in the paint. Prior to Collins' signing; outside of Kevin Garnett, there was no other veteran player on the Celtics that were taller than 6'10". Collins is brought in as an insurance policy for the Celtics and can play sporadic minutes as needed.
An element of the Celtics last season that ailed them most was their inability to score when needed; more specifically the anemic output of their reserves most of last season. To remedy that problem, Ainge secured the services of sixth man extraordinaire Jason Terry to back up both guard positions and obtained Courtney Lee in a sign-and-trade deal for a package that included aforementioned Johnson and Moore.
With the loss of Ray Allen to their arch rival Miami Heat, the Celtics now have a younger player who can step in (Lee) and provide perimeter range, athleticism and above average defensive skills. As much as Celtics fans wanted Ray Allen return to Boston, his age (37) and deteriorating relationship with teammates (Rondo) and with the front office made his departure very unlikely. The fact that he accepted far less money from Miami than from Boston was a strong indication that his decision to depart was more personal.
The Celtics have in Lee a player who is 11 years Allen's junior; one who brings 40-percent three point range along with great athleticism to a team in need of a youth infusion. With the eventual return of Avery Bradley from double shoulder surgery, the Celtics will possess one of the deepest backcourt tandems in all of basketball.
The offseason additions to Boston's rotation do not just end with their free agent acquisitions; as draft choices Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, and Kris Joseph will likely all secure roster spots and contribute towards the Celtics' future.
When I look at the roster that the Celtics have built, I remain amazed that Danny Ainge has taken what was initially a three-year championship window and extended it into year six and beyond. The moves made by Ainge certainly make his case as being among the best basketball executives in the league and give Celtics' fans hope that that; if healthy, this team will be in the running for their 18 th championship.
As a Celtics fan for decades, being in the title hunt is all that I could ever ask for; and Danny Ainge continues to deliver on his promise to make the Celtics a formidable NBA power again.
Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Celtics and avid follower of the NBA for over 30 years; witnessing five of Boston's 17 championships. His professional career includes a solid foundation of analytics that contributes to a better appreciation of player and team contributions.
Follow Scott on Twitter: @scott_duhaime
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