The NBA season has come to an end and the off-season is about to get into full swing. The Boston Celtics count themselves among a handful of teams that believed that they were a player or two away from winning a championship; losing to eventual champion Miami Heat in the latter's toughest postseason test.
In their Game 7 defeat, the Celtics have officially come to a crossroads in the franchise's history; one that could take the team in polar opposite directions. On one hand, Boston could look at their playoff vanquish as a sign that; with some tweaking, that the team could avenge their loss and make another run at a title. On the other hand the Celtics could look at this summer as an opportunity to rebuild for a more sustainable future; after a five-year run the team can no longer compete with the roster as currently constituted.
Let's take a look at the pivotal decisions the Celtics face that will ultimately shape the team's direction.
Simply put, the decision by KG whether to return for another season will be the lynchpin in all the subsequent personnel moves. If Garnett decides to return for the 2012-13 season, it will likely be only for Boston; giving his team an upper hand in their free agent activity. Even at his advanced playing age and extensive years of playing, Garnett is still considered an impact player who brings a level of intensity rarely seen in today's game. In returning to the Celtics, one significant piece will be in place and determine that re-tooling for another run is in the works.
I for one am hopeful that Garnett returns; realizing that even at his advanced age, Garnett still has an impact on the game and can keep this team among the Eastern Conference contenders. Not only will he make an impact on the floor, but this decision will make subsequent issues of lesser consequence.
Less of an issue than that of his Big Three co-member Kevin Garnett, the presence of Ray Allen in Boston over the past five years has been understated; and his likelihood of returning is not a matter of retirement, but more of role on the team. After returning from injury late in the season, Allen was subject to what may be his future role on this team; one of sixth man. For a future hall of famer on an aging team, the time may have come for Allen to shop his talents in the open market for a bigger role and perhaps play for a team that is closer to championship level than Boston is. After asserting that he has more years left in his basketball legs, there is a strong possibility that his days in Celtic green may have come to an end. Whether the Celtics wish to and are successful in convincing the NBAs three-point king to return for one more title run will be more challenging than it was two seasons prior.
Depending on how other teams act on draft night, the Celtics may at least walk out of next week's festivities with two young talents to build with for the future. As general manager Danny Ainge did upon his arrival in 2003, the Celtics can begin to assemble young talent for development and possibly long term trade potential. The other aspect of draft night is Boston's potential for trading one or both picks; along with a player to another team to obtain current talent to build around. With the right moves, the Celtics can add talent to their roster depth and bring youthful energy to a team in need of an influx of it.
Is Rajon Rondo a player with whom a team can be built around? If I were to answer that question at this point last season my answer would be with less conviction than it is today. This season Rondo has elevated his game; becoming a triple-double threat on any given night. When the opposition became tougher, Rondo's game would improve; becoming more of an offensive threat than just a facilitator. If Ainge and head coach Doc Rivers believe they can build around Rondo, then the players they will look to obtain will be more athletic in order to fit the style of play that suits their diminutive point guard. If Rondo is not part of the long-term plans for Boston; as the Celtics attempted last season, will likely be offered and included in a multitude of trade offers in order to build a new team on the fly.
Beyond the decision of adding draft choices to the team, the Celtics also have to determine how much playing time younger players will have on next year's team. As a championship contender, the Celtics have continually looked to bring in contributing veterans to play critical roles off the bench. If this past season was any indication, it was that younger teams are emerging as the elite class in the NBA; players who have boundless youth and athleticism that can become more problematic for an aging team like Boston. With some young talent in place, the Celtics have to decide whether to trust their youngsters more; something that has been a point of discussion between Ainge and Rivers for years now. As a team with championship plans, the Celtics have shied away from giving critical bench minutes to less experienced talent. But this past season's emergence and impact of Avery Bradley will cause Celtics' management to rethink the youth vs. experience issue. On the current roster, Boston has assembled some young and promising talent; some of which could play more meaningful minutes next season. If the team decides that it cannot put its faith in the youngsters, then they will have to dive deep into free agency to find veterans willing to play for minimal dollars and who possess the requisite skill set to contribute.
Clearly there are more issues than those that I have stated above; but looking at the immediate concerns for this team, the ones I mention will have a greater impact on what direction the team takes in the coming weeks.
As a fan of the Celtics since the 1970s, and after going through a long championship drought in the post-Bird era; I am reluctant to see the Celtics fall into NBA obscurity. While I do not think the decline of this generation's Celtic team is going to be as dramatic as that of the late 1980s version, I have come to the realization that change is upon this team. As much as I want to see the team keep their competitive window open longer, I am also a realist; one that knows that change is inevitable and likely to occur before play resumed in November. How the Celtics address the issues above will shape whether I look to the 2012-13 season as a revamped run at another championship, or one that is based on more patience and appreciation for what is being built for the future. Either way, I will be there with hopes of watching another banner raised to the Garden rafters; hoping that my wait will not be so long this time.
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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