Boston Celtics: How Celtics Will Return to Championship Contention

David Tackeff@@DaveTackeffContributor IIIJanuary 16, 2012

The current incarnation of the Boston Celtics
The current incarnation of the Boston CelticsJim Rogash/Getty Images

Prior to this season, analysts questioned whether the Boston Celtics had enough firepower for one more championship run.  ESPN analysts suggested the Celtics needed a injury-free season with a few breaks to contend for one last title. 

The season has not gone according to plan: Jeff Green, the Celtics' best player off the bench, has a heart condition that will sideline him for the season, and Paul Pierce started the season with a nagging heel injury.  After 11 games, the Celtics stand at 4-7 and would not make the playoffs if the season ended today. After a loss to the young Indiana Pacers, coach Doc Rivers questioned the conditioning of his players, running more intense practices in an attempt to get his players in shape.  Rivers' tactics may work, but his choice to run intense practice suggests the Celtics are already falling behind in a season in which they cannot afford to do so.

While the Celtics will  claw their way back to a playoff spot, the Celtics cannot keep up with the East's elite anymore, and it will be difficult for the Celtics to contend for their 18th championship.  While the Celtics may not contend for the championship this year, the Celtics will not bottom out, and there is reason to believe the Celtics will be a contender in the East in the near future. 

The Celtics backcourt is still one of the best in the league.  Rajon Rondo is a fantastic point guard, averaging more than 10 assists per game and averaging the most points per game of his career this year (14.6).  While there is speculation that Rondo is not a franchise player, he is constantly improving his game and will man the PG position admirably for Boston in the coming years.

At shooting guard, the Celtics have Ray Allen, who, at 36, is playing the most efficient basketball of his career.  While his points averages are down, he is shooting over 52 percent and a ridiculous 58 percent from three-point range.  ESPN often praises Allen's incredible conditioning, and it appears as though he can hold down the SG position for a few more years. 

The Celtics frontcourt is weaker than those of the elite teams, but still packs a punch.  The captain, Pierce, missed the first four games of the season with a heel injury, and the Celtics lost all four games.  When he returned, the Celtics won four games.  This turnaround speaks to Pierce's importance to the Celtics.  His stats are down this year, but Pierce still leads this team with respectable stats for a small forward. Pierce is under contract for another two seasons and will most likely play out his contract pretty well and retire as one of the Celtics' best players.

The last member of the Big Three, Kevin Garnett, appears to be nearing the end of his career.  His averages are also down, and while he still anchors the Celtics defense he has mentioned he may retire after this season. Assuming he retires, the Celtics will have to replace him in the upcoming offseason. The center position for the Celtics is the biggest question mark on the team.  Jermaine O'Neal is the starter, but he cannot play a starter's minutes anymore, and he may also retire after this season. 

The Celtics bench is not as cohesive as in past years, but there are several serviceable role players on the bench.  Brandon Bass has been a significant upgrade over Big Baby Davis as the first big man off the bench, and the Celtics will likely try to retain his services either as a stop-gap to the next starting PF or as the next starting PF.  Greg Stiemsma has been a nice surprise for Boston as a backup big man.  The former D-League Defensive Player of the Year leads the team in blocks and looks to be a nice piece for the Celtics moving forward. 

Also, Purdue rookies E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson will be on the team for the next few years, but they have not played enough to carve out roles and Rivers does not play rookies much, meaning they will likely have to wait until next year to establish themselves. 

The Celtics roster may not be the best in the league, but there are pieces in place for a championship roster. 

The Celtics need a starting PF, C and another bench player or two to return to contention.  Luckily for the Celtics, they have the Clippers' first-round pick in the next draft along with their own.  The Clippers and Celtics' picks will both likely end up in high teens or low 20s.  While that may not have provided a lot of value in last year's draft, this draft class is considered to be extremely strong because players stayed in school because of the impending lockout. 

The Celtics have two options with their picks, they can either use the picks to shore up their frontcourt with players, or they could trade their picks up for a better prospect, like Andre Drummond, Perry Jones, or Anthony Davis. The Celtics are in a good position to take advantage of a strong draft class.  While Rivers may not play the Celtics pick or picks the first year, they will work their way into the rotation when Rondo is in his prime and Allen and Pierce will still be solid players.

After the draft, the Celtics can turn to free agency for more answers.  The Celtics will have close to $50,000,000 coming off the books next season, allowing them to sign several great players.  While the Celtics may not have a chance at Dwight Howard, they could attempt to sign players like JaVale McGee and Kevin Love to stay in contention for another title.  McGee may not want to stay in Washington due to its recent struggles, and while Minnesota would love to keep Love, the Celtics will surely extend an offer to the blossoming All-Star. 

If the Celtics do not cash in on this year's free-agent class, their record will surely suffer next year, but perhaps it will drop enough for the Celtics to get a top draft pick and spend more on free agents the next offseason. 

Boston's Big Three have had a fantastic run in Boston, turning a struggling Celtics team into a perennial championship contender.  While their run may be over, there is reason to believe the Celtics will stay relevant in the coming years.