One month of the 2011-2012 NBA season has come and gone and for Celtics fans, the proceedings have represented something resembling a nightmare. Disorganized offensive play, the failure to properly integrate a bunch of new parts thanks to an abbreviated pre-season and a rash of injuries to nearly every core member of the team have resulted in a 7-9 record through 16 games.
A somewhat inflated mark given the C's victories in three of their last four games (including two in a row) headed into Thursday night's meeting with the Magic in Orlando.
This mediocre start has sparked some discussion about whether or not it's even worth waiting out the rest of the season before contemplating the breakup of the Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Trade rumors have swirled around both Pierce and Allen while Garnett's career obituary has already been penned by a multitude of NBA pundits.
So if this really is the end, what did it all mean? How will these three future Hall-of-Famers, now together going on five years, be remembered in Celtics lore?
The raw numbers tell a good deal of the story. Four playoff appearances, two trips to the Finals and the franchise's league-high 17th championship. The Celts were one quarter and, arguably, one Kendrick Perkins knee injury away from Banner 18 back in 2010. And in 2009, after tearing through the first four months of the regular season, another knee injury, this one to Garnett, who was still in his defensive prime, derailed another potential title run.
But wait, there's more. In addition to cinching the Hall-of-Fame credentials of Pierce, Allen and Garnett, this four-plus year run has magnified the ascension to stardom of Rajon Rondo, who went from being one of the team's biggest question marks headed into the 2007-2008, championship season to one of the premier point guards in the entire league.
This Big Three era has also established Celtics head coach Doc Rivers as one of the elite coaches in the NBA. Prior to the arrival of Allen and Garnett, Rivers was a question mark, having never coached a team out of the first round of the playoffs and possessing a record well below .500 (273-312).
Since the start of the '07-'08 campaign, Rivers is 241-103 and has presided over four 50-win seasons, two of them 60-plus. Following last season, Rivers signed a five-year contract extension worth $7 million per season, commensurate with the highest paid coaches in the NBA.
There have been some low moments in the new Big Three era. Last season's trade of Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder, which knocked the Celtics from the top of the NBA standings to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and fodder for the eventual conference champion Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs, still haunts them.
Some of GM Danny Ainge's other personnel moves (Stephon Marbury, Rasheed Wallace, and, perhaps most famously, Shaquille O'Neal) have been abject failures. And Ainge's inability to make any transactions of real impact prior to this season most definitely have contributed to the C's lackluster showing thus far, as too much of a burden still falls on the team's aging core.
But go back to that raw info mentioned above. The team's 17th title, the near-miss in 2010 and all of those wins along the way re-established the Celtics as one of the league's marquee franchises. If these truly are the last days of the Pierce-Allen-Garnett era, it's impossible to see it as anything less than a major success.