When Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were called to the bench by Doc Rivers toward the very end of the Boston Celtics' Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat on June 9 and given an extremely classy standing ovation from the Miami faithful, there was a feeling that we were witnessing the end of an era.
That could very well have been the last time we saw Pierce, Garnett and Allen all walking off the floor wearing the same uniform. And whether you were a Celtics fan, a Heat fan or even a Los Angeles Lakers fan, you couldn't help but experience a feeling of sadness.
At the same time, though, there was also a "they'll be back" feeling. At least in my mind, anyway. Yes, there are rumors that Allen may be signing with Miami and that K.G. is pondering retirement, but who is to say that both players will not be back in Boston in 2012-13?
I (along with Rivers) have a strong feeling that Garnett will be a Celtic next season. So, at the very least, I think we'll certainly see two-thirds of the Big Three again next year. If Allen walks, it will sting, but I think that sting will be more emotional than physical for the C's. As much as I love Ray, he is replaceable. And who knows how much longer those ankles are going to continue to hold up?
So, is the championship window closed in Boston? In my opinion, absolutely not.
As a matter of fact, I am on the side of the fence that says the Celtics will be even better next year than they were this year.
Take this into consideration: the C's took the eventual champion Heat to seven games, something no other team was able to do this season. And they did it without Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O'Neal. Moreover, Pierce, Allen and Mickael Pietrus were all playing hurt (Allen and Pietrus each underwent surgery shortly after Boston was eliminated).
That is a testament to how good this Celtic team actually was in 2012.
Now, the C's will definitely be getting Bradley back for 2012-13. That is enormous, as he developed into one of the game's premier perimeter defenders this past season. Green, who underwent heart surgery before the 2012 campaign began, is a free agent. But being that he was around the team so much this year, I find it hard to believe that he will be playing elsewhere next year.
So, assuming Green re-signs and Bradley returns to form, the Celtics will be getting back two young players next year.
Also, Boston has two first-round draft picks, Nos. 21 and 22. Given that this is such a deep draft, there is no doubt that Boston can pick up two quality rotational players at those two spots, giving the C's some much-needed depth.
Finally, with Garnett and Allen coming off the books, the Celtics are going to have plenty of cap room to sign free agents. I'm assuming they'll bring K.G. back at a rather team-friendly price, though not so team-friendly as to low-ball him, as Garnett clearly has an awful lot left in the tank.
Allen? He is a question mark, but I truly believe that if Boston offers him as much or more money than Miami, he will be back in Beantown next season.
The C's also have a decision to make on Brandon Bass, who chose to opt out of his contract. Bass has said he wants to return next year, so maybe they'll be able to work something out.
As far as free agents go outside of their own, the Celtics definitely have some options. One name that I really like is Chris Kaman. Boston desperately needs rebounding and could really use another big man to place alongside of Garnett. Kaman is probably the best available big on the market.
I guess I should delve into the trade market, too.
It was recently reported that new Atlanta Hawks' general manager Danny Ferry wants to blow up the roster, so you would have to think that Josh Smith would be up for grabs. The C's have tried to pry Smith away from Atlanta in the past, and Smith has spoken fondly about Boston, so maybe Danny Ainge puts some feelers out there and sees what it would take to nab J-Smoove? Yes, that is probably a long shot, but it is worth mentioning.
As for a more realistic trade, the Celtics are reportedly involved in talks with the Portland Trail Blazers about Jamal Crawford's services. He can opt out of his contract on June 29, so the Blazers are trying to deal Crawford before he can do that so they can get something in return. Although Crawford shot under 40 percent from the field this past season, he would unequivocally bring some much-needed scoring to the table for the C's.
The way the Celtics are currently constituted, I think it would be a stretch to say that they can win the title next year.
They certainly need more.
However, I think there is an ample amount of hope that they will get "more" this offseason. As I stated earlier; they will already be adding Bradley back into the fold, and I feel it is likely we will see Green back, as well. Throw in those two first-rounders and an extra couple of players acquired through free agency or trades, and you have an inarguable title contender on your hands.
It is going to be an interesting next couple of days for Boston, as the draft is on Thursday night. If the Celtics are going to make a trade, it is likely going to happen within that time frame, as the C's can use their draft picks in a package to acquire a player.
As you can see, there are multiple avenues Boston can explore to improve its team and get right back to where it was this past season. With the right moves, I think we can see Boston back in the finals.
So fellow Celtics fans, I ask of you: who do you want this team to pursue in the offseason?