When the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 NBA Season finally began on Christmas Day 2011, the Boston Celtics were an aging team, coming off a second round playoff loss to a new Eastern Conference powerhouse, the Miami Heat.
Boston lost that opening game, and then proceeded through a regular season in which the team appeared to be rapidly aging and in decline.
That all changed once March came.
The Celtics started playing better basketball and it continued into the playoffs. Boston advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals and extended eventual champions, the Miami Heat, to seven grueling games.
The offseason goal went from one that was once assumed to be a rebuilding mission, to a re-loading mission.
How did the Celtics do?
They nailed it.
Keep in mind, this was a Celtics team that entered the summer with several key free agents, two first-round draft picks, and some glaring holes on the team.
Given the team's salary cap space and team needs, Boston did an exceptional job, one that could be viewed in an even more impressive light considering that the team lost a free agent that they did not anticipate losing.
Yes, shooting guard Ray Allen's departure to the Celtics arch-rival, the Miami Heat, presented the Celtics with an obstacle they certainly did not anticipate when the offseason began.
The Celtics deftly handled it though. Rather then trying to land a big-name free agent, the Celtics instead opted to make multiple signings.
Boston signed both Jason Terry and Courtney Lee to replace the departed Allen, and the signings turned out to be even more crucial when it was recently revealed that Avery Bradley could miss as much as two months of the 2012-2013 regular season recovering from shoulder surgery.
The Celtics also brought back veteran point guard Keyon Dooling, to serve as Rajon Rondo's backup. With the guard positions reinforced, Boston also needed to shore up its front court.
There was more though, Ainge used his two first-round picks in the 2012 NBA Draft to select two front court players.
Jared Sullinger is a polished power forward out of Ohio State and what he lacks in athleticism he is expected to make-up for with his tenacity and physical strength.
Fab Melo is a potential steal. The 7'0" tall Melo has all the physical gifts to dominate at center, he lacks a polished game and there are questions about his basketball IQ, however. He's a perfect contrast to Sullinger who offers a lower-ceiling, with a quicker return. Meanwhile, Melo may eventually develop into a star, but don't expect that to happen this season.
Ainge continued to strengthen the front court, by bringing back Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox and Jeff Green. Those three players, plus veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and the two rookies, will form a formidable front court with a good mix of youth and experience.
The Celtics are a better team than the one that walked off the court in Miami after losing Game 7 in June to the Miami Heat. The Heat went on to win the NBA Finals. There is no trophy awarded for winning the offseason, but if there, was Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge might be hoisting it above their heads in victory.
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