The Boston Celtics are playing well right now, but that is just one of the reasons they must keep their core around in 2013.
The Celtics' core has kept them a threat in the NBA for most of the past decade. They've endured injuries and role-player turnover and kept moving forward. They have proven time and time again that there is little that can stop them from achieving success.
Now they face their toughest task to date.
Rajon Rondo is lost for the season with an ACL injury, and Ray Allen now plays in Miami. That leaves Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers as the only core Celtics members remaining at court level.
There are two other men who make up the core of the Boston Celtics franchise, though. Owner Wyc Grousbeck and general manager Danny Ainge are perhaps the most important members of the Celtics' core.
They will decide, for the most part, if the core stays together through 2013.
Let's get this one out of the way early on.
Yes, there is some sentimentality going on here. There is a feeling around Boston that Kevin Garnett and, even more so, Paul Pierce have earned the right to retire here.
Neither No. 5 nor No. 34 will ever be worn by another Boston Celtic—that is a given—but there is more to it than that. There is a respect owed and usually paid to veterans of their caliber, with roots so deep in their city.
There is a reason a lot of Celtics fans vehemently oppose any trade that sends Pierce away from them. He's been there through the bad years and the good. They want to ride out this new storm together and allow him to finish on his terms.
The NBA is a business, and that makes it harder for players like these to do what they are trying to do. Another portion of the fanbase feels a need to plan for the future. By dealing these aging but talented players to a contender, Boston could get back useful pieces or picks to build the next core.
Sentimentality is a thing, though, no matter how much talking Danny Ainge does about Red Auerbach and what he'd have done to the old Big Three.
It would feel good to watch them retire in green, and Ainge knows that too.
Sticking to one's guns can sometimes be an unwise decision, but for the Boston Celtics it seems to keep working.
This isn't the first trade deadline the Celtics have encountered that came replete with the "blow it up" sentiment. For the past couple years, though, Danny Ainge has stood pat at the deadline, only making moves to bolster the core.
Amid all those calls for a change in direction, Ainge has allowed his core to figure things out. Each year, that core has paid him back with success. A year ago in particular, the core was fighting for an NBA finals berth in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Each year the core has been together, a playoff run has been valiantly attempted. They have never been knocked out on the first round, despite being hampered by injury numerous times. They've been so remarkably consistent that it is tough not to see them doing so again.
They'll have to be given the chance, though, and without Rajon Rondo in the picture, forking over that opportunity is probably harder than succeeding with it.
Over his tenure with the Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge has developed a little bit of a reputation of overreacting.
Even though he has allowed the core of the franchise to do their thing year after year, there are areas that show he is a bit quick with the trigger.
He overreacted a couple years ago by swapping Kendrick Perkins for Jeff Green. He did this move without considering the chemistry the team had developed. He overreacted at the opportunity to bring Green in and really put a damper on the team for a time.
This past summer he overreacted to Ray Allen's departure in multiple ways. First he tried throwing money at the problem, without knowing that money meant nothing to Allen. Respect meant more to the veteran shooter. Then he went a bit shooting-guard crazy trying to replace Allen and fill out the roster. The 2012-13 Celtics feature way too many wing guards and not enough point guards or big men.
Overreaction is never a good thing and can often hurt a team long-term. That is why it is wise to wait this season out and use the extended time over the offseason to figure things out.
This will help Ainge avoid making a crucial mistake and keep the Celtics moving forward instead of taking a big step back.
Instead of seeing the Boston Celtics for what they don't have, (Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, inside presence, rebounding), examine what they are.
They have worked themselves back into one of the top defensive teams in the league. Over the past month or so, they have been holding teams to scores in the high 80s and low 90s, as they have really been getting their groove back.
After starting out the season playing sloppy defense and being just middle-of-the-pack in points allowed and opponent field-goal percentage, they have worked their way inside the top 10, allowing only 96 points per game on the season.
So, they are still an elite defensive team, and that can win playoff games. They now employ a very stingy backcourt with Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee leading the way. Kevin Garnett also remains a defensive force when on the court.
Offensively they have found a nice method of spreading the scoring around and filling Rondo's shoes by piecing his production together. Paul Pierce remains their No. 1 option, especially in crunch time. A job he is still qualified for, albeit his bad nights have become more frequent.
Jeff Green is still the biggest wild card on the team. He can definitely help them advance in the postseason, but he has thus far been wildly inconsistent. Green is one of the most athletic specimens in the NBA and, with his head on right, is a real weapon.
Did Doc Rivers deserve all that criticism when the Celtics were going on 18-game losing streaks? Does he deserve endless, heaping credit for managing three Hall of Famers to an NBA title?
The answer to both those questions is a hedging maybe. We're told Rivers is a great coach by players and media, because they like him. He is incredibly charismatic in front of a microphone and has good relationships with virtually all the big names in the league.
The problem here is that we just don't really know how good Rivers is. He has won repeatedly with this core in place, not an easy task, but one lessened by the sheer talent he's been given.
This year, things are hitting a fever pitch. The core is naturally at their oldest right now, a fact accentuated by the loss of their All-Star point guard. This is the year Rivers can put it all to bed. We'll know just how good of a coach he is come the offseason.
Keeping the core together for 2013 gives us the chance to honestly evaluate Rivers' performance. Can he slap together an offense post-Rajon Rondo that is good enough to win in the playoffs? Can he manage minutes well enough to keep Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry healthy in the postseason?
Is he a great defensive coach, or just a product of talented assistants (like Tom Thibodeau) and Garnett's culture-changing presence?
We get to know all that by keeping the core together for this run.
The most credible reason for keeping the core of the Boston Celtics together for 2013 is the NBA players who continue to believe.
Throughout Boston's struggles this season, a quote you could always count on from the team that beat them was reminding you that the Celtics will get there when it counts.
This core has developed such a reputation around the league for turning it on when it matters most that their colleagues in the NBA know what is coming. NBA players are some of the most open and honest athletes in the world when it comes to discussing their teammates and enemies. They are trustworthy sources in the debate of whether the Celtics can win again.
With every loss, short-term thinkers got down about the Celtics. The rest of the NBA won't stop being aware of them because of a few losses. They are keeping an eye on this core, because they've been burned before.
That is the most honest reason to let them try and burn the league again.