Now that the fanfare, or lack thereof, for the Boston Celtics' 2012-13 season has faded, the franchise can start to view some of the hard truths that are to come.
Over the next few months, the team Celtics fans could never quite get ahold of may go through some serious changes. There are decisions to be made on a few players and a couple decisions to be made by a few players. There may also be a decision to be made by head coach Doc Rivers.
As a whole, the unit underperformed—with no asterisks in the postseason, The Rajon Rondo and Jared Sullinger injuries don't excuse a first-round exit. Just ask the Chicago Bulls or Golden State Warriors about overcoming absent stars.
Therefore, changes are necessary. They must ensure the future of this program remains promising and with integrity. What the Celtics have become over the last six years is a team that cannot win just 20 games in a season anymore. That type of thing doesn't happen when a franchise experiences the level of recent success Boston has.
Danny Ainge has his work cut out for him in this case. He can't coast and try to nab a high draft pick, though Boston should pick at No. 16 in June's NBA draft. He has to perform something on the fly. With Rondo's bargain contract soon running out and the possibility of limited cap room, Ainge will be under a microscope throughout the summer.
There are three impending questions which would seem to outweigh anything else Ainge and the franchise are facing. Since the first two involve Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, that leaves Rivers as the third question mark.
Rivers will have a decision to make—one that largely depends on what the answer to those first two questions are. Should they be negative in response, will Rivers want to remain with the Celtics to lord over a rebuilding process?
Of course, it would be a no-brainer for him to stick around for one last run with Pierce, Garnett and a healthy Rondo, but that isn't a sure thing. Should Pierce and Garnett hang up the sneakers or Ainge make a move that sends Pierce away and forces Garnett into retirement, what does that leave the good Doc?
The NBA's second-longest tenured coach, behind the immortal Gregg Popovich, may not want to revert back to 2006-07. Remember that version of Rivers? The one that missed the postseason two straight years and won only 24 games that season. While I doubt it would get that bad again, the idea can't be far from Rivers' mind.
He just completed his ninth season at the helm of the Celtics, something that simply doesn't happen in today's NBA. There are five head coaching vacancies in the league right now. Two of which, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, are playoff teams looking for their third head coach since the start of 2012-13.
Of the remaining coaches, 18 got their jobs after 2010, leaving Rivers as only one of seven who have more than a couple years with their current team. Even he was fired during his fifth season with the Orlando Magic. Double-digit years with one team is a rarity for head coaches today, something Rivers is now on the precipice of.
Around this time, two years ago, Rivers inked a five-year contract extension with the Celtics. That deal would earn him $35 million over the course of it, a handsome sum intended to keep Rivers around and away from the shiny lights of television. With two seasons having passed, that leaves Rivers with three years remaining on that contract and roughly $21 million.
Ainge's concerns at the time—Rivers leaving for non-coaching pursuits like television analyzing and the Orlando weather—have to remain. The Celtics have been more than accommodating to Rivers and his family as well.
His son, Jeremiah Rivers, played for Boston's D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, last season, after spending time in Serbia. Rivers also provided commentary and analysis for last summer's Olympic basketball coverage before returning to the team for the 2012-13 season.
More than other pursuits or monetary values, there is one major concern with Rivers moving forward with this team.
A rebuilding process doesn't seem like the proper use of his considerable skills. It doesn't make sense for either he or the team to continue this relationship through a period of development and trial and error.
Rivers' biggest skill over the last six seasons was his ability to deftly manage major personalities and talents. He was able to combine three enormous egos, with plenty of statistical and star-powered mileage, and get the best out of them as a team.
He integrated a young and mercurial point guard, whose talent was dusted off slowly, making him an integral part of that unit. Then he figured out the best way to utilize Kendrick Perkins, something that has eluded lesser coaches with the Oklahoma City Thunder the past few years.
A rebuilding process doesn't exactly call for that type of coaching. Massaging of egos and picking spots for role players amongst a star-oriented team aren't requisite skills for a team building with young players.
When Rivers had that kind of team, the Celtics weren't feared by anyone, and fans wanted him out.
If Boston moves forward without Pierce and Garnett, featuring a team built around Rondo and Jeff Green, Rivers may not be the best man for the job. He and Ainge will know that better than anyone.
Nine years is a long time, and 15 and 18 years is a longer time. Rivers, Pierce and Garnett have to be burned out, especially after most of a year spent without Rondo and their first opening-round exit since coming together.
The professional head coaching world is a messy place, and thanks to Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge hasn't gotten his hands dirty in nearly a decade.