As the Boston Celtics season concludes, the obvious question, as it has been for seemingly the entire "Big Three" era, is just how much the franchise can get out of their veterans.
The Celtics have made investing in youth a larger point of emphasis, with the likes of Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger on the roster, but there is still a heavy offensive burden placed on the shoulders of three players at the age of 35 or older in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry.
Going into the offseason, the main question is whether or not the Celtics pull off a significant move and begin rebuilding. Without Rondo in the postseason, the Celtics were first-round fodder to a New York Knicks team that put up a meager fight in their second-round series against the Indiana Pacers.
The Celtics were one of the worst offenses among the postseason teams, failing to score above 80 points in their first three postseason games and failing to break triple digits overall.
Garnett and Pierce continued to slide down the inevitable path of age and its circumstances, and it left the likes of Green to lead the inept offense. It was clear, even if Rondo was available, that Boston was not a championship contender and would most likely not be so even had their roster been fully healthy.
Boston's going to have to make moves to keep up. They are nearing the luxury tax threshold with a $75 million roster and are devoting nearly $30 million of that to two players at the ages of 35 and 37, while the point guard who makes $12 million per season was claimed to have actually held the Celtics back following his injury, according to HoopsHype.
Boston will be left with a lot of questions to answer this offseason, and they will see favorable, as well as unsightly, options to look at in favor of and against a possible rebuild this upcoming offseason.
So, about that idea of the Boston Celtics being a better team without Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics played well in the second half of the season after Rondo went down, but it became grossly apparent that he is a necessity during their first-round loss to the New York Knicks. With no Rondo leading the show, Boston ended up averaging 82 points per in six games and dished out only 17 assists per game.
Boston was averaging nearly 97 points in the regular season and were among the league's best in assists, garnering almost 23 per with Rondo accounting for a league-leading 11.1 of those.
Rondo played 38 games last year before tearing his ACL. He is slated to return by the start of next season, will be 27 years old and is signed on through the 2014-15 season.
Although he's been a fixture in trade rumors involving the team, he is still arguably their best player and could have propped up Boston enough to at least get by New York in their six-game series loss.
Because without Rondo, the Celtics' offense looked loss for stretches. They ranked 15th out of 16 playoff teams with an offensive efficiency of 90.8 points per 100 possessions on offense, 12th in assist ratio and dead-last in turnover ratio, according to nba.com/stats.
They were the worst in that category, and it wasn't even close, with the Los Angeles Lakers possessing a turnover ratio of 16.1 to Boston's 18.1, according to nba.com/stats. Is it safe to say those abysmal passing numbers could have been avoided had Rondo, and not Avery Bradley, Jason Terry or Courtney Lee, led the offense?
Rondo is a proven competitor who will give it on both ends of the floor. He's also a proven champion with plenty of postseason experience and has put on incredibly impressive displays of all-around play that only so few players in the league could match.
Trading Rondo should be the last thing Boston does. It's clear and obvious they need a ball-handler to dictate the tempo and lead the offense through the sort of stretches Boston went through against New York, featuring three consecutive losses of less than 80 points scored in an entire game.
The contracts of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett give no spending leverage to the Boston Celtics this coming offseason, as well as the one that follows.
Pierce and Garnett are raking in over a combined $29 million of the Celtics' $75.4 million salary, according to HoopsHype. Although they'll actually be making less next season, down to $26 million, Boston's roster will still be at $73 million if the current roster sticks together.
Those contracts of Pierce and Garnett are naturally the largest on the Celtics, although Rajon Rondo will be making more than Garnett over the following season. However, a 27-year-old point guard usually carries the attributes of potential and improving, as opposed to the 37-year-old forward/center who is coming off his worst shooting season since 2007.
Garnett's 3.8 defensive win shares this season tied for the lowest he's had in his Celtics tenure. His 1.8 offensive win shares was the lowest of his career, only matched by his output in his rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to basketball-reference.com.
One has to wonder how much the Celtics can continue pulling out of Garnett, who will be on the cusp of 40 years old by the time his contract with Boston expires.
NBA centers can usually hold their own, even into their 40s in the cases of those such as Kevin Willis and Dikembe Mutombo, but Garnett can only keep up the torrid defensive pace for so long before he becomes nothing more than a minor role player.
Meanwhile, Pierce's contract expires in 2013-14, and it would be a shock to see the Celtics attempt to trade the face of their franchise when he's currently signed for only one more year. His postseason averages of 19.2 points per game on 37 percent shooting overall and 27 percent from deep, however, is hardly convincing of someone who can thrive in a large role.
If Boston is serious about pursuing a title over the next two years, they'll have to flip Garnett for a younger player who could man the middle and defend a tall order in itself.
There were many who were solely mistaken over the idea of Jason Terry possibly being a replacement to Ray Allen in Boston's offense.
While Terry ended up producing respectable numbers at 10 points per game and 37 percent shooting from beyond the arc in the regular season, you couldn't help but feel like something was missing with Terry. Sure he played like Allen, shooting 46 percent off-screens, according to SynergySports, and 44 percent on spot-ups, but it just wasn't Allen.
The 10 points per game was the lowest of Terry's career since his rookie season.
As deeply and heavily criticized as Terry was, he made a solid showing in the postseason, shooting 44 percent on nearly six three-point attempts per game in Boston's lone playoff series against the New York Knicks.
Terry provided a number of memorable moments and was one of the few Celtics who could add some sort of consistent offensive output against the Knicks.
Terry's numbers were solid, but he wasn't Ray Allen—not even close. And I keep bringing up the comparison solely because this is essentially who Boston chose to represent as their primary perimeter threat after signing Terry before offering a deal to Allen that would eventually be rejected.
He'll be 36 years old at the start of next season and will be owed $10.6 million over the next two seasons.
Obviously, replacing Allen isn't just replacing the greatest three-point shooter in NBA history, but it's also a shot to the chemistry that was formed between Allen, Garnett and Pierce since 2007.
"JET" only attempted eight field-goal attempts per game last season, nearly five fewer attempts than he was taking with the Dallas Mavericks the previous season.
Boston trading Terry won't come as a surprise, but there could be potential if given the opportunity to better acclimate with his first new team since being traded from Atlanta to Dallas in 2004.
There were times when Jeff Green looked borderline impossible to stop, as evidenced by his miraculous 43-point game against the Miami Heat in a tight loss.
He was also one of the few players who came through for Boston in the postseason, recording 20 points on a nightly basis for 44 percent shooting overall and 46 percent from beyond the arc to accompany over five rebounds per game. He was Boston's leading scorer and one of only two players to average more than 13 points per game.
Green is one of the few youthful athletes on this team who can be depended on in the future.
But exactly how much is Boston set to invest in him? Green has proven that he can be a multidimensional scorer as a driver and shooter and played well on the defensive end, ranking 72nd in points given up per possession, according to Synergy, but is he meant to become the next primary guy for Boston?
If so, then Boston's going to be running a core of Green, Garnett, Pierce and Rondo over at least the next two years barring any trades. With Pierce and Garnett's respective games declining and Rondo only capable of providing so much as the ball-handler, it's going to be on Green to become Boston's No. 1.
The Celtics organization will have time to decide on how they want to approach Green as possibly their new primary scoring threat. Green is signed through the 2014-15 season and has a player option worth $9.2 million the year after.
He'll turn 27 in August, meaning that his prime is set to arrive. He only garnered nearly 13 points per game on only 10 shots per during the regular season, but it's safe to say those numbers are going to skyrocket next season with Pierce and Garnett's ages set to catch up.
Boston will have Green signed for the long-term, especially if he picks up that player option, and it will be intriguing to see how the coaching staff begins to place him in a larger spotlight now that he's proven capable of being utilized as a number one scorer.
However, is he a primary option capable of leading a team to a championship? He'll have a few years to prove it, but Boston may want to begin seeing immediate results with this season set to feature Green in an increased role.
The Boston Celtics have a solid mixture of both veteran leadership and youth throughout their team, but both of those characteristics are lacking in some aspects.
For one, it's the veterans who are doing a lot of the heavy lifting with big roles doled out to the likes of a 37-year-old Garnett, a 35-year-old Pierce and a 35-year-old Terry. This spells disaster for the future since three of arguably your five best players are only a few years away from retirement.
There are several youthful pieces worth noting, however. Twenty-seven-year-old Jeff Green could emerge as an All-Star next season, 27-year-old Rajon Rondo will be fun to watch if he continues draining open mid-range jumpers while being the league's best passer and 22-year-old Avery Bradley has already emerged as one of the league's top perimeter defenders.
As for 21-year-old Jared Sullinger, he was having a decent rookie season, averaging six points on 49 percent shooting and six rebounds per in 20 minutes off the bench, before hurting himself and being limited to only 45 games. However, Boston was aware that health could be a concern of Sullinger's upon drafting him.
Sadly, this is essentially the players worth mentioning. Jordan Crawford is only 24, but appears destined for an NBA career of poor shot selection and wayward plays. Courtney Lee, at 27, only has so much more to offer, and the same can be said for the 28-year-old Brandon Bass.
Unless the 25-year-old Terrence Williams or 22-year-old Fab Melo somehow emerge as consistent rotation players, the Celtics look to be a team that could use some help.
Boston's future championship dreams essentially lie in the hands of guys like Rondo, Green, Sullinger and Bradley. Good players, absolutely, but a championship core? Hardly.
Moves will have to be made in order for Boston to make a legitimate run at a title over the next few years. Because with New York and Brooklyn improving, the Chicago Bulls with a healthy Derrick Rose and the potential of teams such as the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors set to become playoff teams, the Celtics must make moves to keep pace.