The Boston Celtics are having a magnificent season, with the best record in the Eastern Conference, but fans looking past this season may be concerned by supporting the oldest median team in the NBA.
The season of the dreaded lockout. If the NBA mimics the NHL and it is a full season lockout it is difficult to imagine the older players on the Celtics wanting to return, but for the purpose of this article let's assume what at the moment seems to be inevitable, is avoided.
At the end of the 2010-11 season Kendrick Perkins, Glen Davis, Marquis Daniels, Delonte West and Von Wafer are all out of contract. While this isn't as big a purge of talent as will occur at the end of the 2011-12 season the Celtics may end up losing some serious talent.
Kendrick Perkins will likely stay with the Celtics considering the impact he has made on the team, and will continue to make when he returns from injury early next year. On the opposite end of the scale sits Von Wafer, who can shoot like nobodies business, but looks unlikely to make an impact in Boston, and may not be signed on for another season.
Glen Davis has been firing this season, and really showing his worth. He said before the season began that he wasn't sure he knew where he was going to fit into the new-look C's team, and he has definitely found a niche. However, he may have been expressing discontent about his role which means it is certainly not set in stone he will be with the Celtics next season.
Hopefully, Daniels will stay in Boston, though he may prefer to go somewhere else to play as a starter. Delonte West has been a disaster by no fault of his own this season, but hopefully he can come back next year and make a difference when Boston needs it.
If Boston lost all these players they would only gain about $5 million of cap space (given Garnett, Pierce and Rondo's contracts all go up by about a million each), so there aren't too many quality free agents to pick up in the offseason.
At the end of this season, Boston (assuming they don't sign any of the above), have a real talent purge. Having only Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo under contract, and a free $60 million of cap space to play with.
It is likely that Shaquille O'Neal won't be looking for a contract extension by this stage, having already said that he expects to end his playing days with Boston, and this may go for Garnett as well. Recently after the Boston win against Chicago, KG said his future is uncertain, particularly with the lockout looming.
Losing Garnett would be a massive blow to the Celtics, even with his production declining. The team would be losing an MVP, DPOTY and All-Star, who has a ring to add to his resume. He is often thought of as the heart of the Boston team and his intensity is unmatched.
Ray Allen will be fast approaching 40 by this stage, but he has a style that can be played with low physicality, and he is as dangerous as ever from the three-point line. He doesn't speak like a man who is looking toward retirement, but he has expressed he would like to end his career a Celtic.
Jermaine O'Neal is unlikely to be re-signed by the Celtics at the end of this season as he has already proved to be injury-prone and only provides a physical presence on the court for very short bursts. He is the bust of the O'Neal brothers experiment.
Hopefully, young guys like Nate Robinson, Semih Erden and Avery Bradley will also be re-signed (Bradley only needs to have his team option picked up). They are all quality players who could help the Celtics grow as a franchise from the bench, given the chance.
Pierce and Rondo are certainly the core of this team and both will hopefully still be producing at high numbers, but it is at the 2012-13 season that Boston will have to begin the rebuilding process.
Unrestricted Free Agents
At the end of this season Boston will have some money to throw around, so looking forward it is interesting to see some of the unrestricted free agents who might get picked up by the Celtics in 2012-13.
There are unfortunately few superstars, though the C's could get themselves into a good position to nab a player like Blake Griffin in the following years if they picked up guys like: Chris Kaman (if he manages to return to form), Steve Nash (so unlikely, and ridiculous for both parties), Jason Terry, Tim Duncan (imagine that!), Chauncey Billups, Jason Kidd (another tow unneeded PGs), Nene, David West and Andre Miller.
Obviously, all of these players depend on whether they sign contracts, or if Boston decides to go the route of picking up free agents rather than trading, which seems likely considering the ages of the star players (other than Rondo). It is also just a small list, there are more players going into free agency who may meet the Celtics needs at that stage.
Boston have Rondo signed for a long time and it is important to build a good team around the man, as he has shown that when put on a team that can shoot he is an assist machine. He doesn't have a consistent jumpshot, though, so a star power forward and shooting guard are really necessary to allow Rondo to play at his fullest.
The above is total speculation as who knows whether players will be traded or retire and also the looming lock out is a major factor in the future of an older team like Boston.
The current strategy seems to be to hire superstars past their prime (eg. Wallace and the O'Neal brothers), to form a team capable of making a run at the championship which is understandable, though it is only a short-term solution.
The Boston Celtics are a much-storied franchise and should have no trouble luring stars to play, but the team needs to begin thinking about the future in order to prevent a Detroit style fall from grace and long rebuilding period.