The Boston Celtics fell short of the expectations of both the fans and the organization last season. From the start of the year, a repeat trip to the NBA Finals was the only acceptable goal for the veteran team.
An opening-round sweep of the talented, albeit injury-riddled, New York Knicks proved uneventful after the Miami Heat defeated the Celtics with relative ease, en route to their eventual Eastern Conference championship.
The Celtics enter the 2011-12 NBA season on unclear footing. Not only does a possible lockout over labor disagreements throw the entire season into doubt, but the Celtics also are no longer the perennial favorites of the Eastern Conference.
The C's have faced plenty of adversity during the Big Three era, but the upcoming season will be their largest test yet.
Dan is a Boston Celtics featured columnist. Follow him on twitter @dantheman_06.
Age is a legitimate concern for the Boston Celtics next year.
To start the season, Paul Pierce will be 34. Kevin Garnett, who will be entering his 17th pro season, will be 35. Ray Allen, who finished 13th in the league in minutes last season (2,890), will be 36.
The Celtics' core group is among the oldest in the league. There is no denying that.
However, the Celtics are fortunate. Age has not sapped productivity or health from any of the Big Three.
Pierce, Garnett and Allen combined for 231 games last season, an average of 77 games per player. Garnett was the only one of the three to miss time due to injury (a mild calf strain).
Allen (16.4 PER), Pierce (19.8 PER) and Garnett (20.7 PER) all put in productive, health-filled seasons. All three were deservedly chosen for the 2011 Eastern Conference All-Star team.
Most importantly, the championship-caliber defense was still there: the Celtics allowed 97.8 points per 100 possessions, second only to the Chicago Bulls (97.4).
The issue at hand is one of pace. The Big Three can obviously still play, but they might not be able to maintain the requisite level of production needed for a deep playoff run if Allen, Pierce and Garnett are again asked to average 36.1, 34.7 and 31.3 minutes per game, respectively.
In order to get the same quality play out of the Big Three, the Celtics will need to find ways to decrease their minutes.
The Boston Celtics aren't unique in the sense that the results of the pending lockout and new collective bargaining agreement could have a number of varying effects on the team and the 2011-12 season.
A hard salary cap would be bad for the Celtics—one of the more financially committed teams in the league—as it would limit their potential to sign impact free agents. A soft, flexible salary cap—similar to what is in place now––would be beneficial to the Celtics, as it would allow the team more of an opportunity to add pieces for the short term.
A shortened season could aid the older Celtics, limiting the wear and tear that a normal 82-game season would take. But it could also prove detrimental if the Celtics cannot fully introduce free-agent acquisitions to their complex offensive and defensive system.
A lockout would throw a curveball into any plans that the Celtics have. Also, no one knows how long a lockout might last, what a new CBA would look like once agreed upon or how it will ultimately impact the team.
It's hard to place Jeff Green's performance as a Celtic last year. At times he showed flashes of the great talent he possesses. At other times, fans were left wondering why Jeff Green wasn't more involved in the action around him.
Green wasn't a disaster by any means, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a fan totally satisfied with his performance last season.
To be fair, Green had to transition from Oklahoma City to Boston—teams with systems on opposing ends of the spectrum—in the middle of the season. There was no learning period, the Celtics don't practice much and they couldn't afford to give Green much time to work out the kinks in game.
But, even Green admitted that he should have been more aggressive last season.
Danny Ainge hinted earlier this offseason that Jeff Green would start in favor of Paul Pierce this year. I think this could likely end up happening; not because Pierce isn't an effective player anymore, but because Green operated best when he was on the floor with the starters.
If Green is able to step up and become the player that the Celtics need him to be, a number of important things will happen.
Ideally, they'll have another player—in addition to Pierce—who can create his own offense. They'll have a great deal of roster flexibility, as Green can play both the 4 and the 3. Also, Green is an athletic player on a team desperately in need of some athleticism.
There are some very appealing names on the free-agent market. Guys like Tyson Chandler and Nene would appear to be great fits for the Celtics. So, all the C's have to do is go out and get one of them, right?
I wish it were that simple.
Even if the new CBA establishes a soft cap, the Celtics probably won't have enough in the financial reservoir to go out and sign an impact player like Chandler or Nene.
While I won't rule out anything with Danny Ainge at the helm, the Celtics might be limited to players in the range of Carl Landry, Chuck Hayes, Samuel Dalembert and Greg Oden.
It's not likely that the Celtics will add a clear star to join the Big Three next season. The C's will most likely get a handful of role players that they hope will band together into a championship unit.
Doc Rivers stressed the need to add some pieces during his final press conference of the year. His sentiment shouldn't be taken lightly.
The Boston Celtics only have one true center on the roster, Jermaine O'Neal.
While J.O. surprised everyone by coming back from injury late in the season and playing productively, forgive me if I'm not entirely content with the idea of O'Neal being the focal point of the Celtics interior.
The C's could draft a center, or they could acquire one via free agency/trade. There's no real easy choice for who the Celtics will add in the middle, although they need depth in that area.
There are two reasons that this would happen:
1. In an attempt to reduce the minutes of either Pierce/Allen, ideally keeping them fresh for the fourth quarter and the playoff stretch.
2. To allow Jeff Green or any other acquired player to play with the starting unit, ideally making it easier for that player to find a rhythm and specific role.
Whether or not this actually will happen remains to be seen, but it is an important issue nonetheless.
Three areas where the Celtics struggled last season were offensive efficiency, offensive rebounding and taking care of the ball.
The Celtics were just 17th in the league in terms of points per 100 possessions (104). The Celtics didn't have a player who could consistently create his own offense other than Paul Pierce, which highlights the importance of adding athleticism and getting productivity out of Jeff Green.
The Celtics have always focused on transition defense in favor of offensive rebounding, and the Celtics have traditionally been a poor offensive rebounding team.
While they don't need to become a great offensive rebounding team to win, they could stand to improve. Their offensive rebound rate (21.12 percent) was far and away the worst rate in the league, a historically low rate for a playoff contender.
Consistency in rebounding the ball would help the Celtics become more of a balanced team.
The Celtics also had the third-highest turnover rate (14.49 percent) of any team in the league, and they were one of the worst playoff teams in taking care of the ball.
As noted before, the Celtics don't get many extra possessions through offensive rebounding, so it's important that they don't waste the opportunities they have. Turning the ball over puts way too much stress on the defense to get stops.
I'm not entirely sure why the Celtics turn the ball over as frequently as they do. They have some of the better passing individuals in the game. I think part of it has to do with their pass-first mindset; sometimes the team is too unselfish, making unnecessary extras passes.
At any rate, the Celtics need to cut down on their turnovers, which will take a large mental adjustment.
Injuries have become synonymous with the Boston Celtics. First, KG went down with a knee injury in 2008-09. It took him nearly a year and a half to return to form.
And while the Big Three stayed relatively healthy last season, everyone around them didn't.
Rajon Rondo missed time with a sprained ankle, playing in 68 regular-season games. In the playoffs, he suffered his now-famous dislocated elbow
Delonte West was limited to just 24 regular-season games with a broken wrist and a sprained ankle. Jermaine O'Neal was limited to just 24 regular-season games with leg and knee injuries. Shaquille O'Neal played well for the first half of the season, but was ultimately limited to just 37 regular-season games and an ineffective playoff stretch.
Not to mention the serious spinal cord injury to Marquis Daniels, a left knee sprain to Kendrick Perkins and the knee problems of Nate Robinson. These injuries were some of the biggest factors in pulling off the "Perkins for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic" deal.
And, while I'm at it, I might as well mention the shoulder injury to Semih Erden (which required offseason surgery), and the on-again, off-again calf injury of Von Wafer.
By the end of the season the Celtics were a walking hospital clinic. There is really no other way to explain all the injury woes other than just awful, awful luck.
It seems improbable that the C's can offer a repeat performance when it comes to missing time due to injury...but you never know.
Rajon Rondo had one of the best first halves of any player in the league, averaging 10.9 points, 12.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.4 steals, all while shooting 50.2 percent from the field. Rondo was dictating the pace of the game, night in and night out, and it seemed like he could explode for a triple-double at any time.
After the All-Star break, Rondo's production and effectiveness fell nearly across the board. It wasn't entirely his fault—the team around him wasn't playing well, either—but Rondo needs to play better and on a more even keel if the Celtics want to win.
Rondo is one of the brightest and most gifted players in the game of basketball, but we still haven't seen Rondo reach his full potential.
In the words of John Hollinger, "If he ever shoots straight he'll be a superstar." Rondo is one of the biggest X-factors for the Celtics; if he makes the type of jump to elite status that we saw Derrick Rose make last year, the dynamic of team and even the league could change.
It's likely that Jeff Green, a restricted free agent, will be back with the team next season.
The two biggest free agents are Glen Davis and Delonte West.
West missed a large amount of time due to injury, but he still might be in the mix for a multi-year extension. The biggest issue concerning West when he came to Boston last season was his off-the-court activity and all the negative baggage surrounding it.
For the most part, West was a model citizen last year. While he didn't offer much during the regular season, he was phenomenal during the Miami playoff series. One could argue that he even outplayed starter Rajon Rondo.
West offers the team a unique combo-guard player who can defend, pass, shoot the ball well and create his own offense. He can be utilized as both a backup to or in tandem with Rajon Rondo.
There is a bigger question of whether or not Glen Davis will return. After putting in some productive years for the Boston Celtics, his time in green may have run its course.
Baby had a forgetful second half and a dreadful playoffs, which Doc Rivers attributed to a mental strain from his pending free agency.
Davis insinuated that he wanted out of Boston when he recently said: "I feel I have a lot more to my game than people see...I want the responsibility of being more of an impact guy."
If it was up to both sides, Glen Davis probably wouldn't be back in a Celtics uniform next season. But, a lengthy lockout—when teams will be unable to sign or negotiate with free agents—could change a few things.
If games are missed and the Celtics are unable to quickly sign and integrate new players, Davis' stock could rise as a player who knows the system very well and has produced in it.
Also, the uncertainty of the salary cap and the new CBA could cause teams to shy away from signing Davis and other players to lucrative deals. He might not find what he's looking for on the free-agent market.