As the 2010-11 NBA season nears its end, we may be witnessing the last chance for the Boston Celtics and their Big Four to win an NBA championship.
But how did it come to this?
Well, it all started prior to the 2007-08 NBA season, when the Boston Celtics were able to acquire perennial All-Stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, to play alongside Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.
This grouping experienced immediate success, and the result was the Celtics winning the 2008 NBA Finals.
Ever since then, Boston has been a fixture atop the Eastern Conference, winning 62 games in 2008-09 and making another appearance in the NBA Finals in 2009-10.
And currently, with a record of 50-20, Boston is in second place in the East—only one game back from the East-leading Chicago Bulls.
However, after dropping five of their last nine games, things haven't been looking that great for the Celtics of late.
Moreover, their future prospects look even worse.
So here are the 10 reasons why time is running out on the Big Four of the Boston Celtics.
The most obvious reason why time is running out on the Boston Celtics is because the team's stars are getting to be very old by NBA standards.
For the 2010-11 season, the average age among NBA players is 26.8 years.
Currently, Ray Allen is 35 years old, Kevin Garnett is 34 and Paul Pierce is 33.
And while these players can still perform at a high level—they were all named All-Stars this season—it's clear that their skills are starting to decline.
This is most evident in the case of Garnett, a former MVP, who is now putting up significantly fewer points, rebounds, assists, blocks and minutes played than he has averaged throughout much of his career.
And while Allen and Pierce are also putting up lower numbers than they have in the past, because of Allen's fluid jump shot and Pierce's crafty offensive repertoire, they have been able to maintain their productivity better than KG.
But one is still forced to question how much longer they can sustain this.
So as the season goes on, wearing more and more on their aged bodies, expect Garnett's, Allen's and Pierce's levels of production to gradually drop off to some extent.
And as we enter the next season, look for this trend to continue.
But declining production isn't all that aging will cause, as the Celtics will most likely have to deal with...
Since the team was put together, injuries have been a problem for the Boston Celtics.
The most notable such instance was Kevin Garnett's knee injury during the 2008-09 season, when KG was forced to miss a big chunk of the season and all of the playoffs.
The result was the Celtics barely escaping with a first-round victory, only to be sent home by the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Consequently, it's clear that without Garnett, Boston is a significantly inferior team.
However, his injury problems weren't limited to '08-'09, as the next year he missed 13 games, and so far this season, he has sat out nine.
And the potential for another injury remains a formidable risk for the super-physical Garnett.
But he's not the only player who the C's have to worry about.
Paul Pierce has become renowned for his frequent injuries—mostly fake, but sometimes very real.
But fake injuries aside, Pierce has dealt with some serious health issues, even missing 11 games last year.
And seeing as though he is the team's go-to scorer, a Pierce-less Celtics squad would be in serious trouble.
Nevertheless, he has played in every game so far this season.
Actually one of the most injury-riddled Celtics this year has actually been star point guard Rajon Rondo, who was forced to sit out 11 games and deal with an ankle sprain.
And if he—or Pierce or Garnett for that matter—were to sustain another substantial injury, the team would more than likely drop out of contention right away.
Before Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were acquired, Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers was on the verge of losing his job—due largely to an underperforming roster of subpar players.
However, ever since the Big Four were brought together, Rivers has done a fantastic job managing his talent.
But the 2010-11 campaign may be his last, as his coaching contract is set to expire after the season.
And seeing as though Rivers almost didn't even return for this season, citing a desire to spend more time with his family, it seems like the C's may be hard-pressed in trying to convince him to come back again.
Moreover, concerns about a potential lockout and Boston's declining talent could factor into his decision, ultimately influencing Rivers to call it quits.
And a brand new head coach attempting to replace a highly effective successor and lead a team of aging, established veterans likely won't work out well.
Consequently, as Rivers fades out of the picture, then so too will the Big Four's championship hopes.
Following the 2010-11 NBA season, Doc Rivers isn't the only individual whose contract is set to expire.
In fact, a few other important Boston Celtics will become free agents.
Perhaps the most significant among these players is Glen Davis, the team's first big off of the bench.
Davis has been crucial to the success of Boston throughout the season, filling in for all of the injured frontcourt players (i.e. Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal, Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins when he was with the team), and having the best year of his young career.
Nevertheless, because of his big season, re-signing him will cost much more than the $2.5 million that he is earning this season.
However, that could be problematic, as under a new collective bargaining agreement, the salary cap will certainly shrink from its current $58 million total.
And with the Celtics owing the combination of Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo and Jermaine O'Neal about $64.3 million next year, the team might not want to take on another big investment.
Furthermore, Jeff Green will be a restricted free agent after the season with a qualifying offer of $5.9 million, and it would be difficult for them to allow him to walk, since that would basically mean that they traded Kendrick Perkins for nothing.
And along the same lines, center Nenad Krstic, also acquired from the Oklahoma City Thunder, will become a free agent.
So therefore, after the season the Celtics will be left with a big quandary regarding the future of their frontcourt.
Do they invest a substantial amount of money to re-sign some combination of Davis, Green and Krstic, at the risk of still not winning and ruining the team's financial flexibility after Pierce, Allen and Garnett are gone?
Or rather, will they let some players walk, and try to move on with a depleted frontcourt?
Overall, it seems like a lose-lose situation for the Boston Celtics.
At only 25 years of age, Rajon Rondo is by far the youngest member of the Boston Celtics Big Four.
However, given Rondo's style of play, that may not be the best thing for the Celtics.
So far in his career, he has yet to prove that he can be a reliable scorer, as evidenced by his average scoring output of 10.2 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting, 27.0 percent from three and 54.2 percent from the line.
And if he's not scoring, then who will, since Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will inevitably fade away with age?
At that point, Boston will likely have trouble winning, for it won't matter how many times Rondo is able to set up his non-Big-Three teammates, for the C's won't win unless they can convert their shots.
Ever since the Boston Celtics brought together their Big Four, Kendrick Perkins served as the team's enforcer and as a defensive leader.
However, in a shocking move, the Celtics sent Perkins, along with Nate Robinson, to the Oklahoma City Thunder just before the trade deadline.
In return, Boston received Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and a top-10-protected 2012 first-round draft pick.
However, thus far Green has not really found a consistent role with the team and Krstic is an obvious step down from Perkins.
Moreover, many of the Celtics players were taken aback by the deal and greatly disappointed that Perkins would have to go.
And without their starting center, enforcer, key defender and valued teammate, the Celtics are not the same tough, close-knit, defensive-minded team—a fact that significantly hinders their title chances from here on out.
But more than just changing the team's identity, the loss of Perkins will also diminishes the strength of the team's...
After losing the 2010 NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston's biggest excuse was that it was hindered by center Kendrick Perkins' absence due to injury.
Well now, the team no longer has Perkins, and its frontcourt—outside of Kevin Garnett—is shabby at best.
And even Garnett, as a scrawny 34-year-old, now runs into trouble when guarding bigger opponents.
However, it gets much worse from there.
Shaquille O'Neal is constantly battling injuries—currently sitting out with an Achilles problem—and at 39 years of age, he has very little left in the tank.
Jermaine O'Neal, on the other hand, is only 32 years old. But now in his 15th season, he has become increasingly injury-prone too, and he's currently on the mend from a knee surgery.
Recently signed Troy Murphy is another big who, as a 10-year veteran, is in the decline of his career.
Nevertheless, the Celtics do now have Nenad Krstic who, while a decent center, certainly won't be striking fear into the eyes of opponents anytime soon (unless he starts throwing chairs again).
And Glen Davis is solid as well, although he is undersized at his generously listed height of 6'9".
So with this motley crew of bigs populating its frontcourt, Boston could certainly run into trouble when facing the likes of Dwight Howard, the Chicago Bulls tandem of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah or, inevitably, the Los Angeles Lakers' imposing trio of Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
While the title prospects of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat may not look too promising this year, the players are locked in for another five seasons.
Therefore the 26, 29 and 27-year-olds will have plenty of time to improve and make a run at the title.
And that type of time is exactly what the Boston Celtics don't have.
But it goes deeper than just the Heat, as the Eastern Conference now has a number of teams loaded with young talent.
The East-leading Chicago Bulls are captained by MVP-front-runner Derrick Rose (22), along with Joakim Noah (26) and Carlos Boozer (29).
Additionally, as long as the Orlando Magic have Dwight Howard (25), they will be in contention.
And even the New York Knicks—despite their dreadful showing lately—should be able to improve by next season around their duo of Amar'e Stoudemire (28) and Carmelo Anthony (26).
So with all of these star-studded young teams on the rise, the aging Boston Celtics should have lots of competition going forward, making their a future title run that much tougher.