Given that Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and the Miami Heat have already made a run to the 2011 NBA Finals by going through Boston and Chicago, arguing that the Bulls will be a tougher task for the Celtics in 2012 seems like a losing battle.
Still, the challenges that the Celtics will face going forward are well worth the discussion.
While Celtics fans have already begun hoping that Dwight Howard is in the organization's future, Boston's Big Three still plan to make some noise in what could be their last season together (as I knock on wood that Danny Ainge doesn't use Ray Allen for trade bait).
A group that defied age since they joined up (making several “analysts” look quite foolish in the process) has finally encountered a few unwelcome visits from Father Time.
While Kevin Garnett clearly lost a step this year, his lack of speed was no more apparent than during Boston's series with Miami.
Garnett could be seen struggling to refuel his tank during each stint on the bench. His expression was blank and befuddled, as though he couldn't face the fact that his body could no longer match his intensity.
Paul Pierce, despite putting together a career highlight film, titled: “Poetry in Perceptively Slow-Motion,” has lost his ability to consistently score at will. The player that went toe-to-toe with LeBron James to the tune of 41 points in the 2008 playoffs is now gone.
There is one key element to this that is important above all else.
Similarly to the Lakers and Spurs, the Celtics demonstrated that they were too slow to compete with the young, upcoming, more athletic teams. Consequently, the Celtics will need to spend the offseason figuring out how they can get faster.
The Celtics will look to that draft, along with trades/acquisitions, to improve one of the league's most aged teams.
An influx of talented youth is more daunting than it would be for the average NBA team, considering that, according to HoopsWorld, the Celtics currently have only $7.7 million of available cap space.
Of course, the current numbers fall within the current CBA, which will surely change if the NBA and its players are able to manufacture a way to get back in the green (and agree upon it).
Guarding Derrick Rose will always be a grave task, but the Celtics were clearly puzzled by the speed of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James throughout the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Celtics don't have the ability to close the gaps that they once had, and that has led to speculation about one of the Big Three coming off the bench next season.
According to the Boston Globe, Danny Ainge has inferred that Pierce may end up coming off the bench next season.
“Maybe there's a change of roles,” said Ainge. “Maybe Paul comes off the bench, cuts down on his minutes.”
Despite his unquestionable commitment to the team game, I have trouble seeing Pierce anywhere other than that starting lineup. Off the bench, behind Jeff Green? I don't think so.
As we discussed earlier, something needs to change for Garnett to have more energy late in games. At the same time, a decline in minutes would mean more pressure on what should be a bunch of new faces on Boston's bench.
The Heat, once again, will be the team to beat in the East heading into next season.
Having said that, the Bulls are a top-15 shooting guard (offensively and defensively) away from having the firepower that they lacked in the Conference Finals.
The Celtics' ability to compete with either of the East's top two teams will depend largely on whether they can mold together a complete supporting cast.
The Celtics have a problem on the interior, with Jermaine O'Neal currently the Celtics' lone center under contract (with Shaq retired, Krstic gone to Russia, and Glen Davis a free agent). The bench requires significant tampering (hopefully not mid-season), and the injury-due-to-age concern isn't going anywhere.
Oh, and whether the Celtics will have the opportunity to uncover the solutions to these problems remains very much in jeopardy.
Given that the thought of such a thing is too overwhelming for me to handle, I will continue to produce content under the assumption that there will not be a year of empty space in the history of this fantastic league.
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