Boston Celtics Title Window Closes After 2011-12 Season, Must Make Final Push

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Boston Celtics Title Window Closes After 2011-12 Season, Must Make Final Push
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Is this the final season of Boston's Big Three?

The window for the Boston Celtics to win another NBA championship with the current core of players is rapidly closing.

Currently, the roster has just three players signed beyond the 2011-12 season: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley.

With Kevin Garnett in the last year of his deal and Ray Allen also operating on a one-year contract, it's very possible that the Boston team will look awfully different in the very near future.

But it's no longer just a race against age for this squad. With the Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls having finished ahead of them in the standings last season, the Celtics have their work cut out for them if they intend to return to the championship round before the original "Big Three" is disbanded.

There is certainly a scenario where the Celtics could re-sign both veteran players after their current deals expire with the team, but general manager Danny Ainge has to be careful not to sacrifice the 2012 cap flexibility that he has been angling toward for a while now.

After trading for Jeff Green at the deadline, Ainge has said that he's prepared to retain the restricted free agent as a key piece moving forward. Considering that his most productive minutes will come at spots currently occupied by Allen and Pierce, the club is going to have some difficult decisions to make in the not so distant future.

The issue with the Celtics goes beyond their age and competition. Boston has no serviceable size currently on the club, and as they showed in the postseason, a championship roster can't be built through adding buy-out candidates midseason and hoping that they contribute.

When Ainge dealt Perkins, he was making a commitment to Nenad Krstic, an unhealthy Shaquille O'Neal and an unbelievably brittle Jermaine O'Neal as integral parts of the puzzle for the season.

That was a fairly large leap of faith to take, and it wound up biting the team right in the butt as a result.

Moving forward, Ainge should be focused on building depth around his aging core of superstars, so that after the days of the big three come to a close, Pierce and Rondo still have some capable players alongside them as the Celtics look to re-stock.

Without sacrificing the present, it is imperative that the Celtics begin to look toward the future if they hope to enjoy continued success and avoid a period of non-relevance like the one that the club endured in the years leading up to their 2008 title run.

There's no doubt that a new salary structure will be implemented when the owners and players can finally agree on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and that will certainly challenge Ainge to keep his talent in tact.

It's not impossible for the club to remain relevant moving forward, but it's going to be a lot harder than anticipated just a few years back.

Especially if other teams around the league continue to improve, and parity begins to grow.

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