Boston Celtics: Can They Still Be Competitive with Their Aging Core?

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Boston Celtics: Can They Still Be Competitive with Their Aging Core?
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 15: (L-R) Paul Pierce #34, Ray Allen #20 and Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics look on in the second half while taking on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Six of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 15, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

After yet another postseason in which the Boston Celtics came up short in their quest for an 18th NBA Championship, fans and media members alike have once again been left to wonder the aging Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen can continue to effectively lead the Celtics through the powerful Eastern Conference in the face of declining performance and the greater potential for injuries.

Largely unchallenged for supremacy in the East prior to the 2010-11 season (save for the brief success of the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic), the Celtics are being forced to contend with younger, healthier teams with their own superstars that pose a great physical and mental challenge for the Celtics' aging core. These teams include the rejuvenated Chicago Bulls, led by reigning MVP Derrick Rose, and the Miami Heat, led by a Big Three of their own in the form LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

As a many a Celtics fan knows, it was Miami who defeated the Celtics in the conference semifinals last May, four games to none.

Certainly the Celtics can continue to match Chicago and Miami's mental focus and emotional intensity—Pierce, Garnett and Allen are some of the hardest-working men in basketball in focus and on-court intensity. However, these men are all well past their prime and are likely very close to retirement, which may come sooner rather than later if the NBA lockout wipes out most or all of the 2011-12 season.

BOSTON - JUNE 10: (L-R) Ray Allen #20, Paul Pierce #34 and Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celltics react against the Los Angeles Lakers during Game Four of the 2010 NBA Finals on June 10, 2010 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
With all of this doom and gloom hanging over Boston, the question remains: Can the Celtics remain competitive with the Big Three, or do they need to move on and try to rebuild?

Certainly rebuilding would be easier now than it was a decade or two ago. A variety of factors purportedly negatively affected the Celtics' ability to attract blue chip free agents, with theories ranging from the dilapidated state of the old Boston Garden to Boston's history of being hostile to minority athletes.

Regardless of the the varying truth values of these ideas, the recent success the Celtics have realized and the far more tolerant attitude of the population has made Boston appear at least a little more attractive to upper-echelon NBA talent. This will prove critical in the coming seasons once the Big Three actually retire, as Danny Ainge and the Celtics front office will have an easier time bringing in players to build upon previous success.

However, rebuilding may not be necessary just yet. If the the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association somehow manage to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement that would save a majority of the upcoming season, the Big Three might be able to squeeze out one more competitive season if they can get some decent help and stay healthy.

Emphasis on "might."

Can the Celtics remain competitive with the Big Three?

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Hopefully, the Celtics can develop Jeff Green and mold him into a small forward in the vain of Paul Pierce, giving the team another weapon off the bench (or, if Ainge's speculation comes to fruition, a new starter in the place of Pierce). They will also look to re-sign Delonte West, who showcased his combo guard abilities during the 2011 playoffs. Finally, the Celtics' new additions in the form of JaJuan Johnson E'Twaun Moore will add another body in the paint to step up the defense (Johnson) and another shooting guard that may eventually pay dividends in the form of a scoring boost (Moore).

In the coming years, the Boston Celtics will seriously have to consider their personnel options and the best way forward even as age and injuries begin to pile up for their superstars. Likely, the Celtics will begin considering new talent to be brought in to either supplement or gradually supplant the Big Three, but for now, I believe the Big Three will be entering into its final year with the real possibility of contending for another NBA Championship—assuming we have a season.

I realize we have been saying that their window of opportunity has been either closed or is closing for some time now, but I believe that is the "for real" last possible year. The Big Three, save for maybe Ray Allen, are already on their way down in terms of performance, and they don't have more than one or two seasons left.

The Celtics will certainly have to make the most of what they have with what little time they have left.

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