Well, after 149 long days, the NBA lockout finally appears to be coming to an end, with the owners and players reaching a tentative agreement in New York this past weekend.
If all goes as planned and the agreement is agreed to by all parties in the coming week or so, training camp and free agency will begin on December 9 and a 66-game regular season will begin on December 25, with the Boston Celtics playing on Christmas Day against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
With a new season of basketball comes a whole host of new issues, especially for the aging Boston Celtics. The Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will all return for what could very well be the once-and-for-all final chance for this current group of players to bring the 18th Championship banner to TD Garden.
They'll have a supporting cast yet to be fully completed, but we won't know much more until free agency begins on December 9.
Even with such little to go on, we're already getting a better idea of the hurdles facing the Celtics this season. We'll run down their biggest issues heading into their 2011-12 campaign here.
The Celtics currently have six players signed to the roster: the Big Three of Pierce, Garnett and Allen, starting point guard Rajon Rondo, injury-prone center Jermaine O'Neal and back-up point guard/D-League wallower Avery Bradley.
Certainly, this is nowhere near enough to complete their roster—the first issue that Danny Ainge and the Celtics' front office needs to address once the CBA is all signed and ready to go.
Boston may first look to re-sign their own free agents to help bring some depth to an aging roster; this is probably the easiest route considering the talent they can bring back. Jeff Green, who came to Boston last February in the wake of the Kendrick Perkins trade, is the most obvious re-signing the Celtics should pursue; he's currently heir apparent to the starting forward once Paul Pierce retires. He's demonstrated a great ability to score once he gets going, and if he can bulk up just a little bit, he can no doubt play the tough defense the Celtics are known for.
Delonte West would be the next best option for a re-signing. West can play a combination of point guard and shooting guard, and can not only run the floor for short periods of time while Rondo gets some rest, he can shoot fairly well from three-point land as well. He can very easily play back-up for Ray Allen, although he probably needs to learn some discipline in terms of his shot-selection.
Finally, we come to Glen "Big Baby" Davis, the final major free agent that the Celtics have a realistic chance of re-signing. Over the course of his time in Boston, Glen Davis has played some tough defense in the paint and given opponents legitimate problems, while maintaining an ability to score a critical handful of points despite his lack of finesse. However, he's seen by many to be inconsistent and in possession of some serious maturity issues, as he seemed to disappear during critical stretches of the 2011 Playoffs.
The front office will have to make some tough decisions come free agency time. Certainly these decisions will have a big impact going forward for the Celtics, especially down the stretch in the Playoffs.
The Celtics will likely need to dip into the open free market or make a few trades in order to complete their roster before the 2011-12 season kicks off.
This year is perceived to be a bit of a "down year" for free agents and trades, as the summer of 2010 featured the blockbuster deal that brought LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh together in Miami, while the summer of 2012 will be dominated by the free agencies of two All-Stars, center Dwight Howard and point guard Chris Paul.
In the meantime, the Celtics will need to consider all of their options in the short term, but still keep a keen eye on long-term stability and success.
Admittedly, I haven't done much research on potential moves that the Celtics could make, but a lot of names have been circulated about the Internet. The Boston Globe has a great list of potential targets for the Celtics that you can peruse here: http://www.boston.com/sports/basketball/celtics/gallery/celtics_freeagent_targets_2011/
A. Sherrod Blakely of Comcast Sportsnet is always a great source for opinion and commentary when it comes to free agents and Celtics news as well; I'd give his Twitter a look too: https://twitter.com/#!/SherrodbCSN.
There's no doubt that the Big Three provide much of the emotional leadership for the Boston Celtics, and as long as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are wearing Celtic Green, locker room issues will be kept to a minimum, no matter what trades are made around them.
However, for all the leadership the Big Three provide, they can no longer carry the team the way that they did in 2008. They're all getting older now, which means their collective production is bound to decline. As we have seen, Kevin Garnett has been most susceptible to this, as both his scoring and rebounding have slid in recent years.
The Celtics will need to ensure that there is a balance of youth and talent along with the experience of the elder statesmen of Boston. For now, youth comes in the form of Jeff Green, Delonte West, Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo, but even this mix of talent may not be enough. The Celtics will probably try to move toward longer-term options for success at this point, while still trying to maximize production from the Big Three.
It's not an easy task, but it needs to be done if the Celtics want to see more banners raised to the Garden's rafters after the Big Three have retired.
No matter what you thought about the Kendrick Perkins trade, there's no doubt that the Celtics lost a huge chunk of their interior defense when Perk was shipped out to Oklahoma City. Boston was forced to rely on aging KG, an injury-prone Jermaine O'Neal and a well-past-his-prime, should've-retired-already Shaquille O'Neal to carry the load at both ends of the court.
This gave the Celtics major headaches in the Playoffs, especially against the Miami Heat, who eventually prevailed over the Celtics in five games, due at least in part to Boston's inability to prevent the Heat from penetrating in the paint and creating scoring opportunities.
Once free agency kicks off, the Celtics' first moves may be to secure additional big men to help shore up their interior defense and provide a scoring and rebounding boost down low. With such an old team, the Celtics should try to get at least somewhat younger bodies while still maintaining veteran leadership. Draft pick JaJuan Johnson will also provide additional support in the paint, provided he's bulked up during the offseason.
Over the past five seasons, Boston fans have watched Rajon Rondo emerge as one of the premier point guards in the NBA; his passing and distributing ability have helped propel the Celtics to four consecutive Playoff appearances, two Eastern Conference Championships and the 2008 NBA Championship.
That being said, however, Rondo's skills only go so far. Sure, he's a great passer, and can easily average 10 or more assists per game, but he still hasn't established a consistent jump shot (or really any shot outside of driving the lane and laying it up), and he can't hit free throws to save his life.
Heading into a season in which the team's perennial statistical leaders are heading towards a dangerous drop in production, Rondo needs to find a way to score more than 10 points per game. Even with the potential development of Jeff Green, Delonte West and JaJuan Johnson, another five or so points per game from Rondo could really go a long way toward propelling the Celtics to another Championship.
If Rondo can't find a way to improve his scoring, he may very well be shown the door and have a taxi to Logan Airport waiting for him. Danny Ainge isn't afraid to broker unpopular deals; he traded much of the Celtics' bench for Kevin Garnett in 2007 and shipped off the popular Antoine Walker prior to that. Could the front office make one more blockbuster move?
Sam Amick of SI.com is reporting that the Celtics may be looking to deal Rajon Rondo to New Orleans in exchange for fellow superstar point guard Chris Paul. Although details remain sketchy, it seems that Boston and New Orleans want to orchestrate a three-team trade that would essentially have Rondo and CP3 swap places.
Regardless of what actually comes of this rumored trade, it would be a plus for the Celtics. They get nearly all of the passing ability of Rajon Rondo with the scoring ability of Chris Paul. Whether it happens or not, it's an exciting possibility, and may give the Celtics the opportunity to build a new lasting dynasty to compete with the Heat, the Knicks and as always, the Lakers.