Kevin Garnett and the "Big 3" aren't getting any younger, and so this season maybe their last chance at banner number 18.
The night of Game 5 of the 2011 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals was one in which few Boston Celtics fans could sleep easy on. LeBron James, who wasn't supposed to have a fourth quarter, scored the game's final 10 points for the Miami Heat in a 16-0 run to end the game, knocking Boston out of the playoffs, something he had never done before.
For Celtic nation, it was a humiliating loss that led to thoughts of the team being too old and needing to rebuild. Doc Rivers assured the team he would be back to coach the following season, meaning he believes this group still has a shot.
The past year has been a roller coaster for the 2008 NBA champions, as Kendrick Perkins was traded in February, and the rumors of Chris Paul and other big names floating around have left players like Rajon Rondo unsure of their future. General manager Danny Ainge assured Rondo he was not going to get traded, but after Perkins' fallout, nothing is guaranteed.
Now practically out of the Dwight Howard and Paul sweepstakes, Boston must go into this 66-game season with a similar group as last season, with age really creeping up on them. The Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are all at least 34 years in age, and injuries remain a concern.
Rivers is optimistic his group will remain in elite company in the East with a chance of capturing banner No. 18. Personally, I wouldn't be too optimistic.
Danny Ainge will explore trade options, but most likely, this unit of Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen will still be there at season's end. There is likely to be a lot of movement outside of this group, but I can't see this core changing after the effect of last February's trade of Perkins.
This team is still good enough to compete, so unless there are major setbacks, I don't see any of them getting traded. If Boston starts losing a lot, look for Ainge to use Garnett's and Allen's expiring contracts as bait for first-round picks in next year's drafts.
With age being the obvious factor, Boston just isn't suited as well for this 66-game season as the younger and more energetic teams of the East. The Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks all improved this offseason, while Boston practically remained the same.
In the 1998-99 lockout-shortened season, the oldest teams surprisingly played the best, including the eventual-champion San Antonio Spurs. That Spurs team did have two defensive giants in the middle in David Robinson and Tim Duncan, however, as Boston still lacks a true center. With an inability to get down the court quick nor pound it down low, I can't see Garnett and company go over .500 against these playoff teams.
It's been a good 17 years since the New York Knicks last won their division, and the Celtics have dominated the Atlantic side of the NBA for the last four years.
With the addition of Tyson Chandler, New York has the defense it needs to get by Boston, and unless Dwight Howard makes the move to Brooklyn, Madison Square Garden could see home-court advantage in the first round. With Chandler holding down the middle, Carmelo Anthony and company will look to run out the old legs of the Boston.
For too long, Rajon Rondo has been seen as the product of a system, and his performance would decrease substantially on any other team.
This year, I see Doc Rivers allowing Rondo to have more freedom on the offense. It's become clear that as Rondo goes, so do the Celtics. I see him averaging at least 15 points, 11 assists, 2.5 steals and seven rebounds a game this year.
He'll be crucial to any success Boston has this season, and I wouldn't be surprised if his name is brought up in MVP considerations.
Every head coach's dream is to get a chance to coach his son at some point in their career, and you can't help but think Doc Rivers wouldn't love to have his son, Austin, a projected lottery pick in next June's draft, on his roster.
I have no doubt in my mind the Celtics will make the playoffs this season, but beyond that is anyone's guess. Without any major moves, I can't see them getting by either the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat in the playoffs, so the team could be in for a long offseason. The expiring contracts of Garnett and Allen along with Rajon Rondo can play a valuable role in moving up to a top 10 spot in the draft.
With Austin Rivers on the roster, Boston could save a year or two in the lottery and build around him. Though Doc has constantly asserted his love for Rondo as his point guard, I'm sure he wouldn't mind having his superstar son as a replacement.