On March 9th, I wrote a piece for Bleacher Report expressing my opinion that many Boston Celtics fans were in denial about the team's biggest obstacle in 2011: The age and court mileage of the Big Three.
Well, after the Celtics' loss this week in the second round of the playoffs (1-4) to the Miami Heat. I think my viewpoint was backed up by how events unfolded.
I don't see how anyone can deny that the age of the Celtics' trio of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen was a large factor during their entire series vs. the Miami Heat. The Heat outran the Celtics. The Heat outrebounded the Celtics, particularly on the offensive glass. The Heat drove to the basket so much more than the Celtics that it was embarrassing. The Heat were faster and far more athletic. The Heat had more in the tank at the end of games, outscoring and outplaying the tired, worn-down Celtics. (In Game 5, the Heat went on a 16-0 run to end the game). They were younger.
Yes, the Celtics had some other obstacles to overcome, primarily Rajon Rondo's elbow injury, which significantly limited his game. Shaquille O'Neal was a non-factor, playing for only one brief stint in one game.
And the Celtics were without their old center Kendrick Perkins, lost in the controversial trade made by GM Danny Ainge back in February. But you know what? I'm sick of hearing about all these "other reasons" and excuses about the Celtics' decline.
The bottom line is: The Celtics are not as good because Pierce, Garnett and Allen are past their primes. Period.
What amazes me now is that since the Celts got eliminated, the denial about the status of the Big Three seems to be continuing to quite an extent—even with Ainge and coach Doc Rivers. They've both spoken about how they want to bring in new, young role players to help supplement the contributions of the Big Three. What? Isn't is worth examining whether the team should begin rebuilding now rather than waiting for two or three years, while the Big Three lose even more of their capabilities?
I think one can make the case that the Celtics should consider trading one or more of the Big Three, OR, if they don't, they should at least talk more honestly about the team entering into a "waiting and losing" period.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying the team should automatically trade all three, (I'd try to move at least one of them) but, what I am saying is they need to be more candid with the fans—and themselves—about what they're doing.
When Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were winding down, the Celtics went through a difficult transition that led to a "down phase" for the team in the mid-1990s. As philosopher George Santayana said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
It's ridiculous for Ainge or Doc Rivers or any basketball observers to keep referring to Pierce, Garnett and Allen in an elevated context that no longer applies to them. They are not superstars anymore. On any given night, often one or more of them does not even fit the description of a "star" player. They are former star players who are still very good, but declining in capacity with each year.
Last year, to me anyway, the age of the Big Three was the key reason the Celtics wore down and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. In fact, even though it went to seven games, the Celts had to fight to hang on and the Lakers didn't play as well as they might have.
Bob Ryan, longtime basketball columnist for the Boston Globe, has been one of the few writers to describe the outlook for the Celts after their playoff loss in honest, real terms. Ryan, in the May 13th Globe, reminded all that the Celts were about to repeat the cycle followed when Bird, McHale and Parish left. He mentioned that Allen will be 36 by next season; Garnett will soon be 35, and Pierce will be 34 in the fall. He stressed that none of these great players can play great every night anymore.
Ryan quoted Doc Rivers as saying that the Celts didn't get great games from the Big Three every game. "No, Doc, of course you didn't have games in which each of the Big Three was his old self, because that is precisely what happens to most aging players. Some nights they have it, some nights they don't. That's the reality."
Yes. If the Celtics feel they want to keep the Big Three until their respective contracts expire, they should at least try to make moves and plans that do not revolve around the Big Three. For instance, the Big Three, perhaps, should get less and less playing time over the next year or two as the team tries to develop a new core.
Ainge, interestingly, in one off-the-cuff moment in an interview on WEEI on Thursday, speculated that, at some point in the future, perhaps Jeff Green could wind up starting and Paul Pierce could come off the bench. That little comment caused quite a stir, but I think it's exactly the kind of discussion that needs to take place.
The window for the Big Three is closed, and the only way the Celtics will win next year or the year after is if they add some incredible players to their roster or make a major deal that involves trading one or more members of the Big Three.
I've enjoyed watching Pierce, Garnett and Allen. Their competitive fire will be very hard to replace. Unfortunately, the transition for players at the end of their careers is often tough and the transition will likely be even harder for those who remain on the Celtics in the coming years.