The wound is too raw and it is far too soon for “Celtics Nation” to be over their collective pain. After watching their team fall to the Miami Heat in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night, fans of the team from Boston are not yet able to look at the season objectively and appreciate what their club accomplished this campaign. If this truly was the farewell tour for the “New Big Three,” then the era ended with the squad leaving everything they had out on the hardwood. The Celtics were so physically spent, that they settled for jump shots in the fourth quarter, while their hosts blew past them to make their way to their second straight trip to the NBA Finals.
With the passage of time however, Boston fans will look back at this season and recognize that reaching game seven of the Conference Finals, was a pretty amazing accomplishment for a squad built around an aging core of stars, as well as missing players due to injury or health issues, that they expected to play key roles in the campaign. Whether having a healthy Jermaine O’Neal in the pivot and Jeff Green backing up Paul Pierce at the three-slot would have been enough to get past the Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder is just conjecture; but their additions certainly would have helped their team.
With the Celtics now heading home until training camp, the team is now at a crossroad, as they try to decide if the current roster can still be legitimate contenders for an NBA Title with some tweaking, or if it is time to make some major changes. Does Boston re-sign Free Agents Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, add a center such as Free Agent veteran Chris Kaman and give it one more try next season? Or is it time to bring in some young talented players to surround All-Star guard Rajon Rondo and begin a complete rebuild of the franchise?
The winners of the 2008 NBA Title, fell about six minutes short of reaching their third NBA Finals in the past five years with Garnett playing the center position and Ray Allen back in the starting lineup with bone spurs in his ankle, after the team lost Avery Bradley to injury earlier in the Playoffs. With Garnett, Allen and Paul Pierce all a year older, can they put together another run with a stronger cast around them? Or would it just be delaying the inevitable and end up with the team just spinning its wheels but getting nowhere next year?
The transition for the Celtics has already begun, as this season showed that Boston is now Rondo’s team, which should put to rest all the trade rumors that he had to deal with before the Association trade deadline kicked in on March 15. Pierce has two more years left on his current deal and Boston most likely will do everything they can to keep Brandon Bass who will become a Free Agent next month. However it is still unclear what direction Celtics Director Of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge will take the team in next season and in the next few years.
Because of the very close relationship between Garnett and Boston bench boss Doc Rivers, I believe the big man will sign on for another tour of duty with the team. He lacks the consistency that he had in 2008, but he showed this season that he is still capable of taking over a contest in the Association. Allen, however may find himself in a new city next season as rumor has it that the veteran was put off by rumors that the Celtics tried to trade him earlier in the campaign, as well as playing off the bench behind Bradley after he returned from being out of the lineup due to injury.
One intriguing possibility for Boston to explore would be offering the Memphis Grizzlies Paul Pierce for their talented young forward Rudy Gay; a situation that could be a win-win for both teams. Memphis would get a proven leader who has been to the mountaintop in Pierce to help them get to the next level, while the Celtics would have another building block along with Rondo in place with the Grizzlies forward.
The pressing need for Boston heading into the summer, will be in the pivot. While the Celtics would love to acquire Roy Hibbert or Brook Lopez, they could settle for Kaman, whose market value most likely will be down after a rather lost season with the New Orleans Hornets.
Expect jammed phone lines on the talk-shows in Boston, filled with angry and grieving fans for the first few days of the upcoming week, as “Celtics Nation” tries to come to terms with what might have been. However, after their emotions are back in check, they will begin to appreciate what this team did and how close they could be to being back on top.