The Boston Celtics early exit from the NBA playoffs at the hands of the Miami Heat exposed them as the elder statesmen that they are. Unfortunately it was for the wrong reasons.
The Celtics were outrun and outmuscled as the more athletic and younger team ran riot. The Heat won the series in only five games and while most games were close and the injury to Rajon Rondo may have cost them a chance at making a comeback, the signs were still there for a team that was well past its prime.
In the past four seasons the Celtics have been champions of the NBA and runners up of the Finals. The Celtics were the original team with a 'big three' but now must pass on the title to the team that beat them.
The Heat relied heavily on Dwayne Wade and Lebron James to knock the Celtics off their perch while Chris Bosh has come alive in the Chicago series.
The Chicago Bulls younger team has put up a much better fight against the Heat than the Celtics ever did.
The Bulls have defended the Heat very well holding the team to an average of 87.6 points per game. The reason this reflects poorly on the Celtics is the fact that the Bulls are led by former Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau.
Thibodeau was renowned in Boston as a defensive genius. Both teams use his style of defense however Tibbs' current team executed to a much higher degree. The Celtics couldn't matchup to the Heat's youth and athleticism no matter the system.
The Celtics were blown up midseason by the now infamous Kendrick Perkins trade. The trade destroyed the team's chemistry as both he and Nate Robinson left for Oklahoma City. It appeared to be an inexplicable decision with the only possible explanation being that the team got a good youngster with potential.
Jeff Green was that youngster. Green, and Nenad Krstic who also was part of the trade, was solid if unspectacular in Boston coming off the bench. Green's development is going to be an important benchmark for the Celtic's future. The Celtics will look for Green and Rondo to become their future guards.
Both players are 24 years of age but have vastly contrasting experiences in the league. Rondo is a proven all star performer with franchise records for assists already achieved in his four year career. Whereas Green has been a complementary starter with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the majority of his four year career.
The Celtics were unable to win one more championship relying on the Big Three. Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers, who recently signed a five year contract to cement his place courtside with the team, has not given up on the trio altogether however telling ESPN, "We're not going to win it just relying on the Big Three anymore, we just can't."
This will point to reduced roles for some, if not all, of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. There has already been some talk amongst the media in the USA that Paul Pierce could have a role off the bench next season in order to move Jeff Green into the starting lineup. However the most likely player to drop to the role of sixth man is Kevin Garnett.
Garnett had a major knee injury two seasons ago and is 35 years old. His performances wained somewhat this season in the playoffs as he couldn't put together back to back good performances on a consistent basis.
This is somewhat worrying for a team that already has question marks about its inside game after the Kendrick Perkins trade.
They are all but set outside as Rondo leads a top quality unit. The team should re-sign Delonte West as his outside shooting and ability to run the defense gave the team a presence from the bench. Once they do that they will have a group of Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Jeff Green, Delonte West and Von Wafer returning.
Of the six players the Celtics might want an improvement over Von Wafer and don't rule out a move to try to return Tony Allen to the club. Allen's reputation has risen after a great defensive showing in the playoffs but with Rudy Gay returning in Memphis he could become expendable once again.
Paul Pierce and Ray Allen can still offer the Celtics a lot even in reduced roles.
Pierce became the franchise's third leading scorer this past season
, while Ray Allen broke Reggie Miller's three point record this season
That leaves us with Kevin Garnett.
Garnett has been one of the most dominant shooting big men in the game over the past decade. He was the league MVP of the 2004 season while winning 14 all star selections. Garnett was an all star last season but is no longer anywhere close to being an MVP candidate.
According to ESPN, Garnett is still being paid like an MVP candidate
. Garnett made over $18 million last season. He did not play to that level. His inconsistency in the playoffs pointed out that it was time to move on from the future hall of famer.
The Celtics need to mirror the Dallas Mavericks who have had success with old players on the roster by lengthening their rotation. The Mavericks have nine players capable of giving them starter contribution.
The Mavericks have fantastic shooters in Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Peja Stoijakovic. They flourish with Jason Kidd at point guard who, while being a future hall of famer, is at the very end of his career.
If the Celtics can surround Rajon Rondo with five to six shooters and better overall role players then he will get them the ball. This is a winning formula for the Celtics.
Their own free agents will be on the agenda initially.
Guys like Carlos Arroyo, Troy Murphy, Aleksander Pavlovic and Nenad Krstic won't likely return or even be considered.
The team will have an interesting decisions to make about Glen Davis. He is only 25 years of age but didn't have a stellar season. His struggles late in the season could be attributed to Nate Robinson's departure for Oklahoma City with Kendrick Perkins.
This was Davis' first season with substantial minutes after an impressive playoff campaign last year. The Celtics will need to determine whether he is able to play a substantial role with the team or if they are better to let him go.
None of the players hitting free agency from the Celtics can return to fix their biggest problem at center. Shaquille O'Neal is all but retired while Jermaine O'Neal is a great player to bring off the bench but not a true starter.
There is no doubting the marquee free agent center this offseason.
Tyson Chandler will become a free agent after this season. Chandler has been a solid player for the Mavericks protecting the paint while averaging close to a double double. Chandler would give the team the stability at center that was lost with the Kendrick Perkins trade. At 28 years of age he still has plenty of years left in his career.
If the Celtics can reduce Garnett's salary and add a big name such as Chandler in free agency that would give them a solid base for their perimeter players to work from.
It is unrealistic to think that they could pick up a big man to replace Kevin Garnett in the draft but adding another youngster to the rotation such as Jordan Williams would give them fresher legs to work with.
Realistically the team will have to play with Garnett for at least another season. It will be too difficult to bring back another quality starter in the trade market because of Garnett's salary, age and recent performances.
Nonetheless the Celtics definitely do not need to be blown up in the way that many fans and media are calling for the Los Angeles Lakers to be.
It will be an intriguing off season in Boston, but the pieces for future success are there for all to see. It's a matter of reloading rather than rebuilding.
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