If the Boston Celtics were anything in the 2011-12 NBA Season, they were a weary boxer. This boxer was entering the season hoping, rather than expecting, to compete for a title. However, he had to overcome both his own limitations and the ever improving opponents who stood in his way.
Early on the boxer's legs quivered. He stumbled through the early rounds of his first fight, a fight that tested his attrition and technique over the ability to land knockout blows. A lockout prior to the fight was supposed to have helped the boxer. He was more experienced and had less to find out about himself. Yet, that didn't prove true initially. If anything, the lockout looked set to hurt the older boxer. Instead of facing 10 tough rounds, he was instead facing nine rounds that were twice as taxing.
The boxer didn't panic though. He knew he was only struggling because of an early shot to his right arm. The boxer had historically relied on his right hook, a punch that was so good it was nicknamed 'The Truth' by an opponent in a bout 10 years previous. That right hook was shelved early on as the arm was too limp to be fully effective.
After holding his opponent to a 5-9 gap however, 'The Truth' finally made his presence felt. 'The Truth' carried the boxer to a 15-12 lead by the next interval, before eventually winning out 39-27 after nine excruciating rounds.
The boxer was beaten and bruised, but not defeated. He carried all the bruises and cuts of his previous fight into the next stage of his supposed swan-song. After sweeping by an inferior opponent, the weary boxer outlasted a tough matchup in a fight that went the full seven rounds. That left him one fight away from contending for the title, but that fight was against the oddsmakers' favourites. That fight was the one that was one step too far.
In that fight, the Boston Celtics eventually were forced to surrender to the might of the Miami Heat and Lebron James.
It was supposed to be a fairytale ending for the Celtics in their final season with the big-three, but James eventually dismantled their hopes in the Eastern Conference finals. James then stole the Celtics' fairytale ending by winning the ring that they felt was meant for them.
All was lost. It was time for the franchise to dive into full-on rebuild mode and start from scratch. Kevin Garnett will retire, Ray Allen will leave and Paul Pierce could be traded. The team was going to be about Rajon Rondo and whatever they could get in the NBA draft with their two first round picks. It was a dark time for the basketball fans of Boston.
But then, the purveyor of light in Boston for so many years shone once again.
Celtics head coach Doc Rivers didn't buy the hype. He didn't care for age, Rivers only cared about building his team to beat the NBA's best...now, not later. Rivers entered the off-season with all the optimism of one of the coaches of one of the most famous franchises in sports should do. First he spoke about bringing back the big three, then he set about doing it.
Rivers and general manager Danny Ainge re-signed Kevin Garnett once he decided not to retire. Garnett was surprisingly given a three year deal with hefty compensation, but that may just reflect how ageless his career has been in recent times. Garnett was joined by another veteran NBA champion, as Jason Terry was signed from the Dallas Mavericks.
Terry's signing was melancholic for some, as many read it as a sign that Ray Allen would not return. Doc Rivers was attempting to bring back Allen despite signing Terry, but just as the Celtics' optimism was about to multiple, Lebron James' Miami Heat swept in to steal the limelight once again. Allen joined the Heat over the Celtics, despite the Celtics offering him more money.
Allen had issues with Rajon Rondo, but blatantly saw the Heat as a more favourable championship contender. Even though he never said a word about it, the decision to leave was damnation enough to demoralize a fanbase and franchise.
Once again Rivers wasn't ready to give in.
Allen's loss may have proved to be a blessing in disguise as the Celtics replaced him with Courtney Lee. A much younger, more athletic perimeter player who arrived from the Houston Rockets in free agency. The combination of Lee, Terry, Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley offers the Celtics a huge amount of flexibility that wasn't present last season. Bradley must return from a shoulder injury, but with he, Rondo and Terry all capable of playing point guard, with various skill-sets, the Celtics can ask more questions of defenses. While Lee, Rondo and Bradley are all outstanding defensive players who will improve the team's buffer on the edges.
The Celtics problems weren't going to be solved by simply replacing Ray Allen though.
Garnett may have been re-signed, but the power forward come center needed better help in the backcourt. Impressive starter Brandon Bass was re-signed as a free agent, while Chris Wilcox returns from a heart condition that caused him to miss much of last season. The two first round picks that were previously thought of as potential cornerstones were turned into Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, a center-power forward combination with differing skill-sets. Throw in veterans Jason Collins and Darko Milicic to make the Celtics vastly improved in the paint this year.
The bigs that the Celtics signed will be important, but the true gamechanged could prove to be Jeff Green. Green was re-signed in the off-season after missing all of last season with a heart condition. Green was the primary piece that the Celtics received from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kendrick Perkins two seasons ago. If fully healthy, Green will give the Celtics a very athletic small forward to spell Paul Pierce.
Pierce looked tired towards the end of last season, even before his knee injury, after carrying the roster through the regular season. Green's ability to match up to the faster perimeter players in the league today will afford the Celtics the opportunity to better manage Pierce's valuable minutes. The Celtics have relied on Pierce for a long time, but this year the roster is set up to alleviate the pressure on him.
Rajon Rondo's continued ascension as a superstar, Jason Terry's scoring ability, as well as Courtney Lee, Avery Bradley and Jeff Green's defensive versatility will allow Pierce to take a back-seat in certain aspects of the game. Pierce has spent vast junctures of his career carrying the franchise, but now it is time for the franchise to carry him. That can only be beneficial for Doc Rivers' side on the whole.
The Celtics entered last season in a swan-song year as the form of a weary boxer. Their off-season moves this year have removed any notion of a swan-song while nobody is weary as the team enters training camp in Istanbul this week.
It is yet to be determined if the Boston Celtics of this season will be better than last, but one thing is for sure.
This is going to be a very different season compared to last year's.