A lot has been made this week about what the Cleveland Cavaliers’ second-round playoff series with the Celtics means for the future of their franchise and for the future of LeBron James in particular.
Equally intriguing is the other side of the story.
Where will the Celtics go from here?
After their blowout loss in Game 3 at the TD Garden on Friday night, the Celtics now face a 2-1 series deficit. Momentum and home-court advantage for the series have swung back to Cleveland. The Celtics are two losses away from the end of the road, and big change could be on the horizon for the franchise.
One starter, Ray Allen, has an expiring contract. Another, Paul Pierce, has the right to opt out of his contract rather than return for the 2010-11 season. A significant chunk of the Boston bench — Tony Allen, Marquis Daniels, Michael Finley, Nate Robinson, Shelden Williams and Brian Scalabrine — are on the way out as well.
The Celtics really only have five guys guaranteed to be back next season. Those would be Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis.
Meaning that this might be the Celtics’ last chance to win with the talent they currently have in place.
It seems like just yesterday that the new Big Three was assembled, with Danny Ainge swinging two blockbuster trades in the summer of 2007 to bring Allen and Garnett. These Celtics were assembled with the goal of winning a title.
Once they did that, the focus turned to multiple titles, but time’s ticking away.
If the Celtics can’t turn the tide of this series and forge on in the East playoffs, this could be the end of the Big Three. There’s no guarantee that Allen, who turns 35 this summer and is coming off a massive contract (five years, $80 million) will agree to terms on a deal to keep him in Boston. If he leaves, the identity of the Celtics gets turned upside down.
We don’t know that Pierce will stay. We don’t know what will happen to the Celtics’ bench role players. We don’t know much of anything — except that the C’s had better be ready to adapt.
You may see the end of the Big Three era and the beginning of the Rondo era. The end of the “old” Celtics and the beginning of the “rebuilding” Celtics. No matter what, they’ll still have plenty of talent. But that doesn’t mean they won’t also have plenty of holes to fill.
The summer that lies ahead is full of mystery for many teams in the NBA. The depth of this free-agent class, and the big names headlining it — LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh — will make for plenty of storylines to follow. But for the Celtics, the big story won’t be the guys they get. It’ll be the guys they lose.
A lot of questions are lingering, as a lot remains uncertain. All we know for sure is it’s best to enjoy these Celtics while we still can.