In response to the Celtics’ five-game playoff exit against the Miami Heat, there’s been a great deal of panic in the Hub about the future of the franchise. The C’s are old, they’re beaten down and their status as contenders again in 2012 is questionable.
This summer will be a time of reflection for Danny Ainge and the C’s. Do they get the band back together one last time? Or do they break it up now and rebuild?
Here are seven thoughts on the Celtics at this critical franchise turning point.
1. Common sense says this: Don’t break the Celtics up now. Wait one more year. If you look at the Celtics’ contracts, they have too much money committed to 2012 to make any big moves now. Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Jermaine O’Neal are on the books for a combined $37 million. Those contracts aren’t particularly movable, at least not for equal value. For now, the C’s are stuck with the core group they have, but after 2012, the big deals come off the books and they’ll have the cap space to do something meaningful for the future.
2. Doc Rivers is coming back next season, and a lot of other guys might not be. Among the NBA coaches who have vacated their jobs in the last 12 months are Don Nelson, Larry Brown, Jerry Sloan, Rick Adelman and of course Phil Jackson. Doc has suddenly become one of the most senior coaches in the league. Only three have more experience than Doc now — Gregg Popovich, George Karl and Flip Saunders — and of those three, only Pop has won a championship. Doc has become one of the game’s elites in his 12 seasons as a head coach.
3. Shaquille O’Neal is likely done. It’s not too surprising. You know how old Shaq is? He’s so old that he once played against both Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers. Shaq played six career games against Danny’s Phoenix Suns — he averaged 28.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 2.3 assists against his future GM. Against Doc, he had similarly outstanding numbers in eight contests — 26.5, 13.1, 3.0 and 1.6. It’s rare you see a player in this league like Shaq, whose reign of dominance spans multiple generations. If this is really the end of the road for him, he’ll be missed.
4. The other O’Neal’s future doesn’t look too bright, either. Jermaine O’Neal revealed after the postseason that he had been playing against the Knicks and Heat with a fractured left wrist. He’ll likely need surgery in the offseason. When you add up all the factors working against J.O. in his quest to win a championship — his health, the Celtics’ decline and the imposing likelihood of a lockout next season — there’s a decent chance the 32-year-old big man decides to hang it up. We shall see.
5. Speaking of big men whose futures in Boston look bleak: Glen Davis may also be on his way out the door. Judging by his postgame comments last week in Miami, where he talked about his desire to start and be an impact player in the NBA, it appears likely that Big Baby will ditch Boston and seek a more glamorous role on another team. In other words, Baby is the next Tony Allen. The Celtics may find themselves seriously short on big bodies next season.
6. Perhaps the big body with the most promising outlook right now, believe it or not, is Nenad Krstic. The lanky Serbian stepped up and quietly gave the Celtics a very decent performance in Game 5 against the Heat, shooting 3-for-3 in the absence of J.O. He’s proven that he can contribute, albeit modestly, to the Celtics as a shooting, floor-spreading big man. And he also told the Herald last week that he had interest in coming back, saying that, “I definitely like the organization and I like the team.” Perhaps the lesser-known piece of the Kendrick Perkins trade will have some value down the road.
7. Now that the C’s are done, it’s going to be hard to bet against LeBron James and the Heat in the playoffs. LeBron admitted after winning Game 5 that the Celtics were his inspiration for coming together with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh last summer — the C’s proved that putting together three stars and building quickly with role players was a winning formula. After watching the way the Heat picked their predecessors apart this May, it’s easy to envision the game’s newest big three winning it all. Kevin Garnett taught us all in 2008 that “anything’s possible,” but in 2011, the Heat look impossible to stop.