The rebuilding process between championships took more than two decades the last time the Celtics did it. With their moves this offseason, the Celtics have set themselves up for a much shorter drought, if it can even be called that.
One of the hardest things for an NBA executive to do is to make his team younger while staying in championship contention. With the Celtics' anticipated acquisition of Courtney Lee in a sign-and-trade, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will continue a successful offseason in which he has done just that. The Celtics should still be in the mix for the Eastern Conference Finals next season, but they will not be the geezers that defied age and logic this year.
Of all the players the Celtics signed or agreed to terms with this summer, only Kevin Garnett, 36, and Jason Terry, 34, are older than 30 years old. The eldest of the rest of the bunch is Chris Wilcox, who hits the big 3-0 in September.
As a result, the Celtics' core group entering the 2012-13 season looks like this: Jared Sullinger, 20; Avery Bradley, 21; Jeff Green, 25; Rajon Rondo, 26; Courtney Lee, 26; Brandon Bass, 27; Paul Pierce, 34; Jason Terry, 34; Kevin Garnett, 36. That is six of the team's top nine players aged 27 or younger.
(For now let us keep Fab Melo, 22, out of the mix, as it looks unlikely he will contribute greatly this season. Keyon Dooling, 32, and Mickael Pietrus, 30, could also be back to provide veteran presences in the short term.)
The Celtics have taken steps to insulate themselves against the realistic possibility that, at some point, Pierce and Garnett will not be able to continue to play at All-Star levels. None of the younger core players is a likely star on his own, aside from Rondo, but each fills a need now while offering the hope that eventually he could grow into something more in coach Doc Rivers' system. Anyone looking for an example of that best-case scenario for Lee, Green or Sullinger can look at Bass and Bradley's blossoming last season.
How difficult is filling needs while also getting younger? Check out how championship hopefuls in Miami and Los Angeles addressed their needs. The Heat signed 37-year-old marksman Ray Allen to help spread the floor, the Lakers acquired 38-year-old Steve Nash to fill their hole at point guard and the Clippers brought back Chauncey Billups, 35 and recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, to bring stability to their backcourt. Meanwhile the Knicks, who are championship contenders only in their own minds, added 39-year-old point guard Jason Kidd and 38-year-old center Marcus Camby.
The Heat and the Lakers are in win-now mode, the Clippers need veteran leadership to keep the Chris Paul to Blake Griffin Alley-Oop Show grounded occasionally, and the Knicks have the attention span of a cocker spaniel, so none of these moves are surprising. Yet it is difficult to see Nash, Kidd or Camby playing at a championship level in three years, when each player will be in the last year of his deal.
Dubbing the years in Boston following the 2008 title a "drought" may be pushing it. The Celtics appeared in another NBA Finals and made it to the seventh game of the conference finals last season, something they did only three times in the 21 years between winning it all in 1986 and 2008. In Boston, though, even the players admit that basketball success is measured in rings.
Celtics fans may have been disappointed to see Allen depart, and the most hopeful among them may still pine for Dwight Howard, but the first 20 days of free agency have positioned the Celtics well both this season and for the future. For Ainge, or for any NBA executive, that is no easy task.