Big Three, Bench on Verge of Fatal Offseason Split for Danny Ainge's Celtics The Celtics came so close to their ultimate goal, and they fell just short.

They've come too far to turn back now, right?

With the Celtics coming within minutes of an NBA championship in 2010, you have to wonder if they'll be back next season to make another run at it. They'll be a year older and a year more jaded, but if they play their cards right, they could still have enough talent to pull down the big prize.

But for that to happen, a lot of things have to fall into place between now and the opening tip next fall. Team president Danny Ainge will have his work cut out for him.

Ray Allen is on the verge of becoming a free agent. Allen signed a contract extension with the Seattle SuperSonics back in 2005 for five years and $80 million. When the Celtics traded for him in the summer of 2007, he had three years and $52 million left.

Will Allen stay? The 34-year-old guard has forged a close bond in Boston with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and it would be hard for him to leave that behind.

But the real question, of course, is whether the Celtics can show him the money. Allen isn't a max player anymore and his value on the open market is still very much up for debate. What happens if another team gets desperate for a scorer and offers to overpay for him? The Celtics might be in trouble.

Pierce has an early termination option in his contract that allows him to leave this summer. The Celtics' captain is at the tail end of a three-year, $59 million extension. He made just under $20 million this season, and he can either stick around now or walk away and leave more than $21.5 million on the table.

The choice seems obvious to the 32-year-old Pierce, but what complicates everything is that a new collective bargaining agreement is in the works for 2011. Come next summer, no one knows what will happen to the NBA's salary cap or its rules governing guaranteed contracts. Pierce's best bet might be opt out now and get big money while he still can.

Rasheed Wallace is mulling over retirement. If you watched him play Game 7 in Los Angeles on Thursday night, you know he was playing that game like it was his last.

But can he leave behind the $13 million he's owed over the next two years by asking out of Boston? It's a whole lot of money to walk away from, and Sheed has all summer to recuperate physically and gear up for next year. The Celtics can convince him to stay.

The bench is loaded with expiring contracts as Nate Robinson, Tony Allen, Marquis Daniels, Michael Finley and Shelden Williams are all coming off the books this summer. The bench is dwindling fast — aside from the aforementioned Sheed, the only player really guaranteed to be back next year is Glen Davis. Who do you keep? Who do you send packing? No easy decisions there.

So where does Ainge go from here? If you ask me, the answer is simple: Bring everyone back. Do everything you can to keep this nucleus intact.

Keep Paul around. Talk Ray into staying at a discount. Remind Sheed that the "ball don't lie," and neither does a big fat paycheck. And as for the bench, bring back as many of them as possible.

Change often seems inevitable in this league, but when you've just come within one win of an NBA title, you've got to do everything you can to resist it. If the Celtics are committed to winning now, they'll do their best to bring all the guys back for another go at it.

We've seen what this team can do when happy and healthy. So why not keep the same group together?