Let me preface this by saying I would hate to see the NBA get locked out for an entire season. As a big basketball fan, it would make the winter months far, far too quiet.
More importantly, it could have a disastrous effect ?- at least in the short-term -? for the league as a whole.
The NBA hasn't had this much talent since the late 1980s, nor has there been a storyline as enticing as the Miami Heat since Michael Jordan led Chicago to a three-peat, left to play baseball, came back and led the Bulls to another three-peat (then retired, then came back, then retired, then ? wait, am I talking about Jordan or Brett Favre now?).
Not to mention that if the Celtics have any chance at winning one more title (they don't, but I'll get to that later), if that window is still cracked open even a little bit for this particular group, the upcoming season would truly be the final year before it shuts for good.
So under no circumstances do I want to see this lockout drag out much longer, let alone through next June.
Yet when looking at things from a purely basketball standpoint, that could actually be the best thing for the Celtics.
When it comes to how the NBA lockout is expected to play out, there seems to be two lines of thinking -? both of which would be beneficial to the C's.
Thought No. 1 (and the NBA's "best case scenario," according to Bob Ryan on WEEI a few weeks ago): Players and owners will start to panic around December, a new collective bargaining agreement will get reached in January and the NBA will have a 50-or-so-game season much like 1999.
OK, now seems like a good time to address the big elephant in the room: Whether there is a 2011-12 season or not, this core of players is likely done competing for championships.
Danny Ainge and the front office will probably say differently, claiming that this team is just a piece or two away from being a contender. They'll be sure to add some size in the paint (Greg Oden, anyone?), try to find a scorer to play the super-sixth-man role (Jason Richardson, Jamal Crawford) and call it an offseason.
The reality, though, is that the Eastern Conference has already undergone a changing of the guard, and that couldn't have been made any clearer than by how easily Miami whisked away the Celtics in five games in the second round of the playoffs.
(And before anyone tries the whole "the Kendrick Perkins trade ruined the team" routine, don't. I wasn't a fan of the deal, but Perkins' absence wasn't the reason the C's scuffled to a 91 points per game average in the series, and just 20.8 points in the fourth quarter. Simply put, they were ousted by a better team.)
Ready for the kicker? If Ainge does elect to keep this core intact, they could not possibly ask for a better scenario than a shortened season.
The Celtics have started each of the last four years extremely well, but each time they have gone through a mid-to-late-season slump — often while the team elects to rest its "injured" (a.k.a. aging) veterans.
A 50-game season would eliminate the need for that. It would provide enough time for the team to get into a rhythm, yet be short enough to enable the veterans (namely the Big Three) to remain fresh for the postseason.
That would mean no more relying on the tired legs of 36-year-old Ray Allen or 34-year-old Paul Pierce for big buckets in the fourth quarter of game No. 90, or having to depend on a brittle, 17-year veteran like Jermaine O'Neal to stay healthy for all 82 games and the playoffs. Plus, the added time of an extended offseason could only help Rajon Rondo as he tries to heal his ailing elbow.
Then there's still that likelihood of an extra-extra long offseason, which brings us to ?
Point No. 2: The NBA gets locked out for what would have been the entire 2011-12 season.
I know what you're thinking: There's no way this could be a good thing for the Celtics.
The C's have a grand total of two players (Pierce and Rondo) signed to contracts that are guaranteed after 2012. Even assuming Jeff Green gets locked up long-term and first-round pick JaJuan Johnson signs with the team once the lockout ends, that should still leave the team with well under $50 million on the books.
Sure, there's a chance the new CBA changes the structure of the cap entirely. But even if it does, the C's, a year from now, will likely still be well under -? and far from any luxury tax worries ?- whatever cap is implemented.
Essentially, Ainge will have a brand new slate to work with, or at the very least one with a lot of room to add to, for the first time since he joined the Celtics' front office.
And considering a certain big man who likes to dress up as Superman is set to become a free agent next summer, well, having some money to play with could only be a positive for Ainge and the organization.
If neither of these reasons are convincing enough, there's always the cynical one.
Having the NBA locked out for an entire season would mean one less year that the Heat could win championship while its Big Three players are in their primes. That would put quite a damper on LeBron James' bold prediction from last summer.
For the NBA, there's a lot at stake in the coming months as the owners and players try to agree on a new collective bargaining agreement in time for there to be a season. If they fail, and the lockout ensues into the New Year, there's little question it would provide some lasting, negative damage to the league.
For the Celtics, however, it could actually be a good thing.