The Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship in 1986, their second title in three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals. The core of that team - Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge - remained together for a few years afterward, but never experienced championsihp greatness again. In spite of an obvious decline, that team remained relevant until Larry Bird's retirement in 1992 - and to be fair, even a couple years beyond with some retooling.
The current Boston Celtics find themselves in a very similar position. They won the NBA Championship in 2008 and remained a legitimate championship contender, but their decline has clearly begun. They lost unrestricted free agent Ray Allen to the defending champions, the Miami Heat, and compatriots age and injury have begun to take their toll on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierece.
Entering the 2012 offseason, the Celtics had a choice to make: blow up the roster for a complete rebuild or retain key pieces and seek to retool. They opted for the latter, adding some quality pieces through the draft and free agency.
Is the championship window still open, or has it finally slammed shut, signalling the end of the current era?
2012-2013 Boston Celtics Offseason Recap
Draft Picks: Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, Kris Joseph
Free Agents: Jason Terry, Dionte Christmas, Jamar Smith, Jason Collins
Trade Acquired: Courtney Lee
Recovered from Injury: Jeff Green
2012-2013 Boston Celtics Prospective Depth Chart
PG: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Jamar Smith
SG: Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Keyon Dooling, Dionte Christmas
SF: Paul Pierece, Jeff Green, Kris Joseph
PF: Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Chris Wilcox, Jeff Green
C: Kevin Garnett, Chris Wilcox, Fab Melo, Jason Collins
The unescapable story here is the departure of Ray Allen, one of the purest three-point shooters in the history of the game. At 36 years old, Ray Allen was providing fantastic production, posting his third highest effective field goal percentage of his storied career in 2011-2012. And Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo were a nearly perfect backcourt pairing. While it's understandable that Boston and Allen would part ways at this point, there's no question Allen's departure creates a massive hole in Boston's rotation.
The remaining departures aren't nearly as consequential. Arguably, Boston would have done well to retain Greg Stiemsma, who provided very solid production in limited minutes, but given just how limited those minutes were in 11-12, that loss feels more hypothetical than actual. Guys like Pavlovic, Pietrus, and Daniels are all decent filler to round out the rotation, but none are irreplaceable. Somehow, Jermain O'Neal is still playing in the NBA, and while he wasn't completely horrible for Boston last season, the players expected to get his minutes in 12-13 should be an upgrade.
Boston has made a variety of moves to strengthen its rotation, and we'll start with two key acquisitions in the backcourt: Jason Terry and Courtney Lee.
Courtney Lee is one of those players who's remarkably average, and that's not at all a bad thing. In Lee, you know what you're going to get: a player who can knock down shots and avoid mistakes. He's a player who won't hurt you, but he's not going to push you over the top either. Given how much Rondo and Pierce control the ball and Boston's offense, Lee ought to be a fine fit.
Jason Terry is another matter. In Dallas, he was an excellent fit with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd. Terry and Nowitzki were a potent pick-and-roll duo, and Kidd's ability to move without the ball and knock down spot up jumpshots meshed with Terry's tendency to dominate the ball. That's not to say that Terry is a ball stopper, merely that he's effective with the ball in his hands.
Boston appears to have the type of big men that can work with Terry in the pick-and-roll: Garnett, Bass, and presumably Sullinger can all knock down open, mid-range jumpshots.
But will a Terry and Rondo backcourt work? Both players are expected to play significant minutes, but their games simply do not complement each other. Rondo is most effective with the ball in his hands and creating offense for teammates. Obviously, Terry can knock down jumpshots, so, so far, so good. Unlike Kidd, however, Rondo has yet to demonstrate that he can knock down an open jumpshot created by one of his teammates or his team's offense. It's not hard to imagine defenses making things difficult for Terry by ignoring Rondo in favor of clogging dribble and passing lanes. As much as I respect and enjoy Rondo's game, his inability to hit open shots could be an achilles heel for the Celtics' offense.
Still, Boston's guard rotation is still respectable. Without question, losing Allen hurts, but nearly as much as it might have.
At small forward, we should expect more of the same: Paul Pierce. Pierce will be another year older, but his game is aging remarkably well. Jeff Green will be returning to the Celtics on a newly-signed, multi-year contract (reportedly worth as much as $36 million(!!!) over four years) after missing an entire season due to a heart condition and will likely log minutes at both forward positions. If that seems like an absurd amount of money for tweener forward who's not particularly good at anything you'd want a forward to do, that's because it is. He's not a terrible player; he's a serviceable enough tweener off the bench. It's that he's not worth anything close to $9 million per year, especially after missing an entire season with a health problem. That contract almost make Isolayshaun's look reasonable.
Boston appears to have plenty of options in its big man rotation, so long as everyone stays healthy. Garnett remains ridiculously effective for a 36 year old, and Bass, Sullinger, Wilcox, Green, and potentially Melo should all contribute. Spots 2-5 in the big rotation should all be up for grabs, a pretty good problem for Doc Rivers to have.
In short, Boston still has a very solid Big Three, with some nice role players - young and old - to round out the rotation. But how far they go is largely contingent on health.
On paper, this is still a Playoff team, but one with several if's.
If Rondo, Pierce, and Garnett all stay healthy and play more than 30 minutes per game, and their returning players perform as expected, this team is basically a lock for the Playoffs.
If their returning veterans stay healthy and perform and their newly acquired veterans and rookies fit the system and develop the way their potential suggests, Boston could challenge for another division title and possibly home court advantage in the first round of the Playoffs.
But, if long-term injuries take out Pierce or Rondo, this team will be in a dogfight in the improved Eastern Conference. And in spite of being deep at PF and C, an injury to Garnett could be just as damaging.
If Jason Terry doesn't fit with Rajon Rondo, management will be faced with a tough choice: swing a mid-season trade to win now and potentially sacrifice some of its young assets in the process, or be content in the bottom half of the playoff picture and a potential first-round exit?